Sufism is generally believed to have originated among Muslims near Basra in modern Iraq, though there is a history of Sufism in Transoxania dating from shortly after the time of Muhammad. From the traditional Sufi point of view, the esoteric teachings of Sufism were transmitted from the Prophet Muhammad, who was taught by God, to those who had the capacity to contain the direct experiential gnosis of God, which was passed on from teacher to student through the centuries. Almost all traditional Sufi schools (or "orders") trace their "chains of transmission" back to Prophet Muhammad via his cousin and son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib. The Naqshbandi order is a notable exception to this rule, as it traces its origin to the first Islamic Caliph Abdullah (Abu Bakr).
Some orientalist scholars believe that Sufism was essentially the result of Islam evolving in a more mystic direction. For example, Annemarie Schimmel proposes that Sufism in its early stages of development meant nothing but the interiorization of Islam. According to Louis Massignon: "It is from the Qur’an, constantly recited, meditated, and experienced, that Sufism proceeded, in its origin and its development