The original Sufi were basically mystics – people who followed a pious form of Islam and who believed that a direct, personal experience of God could be achieved through meditation and self-discipline.
I’ve always heard that Sufi were more tolerant than Sunni or Shia Muslims. Looking at the initiation ceremony for little boys in the video below, I’m not sure which is worse, this, or the Shia Ashura festival where they cut people’s heads (but not off)
ABOUT– Sufism is important to the development of Islam because it is in this tradition that the more spiritual and mystical aspects were preserved. This stands in contrast to the mainstream of Islam which, through its first centuries, was more concerned with the expansion and organization of the general community.
Whereas mainstream Islam tended to be rather scholastic in nature, Sufism focused on personal peity, which was easier for many Muslims to accept and live by. Although the Sufis tended to integrate beliefs and practices which came from outside Islam, those beliefs and practices were integral in the cultures to which Islam had been transplanted.
This made Sufism more appealing to indigenous people converting to Islam. Thus, Sufis were effectively Muslim missionaries, presenting to new peoples a more interesting face and belief system. They also tended to act as defenders of the lower classes against corrupt rulers.
H/T Susan K