The Rifa'i order (also Rufa'i, Rifa'iyya,Rifa'iya) (Arabic, الرفاعية) is an eminent Sufi order founded by Ahmed ar-Rifa'i and developed in the Lower Iraq marshlands between Wasit and Basra. The Rifa'iyya had its greatest following until the 15th century C.E. when it was overtaken by the Qadiri order. Presently the order is said to maintain particular influence in Cairo, Egypt.[1]

The Rifa'i order is most commonly found in the Arab Middle East but also in Turkey, the Balkans and South Asia.


There appears to be no definitive information as to the specific point in time when the Rifa'i order arose. However, records indicate Ahmad al-Rifa'i inherited his maternal uncle's, Mansur al-Bata'ihi, position of headship to his religious community in 1145-6 C.E. Around this point, al-Rifa'i possessed a huge following during his activities in and around the village of Umm 'Ubayda.[2] In the Lower Iraq marshlands, the Rifa'i order developed and gained considerable notice throughout 12th century C.E. due to its extravagant practices. The Rifa'i quickly expanded into Egypt and Syria. In 1268 C.E., Abu Muhammad 'Ali al-Hariri formed the Syrian branch of the order which became known as the Haririya.[3] The Rifa'i gained further popularity not only in Egypt, but also Turkey. In 15th century C.E., Rifa'i popularity waned and the popularity of the Kadiriyya order rose.[4] Subsequently, interest in the Rifa'i order centered within Arab lands.[5]

The order has a marked presence in Syria and Egypt and plays a noticeable role in Kosovo and Albania. The Rifa'i Tariqa has a notable tendency to blend worship styles or ideas with those of other orders that predominate in the local area. For example, the group established by Ken'an Rifa'i in Istanbul reflects elements of the Mevlevi Order, while more rural Turkish Rifa'is have sometimes absorbed significant influence from the Alevi/Bektashi tradition.

The order spread into Anatolia during the 14th and 15th Centuries and ibn Battuta makes note of Rifa'i 'tekkes' in central Anatolia. The order however, began to make ground in Turkey during the 17th to 19th centuries when tekkes began to be found in Istanbul the imperial capital of the Ottoman Empire, from here the order spread into the Balkans (especially Bosnia, where they are still present), modern day Albania and Kosovo. During the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid II the Rifa'i order gained even more popularity in Istanbul ranking alongside the Khalwati, Qadiri and Naqshbandi orders as 'orthodox' Sufi orders.

Current manifestations of the order in the United States include the tekkes (lodges) in Staten Island and Toronto that were under the guidance of the late Shaykh Xhemali Shehu (d.2004) of Prizren, Kosovo. Each of these orders is ultimately Turkish in origin.


During heightened states, Rifa'i followers were noted to have eaten live snakes, entered ovens filled with fire and ridden on lions.[6] Followers were also noted to have practiced charming snakes and thrusting iron spikes and glass into their bodies.[7]

It is uncertain whether or not Ahmed ar-Rifa'i instituted the practices that helped solidify the Rifa'i order's massive popularity. While some scholars attribute these practices to al-Rifa'i,[8] other scholars contend he was unaware of these practices and that these were introduced after the Mongol invasion.[9]


External links

  • Bosworth, C.E. "Rifa'iyya." Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition(2010). Brill Online. Web. 1 April 2010.
  • Margoliouth, D.S. "al-Rifa'i b. 'Ali, Abu 'l-Abbas." Encyclopedia of Islam, Second

Edition(2010). Brill Online. Web. 1 April 2010.

  • Trimingham, J. Spencer. The Sufi Orders in Islam. New York: Oxford U, 1973.
  • International Rifai Dervish Order - rifai.org
  • Website of a Rifai Qadiri group
  • Ahmed er Rifai - Rifai Dervishes www.rifai.org
  • Tariqa Rifa'iyya - Italy
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