Already in the 8th century CE, some mystically-minded Muslims started to read the Qur'an with a view to discovering and extracting its secret (esoteric) meaning. Such individuals existed both among the Sunnis and among the Shia (Shiites). Whereas the Shia considered their imams of Alid extraction to be keys to the esoteric (batin) aspect of the Qur'an, mystically-minded
Sunnis believed that any righteous Muslim can gain access to it by cleansing him/herself of the drives of his animal soul and mundane concerns and by engaging in special spiritual exercises and meditative practices. The latter trend has laid the groundwork for what has grown into a highly variegated and sophisticated tradition of Sufi exegesis that is still alive today.