Origins of the Term, “Soofiyyah” (Sufism)
Alhamdulillaah; as for the word ‘As-Soofiyyah’, then it was never well known during the first three generations. Rather speech concerning it became well known after that. So more than one from amongst the Imaams and the Shuyookh have made reference to it in speech such as Imaam Ahmad bin Hanbal and Abee Sulaimaan Ad-Daaraani and other them. Likewise it has been related from Sufyaan Ath-Thawree that he spoke concerning it, and some of them mention this from Al-Hasan Al-Basree yet they differed in its meaning to which the Soofee attributes himself to. For it is from the names of affiliation (origin); such as Al-Qurashee and Al-Madanee and the like of that.
It has been said; that it is an affiliation to the people of ‘As-Suffah’ – and this is incorrect, since if that were the case then it would be said: ‘Sufiyyee’.
It has been said; that it is an affiliation to the ‘Saff al-muqaddam’ (the foremost row) in front of Allaah – and this is also incorrect, since if that were the case then it would be said: ‘Safiyy’.
It has been said; that it is an affiliation to the ‘Safwah’ (choicest/prime) from the creation of Allaah – and this is incorrect, since if that were the case then it would be said: ‘Safawee’.
It has been said; that it is an affiliation to Soofah bin Bishr bin Adda bin Taabikhah; a tribe from amongst the Arabs who used to live in the neighbourhood of Makkah from old times, ascetics/hermits are attributed to them – and this – despite its agreement in affiliation by way of the wording – is still weak nevertheless. Since these people were not renowned, likewise they were not known amongst most of the ascetics. Since it is the case that if the ascetics were to affiliate themselves to these people, then the affiliation to the times of the Companions and the Taabi’een and those who followed them in excellence would have taken precedence. It is the case that the majority of those that spoke with the title of ‘Soofee’ were not aware of this tribe, nor would they be happy with being attributed to a tribe from the days of Jaahiliyyah which has no existence for itself in Al-Islaam.
It has been said; and it is the more well known – that it is an affiliation to the wearing of ‘Soof’ (wool), for indeed the first appearance of As-Soofiyyah was from Al-Basrah. Likewise the first to build a Monastry for the Soofiyyah were some of the companions of ‘Abdil Waahid bin Zaid and ‘Abdil Waahid was from the companions of Al-Hasan (Al-Basree). There were found in Al-Basrah excesses in Az-zuhd and worship and fear and the likes of that which were not present in all of the people of the lands. It was for this reason that it used to be said:
‘The Fiqh of the Koofee and the worship of the Basriyyah’.
Abu Ash-Shaikh Al-Asbahaani reports with his chain of narration from Muhammad bin Seereen that it had reached him that a people had preferred the wearing of wool. So he said:
‘Indeed the people have chosen wool; and they say that they are imitating the Messiah the son of Maryam, whilst the guidance of our Prophet is more beloved to us. Since the Prophet (Sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) used to wear cotton and other than it’. Or speech with the like of this.
[Shaykh ul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah|Majmoo’ al-fataawaa Shaikh ul Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah vol 11 pages 5-7]