Sufism (taṣawwuf in Arabic) is a spiritual current in Islam that is often also initiatory and esoteric. Practitioners consider Sufism a methodology proposed by spiritual experts (saints). Its purpose is to lead practitioners from simple adherence to the formal aspects of Islam to realizing the complete inner and outer potential of the tradition. As such it is a path to enligthenment and spiritual realization. Of course, this general objective has manifested itself in a variety of ways in Islamic societies.
Historically, Sufism has been a significant component of Islam, although in the modern era it is frequently marginalized in official representations of the religion by Westerners as well as Muslim elites. Such representations confuse orthodoxy and legalism. Most Muslim scholars throughout history have understood their faith to include both an esoteric (bâṭin) aspect, which is the domain of Sufism, and an exoteric (ẓahir) aspect of which Islamic law is but one area of specialization. Orthodoxy has generally consisted of balancing both esoteric and exoteric aspects.
My research focuses mainly on those Sufi currents that perceive themselves as orthodox Sunni. However, there is a similar Shia current that generally identifies itself as ‘irfân (gnosis) rather than taṣawwuf. There are also groups which identify as Sufi without necessary attachment to mainstream Islam. For instance, this is the case of certain New-Age type groups based in the West.