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The Rifa'i order / tariqa (also Rufa'i, Rifa'iyya,Rifa'iya) (Arabic, الرفاعية) is an eminent Sufi order founded by Ahmed ar-Rifa'i and developed in the Lower Iraq marshlands between Wasit and Basra. The Rifa'iyya had its greatest following until the 15th century C.E. when it was overtaken by the Qadiri order. Presently the order is said to maintain particular influence in Cairo, Egypt.
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Sufism and Tariqat
There appears to be no definitive information as to the specific point in time when the Rifa'i order arose. However, records indicate Ahmad al-Rifa'i inherited his maternal uncle's, Mansur al-Bata'ihi, position of headship to his religious community in 1145-6 C.E. Around this point, al-Rifa'i possessed a huge following during his activities in and around the village of Umm 'Ubayda. In the Lower Iraq marshlands, the Rifa'i order developed and gained considerable notice throughout the 12th century C.E. due to its extravagant practices. The Rifa'i quickly expanded into Egypt and Syria. In 1268 C.E., Abu Muhammad 'Ali al-Hariri formed the Syrian branch of the order which became known as the Haririya. The Rifa'i gained further popularity not only in Egypt, but also Turkey. In the 15th century C.E., Rifa'i popularity waned and the popularity of the Kadiriyya order rose. Subsequently, interest in the Rifa'i order centered within Arab lands.
The order has a marked presence in Syria and Egypt and plays a noticeable role in Kosovo and Albania. 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 and Canada 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.
Qadiri-Rifai Ansari Sufi Order's: Shaykh Muhammed Ansari, who was born in Baghdad, moved to Erzincan in northeastern Turkey in the early 1900's. He was a descendent of both Abdul Qadir al Geylani and Ahmed ar Rifai and was a shaykh of the Rifai order. In Turkey he met Shaykh Abdullah Hashimi, a Qadiri. They worked together for many years. After Shaykh Muhammed Ansari strengthened his connection to the Qadiri Order, Shaykh Abdullah Hashimi sent him to Istanbul to establish the Qadiri Rifai Sufi Order and revive the Ayni Ali Baba Tekke.Shaykh Muhammed Ansari headed the Qadiri Rifai Tariqa in the Ayni Ali Baba Tekke from 1915 until his death. His son, Shaykh Muhyiddin Ansari, born in Erzincan, succeeded him. As Qutb of his time, a very high spiritual station, Shaykh Muhyiddin Ansari raised 101 Khalifas, or representatives, and many thousand dedicated students all over Turkey, Germany, and the former Yugoslavia. In 1978, when Shaykh Muhyiddin Ansari passed away, he did not leave any successor in his place in the Istanbul dergah. He left the running of Ayni Ali Baba Tekke to his khalifas collectively.Several hundred years ago, Shaykh Ayni Ali Baba, a Rifai, founded a Tekke, or Sufi center, in Kasimpasha, now a suburb of Istanbul. It later became known as the Ayni Ali Baba Tekke. Although is was a center of light and learning for many generations, by 1910, the building where the Tekke had been housed had been abandoned.Before he passed away, Shaykh Muhyiddin Ansari was given the privilege to start a tariqa in his own name, called the Tariqat-I Ansariya. He chose to start the Tariqat-I Ansariya in the United States as Qadiri Rifai Tariqa of the Americas with Shaykh Taner Tarsusi. Then he gave his name to Shaykh Taner as a gift. As a result, QRT is the Ansari branch of the Qadiri Rifai Tariqa with its Pir as Shaykh Taner Ansari Tarsusi er Rifai el Qadiri. The Ansari Tariqa under Qadiri Rifai Tariqa was opened for the west in the early 1990's and hence has a presence with Wakils/Khalifas/Shaykhs in USA, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Mexico, Latin America, Brazil, Mauritius,South Africa and Tanzania. 
During heightened states, Rifa'i followers were noted to have eaten live snakes, entered ovens filled with fire and ridden on lions. Followers were also noted to have practiced charming snakes and thrusting iron spikes and glass into their bodies.
It is uncertain whether or not Ahmed ar-Rifa'i instituted the practices that helped solidify the Rifa'i order's massive popularity. While some scholars attribute these practices to al-Rifa'i, other scholars contend he was unaware of these practices and that these were introduced after the Mongol invasion.
- Bosworth 2010.
- Margoliouth 2010, p. 38-39.
- Trimingham 1973, p.39.
- Trimingham 1973, p. 40.
- Bosworth 2010.
- Trimingham 1973, p.38.
- Bosworth 2010.
- Trimingham 1973, p.37.
- Margoliouth 2010.
- Bosworth, C.E. "Rifa'iyya." Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition (2010). Brill Online. Web. 1 April 2010.
- Margoliouth, D.S. "al-Rifa'i b. 'Ali, Abu 'l-Abbas." Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition (2010). Brill Online. Web. 1 April 2010.
- Trimingham, J. Spencer. The Sufi Orders in Islam. New York: Oxford U, 1973.