Manual Sufis in Western Society: Global networking and locality (Routledge Sufi Series)

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Their piety often included deliberate critique of the excesses of wealth and power generated by the rapid conquests of the early Arab empire. Major early figures in the Sufi movement included Dhu al-Nun of Egypt d. Although religious criticism of Sufi practices and doctrines started to occur as early as the late ninth century, it is particularly in the case of al-Hallaj executed in that tensions between Sufism and the legal establishment became apparent.

Sufi writers adapted to this crisis by insisting upon adherence to the norms and disciplines of Islamic religious scholarship, while at the same time cultivating an esoteric language and style appropriate to the discussion of subtle interior experiences. Early Sufi writers such as Sarraj d. The institutional spread of Sufism was accomplished through the "ways" or Sufi orders, which increasingly from the eleventh century offered the prospect of spiritual community organized around charismatic teachers whose authority derived from a lineage going back to the prophet Muhammad himself.

Under the patronage of dynasties like the Seljuks, who also supported religious academies in their quest for legitimacy, Sufi lodges eventually spread throughout the Middle East , South and Central Asia , North Africa and Spain, and southeastern Europe. While dedicated membership in Sufi orders remained confined to an elite, mass participation in the reverence for saints at their tombs has been a typical feature in Muslim societies until today.

The central role of Sufism in premodern Muslim societies is perhaps best typified by the intellectual career of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali d.

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Having become the foremost theologian at the Nizamiyya academy in Baghdad at a very youthful age, he underwent a spiritual crisis chronicled in his autobiographical Deliverance from Error. Ghazali's massive synthesis, Giving Life to the Sciences of Religion , connected basic Islamic ritual and religious texts and practices with the interiorization of Sufi piety in a way that was accessible to Muslim intellectuals trained in the madrasa legal tradition.

The intellectual integration of Sufism with the Islamic religious sciences typified many Muslim societies up to the age of European colonialism. In other writings, Ghazali was also critical of antinomian tendencies and unconventional practices found in Sufi circles. These deliberately nonconformist trends were also inevitably a part of the Sufi ambience.

The pervasive role of Sufism is demonstrated by countless biographical works in Arabic, Persian, and other languages, recounting the virtues and exemplary religious lives of the Sufi saints. Many of these biographical traditions about Sufis are also enmeshed in the history of Islamic religious scholarship and dynastic political history.

His teachings on human perfection, the manifestation of divine attributes in creation, the divine names, imagination, and the nature of existence were expressed through a series of difficult but extremely popular Arabic writings, including the voluminous encyclopedia The Meccan Openings , and the succinct treatise on prophecy and mysticism, Bezels of Wisdom.

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The latter work has attracted over one hundred commentaries, in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, in countries ranging from the Balkans to South Asia. Ironically, the best-known of his critics, the Hanbali legal scholar and controversialist Ibn Taymiyya d. Another major Sufi figure was the great Persian poet Jalaluddin Rumi d. Trained as a theologian with a Sufi background, Rumi unleashed his spiritual talent after encountering the enigmatic dervish Shams-i Tabriz.

His collection of lyrical poems, named after Shams, is the largest body of such poetry by any Persian poet of the last millennium.

Q&A: Why Do We Take Up Sufi Practices When Islam Is A Complete Religion?

The Sufi order established by his descendants in Anatolia, known as the Mevleviyya, have become famous to foreign observers as the "whirling dervishes," due to their characteristic turning meditative dance. Rumi's writings, which have been immensely popular from Southeast Europe to India, portrayed divine beauty and mercy through unforgettable and vivid imagery, easily memorized and popularized in musical performance.

Despite Ghazali's earlier objections to philosophy, Sufi teachings in their metaphysical form overlapped with both the terminology and the doctrines of Aristotelian and Neoplatonic philosophy as interpreted in the Arabic tradition. Although Sufis aimed at a knowledge that transcended intellect, it was inevitable that philosophical categories would be used to put Sufism into cosmological and metaphysical perspective.

Figures such as Shihab al-Din Yahya al-Suhrawardi executed in combined a critical revision of the metaphysics, logic, and psychology of Ibn Sina Avicenna, d. His "Illuminationist" ishraqi philosophy, expressed both in logical treatises and in Platonic fables in Arabic and Persian, drew upon Sufi mystical experience as an important source of knowledge. Philosophers of the Safavid period, such as Mulla Sadra d.

Ranging further afield, Sufi theorists in India and China to some extent adopted aspects of those cultures. Sufis in India were aware of yogic practices, including breath control and other psychophysical techniques. Knowledge of hatha yoga was disseminated through a single text known as The Pearl of Nectar Amrtakunda , which was translated into Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu with a heavy dose of Islamizing tendencies. Sufi masters of the Chishti and Shattari orders adopted certain yogic meditations into their repertoire through this channel.

Similarly, when the Chinese Sufi Wang Daiyu d. Alongside these main currents of Sufi thought, one can also distinguish a kind of anti-structure in a series of movements that were deliberately unconventional. Psychologically the mood was set in the concept of self-blame malama , which called for incurring shame before the public as a discipline for the ego.

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While the early self-blamers among the Sufis were not supposed to infringe on religiously forbidden territory, the dropout dervishes of the Qalandar movements including Abdals, Haydaris, Malangs, and Madaris rejected institutional Sufism as a betrayal of independent spirituality. Shunning respectability, maintaining a bizarre appearance, and indulging in intoxicants, these eccentrics led civil disturbances in Delhi and even organized peasant rebellions against Ottoman rulers.

They still may be seen on the fringes of Muslim societies as a kind of spiritual underground. This recitation, which could be either silent or spoken aloud, typically drew from lists of ninety-nine names of God it being understood that the one-hundredth name was "the greatest name" of God, known only to the elect. As meditations, these practices aimed to empty the heart of anything but God and to begin to establish the qualities of the divine in the human being.

Recitation of the divine names thus reinforced the Islamic cosmology of Sufism. The mystical psychology that accompanied these practices articulated different levels of the heart and soul, which are further differentiated in terms of multiple spiritual states ahwal and stations maqamat that have been charted out in varying degrees of detail. While dhikr recitation may originally have been restricted to adepts undertaking retreat from the world, as a kind of group chanting this practice can also be accessible to people on a broad popular scale. Simple chanting of phrases like "there is no god but God" la ilaha illa allah did not only express the fundamental negation and affirmation of Islamic theology, but also made it possible for a wider public to adopt the practices of Sufism.

One of the advantages of dhikr was that it could be practiced by anyone, regardless of age, sex, or ritual purity, at any time. Under the direction of a master, Sufi disciples typically are instructed to recite dhikr formulas selected in accordance with the needs of the individual, based on the different qualities of particular divine names. The tombs of Sufi leaders, especially those associated with major orders, played an important role in the public development of Sufism.


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On a popular level, these tombs were commonly connected to lodges or hospices maintaining open kitchens where all visitors were welcome. Major festivals were held not only for standard Islamic holidays but also in particular for dates honoring the prophet Muhammad and the Sufi saints.

While the birthday of the Prophet was a popular observance in many places, the death-anniversary of the saint was also a focus of attention. The practice of pilgrimage ziyara to the tombs of saints was generally considered to be beneficial, but was especially valued at the anniversary of the moment when the saint was joined with God; all this assumes the saint's ability to intercede with God on behalf of pilgrims. At major shrines like Tanta in Egypt, or Ajmer in India, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims may congregate for days at the annual festival, with many distinctive local rituals and performances.

Over the past two centuries, with the rise of the Wahhabis in Arabia and kindred Salafi reform movements elsewhere, there has been extensive criticism of pilgrimage to tombs and the notion of saintly intercession, all of which is considered to be sheer idolatry. Although in Saudi Arabia the tomb of practically every Sufi saint and family member of the Prophet has been destroyed, elsewhere pilgrimage to saints' tombs continues to be popular.

Other widely encountered forms of Sufi practice are music and poetry, which take on different regional forms in accordance with local traditions. Although conservative Islamic legal tradition has been wary of musical instruments as innovations not present during the time of the Prophet, the rich and sophisticated musical traditions of Iran, India, Andalusia, and Turkey have furnished irresistible and highly developed forms for the communication of Sufi teachings, particularly when combined with poetry.

Early Sufi poetry in Arabic and Persian is frequently indistinguishable in form and content from secular love and wine poetry emanating from the courts. The difference is that Sufi listeners would refer libertine images and daring expressions to the passionate relationship with God or the Sufi master. Leading Sufi poets like the Egyptian Ibn al-Farid d. Poetic literature developed in many regional languages, sometimes using language and themes derived from Arabic and Persian models, but frequently employing rhyme, meter, and subject matter of local origin.

The Indian subcontinent offered many local languages to Sufi poets, who freely explored the resources of Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Tamil, and Kashmiri. Writers like the Chishti poet Muhammad Jayasi d. Turkish became a vehicle both in the simple verse of Yunus Emre d.

The changes wrought by European colonial expansion in Asia and Africa, and by globalization in the postcolonial period, have had major effects on Muslim societies. The overthrow of local elites by foreign invaders removed traditional sources of patronage for Sufi orders and shrines.

Sufis in Western Society

Under the suspicious eyes of European colonial administrators, hereditary administrators of Sufi shrines in India became integrated into landholding classes, while the extended networks of Sufi orders furnished some of the only centers of resistance against European military aggression, as in the Caucasus, North Africa, and Central Asia. Sufi responses to colonialism thus ranged from accommodation to confrontation. As with traditional religious scholars, so too for Sufis it was necessary to come to terms with new roles dictated by the technological and ideological transformations of modernity.

One of the first notable features of modern capitalism and technology introduced into Muslim countries by colonial regimes in the nineteenth century was Arabic script printing, whether in movable type or lithography. Printing, along with the expansion of literacy by colonial regimes, not only facilitated the workings of administration for the government, but also permitted the dissemination of formal religious knowledge among Muslims on a scale never before attempted. On one hand, the replacement of manuscript culture with identical printed books doubtless encouraged the scriptural authoritarianism that arose with Salafi reform movements.

On the other hand, Sufi orders, with their large guaranteed markets, were major patrons of printing. The spread of previously esoteric Sufi texts to a broad reading public amounted to a publication of the secret. Postcolonial governments, modern universities, and academic societies also sponsored the printing of books related to Sufism.

Parallel with the printing phenomenon is the rise of audio recordings of Sufi music distributed on global scale, initially for ethnomusicological audiences, but more recently for popular world music and fusion recordings. As Sufism became publicized on global scale, likewise major ideological shifts occurred in Muslim countries, through which the term Islam increasingly became a symbol of anticolonial identity.

Salafi reform movements, often described as fundamentalist, opposed Sufism as a non-Islamic innovation based on idolatrous worship of saints. Just as European Orientalists detached Sufism from Islam, now Muslim fundamentalists came to the same conclusion. Sufism has now become a position to be defended or criticized in terms of ideological constructions of Islam.

In the most recent forms of representation of Sufism, Internet advertising paradigms and polemics have become the norm. Transnational Sufi movements, with the help of technically educated members in Europe, North America , or South Africa , maintain websites both for informing the public and for maintaining connections for a virtual community.

Some Sufi websites also engage in extensive polemics against fundamentalists, who are often dismissed with labels such as Najdi Wahhabi. Through encounters with colonial missionaries and through migration to Europe and America, Sufis have become engaged with non-Islamic religious traditions in various ways. Some Sufi teachers, such as Hazrat Inayat Khan d.

Global networking and locality, 1st Edition

The traditional Sufi emphasis on universality provided a conceptual basis for this ecumenism, although non-Muslim membership in Sufi orders had been decidedly rare prior to the twentieth century. Now there are significant numbers of self-professed Sufis in Europe and America who do not consider themselves Muslims. At the same time, other Sufi movements from Iran, Turkey, and West Africa include varying degrees of emphasis on Islamic identity and traditional custom. The relationship between Sufism and Islam is thus debated and contested both in its traditional homelands and in its new locations.

Another recent shift of emphasis in Sufism concerns women's public participation in Sufi activities and what may be called feminist interpretations of Sufism. Employing a comparative approach based on regional fieldwork and case studies, this book addresses theoretical issues and gives a comprehensive analysis of distinct communities and the development of regional branches of Sufi orders, providing an international perspective on Sufism in the West.