Islam / Orientations/ Sufism /
Other spellings: Rifa'iya, Rifa'iyya
The Rifa'i order was founded in 1183, as an offshoot of the Qadiriya, upon the death of the extremely pious Ahmad ar-Rifa'i of Basra.
The Rifa'i order has always stressed the importance of an ascetic life style. Poverty, abstinence and self-mortification are central virtues. Ahmad ar-Rifa'i also promoted the doctrine of not harming even the smallest living creature. Also when a person was sick or in trouble, it believed he should fight his situation.
The Rifa'i dhikr involves extreme actions. These actions were not defined by Ahmad ar-Rifa'i himself, but seem to have been introduced to the order in the times following the Mongol invasion of Iraq in the middle of the 13th century. The extreme actions involve dangerous acts like eating glass, being touched by hot irons, penetrating the body with sharp objects and swallowing swords. Originally, riding of lions was also done.
The central part of dhikr involves members dancing in circles, throwing their bodies back and forth until ecstasy is achieved. Members fall to the ground where dangerous objects, like swords and snakes, have been placed. The Rifa'i are also reported to deal with magical practices.
Together with other Sufi orders, the Rifa'i were outlawed in Turkey in 1925.
In Syria, the Rifa'i are known as Sa'diyya. They broke from mainstream Rifa'i in the 14th century. They are noted for a special form of dhikr movement, in which ecstasy is achieved by whirling around on the right heel. After the members have fallen to the ground, the shaykh will ride over the bodies with a horse.
The group known as Howling Dervishes is often said to be the Rifa'i, but this appears to be incorrect, as the Howling Dervishes belonged to the Kadiri order. The Kadiri order was, however, a sub-order to the Rifa'i.