Qalandars have often been depicted in negative terms in medieval and pre-modern literature by Sufis themselves, clerics and historians. Treatises composed by Qalandars are rare, thus the possibility of producing a balanced survey of their form of Sufism and contribution to the socio-political and religious climate of any given period is difficult. One such text, the “Sulīmān Qalandar Nāma”, however, completed in 1668, offers an intriguing perspective of Qalandars in late Safavid Iran. An analysis of this text, along with a focus on the dynamics of late Safavid religion and politics suggests that far from being antinomian and otherworldly Sufis, these Qalandars were supportive of the Shīʿa Safavid dynasty. The text offers an interesting marriage between traditional Qalandar themes and those inspired by Shīʿa Islam, and it testifies to the continuing importance of the Qalandars, providing evidence for the cultural continuity of this form of Sufism in the region.
The ability to witness the divine in creation has been one of the features that has often distinguished Sufis from non-Sufis. One of the most controversial manifestations of this was shāhid-bāzī (“playing the witness”), which was a practice of gazing at the form of young males in order to witness the inner, divine presence. Since medieval times a Persian Sufi by the name of Awḥad al-Dīn Kirmānī has been most commonly associated with shāhid-bāzī (especially during the samāʿ—or the ritual of Sufi music and dance). The controversy relating to Kirmānī seems to have focused on the homoerotic nature of shāhid-bāzī, yet a close examination of the texts reveal that the criticisms about Kirmānī relate to a wide range of Sufi practices and doctrines. An investigation of the contexts of these criticisms indicate that thirteenth–fourteenth-century Sufism was diverse and fluid, and that the systematisation of Sufism into brotherhoods (ṭarīqa) which was taking place in Kirmānī’s lifetime had not resulted in a bland conformity of faith and practice.