Sufism is generally believed to have originated among Muslims near Basra in modern Iraq, though there is a history of Sufism in Transoxania dating from shortly after the time of Muhammad. Some scholars believe that early Sufism was essentially the evolution of Islam in a mystic direction, although some of these beliefs lack historic evidence.
Annemarie Schimmel proposes that Sufism in its early stages of development meant nothing but the interiorization of Islam. Louis Massignon states: "It is from the Qur’an, constantly recited, meditated, and experienced, that Sufism proceeded, in its origin and its development."
One theory is that Sufism started as pre-Islamic mystical traditions adapted to the new religion. This suggests that in its early days Sufism wasn't a single united sect of Islam but a blanket term to describe many varied systems.
The following sections discuss the history of Sufism with respect to geography:
Sufism was brought to Anatolia during the Seljuk dynasty, when Turkic tribes would make raids against the Byzantine Empire. Before long, the Byzantines had been pushed almost entirely out of Anatolia, and various Turkic tribal leaders and warlords held ground all through Anatolia. Before the formation of the Ottoman Empire a few centuries into the future, Sufi dervishes would go from village to village, teaching peasants to read and write through conversion to Islam.
Sufism has been known in Transoxania and Khorasan since its very beginnings. Some of the greatest and most renowned Sufis were from this region, including al-Farabi (9th century CE), al-Ghazali (12th century CE), Jalāl-ad-Dīn Rūmī (13th century CE), and Nūr ud-Dīn Jāmī (15th century CE).
Muslims of South Asia prominently follow the Chishtiyya, Naqshbandiyyah, Qadiriyyah and Suhrawardiyyah orders. Of them the Chishti order is the most visible. Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, a disciple of Khwaja Abu Abdal Chishti, the propounder of this order, introduced it in India. He came to India from Afghanistan with the army of Shihab-ud-Din Ghuri in 1192 AD and started living permanently in Ajmer from 1195. Centuries later, with the support of Mughal rulers, his shrine became a place of pilgrimage. Akbar used to visit the shrine every year.
Turkic conquests in South Asia were accompanied by four Sufi mystics of the Chishtiyya order from Afghanistan: Moinuddin (d. 1233 in Ajmer), Qutbuddin (d. 1236 in Delhi), Nizamuddin (d.1335 in Delhi) and Fariduddin (d.1265 in Pakpattan now in Pakistan) . During the reign of Muhammad bin Tughluq, who spread the Delhi sultanate towards the south, the Chistiyya spread its roots all across India. The Sufi shine at Ajmer in Rajasthan and Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi belong to this order.
Some Sufis under the Chishtiyya order were not against absorbing ideas from the Hindu Bhakti movement and even used Hindi for their devotional songs. However, the orthodox Ulama with royal support insisted that the Sufis go "back to Shariat". Even though the Ulama had certain differences with Sufis over theological and mystic issues, the Shariat remained a cementing force between them.
The Suharawardy order was started by Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi of Baghdad and brought to India by Baha-ud-din Zakariya of Multan. Suhrawardiyyah order of Sufism gained popularity in Bengal. The Qadiriyyah order founded by Abdul Qadir Gilani whose tomb is at Baghdad. It is popular among the Muslims of South India.
Baha-ud-Din Naqshband (1318-1389) of Turkestan founded Naqshbandi order of Sufism. Khwaja Mohhammad Baqi Billah Berang whose tomb is in Delhi (E.I.Rose ) introduced Naqshbandi order in India. The essence of this order was insistence on rigid adherence to Shariat and nurturing love for prophet. It was patronized by the Mughal rulers, as its founder was their ancestral 'Pir' (Spiritual guide). "The conquest of India by Babur in 1526 gave considerable impetus to the Naqshbandiyya order" . Its disciples remained loyal to the throne because of the common Turkic origin. With the royal patronage of most of the Mughal rulers, the Naqshbandi order caused the revival of Islam in its pure form.
The following Sufi orders were prevalent in Africa- Qadriyyah, Sanusiyyah, Tijaniyyah ete
Riaz Ahmed Gohar Shahi was heavily criticized by orthodox theological scholars in Pakistan and abroad. Shahi's books were banned by the Government of Pakistan. His followers are not allowed to hold public meetings, and no press coverage is allowed to either Gohar Shahi or to his followers due to charges of blasphemy. Many attempts were made on Shahi's life including a petrol bomb thrown into his Manchester residence, and an attack with a hand grenade during a discourse at his home in Kotri, Pakistan. Gohar Shahi was booked in 1997 on alleged charges of murdering a woman who had come to him for spiritual treatment; Gohar Shahi, and many of his followers, were later convicted under Islamic blasphemy laws by an antiterrorist court in Sindh. Gohar Shahi was convicted in absentia—as then he was in England—resulting in sentences that totaled approximately 59 years.