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Islam vs. Sufism: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 13, 2023
Islam is a major world religion, whereas Sufism is a mystical Islamic belief system emphasizing personal experiences of the divine.

Key Differences

Islam represents a monotheistic faith, believing in one God, Allah, and Prophet Muhammad as His messenger. It encompasses a variety of beliefs, practices, and sects under its broad umbrella. Core beliefs of Islam include the faith in a single, omnipotent, and benevolent deity and adherence to the teachings and practices delineated in the Qur'an and Hadith. Its practices involve the Five Pillars: Shahada (faith), Salah (prayer), Zakat (charity), Sawm (fasting), and Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca).
Sufism, while firmly rooted in Islam, emphasizes mystical, intimate, and personal experiences with the divine. It seeks a deeper, inward path, often expressing devotion through poetry, music, and dance, notably through the Whirling Dervishes. Sufis aim for a spiritual journey, navigating towards divine love and knowledge through direct encounters. They typically join a specific order (Tariqa), each guided by a spiritual leader, and they might participate in gatherings (Zikr) to remember Allah.
In contrast, Islam provides a comprehensive life framework, governing aspects from daily routines to broader societal governance via Sharia law. It sets specific guidelines about morality, ethics, and social justice, and these principles are expected to be followed by all adherents. Islam is not only a spiritual guide but also dictates social, political, and cultural aspects of life, ensuring a collective identity and unity among its believers, with clear instructions and guidelines.
Sufism often transcends these stringent practices and navigates towards spiritual enlightenment through meditative practices and love. Sufis may diverge by seeking to experience spirituality outside of conventional religious practices and mosques. They search for the divine within their souls and seek to obliterate the ego, with a less pronounced focus on the legalistic aspect. Sufis might practice asceticism, withdrawing from worldly pleasures to engage in spiritual contemplation.
It's pivotal to note that Islam and Sufism are not mutually exclusive. Sufism operates within the domain of Islam, sharing fundamental beliefs but adopting a specific mystical and experiential approach towards understanding and connecting with the divine. While Islam provides the foundational theological and legal framework, Sufism often extends to explore a deeper spiritual connection, with both ultimately aiming to draw the believer closer to Allah in distinct yet interconnected ways.

Comparison Chart


A religion with specific beliefs, rituals, and laws.
A mystical, spiritual path within Islam.


Follows a well-defined theological and legal structure.
Emphasizes personal, intimate experiences with God.


Involves strict adherence to the Five Pillars of Islam.
Involves mystical practices, like Zikr and Whirling.


Encompasses both spiritual and worldly aspects of life.
Primarily focused on the spiritual aspect of life.


May not heavily utilize art and music in worship.
Often utilizes poetry, music, and dance in devotion.

Islam and Sufism Definitions


Islam categorizes actions and entities as permissible (Halal) or forbidden (Haram) based on religious texts.
Islam ensures that adherents maintain a lifestyle aligned with its foundational ethical and moral principles.


Sufism embodies the mystical branch of Islam, prioritizing personal experiences of the divine.
Sufism seeks to explore the divine through love, devotion, and often, through the arts.


Islam is a monotheistic religion founded on the beliefs and teachings of Prophet Muhammad.
Islam, with its diverse global following, deeply influences various cultural and societal norms.


Sufism promotes an inward, spiritual journey, aspiring to establish an intimate connection with God.
Through Sufism, individuals embark on an inner voyage to understand and embrace the divine essence.


Islam encompasses a comprehensive life guide, establishing both spiritual and societal directives.
Islam prescribes clear guidelines for aspects ranging from daily activities to community interactions.


Sufism organizes adherents into orders (Tariqas), each led by a spiritual guide or sheikh.
In Sufism, seekers often adhere to a Tariqa to navigate their spiritual path under a sage's guidance.


Islam underscores the importance of community (Ummah), promoting collective unity and cooperation.
In Islam, the concept of Ummah fosters a sense of belonging and collective responsibility among believers.


Sufism encourages ascetic practices and devotion to explore deeper dimensions of faith and spirituality.
The practice of asceticism in Sufism sometimes entails withdrawing from worldly pleasures to deepen spiritual awareness.


Islam maintains distinct practices, including prayer (Salah) and fasting (Sawm), reinforcing spiritual discipline.
Observing the practices of Islam, such as daily prayers, fortifies spiritual connections and character.


Sufism often incorporates expressive forms, like poetry and dance, as mediums of spiritual expression.
Rumi, a Sufi poet, used his writings in Sufism to eloquently express the soul’s longing for God.


A monotheistic religion characterized by the doctrine of absolute submission to God and by reverence for Muhammad as the chief and last prophet of God.


Islamic mysticism.


The people or nations that practice Islam; the Muslim world.


A refined mysticism among certain classes of Mohammedans, particularly in Persia, who hold to a kind of pantheism and practice extreme asceticism in their lives.


Islamic mysticism


What is Sufism?

Sufism is a mystical, spiritual path within Islam, focusing on personal, intimate experiences with God.

Are Sufism and Islam the same?

No, while Sufism exists within the framework of Islam, it emphasizes mysticism and personal divine experiences, differing from broader Islamic practices and beliefs.

How is Sharia derived in Islam?

Sharia, or Islamic law, is derived from the Qur’an and Hadith (sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad), guiding various aspects of life.

What is Jihad in Islam?

Jihad primarily refers to striving in the path of God, which can involve spiritual, verbal, and, when necessary, physical efforts.

What is the ultimate goal of a Sufi?

The ultimate goal of a Sufi typically involves achieving closeness with God, often described as a union or intimate knowledge.

What is the Qur'an?

The Qur'an is the holy book of Islam, believed to be the literal word of God as revealed to Prophet Muhammad.

What is a Tariqa in Sufism?

A Tariqa is a Sufi order or path, often led by a spiritual leader (sheikh), guiding adherents on their spiritual journey.

Can Sufis be from any Islamic sect?

Yes, Sufism can be found across various Islamic sects, bridging differences with its universal spiritual appeal.

What is the importance of Mecca in Islam?

Mecca is the holiest city in Islam, being the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad and the site of the Kaaba, towards which Muslims pray.

What is the role of the mosque in Islam?

Mosques in Islam serve as places of worship, community gathering, learning, and sometimes, administration.

What practices are unique to Sufism?

Sufism often involves specific spiritual practices like Zikr (remembrance of God), spiritual poetry, and sometimes, dance and music as mediums of divine expression.

How does Islam perceive the afterlife?

Islam believes in an afterlife, where individuals are judged and then enter paradise or hell based on their deeds and faith.

What is Islam?

Islam is a monotheistic religion that believes in Allah and follows the teachings of Prophet Muhammad.

What are the foundational beliefs of Islam?

Islam’s core beliefs include faith in Allah, angels, prophets, divine books, the Day of Judgment, and divine decree (Qadar).

Is Sufism present in all Islamic countries?

Sufism has widespread influence but may not be present or prevalent in all Islamic countries or communities.

What are the Five Pillars of Islam?

The Five Pillars are Shahada (faith), Salah (prayer), Zakat (charity), Sawm (fasting), and Hajj (pilgrimage).

How do Sufis perceive God?

Sufis perceive God as an immanent and transcendent reality, seeking to experience His presence intimately and internally.

How does Islam view prophets?

Islam respects all prophets, from Adam to Muhammad, as messengers who conveyed God’s guidance to humanity.

How essential is the spiritual guide in Sufism?

Typically crucial, a spiritual guide or sheikh helps navigate adherents through their spiritual path, offering wisdom and direction in Sufism.

Can someone be both a practicing Muslim and a Sufi?

Yes, Sufis are generally practicing Muslims but adopt additional spiritual practices and perspectives unique to Sufism.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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