Four characteristics of Sufism, or Islamic Mysticism, reveal the Sufi's legacy on the Islamic community.
Al-Basri, al-Adawiyyah and others like them attracted followers who shared their ideas and came to learn from them. These individuals, in turn, attracted students of their own. And in this way, the ideas of asceticism and absolute devotion to God spread through the Islamic community. (Islam: World Religions; Islam: Faith, Culture, History).
One characteristic for the Sufis is that nothing was more important than the presence of God in the world. The Sufis saw life as a kind of journey in which one was constantly seeking a direct experience of God. Many of them believed that they way to seek that experience was to study the Koran and Hadith and to pray regularly. In short, to live the simple and disciplined life of a devout Muslim. Other Sufis disagreed, however. They felt that although prayer, the study of the Koran, and other duties of Muslims were necessary to a religious life, these things were not enough. A second characteristic is that they sought a more direct and emotional experience of God. As ideas and ritual practices developed by the Sufis spread, informal study groups gathered in mosques or homes. By the start of the 10th century Sufi centers were established in which a Sufi master would serve as teacher and leader to followers. Some of these followers would go on to become teachers themselves, and many of their students would do the same in their turn. Thus, Sufism was passed on from generation to generation. (Islam: World Religions; Islam: Faith, Culture, History).
By the 12th century, Sufi centers could be found in cities, towns, and many rural areas throughout the Middle East and Africa. These centers often included schools, mosques, and hostels where students could find a meal and a place to sleep. The heart of these centers was the house of the Sufi master, or shaykh. It was there where the Shaykh would conduct classes and lead followers through rituals.