The Rifa'i (also Rufa'i
) are a Sufi
order most commonly found in the Arab Middle East
but also in Turkey
and the Balkans
. It was founded by Ahmed ar-Rifa'i
The order has a marked presence in Syria and Egypt and plays a noticeable role in Kosovo
. 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.
They have sometimes been (somewhat pejoratively) called the 'howling dervishes' due to what some see as their 'excessive' practices during their zikr
. They have been known to pierce their bodies using skewers and place hot irons in their mouths, practices that, though having caught the imagination of Western travellers such as E.W. Lane in the last century, have also incurred the wrath of both strict theologians such as ibn Taymiyyah
and modern reformists alike.