The Sufi path relies on meditation called zikr (or dhikr). At its most basic level, Sufi zikr consists of repeating one of Allah’s names over and over. Zikr literally means “repetition,” “remembrance,” “utterance,” or “mentioning”; in the Quran it appears in the context of urging Muslims to remember their Lord frequently.
In Islam, Allah is believed to have many names that describe some aspect of His nature. Of course, 99 are considered special and are called the “Most Beautiful Names.” The name of God used most frequently in zikr exercises is “Allah” (which Sufis see as the most excellent name), although others, such as Rahim (Merciful) or Wahid (Unique) are also used. The purpose of reciting these names is to concentrate wholly on what you are doing and to lose all self-awareness. Your entire being becomes permeated with the zikr formula through repetition so that even if you cease actively to engage in zikr, it continues to be repeated in your heart.

Waiting to Exhale

Some zikr exercises involve the repetitions of longer formulas, while others also entail complicated methods of breathing control. An example of a relatively simple zikr exercise involving breathing control requires the Sufi to say out loud a bisyllabic name of God (Such as “Wahid,” meaning “The Unique”), inhaling on the first syllable and exhaling on the second.

This practice is called the “Sawing zikr,” because the distinctive sound made by speaking while inhaling and then while exhaling resembles the noise made by a saw as it cuts through wood. Other forms of zikr are much more complicated, such as the one that involves reciting the formula “There is no god but Allah” in a long breath broken up into five beats. Some older, complex motivational exercises were very difficult to learn on one’s own, and only became popular after the master-disciple relationship had evolved to the point that Sufis were organized into hierarchical Sufi orders, called tariqas.

Organized Sufism

By the thirteenth century, Islamic education and legal institutions had been formalized, as had the relationship between the government and theological and legal scholars, therefore,erefore no surprise that Sufism would be taken an organized form and compete for social legitimacy and authority with other religious movements and institutions.

The earliest sufi orders were made up of the disciples of a particular master; after these disciples had themselves become accomplished Sufis, they imparted theirs master's teachings to their own students. So began the tradition of students obeying the teachings of an initial master, and following the Tariqa (path), an organizational system that became formalized by the fifteenth century.

Many Sufi orders have been extremely important in the evolution of Islamic society. Not only did they have prominent scholars and philosophers developing their ideas, but frequently major figures in the government belonged to these orders. This meant that Sufi orders could influence the official policies of the kingdom. Three such orders deserve special attention: Chishti, Mevlevi, and Naqshbandi.