Sufi Stories: Parables of the Mystic Islamic World

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Sufi Stories

Sufism is a belief system based heavily in art and culture. The heart of Sufism is in its poetry, music and stories. Some of the best sufi stories revolve around the Saints of the sufi order – some sufi tales written by them and other sufi parables being written about them. In this article, we’ll go over a few of these mystical stories and unravel the wisdom they contain.

Sufis dancing

Photo by amerune / CC BY 2.0

Nizzamudim Auliya

Nizzamudim Auliya (also known as The Beloved of God) is a prominent saint of the Chishti order of Sufis, and arguably among the most famous figures to emerge from the subcontinent. This is just one (sufi) story about his life, although many more stories have been written over the years.

Auliya and Prosperity, the parable and the subsequent success

After he had gained some influence within the area he was living, he gained two murids (followers looking for spiritual guidance). They had a hard life, sometimes starving for days at a time between meals. One day, one person in the neighborhood sent them some flour that she had saved.

Nizzamudim asked one of his followers to boil the flour in a pot with water. The follower did what he was asked, but a dervish appeared in the doorway and demanded food. Nizzamudim asked him to wait while the pot boiled but the man did not want to wait, so the master retrieved the pot and gave it to him.

Rather than eating, the dervish, smashed the pot. He said “Shaykh Farid has bestowed his spiritual blessings on Shaykh Nizzamudim. I break the vessel of his material poverty.” After that day, the poverty that Nizzamudim and his followers experienced was lifted. Food and gifts began to arrive without being requested. His circle of influence and followers grew.

Amir Khusrow

Amir Khusrow is widely known and a world-renowned Sufi poet and composer of Sufi stories and art. One of his most famous works is A Tale of Four Dervishes, which has stood the test of time since his original composition in the 14th Century, through various compilations and retellings.

Khusrow’s story helps Nizzamudin Auliya recover

The story is about the king of Turkey. Distraught at having no son to take the throne after him, he meets four people as he leaves his palace alone one night. Three of the people are princes, and one is a very rich merchant. But all of them have been chosen and guided by a higher power (God) to meet him on that particular night. They sit a while and tell stories to each other. and the book covers and delves into each one of their tales.

The stories of these men cover four distinct but related topics – covering prosperity, happiness, guidance and devotion as well as longing and love experienced by each of the men throughout their travels. Legend says Khusrow uttered this story to Nizzamudim Auliya when he fell ill, and the Auliya recovered.

Bulleh Shah

Religion and belief is all about devotion – and one of the most perfect examples of devotion comes from the mystic Bulleh Shah.

One day while walking, Shah noticed a man tending to his fields. The man was Shah Inayat, a renowned and powerful mystic. Bulleh decided to test him, by causing all of the unripened fruit to fall from the trees around the field. Noticing this, Inayat called Bulleh over. As their conversation went on, Bulleh came to realize that he had been wrong to test him. He begged to be his student and Inayat accepted him.

Bulleh’s poem for Shah Inayat

Bulleh’s family were outraged, hearing the news of his new teacher. Inayat was of a lower caste, and they admonished Bulleh. Bulleh returned to Inayat. Ashamed, he said to Inayat that he could no longer be his disciple and left.

As he spent time alone, Bulleh realised that he should not have let his family detach him from his spirituality. He returned to Inayat and begged for forgiveness, but was rejected. Inayat was displeased with how soft and undisciplined Bulleh was.

Bulleh thought of a way to pay penance for what he had done. He spent years working as part of the community that was considered to be the lowest caste – the Kanjars, or street-dancers. At the end of this period of repentance and growth, Bulleh performed a dance accompanied by a song that would grow into one of his most famous works – Tere Ishq Nachaya. The song is a lament for Shah Inayat, and a plea for forgiveness. Inayat forgave him upon seeing the performance.

The shrine of Bulleh Shah

Photo by Khalid Mahmood / CC BY-SA 3.0


Kabir was a saint who lived in the 15th Century. He came to be respected by Hindus and Muslim as an important figure.

One of the most famous sufi stories about Kabir is the story of his burial. Kabir had attained followers from both Hinduism and Islam. But, the two religions had different rituals after someone died. His Hindu followers felt that Kabir should be cremated, while his Muslim followers believed that he should be buried. A fight broke out among the men gathered around his body (which was covered by a shroud), and the shroud covering his body was ripped away. The men were stunned for a moment to see that his body was not there.

Kabir’s body had been replaced by flowers and a small book. In the book, his followers wrote some of his sayings and teachings. They shared the flowers amongst themselves. In this final miracle, Kabir showed the truth in his teachings – that there doesn’t need to be fighting among us. And our belief in a higher power, Ram / Allah should be executed through love.


Rumi was a prolific Sufi author and poet. Originally from Iran, he has a significant canon of work. The most representative of Sufi mysticism is The Songbird.

The story goes that a very rich and successful business man had a pet songbird, which he kept in a cage and brought out to entertain guests. The master asked his songbird if he would like anything from a trip he was going on.

The bird said to his master that he wanted him to tell the songbirds in that region (he was going to) about the conditions that the songbird was kept in. The man promised that he would, and left to go on his trip.

Once there, the man carried out his business but was stumped when he thought about his songbird. Eventually the man came upon songbirds that looked like his pet perched in a tree. He told them about the conditions that he kept his songbird in, and waited for a response. Finally, one of the small songbirds that had heard the man’s account fell from the tree to its death.

Upon his return home, he went to his songbird. He told the songbird about what had happened, his songbird paused. Then he fell from his perch too. The man wept, and opened the cage door to carry his pet out.

Upon being released from his cage, the songbird jumped up and flew into a tree, trilling happily. He explained that the songbird from Africa had taught him that it was because of the beauty of the songbird’s song that he was trapped. So, he must ‘play dead’ to escape.

This idea of experiencing some form of death, or of sacrificing something materialistic to gain a more satisfying spiritual life, is something that is believed by a lot of sufis. It may also be something applicable to the modern world, as someone pursuing money and materialistic possessions will never have enough to really satisfy them. Whereas somebody can be happy with nothing, if they have a connection with Allah or have a full heart. All the greats, from Nusrat saheb to Wadali Brothers to the Nooran Sisters, have all sang songs and sufi kavvalis that written by the Sufi Saints highlighted here. 

Riyaaz Qawwali