Sufi movement emerged during the early medieval times in India with the interaction of the Islamic culture with the Hindu culture. There were different trends of the sufi movement – some were religious and social, some were linked to the rulers and more engaged in promotion of Islam.
Establishment of Sultanate led to introduction of new cultural and social practices in India. As these were different from the traditional Hindu customs, it was natural that differences might create social disharmony. Sufism bridged this gap. Sufi movement stood for peace and harmony. It reflected mystical dimension of Islam and aimed at its peaceful propagation. The sufis propagated the gospel of humanity (wahadat-ul-wujud of Ibn-Arabi). The monotheistic doctrines of Islam and its concept of equality was a great attraction to sections of people who had faced caste exploitation under Hinduism.
Particularly, the Sufis of Chisti silsilah (stream / school) like Moinuddin Chisti, Fariduddin Ganj-i-Shakar, and Nizamuddin Auliya were mystics who spread peace and harmony in society. People would be attracted to them for their simplicity and holiness. Their khanquas (place of residence) became centres of pilgrimage for adherents of different religions. Their practices also helped movement towards cultural-synthesis by adoption of cross-cultural means of propagation of the message of peace and equality. They used ‘sama’ ie. music in prayers, meditation, and ‘pas-i-anfas’ ie control of breath exercise; & chilla-i-makus ie yogic exercises. Some of these practices were quite similar to those used in Hinduism. There was also interaction between saints of Hindu orders like Bhakti and Nathpanthis with Chistis.
However the Sufi movement also had its flip side. Except for the Chistis, most of the silsilahs openly dabbled in politics and took official patronage. Some were orthodox, worldly and filled with proselytising zeal. These sisilahs like the Suhrawardis and Qadiris pandered to sentiments of the orthodox Ulema. Later even Chisti sufis like Shaikh Nasiruddin (Chirag-i-Delhi) and Gesudaraz gave orthodox orientation to Chisti order to mitigate hostility of Ulema towards Chisti practices.
Thus the Sufi movement played some significant role in promoting harmony and bringing the people of the two communities closer to each other, and also helped towards better understanding of the two cultural streams at the peoples level.