RIMA Brief – September 2023
Contemporary Sufism In Singapore
Speaker: Dr. Muhammad Mubarak Habib Mohamed


Key Takeaways

1. In recent years, Singaporean Muslims have become more open towards Sufism classes, while newly-established Sufi groups are active both virtually and physically.

2. Studies on Sufism has mainly been conducted through Western frameworks whose worldview is foreign to Islam, perceiving Islamic Spirituality elements as separate and distinctive.

3. Studying Contemporary Sufism should be conducted within an Islamic framework, which means incorporating the principle of Tawḥīd while understanding its true subject matter, which is the human soul, and its purpose, which is the establishment of good character.

4. The subject matter, focus and purpose of Sufism cannot be overshadowed by the various external factors that may or may not have impacted the development of Sufism.

5. The communal and social nature of Sufism, as has been demonstrated by local Sufi leaders and asatizah, should be emphasised in Sufism scholarship.


Historically, Sufism is a prominent religious orientation in Singapore’s context due to its role in the Islamisation of the Nusantara region. It has shaped the Singapore Muslim community’s current practice and understanding of Islam, as well as its religious organisations and institutions. This webinar seeks to explore the current manifestation of Sufism in the local Muslim community. It also seeks to explore the possible future trends with regard to Sufistic practice and understanding in the local and modern context.


The study of Contemporary Sufism has been conducted through Western frameworks that are not indigenous to the Islamic Intellectual Tradition. This has resulted in perspectives that veer from the nature of Sufism which is based upon a nuanced understanding of the Islamic Creed and Prophetic Traditions. There is a need to incorporate a unifying principle in studying Sufism, which will lead to a synthesised perspective on the different elements of Sufism. In addition to this, as Sufism in Singapore has become more dominant in public spaces and continues to play an important role for the Singapore Muslim community, a contextualised understanding and localised scholarship on the subject is needed.

Defining Sufism

In the context of discussing Contemporary Sufism, Dr. Mubarak introduced the need to distinguish the subject matter as 1) a spiritual practice or experience, 2) and an intellectual exposition of doctrines and methods. As a spiritual practice, he stated that there are no developments as it refers to the ‘same reality’ – practices that can be traced back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). As an intellectual exposition, it can be perceived as a historical development of Sufi doctrines which relates to important figures in Islamic intellectual history.

In Sufism discourse and practice, the foundation is based upon a metaphysical understanding of the Testimony of Faith shahāda) which is present through every developmental stage of Sufism. The first part of the testimony, ‘No god but Allāh’, leads to a nuanced understanding of reality that relates to the spiritual nature of Mankind. The second part, ‘Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, provides a framework in the form of the Prophetic personality model to understand the structure of Mankind in a metaphysical context. It provides practical steps on achieving perfection of the human personality and character, placing the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Prophetic Tradition (sunnah) as ideals to strive towards.

Dr. Mubarak stated that the definition of Sufism is the concrete contents of the principle of tawḥīd and its perfect human personification in the form of the Prophet’s Sunnah. The framework of studying and understanding Sufism should be conceptualised as both a phenomenon in Islam that engages with external factors, and also as part of the basic fitric (natural) needs of the human being, both at individual and communal levels. This means to move towards emulating the Prophetic Character individually, while striving to develop a cohesive society collectively.

Study of Sufism

Sufism has been the subject of constant study in the past and will continue to be so. Dr. Mubarak observed that Sufism can be found in various literatures on the subject of Islam in Singapore and the Nusantara region. They can roughly be divided into a few categories; 1) general analysis and discussion of Islam in the Nusantara region that cover significant socio-religious elements, 2) writings related to the specific context of Islam in Singapore, 3) studies and publications on intellectual figures and thought-leaders in Singapore and the Nusantara.

In studying a phenomenon such as Sufism, Dr. Mubarak cited the writing of Prof. Khairudin Aljunied, who states that four important factors must be considered: 1) global current and local appropriations, 2) the conduct of states and the everyday agency of Muslims in society, 3) scholarly and popular pieties, 4) the roles of Muslims and non-Muslims.

However, this framework excludes an important foundation, which is the principle of tawḥīd, the most universal root of Islam. This principle of tawḥīd, when applied at the individual and communal levels, will consider both the internal (individual human fitrah and the ummatic fitrah) with the external factors (all the various factors and interactions) that provide growth or overshadow the various dimensions of the fitrah at the individual and ummatic dimensions.

Dr. Mubarak highlighted and commented on 3 academic works on Sufism in Singapore. The first focussed on the rise and role of Tariqa (Sufi Orders) among Muslims in Singapore. While he acknowledged the thorough nature and various significant aspects of the study, its structure is built upon a social theory that comes from a Western perspective. The second publication focussed on the sensorial aspects of Sufistic practice by a Sufi Order in Singapore during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, while comprehensive in analysing a specific order, the study did not delve into how it influenced the spiritual well-being of its adherents. The third revolves around the Tamil Muslims in Singapore and their relation to the two significant elements of Sufi practice: saints and shrines.

Dr. Mubarak concluded from his analysis of these studies and the general study of Sufism in Singapore that they positioned Sufism as a phenomenon within Islam that responded to the various social, political and cultural environments. However, he stated that the frameworks of these studies do not incorporate the principle of tawḥīd and its relationship to the spiritual well-being of individuals and the community. This principle will reframe the perspective on the Testimony of Faith as one that binds the various diversities in Islam to the witnessing of the Oneness of God and the final Messenger of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Current Sufism in Singapore

In observing the current state of Sufism in Singapore, Dr Mubarak listed the major Sufi Orders in Singapore: Alawiyyah, Ahmadiyyah Idrisiyyah, Naqshabandi Haqqani, Shadhiliyyah, Chistiyyah, Qadariyyah, Qadariyyah Wa Naqshabandiyyah. Some of these orders have different branches that are affiliated with different individuals, organisations, and institutions. One example would be Qadariyyah Wa Naqshabandiyyah, which has two branches in Singapore: Khadijah Mosque and Al-Khidmah. Another example is Naqshabandi Haqqani, which has two groups; those who follow Shaykh Hisham Kabbani, and those who follow Shaykh Adnan Kabbani. Some of these orders would have their weekly gatherings and spiritual activities on the premises of mosques.

Upon observation, new Sufi orders have emerged in recent years. This can be seen in the presence of Sufistic organisations in the public space and on social media platforms. An example is a local organisation, Sout Ilaahi, which is influenced by the teachings of Shaykh Mahy Cisse of the Tijaniy Order. Another organisation, Ihsan Institute Singapore, is helmed by Shaykh Ahmad Saad Al-Azhari of the Qadariyyah Order. Another example is Nurul Asror, an organisation whose general practices are based upon the Baalwie orders, although it is of the Qadariyyah Wa Naqshabandiyyah order. Another example is the School of Sufi Teaching which offers the teachings of various Sufi orders. It is an example of a modern trend that synthesises practices and teachings from different Sufi orders.

These organisations denote an upward trend of public classes on Islamic Spirituality, as well as the presence of international scholars in Singapore who are well-versed in Sufism. These are indications of an increasing awareness from the Muslim community about the importance of Islamic Spirituality content and practices in their lives, especially in the English language.

Redefining the Study of Contemporary Sufism

In proposing an alternative methodology to study Contemporary Sufism, Dr. Mubarak suggested that it should be based upon the principle of tawḥīd, instead of forcing an organic phenomenon that originated from the Islamic Intellectual Tradition i.e., Sufism/Islamic Spirituality, in a Western-based framework that incorporates a worldview foreign to Islam. Thus, it is crucial to identify the subject matter and purpose of Sufism. The main subject matter is the human soul, while its purpose is the establishment of good character.

While the study and understanding of Sufism has been individual-oriented in nature, the study of Contemporary Sufism should be expanded and include the communal dimension of Islam. This leads to three additional fundamental questions that contemporary Sufism should address; 1) Where is the soul of the Muslim Community? 2) How do we define the spiritual well-being of our Muslim Community? 3) How can Sufism play a role in the purification of the soul of the Muslim Community?

Dr. Mubarak hypothesised that the soul of the Muslim Community depends on the ‘health’ of the community’s religious scholars and political leaders. For this reason, it is important to perceive separate and individual elements of Sufism – such as the various orders – as one unifying element in Islam whose role and purpose is to preserve both individual and communal soul. The underlying principle behind studying Contemporary Sufism should not be comparative, but rather unifying and synthesising to unify various elements of Sufism and actualise its objective.

Future areas of research

Building upon the suggested principles of studying Contemporary Sufism, Dr. Mubarak listed four common elements in Sufi Orders that contribute towards the purification of spiritual well-being on both individual and communal basis. The four elements are: 1) ‘ilm, 2) ‘amal, 3) riyaḍah, 4) khidmah. These elements will contribute towards a study framework that incorporates an Islamic worldview which is based upon the tawḥīdic principle and the Prophetic model. Such a framework will be holistic and comprehensive in its study and analysis, leading to a more impactful role for Sufism in the community.

Regarding ‘ilm (knowledge), relevant areas would be 1) to analyse the impact of local Sufi scholars in contributing to new understanding and applications of Sufi doctrines into the lives and thoughts of the local Muslim community, 2) to investigate the value-addedness of foreign Sufi teachers in terms of Sufi doctrines and knowledge to the local Muslim community in dealing with local issues.

Regarding ‘amal (actions), relevant areas would be 1) to analyse the universal practices of a particular Sufi order and distinguish what are considered as local practices, 2) to analyse how local Sufi teachers decide which practices are needed and relevant for the spiritual growth and development of the local Muslim community.

Regarding riyadhah (spiritual exercises), relevant areas would be 1) to identify local Sufi teachers who are qualified to lead and manage Sufi aspirants and congregants in their spiritual journey, 2) to understand the similarities and differences of Sufi orders in Singapore and other contexts, 3) to analyse how Sufi aspirants in Singapore progress in their spiritual journey.

Regarding khidmah (service), relevant areas would be 1) to investigate how local Sufi leaders are open to expanding the concept of Khidmah to include positive contributions towards nation-building, 2) to analyse the extent of how a Sufi leader should work with the politics of his country.

About the speaker

Dr Muhammad Mubarak obtained his Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Islamic Civilisation and Contemporary Issues from University of Brunei Darussalam under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Osman Bakar. He holds a Master of Art degree in Islamic Spiritual Culture and Contemporary Society from the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC). He also has a Master of Education degree specialising in curriculum and teaching from the National Institute of Education (NIE) Singapore. Dr Mubarak holds a postgraduate diploma in Islamic Psychology from Cambridge Muslim College, a postgraduate diploma in Education and In-service Diploma in Physics from NIE.

Dr Mubarak research and interest cover the area of classical Islamic Intellectual Thoughts with the eye towards solving contemporary issues facing humanity. He seeks to use the principle of tawḥīd as the integrating tool in synthesising the universal aspects of the Islamic Intellectual Traditions with contemporary knowledge with the goal of providing a comprehensive and holistic solutions to some of the crisis facing contemporary humanity.

He has produced some publications in recent years within the area of Islamic Intellectual Thoughts. Some of these are “Religious Minorities in Contemporary Society: Utilizing Wasatiyyah within the Singaporean Muslim Community”, “The Role of Islamic Intellectual Tradition in Countering Extreme Ideologies, “The ‘Mathanian’ Character of the Qur’an: An Approach for a Scientific Exegesis”, “Teaching of Values in Science: Defining Its Universal Values” and others.


Click on the link to download the RIMA brief – Contemporary Sufism in Singapore

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