Mystics have a long tradition in Islamic civilization. They have often been persecuted by Muslim leaders who focus their piety on the sharia. Particularly offensive to enforcers of sharia is the doctrine of the Perfect Man who perceives the unity of the self with God. The concept of union between the individual and God is a submersion of the human within the supreme. Javanese thinkers carried this concept over to their understanding of the relationship between subject and monarch as union of servant and lord. This notion reinforced the Islamic teaching that subjects must submit to a Muslim king.
Mystics were called Sufis. Unlike regular mosque practice, music, dance, song, and intense meditation helped Sufis to bridge the gap between the individual and God. Sufism evolved from individual mystical experience into social movements formed around charismatic leaders.
Sufism provided for local spiritual needs in forms that matched and reflected local cultures. At the same time, the common elements of practice—devotion to spiritual leader, visits to holy sites, meditation, scrutiny of the Koran’s inner or hidden meanings—are widespread throughout the Islamic world. Sufism is both esoteric philosophy and popular religion.