Delve into the mystical world of Sufi art and discover the enigmatic group of people who were known as Sufis. Sufis were a sect of Muslims who sought to understand the deeper spiritual dimensions of Islam. They were known for their devotion to Allah and their belief in the power of love and music to connect with the divine. Sufis were also renowned for their poetry, dance, and calligraphy, which often depicted themes of love, nature, and spiritual longing. In this exploration of Sufi art, we will uncover the secrets of this mystical tradition and gain insight into the lives and beliefs of the Sufis, who were revered for their spiritual wisdom and teachings. Join us on this captivating journey through the world of Sufi art and discover the enchanting world of these mystical seekers of truth.

Understanding Sufism: Origins and Beliefs

The Emergence of Sufism in Islam

Sufism, often referred to as Islamic mysticism, is a spiritual tradition within Islam that emphasizes the inner, personal dimensions of the faith. It emerged in the early centuries of Islam, during the formative period of the religion, as a reaction to the growing legalism and formalism that characterized the early Islamic community.

The exact origins of Sufism are shrouded in mystery, and there is much debate among scholars about its origins. Some believe that Sufism emerged from the early Arabian tribes that converted to Islam, while others argue that it emerged as a response to the intellectual and cultural developments of the Islamic Golden Age.

One of the key figures associated with the emergence of Sufism is the Islamic scholar and mystic, Abu Nasr al-Farabi. Al-Farabi was a student of the renowned Islamic scholar, Imam Ali, and is credited with developing many of the key ideas and practices that would come to define Sufism. He emphasized the importance of inner purification, the search for spiritual knowledge, and the cultivation of spiritual virtues.

Another important figure in the emergence of Sufism was the Sufi poet and mystic, Rumi. Rumi lived in the 13th century in what is now modern-day Turkey, and his works have had a profound impact on the development of Sufism. He emphasized the importance of love and devotion as a means of attaining spiritual enlightenment, and his poetry has been widely read and studied by Sufis and non-Sufis alike.

Overall, the emergence of Sufism in Islam was a complex and multifaceted process that involved the interaction of various intellectual, cultural, and spiritual influences. As the tradition developed and evolved over time, it came to encompass a wide range of beliefs, practices, and artistic expressions, each reflecting the unique insights and experiences of its practitioners.

Sufi Beliefs and Practices

The Sufis were a mystical sect of Islam that emerged in the early centuries of the religion’s history. Their beliefs and practices diverged significantly from mainstream Islam, emphasizing spiritual and emotional aspects of the faith over legalistic and dogmatic interpretations.

The Importance of the Heart

One of the central tenets of Sufi belief was the idea that the heart was the key to spiritual enlightenment. This contrasted with the more intellectual and legalistic approach of mainstream Islam, which emphasized the mind and the written word. For the Sufis, the heart was the seat of the soul and the locus of spiritual experience.

Meditation and Contemplation

Sufi practices often involved meditation and contemplation as a means of achieving spiritual enlightenment. These practices could take many forms, including repetition of holy words or phrases, visualization, and breath control. The goal of these practices was to quiet the mind and allow the individual to connect with the divine.

Music and Dance

Music and dance also played an important role in Sufi practices. Sufis believed that these art forms could be used as a means of accessing spiritual states and connecting with the divine. Many Sufi mystics were also accomplished musicians and poets, and their works often reflect the mystical and emotional aspects of their faith.

The Role of the Sufi Master

Sufi practices were typically guided by a master, known as a shaykh or pir. These masters were seen as spiritual guides and mentors, and their role was to help their disciples navigate the spiritual path and achieve enlightenment. The relationship between the master and the disciple was often one of great intimacy and trust, with the master serving as a source of guidance and support.

The Influence of Sufism on Islamic Art

The Sufis’ emphasis on spiritual and emotional experience had a profound influence on Islamic art, particularly in the realm of calligraphy and visual art. Sufi artists often incorporated symbolic imagery and metaphorical representations of spiritual concepts into their work, using color, line, and form to convey complex spiritual ideas. The result was a rich and varied body of art that reflected the mystical and emotional dimensions of Islamic spirituality.

The Role of Music and Poetry in Sufism

Music and poetry have always played a significant role in Sufism, the mystical dimension of Islam. These art forms were used as tools to convey the spiritual message and experiences of the Sufis, which often went beyond the limitations of words and language.

Poetry as a Vehicle for Spiritual Expression

Poetry was a crucial medium for Sufis to express their mystical experiences and convey the teachings of Sufism. The use of metaphors, symbols, and allegories in Sufi poetry helped to convey complex spiritual concepts in a more accessible way. The poetry of Rumi, Hafez, and other Sufi poets has been celebrated for its depth and beauty, and has been translated into many languages.

Music as a Medium for Spiritual Contemplation

Music was also an essential component of Sufi culture, and was used as a medium for spiritual contemplation and devotion. Sufis believed that music could help to access the spiritual realm and induce a state of spiritual ecstasy. The use of music in Sufi rituals and ceremonies helped to create an atmosphere of spiritual intensity and deepened the connection between the Sufi and the divine.

The Influence of Sufi Music on Classical Music

Sufi music has had a profound influence on classical music, particularly in the Middle East and India. The use of the rabab, tanpura, and other musical instruments in Sufi music has influenced the development of classical music in these regions. Sufi music has also been incorporated into the music of contemporary artists, and continues to be a source of inspiration for musicians around the world.

In conclusion, the role of music and poetry in Sufism cannot be overstated. These art forms have been used as powerful tools to convey the spiritual message and experiences of the Sufis, and have had a profound influence on the development of classical music in many regions of the world.

The Art of Sufism: Visual and Performing Arts

Key takeaway: Sufism, also known as Islamic mysticism, is a spiritual tradition within Islam that emphasizes the inner, personal dimensions of the faith. It emerged in the early centuries of Islam as a reaction to the growing legalism and formalism that characterized the early Islamic community. Sufi beliefs and practices diverged significantly from mainstream Islam, emphasizing spiritual and emotional aspects of the faith over legalistic and dogmatic interpretations. Sufi art, including calligraphy, miniature painting, music, and dance, reflects the mystical and emotional dimensions of Sufism and its impact on Islamic art and culture. The Sufi tradition also emphasizes the importance of spiritual guidance and mentorship, as well as ethics and morality, including love, humility, and self-control.

Sufi Calligraphy

Sufi calligraphy is a unique form of Islamic calligraphy that emerged as a means of expressing the spiritual and mystical dimensions of Sufism. The practice of Sufi calligraphy is rooted in the belief that the divine presence can be found in all forms of creation, including the written word. Sufi calligraphers sought to capture the essence of divine revelation and the teachings of Sufi mystics through the use of calligraphic art.

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The use of calligraphy in Sufism dates back to the early days of Islam, when the Prophet Muhammad and his companions used to write down the Quranic verses and Hadiths. Over time, the art of calligraphy evolved into a complex and sophisticated form of art that incorporated a wide range of styles, techniques, and themes.

One of the most significant contributions of Sufi calligraphy to Islamic art is the development of the “Huruf Muqatta’at,” or the “disjoined letters.” These are the letters of the Arabic alphabet that are considered to have mystical significance and are often used in Sufi calligraphy to convey deeper meanings and symbolic interpretations.

Sufi calligraphers have used a variety of techniques to create intricate and complex designs, using a range of materials, including paper, parchment, and silk. Some of the most famous Sufi calligraphers include Ibn Muqla, Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti, and Sheikh Hamdani.

Today, Sufi calligraphy continues to be a vital part of Sufi culture and tradition, with many artists and scholars continuing to explore the mystical dimensions of this unique form of art. Sufi calligraphy is not only a means of expressing spiritual and mystical themes, but also a way of preserving the rich cultural heritage of Sufism and Islamic art.

Sufi Miniature Painting

Sufi miniature painting is a form of Islamic art that originated in Persia and later spread to other regions such as India and Turkey. It is characterized by its use of vibrant colors, intricate details, and spiritual themes. Sufi miniatures often depict scenes from Sufi poetry, mythology, and legends, as well as scenes from the lives of Sufi saints and mystics.

One of the most famous examples of Sufi miniature painting is the illustrations found in the manuscript of the Masnavi, a collection of Sufi poetry written by Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic. The Masnavi contains over 25,000 couplets and is considered one of the greatest works of Sufi literature. The illustrations in the manuscript are thought to have been created by the Persian artist Bihzad, who is known for his use of bright colors and dynamic compositions.

Sufi miniature painting was not just limited to illustrations in manuscripts. It was also used to decorate walls, tiles, and other surfaces in Sufi shrines and mosques. The paintings often depicted mystical and spiritual themes, such as the union of the soul with God, the journey of the soul through the afterlife, and the life of Sufi saints and mystics.

One of the most famous examples of Sufi miniature painting is the tile work found in the Golestan Palace in Iran. The palace was built in the 16th century and contains a large collection of Sufi miniatures that depict scenes from Persian mythology and Sufi poetry. The tiles are known for their intricate details and use of bright colors, which were used to create a sense of spiritual awe and wonder.

In conclusion, Sufi miniature painting is a unique and beautiful form of Islamic art that reflects the mystical and spiritual themes of Sufism. From the illustrations in manuscripts to the tile work in Sufi shrines and mosques, Sufi miniature painting offers a glimpse into the mystical world of Sufism and its impact on Islamic art and culture.

Sufi Music and Dance

Sufi music and dance have been an integral part of Sufi tradition since its inception. Sufi music, also known as “Qawwali,” is a form of devotional music that is sung during Sufi gatherings, called “Sama.” Sufi dance, also known as “Sufi Whirling,” is a form of physical expression that is used to achieve a spiritual state of mind.

Sufi music is characterized by its soulful and emotional quality, and it is often accompanied by the use of traditional Sufi instruments such as the tabla, sitar, and flute. The lyrics of Sufi music are typically written in Arabic, Persian, or Urdu, and they often focus on themes of love, devotion, and spiritual longing.

Sufi dance, on the other hand, is a physical expression of spiritual devotion. The Sufi Whirling dance is performed by a Sufi dervish, who spins around in a circular motion while reciting prayers or poetry. The purpose of this dance is to achieve a state of spiritual ecstasy, and it is believed to bring the dancer closer to God.

The Sufi Whirling dance is often accompanied by Sufi music, and the two are closely intertwined. The dance is performed in a trance-like state, and the Sufi dervish is said to be “possessed” by the spirit of God. The dance is a form of meditation, and it is believed to help the dancer achieve a state of spiritual enlightenment.

In conclusion, Sufi music and dance are an essential part of Sufi tradition, and they provide a unique and mystical experience for those who participate in them. Through the use of devotional music and physical expression, Sufis are able to connect with the divine and achieve a state of spiritual ecstasy.

Sufi Architecture

Sufi architecture is a unique and distinct form of architectural expression that emerged from the mystical and spiritual beliefs of the Sufis. The architecture of Sufi centers, shrines, and tombs reflects the mystical and symbolic dimensions of Sufi thought and practice.

One of the most striking features of Sufi architecture is its emphasis on simplicity, austerity, and minimalism. Sufi buildings are often small, simple, and unadorned, reflecting the Sufi emphasis on inner spirituality and the rejection of materialism and ostentation.

Sufi architecture also reflects the importance of the concept of “annihilation” (fana) in Sufi thought, which involves the complete surrender of the self to the divine. Many Sufi buildings have a “whirling” or “spinning” motif, which represents the process of annihilation and the dissolution of the self into the divine.

Sufi architecture also incorporates symbolic elements that reflect the mystical and spiritual dimensions of Sufi thought. For example, many Sufi buildings have a “mihrab,” or a niche in the wall that indicates the direction of Mecca and serves as a focal point for prayer and meditation. The mihrab often has a circular or domed shape, which symbolizes the infinite and boundless nature of the divine.

Another important feature of Sufi architecture is its use of light and sound. Many Sufi buildings have small windows or openings that allow for the entry of natural light, creating a serene and meditative atmosphere. The use of music and singing is also an important aspect of Sufi architecture, with many Sufi shrines and centers featuring the melodic and soulful sounds of Sufi music.

Overall, Sufi architecture is a unique and powerful expression of the mystical and spiritual dimensions of Sufi thought and practice. Through its emphasis on simplicity, symbolism, and the use of light and sound, Sufi architecture provides a powerful means of accessing the mystical and spiritual dimensions of Sufism.

The Sufi Way of Life: Spirituality and Philosophy

Sufi Teachings on Love and Devotion

The Sufi tradition emphasizes the importance of love and devotion as central tenets of their spiritual practice. This emphasis is rooted in the belief that the path to enlightenment and union with the divine can only be achieved through the purification of the heart and the cultivation of love.

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Sufi teachings on love and devotion emphasize the idea that the love of God is the foundation of all spiritual practice. Sufis believe that God is the source of all love and that the ultimate goal of spiritual practice is to become united with this divine love.

One of the key practices in Sufi devotion is the concept of “dhikr,” which refers to the remembrance of God. This practice involves the repetition of divine names or phrases, such as “Allah” or “Hu,” as a means of focusing the mind and heart on the divine.

Another important aspect of Sufi devotion is the concept of “tasawwuf,” which refers to the spiritual practices and disciplines that are designed to purify the heart and cultivate love. These practices may include meditation, fasting, and the study of sacred texts.

Sufis also place a strong emphasis on the importance of spiritual guidance and mentorship. The relationship between a Sufi teacher and student is seen as a crucial component of the spiritual journey, as the teacher is seen as a guide who can help the student navigate the challenges and obstacles on the path to enlightenment.

Overall, the Sufi teachings on love and devotion emphasize the importance of cultivating a deep and abiding love for the divine, and of seeking guidance and support from spiritual teachers and mentors along the way.

Sufi Concept of Tawhid (Oneness of God)

The Sufi concept of Tawhid, or the Oneness of God, is central to Sufi philosophy and spirituality. This belief system holds that God is the one and only reality, and that all things emanate from this divine source. According to Sufis, everything in the universe, including human beings, is a manifestation of God’s presence.

In Sufi thought, the Oneness of God is not simply a matter of belief or doctrine, but a lived experience of unity with the divine. Sufis seek to attain a state of spiritual insight and awareness, known as “unveiling” or “knowledge of the unseen,” which allows them to perceive the true nature of reality and their connection to God.

The Sufi understanding of Tawhid is deeply influenced by Islamic theology, which emphasizes the oneness of God as a fundamental belief. However, Sufis go beyond this basic tenet to explore the mystical dimensions of God’s unity, emphasizing the direct experience of the divine through spiritual practices such as meditation, contemplation, and devotion.

One key aspect of the Sufi concept of Tawhid is the idea of “divine love,” which sees the relationship between God and human beings as one of deep affection and intimacy. Sufis believe that through spiritual practices and devotion, individuals can cultivate a profound sense of love and connection with the divine, transcending the limits of their individual egos and experiencing a sense of unity with the entire universe.

Sufi art, with its emphasis on mystical and spiritual themes, often reflects the Sufi concept of Tawhid and the Oneness of God. By depicting the divine in symbolic and metaphorical ways, Sufi artists seek to evoke a sense of unity and connection with the divine, and to convey the deep spiritual insights and experiences of Sufi mystics.

Sufi Views on Ethics and Morality

The Sufis, as a mystical order within Islam, were known for their deep commitment to ethics and morality. They believed that spiritual growth and moral development were intertwined, and that a person could not achieve one without the other. Sufis emphasized the importance of cultivating inner virtues such as compassion, humility, and self-control, which they believed were essential for attaining spiritual enlightenment.

One of the key principles of Sufi ethics was the concept of “tawakkul,” or “surrender to the divine will.” This involved a deep trust in God’s guidance and a willingness to submit oneself to His plan, even when it was difficult or seemed to go against one’s own desires. Sufis believed that by surrendering to God’s will, they could overcome their own egos and desires and achieve a greater sense of peace and inner peace.

Another important aspect of Sufi ethics was the practice of “adab,” or “good manners.” This involved treating others with kindness, respect, and humility, and striving to cultivate virtues such as patience, generosity, and honesty. Sufis believed that by practicing good manners, they could create a more harmonious and peaceful world, both for themselves and for those around them.

Sufis also placed a strong emphasis on the importance of knowledge and education. They believed that by seeking knowledge and understanding, both about the world around them and about themselves, they could gain a deeper appreciation for the mysteries of existence and the divine. This pursuit of knowledge was seen as a way to cultivate spiritual growth and moral development, and was therefore highly valued within the Sufi tradition.

Overall, the Sufi views on ethics and morality emphasized the importance of cultivating inner virtues, surrendering to the divine will, practicing good manners, and seeking knowledge and understanding. These principles continue to influence Sufi art and culture to this day, and serve as a testament to the enduring legacy of this mystical order.

Sufism in the Modern World: Revival and Relevance

Sufism and Contemporary Islamic Thought

  • The role of Sufism in shaping Islamic thought
    • Sufism as a mystical tradition that has deeply influenced Islamic thought and practice
    • Emphasis on spiritual and inner dimensions of Islam, as opposed to legalistic and dogmatic approaches
    • Focus on personal transformation and direct experience of the divine
    • Reconciliation of reason and revelation, body and soul, worldly and otherworldly aspects of Islam
  • Revival of Sufism in contemporary Islamic thought
    • Growing interest in Sufism among Muslim intellectuals and scholars in the contemporary era
    • Re-evaluation of the importance of spirituality and mysticism in Islam
    • Emphasis on the relevance of Sufi teachings and practices for addressing contemporary social, political, and cultural issues
    • Attempts to bridge the gap between traditional Sufism and modern intellectual and cultural trends
    • Efforts to integrate Sufi insights into the discourse on Islam and Muslim identity in the global context
    • Recognition of the diversity and pluralism within Sufism, and its potential for fostering tolerance and interfaith dialogue
  • Sufism as a source of spiritual and moral guidance
    • Sufism as a means of nurturing inner peace, compassion, and social harmony
    • Emphasis on ethical and moral dimensions of Sufi teachings, such as love, humility, and self-discipline
    • Contribution of Sufism to the development of Islamic social and political thought, including concepts of justice, equality, and community building
    • Sufi influences on Islamic art, music, poetry, and literature, which have shaped the cultural heritage of Islamic civilization
    • Sufism as a catalyst for personal and social transformation, promoting the values of peace, tolerance, and universal humanism

Sufism and Interfaith Dialogue

Bridging the Gap

In today’s world, Sufism is playing a significant role in fostering interfaith dialogue. By transcending the boundaries of traditional religious divisions, Sufism encourages a deeper understanding and appreciation of the commonalities shared by different faiths. Through its mystical teachings, Sufism invites individuals from diverse backgrounds to engage in meaningful conversations, fostering mutual respect and harmony.

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Promoting Unity in Diversity

Sufism’s emphasis on the spiritual essence of religion, rather than focusing on external differences, makes it an ideal catalyst for interfaith dialogue. By emphasizing the shared human experience of seeking spiritual growth and connection with the divine, Sufism promotes unity in diversity. Through the exploration of Sufi art, individuals from various faiths can find common ground, appreciating the universal themes of love, compassion, and self-reflection.

The Power of Mysticism

Sufism’s mystical dimension offers a powerful means of connecting with the divine, transcending the limitations of dogma and sectarianism. By engaging in interfaith dialogue, Sufis can share their experiences of spiritual growth and inner transformation, inspiring others to embark on their own journeys of self-discovery. In this way, Sufism contributes to the broader movement of interfaith understanding, fostering a shared commitment to peace, tolerance, and mutual respect.

Embracing the Human Spirit

At the core of Sufism lies a profound understanding of the human spirit, recognizing the inherent dignity and worth of every individual. By engaging in interfaith dialogue, Sufis can share their insights into the shared nature of the human experience, emphasizing the importance of compassion, empathy, and cooperation. In this way, Sufism serves as a beacon of hope, inspiring individuals from diverse backgrounds to come together in pursuit of a more harmonious and understanding world.

The Impact of Sufism on World Spirituality

  • The Influence of Sufism on Mysticism and Spirituality
    • The role of Sufism in the development of mysticism
      • The impact of Sufi teachings on the concept of the self and the divine
      • The relationship between Sufism and other mystical traditions, such as Christian mysticism and Hindu mysticism
    • The relevance of Sufism in contemporary spirituality
      • The increasing interest in Sufism among people seeking a deeper spiritual experience
      • The growing popularity of Sufi practices, such as meditation and devotional music, in non-Muslim communities
  • The Intersection of Sufism and other Religious Traditions
    • The dialogue between Sufism and Christianity
      • The shared emphasis on love and compassion in the teachings of both traditions
      • The mutual influence of Sufism and Christian mysticism on each other’s spiritual practices
    • The relationship between Sufism and Hinduism
      • The common ground in the understanding of the self and the divine in both traditions
      • The exchange of ideas and practices between Sufism and Hindu mysticism
  • The Contribution of Sufism to the Spiritual Landscape
    • The significance of Sufism in the development of Islamic spirituality
      • The role of Sufism in shaping the Islamic understanding of the self and the divine
      • The impact of Sufi teachings on the practice of Islam in different regions and cultures
    • The importance of Sufism in the contemporary spiritual search
      • The relevance of Sufi teachings on love, compassion, and humility in a world seeking spiritual guidance
      • The potential for interfaith dialogue and understanding through the study of Sufism.

The Future of Sufism: Challenges and Opportunities

The future of Sufism in the modern world is a subject of much debate and discussion. On one hand, the revival of Sufism in contemporary times has provided new opportunities for the spiritual practice to thrive. However, there are also several challenges that need to be addressed in order to ensure the future of Sufism.

One of the main challenges facing Sufism in the modern world is the growing influence of materialism and consumerism. As people become more focused on material possessions and the pursuit of wealth, spiritual practices like Sufism may be seen as less relevant or important. This has led to a decline in the number of people actively practicing Sufism, as well as a decrease in the number of Sufi communities around the world.

Another challenge facing Sufism is the increasing political and religious polarization in many parts of the world. Sufism, as a mystical and spiritual practice, often transcends traditional religious boundaries and can be seen as a threat by some religious extremists. This has led to attacks on Sufi communities and the destruction of Sufi shrines and cultural heritage sites.

Despite these challenges, there are also several opportunities for the future of Sufism. The rise of spirituality and mindfulness practices in the Western world has led to a renewed interest in Sufism and other mystical traditions. Additionally, the growing awareness of the importance of preserving cultural heritage and spiritual traditions has led to increased efforts to protect and promote Sufi art and culture.

In order to ensure the future of Sufism, it is important to address the challenges facing the practice while also taking advantage of the opportunities that exist. This may involve efforts to promote Sufism as a spiritual practice that is relevant to contemporary issues, as well as efforts to protect and preserve Sufi cultural heritage sites and art. By doing so, it may be possible to ensure the continued revival and relevance of Sufism in the modern world.


1. Who were known as Sufis?

Sufis, also known as mystics or dervishes, were individuals who sought a personal experience of the divine through a spiritual path. They were not a specific sect or religious group, but rather a spiritual movement that transcended religious boundaries and emerged in Islamic societies from the 8th to the 14th centuries. Sufis sought to cultivate a direct relationship with God through practices such as meditation, music, poetry, and dance, and they often sought out spiritual teachers to guide them on their journey.

2. What was the significance of Sufi art?

Sufi art played a crucial role in the spiritual lives of Sufis, as it was often used as a means of expressing the ineffable nature of divine love and unity. Sufi art included calligraphy, illumination, miniature painting, and music, and it was often used to depict scenes from Sufi poetry and stories. Sufi art was not only aesthetically pleasing, but it also served as a spiritual tool for Sufis to contemplate and connect with the divine.

3. How did Sufi art influence Islamic art?

Sufi art had a profound impact on Islamic art, as it introduced new themes, techniques, and styles that were adopted by artists throughout the Islamic world. Sufi artists often experimented with new ways of depicting the human form, and they incorporated elements from other cultures, such as Persian and Chinese art. This exchange of ideas and techniques led to the development of new styles of Islamic art, such as the illuminated manuscripts of the Persian Safavid period.

4. Can Sufi art be appreciated by non-Muslims?

Yes, Sufi art can be appreciated by non-Muslims as it represents a universal expression of the human experience of love and spirituality. While Sufi art is rooted in Islamic culture and tradition, its themes of love, unity, and transcendence are universal and can be appreciated by people of all backgrounds. In fact, many non-Muslims have been drawn to Sufi art for its beauty and spiritual depth.

5. How can I learn more about Sufi art?

There are many resources available for learning about Sufi art, including books, online articles, and exhibitions. Some notable museums with collections of Sufi art include the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney, and the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha. Additionally, there are many online resources, such as the Sufi Art website, which offers a wealth of information on Sufi art and artists.

How is Sufism related to Islam?

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