Emergence of Sufism in Yemen (Part one)


The ability of the contemporary Yemeni political formula has been one of its most remarkable features to deal with the various Islamist ideal types through integration and cooptation rather than persecution. Sufis, Zaydi revivalists, Muslim brothers, violent Jihadi fringes, and Salafists have worked in some capacity with the state at some point. Since the early days of Islam, religion and political authority have been intertwined in Yemenis highlands and coastal regions. After having ruled for over a millennium, the fall of the Zaydi imam's monarchy in 1962, gave way to a more obvious division between politics and religions.

Most Yemenis are Muslims, but they also welcome the people of other religions as well as various branches of Islam. In addition to their Islamic legacy, Yemenis are extremely proud of their pre-Islamic history, including that of the Saba' and Ḥaḍramawt kingdoms. The ancient Yemenis experienced a wide variety of cultures and civilizations through their extensive networks of overland and maritime trade. Numerous features of Yemeni culture, both traditional and modern, clearly show influences from the Greek, Roman, Indian, Indonesian, and Chinese civilizations.

Advent of Islam & Sufism in Yemen

In Yemen, Islam paved its ideas around 630 AD during the Messenger of Allah’s lifetime and under the rule of the Persian governor Bādhān ibn Sāsān. Thereafter, Yemen was ruled as part of Arab-Islamic Caliphates and became a province in the Islamic empire. Many people from different countries used to visit the Messenger of Allah during that time. Some visitors from Yemen also came to Messenger the Allah , including Ashhas bin Qais, Abu Moosal Ashari, Abu Burdha, and Yasir bin Ammar. These companions of the Prophet later on came to be known as the most prominent followers of the Messenger of Allah .

Many philosophers and religious scholars believe that Sufism has been linked to Islam since its early days. They see it as the heart and soul of Islam, promoting qualities like piety, mysticism, humility, and asceticism. They urge that the main tenets and central doctrine of the Sufi are divine love and complete obedience to God's commands and orders. The characteristics that unified them are fasting, meat abstention, and wearing coarse wool. However, orientalists have expressed a variety of viewpoints on the Sufi movement’s genesis. Some authors argue that it was influenced by Greek Philosophy, while others have asserted that Sufism is derived from Vedanta or Buddhism[1].

In the past, there were two main types of Sufism: practical Sufism and philosophical Sufism. As a spiritual religious concept, Sufism until around the 12th and 13th centuries, was practical Sufism. As mentioned in history, the 12th and 13th centuries were the birth of philosophical Sufism. Later on, philosophical Sufism caused some damage to the reputation of Sufism and its authentic and genuine teachings. Although Sufis were relatively few, they have carved out their doctrines, schools and philosophy. Some well-established Sufis like Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Rabiathul Adawiyya, and Omar al-Kayyam significantly advanced the literary canon of Islam and had an impact beyond Muslim countries. Among them, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali is considered one of the most notable Sufi thinkers, theologians, and philosophers by many modern scholars.

Emergence of Sufism

Like in major parts of the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic world, Sufism started in Yemen with considerable ascetic manifestations, simple practices, and pure ideas. Initially, these practices were confined to very limited areas in Zabid Tehama, Al Janad Taiz, and Jibla Ibb cities. No evidence confirms that this tradition of Sufistic manifestations was anywhere else before the beginning of the twelfth century. However, over time, the concept of Sufism started to spread in wider societies and became a prominent attribute of Yemeni society at the beginning of the twelfth century. There is no doubt that the Ayyubis were among the factors contributing to the flourishing of Sufism in Yemen.

In fact, Sufism in Yemen contains many diverse historical scenes. There were several conflicts like  political conflict between Sufism and the rulers in charge, as well as intellectual conflicts between Sufis and jurists (religious leaders). These conflicts led to the creation of many intellectual books that had a significant impact on Yemen's cultural knowledge.

In the fourth century, Sufism made its first foray into Yemen through Ḥaḍramawt. During that time, the first practitioner of Sufism was Abdullah bin Ahmad bin Easa al Muhajir. Abdullah read the book of Abu Thalib al-Makki ‘Qūtul Qulūb’ and transmitted its ideas to Ḥaḍramawt and the rest of Yemen. Like his father, Abdullah was a Shia imam, and Sufism grew up in Ḥaḍramawt alongside Shiaism. He had also ambitions to establish an imamate state, but the challenges he faced prevented him from realizing his ambition.[2]

Dr. Abdul Karim Qaseem, a professor of philosophy at the University of Janaa, believes that Sufism in Yemen began with the ideas of leading a simple and ascetic lifestyle. Many Yemenis who participated in the Islamic conquests or stayed there had a major role in establishing the ascetic movements in the Islamic world. Among them, two prominent figures were Tawus bin Kisan, the author of the book "Al-Tijan fi Mulooki Humair" and Uwaisul Qarni who is considered to be one of the most important symbols of Sufism in the Islamic world. Hence, Sufism spread in the coastal areas like Aden, Unmah, and lower Yemen. Sufism adhered to the shafi' school of thought, and its spread was widespread among the people of this school. The entry of Yemen under the rule of the Ayyubis was the cause of the encouragement of mysticism and helped its rapid growth.

Among the manifestations of Sufism, was the construction of graves, shrines, and domes built over them, followed by the belief in saints and their demises. In terms of beliefs (Aqīda), Sufism follows the teachings of Imam Abu al-Hassan al-Ashari.

The Sufi orders that spread in Yemen represent the Muslim identity from which background they derive their philosophy and what relation they have to live upto this reality. Sufism is a vivid illustration of mysticism, except the fact that it is distinguished from others by its historical background of apparent predecessors and by tracing the trail of its early figures who influenced it. Sufis work with science as its basic element and they have great interest in the sciences of jurisprudence and focus on manners, morals, and deceptions[3].

The Sufi schools in Ḥaḍramawt gave significant importance to renewal in the thoughts of their leaders. They followed a clear path in jurisprudential, doctrinal, and mystical ways. They came in hand in hand with other Islamic schools on common Islamic principles, like respecting the companions of the Messenger of Allah , rejecting violence, transgressing some of the usual Sufi traditions, taking complete care of the approach of calling God with wisdom and good preaching, building ties, and focusing on preaching and wisdom that shape the social fabric of Islamic sciences. As the great and famous Sufi currents and orders did in the wider Arab and Islamic world, the Islamic world also influenced the Sufi order in Yemen. Quoting it, Professor Abdullah al-Habshi said: “The Sufi orders in Yemen were influenced by slogans, rituals, customs, and traditions of the famous major teams that appeared on the surface of the metropolises of the Arab world and the Islamic world. There are six sects: Al-qadiriyya, Saduliyya, Al-Maghribiya, Al-Rifayiyya, Al-Suhrawardiyya and Naqshabandiyya.”


Alexander knish, Islamic Mysticism: A short history.

Christopher Melchert, “The Transition from Asceticism to Mysticism at the middle of the Ninth Century”.

Muhammed Ali Aziz, “Religion and Mysticism in Early Islam: Theology and Sufism in Yemen”. Published on 24 March 2011

Muhammed Ali Qasimi Aziz, “Medieval Sufism in Yemen”, University of Michigan. 2004.

الصوفية في اليمن النشأة والمنهج / الباحث محمد حمحدعبد الله صالح السنفى

The Tariqa On Landcruiser: the resurgence of Sufism in Yemen. Author, Alexander Knysh, Middle East Journal, Vol 55, No 3 (2001).

Islam charithra paathayiloode , Kuttasheri Muhammed.


Sufism, Al Muneer , 2017/ published by Pattikkad Noorul Ulama Publications.

حقائق التصوف / عبد القادر عيسى

Tarim Dairy / Jawad Musthafawy / Qahwa roots YouTube channel

Islamika samooha charithram /Part 4/ Sarwath Soulath

Keralathinte Yemeni Parambaryam / Mamburam THangal / Moyin Hudawi Malayamma, Mahmood hudawi Panangara

Sufi Institutes in Yemen /


Sufism Forum Symposium entitled "Yemen , its Faith Identity / https://www.saba.ye/en/news3205901.htm / 05/October/2022


[1] http:/muslimcanada.org/sufi/introductionsufism.htm

[2] الصوفية في اليمن النشأة والمنهج,  محمد عبد الله صالح السنفى

باحث دكتوراه بقسم الفلسفة الإسلامية - كلية دار العلوم – جامعة القاهرة.

[3]  (إسلام أون لاين، صوفية اليمن خريطة الأفكار والتيارات، ص ٨



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