At the time of the Prophet and his companions, the term Sufism (Tasawwuf) did not exist as a distinct discipline. Rather it was inseparably present in the spirituality of Islam. ‘It was a reality without a name’ which was practiced in the daily lives of the companions through their spiritual initiation at the hand of the Prophet. He was their ‘living model’ and source of inspiration.
The ‘People of the Bench’ (Ahl As Suffa)* can historically be regarded as the first Sufis as they regularly held gatherings of invocation and received the blessing of being alluded to in the following revelation:
“Restrain yourself together with those who pray to their Lord morning and evening seeking His Face. Do not turn your eyes away from them in the quest for the good things of this life; nor obey any whose heart we have made heedless of Our remembrance who follows his own lust and gives loose reign to his desires.”
(Qur’an Al-Khahf (The Cave), verse 28)
It is therefore clear that the Prophet received the divine order to be present with this group of companions and to call upon GOD with them. The People of the Bench*were companions of the Prophet Muhammad (..) many of whom were of foreign origin (e.g. Bilal from Ethiopia, Salman from Persia and Suhaib from Rome. They had suffered much injustice and maltreatment from the nobility of the tribe of Qureysh. Both their material poverty and their high spiritual aspiration qualify them to be described as ‘faqir’ meaning poor in front of GODand as a ‘murid’ (A murid one who wants to reach the knowledge of Allah. This term is used in the Quranic verse ‘yuridoune wajhahu’ (wanting the vision of His face). This contains the verb ‘yuridu’ meaning ‘to want’. The one who is in the state of ‘wanting’ is known as a ‘murid‘.
Sayyiduna Ali (died 46 A.H. / 666 A.D.) was the cousin, son-in-law and companion of the Prophet. He is regarded as the starting point of the principal chains of transmission of the spiritual heritage of the Messenger of GOD. Other transmitters of note include Anas bin Malik (died 93 A.H.) and Salman Al Farsi(died 36 A.H.)
* The name ‘The People of the Bench’ (Ahl As Suffa) according to some Muslim historians provided the origin of the word ‘Sufi’.