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Sufism East and West

Mystical Islam and Cross-Cultural Exchange in the Modern World

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Edited by Jamal Malik and Saeed Zarrabi-Zadeh

In Sufism East and West, the contributors investigate the redirection and dynamics of Sufism in the modern era, specifically from the perspective of global cross-cultural exchange. Edited by Jamal Malik and Saeed Zarrabi-Zadeh, the book explores the role of mystical Islam in the complex interchange and fluidity in the resonance spaces of “East” and “West.”
The volume challenges the enduring Orientalist binary coding of East-versus-West and argues instead for a more mutual process of cultural plaiting and shared tradition. By highlighting amendments, adaptations and expansions of Sufi semantics during the last centuries, it also questions the persistent perception of Sufism in its post-classical epoch as a corrupt imitation of the legacy of the great Sufis of the past.

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Carl W. Ernst

Abstract

From the time of Sir William Jones (1746–1794), early British Orientalists were united in their praise of the Dabistan-i Mazahib (“School of Teachings”), a 17th-century Persian treatise on all the religious teachings existing in India at the time. The unusual perspective of the author as a follower of the esoteric Zoroastrian movement of Azar Kayvan subsequently led many scholars to discredit it as a reliable historical witness, despite its many quasi-ethnographic observations of contemporary religious behavior and thought. These observations, both admiring and critical, apply particularly to the book’s treatment of Sufism in its final chapter. Yet the work’s immense popularity, in the deeply flawed 1847 translation of David Shea (1777–1836) and Anthony Troyer (1769–1865), reinforced many common Orientalist stereotypes of Sufism, including its ostensible universality and its supposed lack of connection with Islam. This chapter undertakes to assess the character and impact of Shea and Troyer’s presentation of Sufism in their translation of the Dabistan, as measured against both the original Persian text and the more robust accounts of Sufism available from other sources.

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Ali S. Asani

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Historically, South Asia’s many literary traditions have provided both the structure and the idiom for Muslims across a broad spectrum of ideological persuasions to express and transmit their ideas. As is well known, Sufis affiliated with different tariqas have commonly employed genres of vernacular folk poetry as a means of elucidating and popularizing mystical ideas. Over the last century, thanks to a variety of intricately related set of factors such as the revolution in media technology, globalization and the spread of popular western culture and the rise of religiously based nationalisms, the form, content and context of South Asian Muslim devotional expressions have been radically transformed. This chapter explores the emergence of Sufi Rock, a new genre of Muslim devotional expression that has become increasingly popular in South Asia, particularly Pakistan. A genre which fuses western rock music with traditional Sufi poetry and imagery, Sufi Rock is commonly associated with one of its earliest exponents, Salman Ahmad, a guitarist and vocalist in one of South Asia’s biggest rock band, Junoon. The chapter explores Salman’s role in the emergence of Sufi Rock, specifically with reference to his professional development as a musician and spiritual development as a Muslim who deeply identifies with Sufism.

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Alexander Knysh

Abstract

This chapter addresses various iterations of the term “Sufism” (tasawwuf) in modern-day academic and non-academic discourses. Because all scholarship begins and ends with definitions of the subject(s) explored, the very category “Sufism” can easily turn into a site of heated ideological debates and politically and theologically driven contractions and expansions. Definitions of Sufism being legion, the chapter focuses on the reasons and dynamics of inclusion in or exclusion from this notion of certain characteristics, individuals or phenomena. The process of defining and redefining reflects both obvious and not-so-obvious ideological and intellectual predilections of defining subjects. Obviously, ideologically driven constructions and adaptations of the object(s) defined are not unique to Sufism. They are, for example, abundantly attested for the notion of “Islam,” beginning with a very pertinent and hotly disputed issue of whether Sufism should be considered to be part of it. Without passing a final judgment on the validity or lack thereof of certain definitions of Sufism, the chapter emphasizes inclusion over against exclusion. Events, personalities and practices that various observers associate with Sufism should be included into it unless there are compelling and clearly established reasons not to do so. The “expansive definition” advocated in the chapter does do not necessarily outweigh or overrule more narrowly focused normative definitions as long as they are viewed as such, that is, attempts by a given party to legitimize and valorize a certain understanding of Sufism and Islam generally.

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Jamal Malik

Abstract

One major proponent of anti-Sufi discourse seems to be Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817–1898), the intellectual giant in Muslim South Asia who had a tremendous bearing on Muslim culture and politics in 19th and 20th century India. He is known for his new approach in Urdu historiography, his rationalism and also his Sufi-bashing. Although he wrote quite a bit against traditional Sufism and its practices in British India, thereby silencing and seeking to obliterate Islamic mysticism, his writings nevertheless resonate with Sufi terminology and deliberations harking back to the concept of Tahdhib al-Akhlaq—in Sufi parlance, controlling the carnal self (nafs) by means of reason and in the traditional ashraf culture, the cultivation of man through manners and etiquette. The chapter argues that in his writing in response to European critique, his Muslim ashrafi civility and modernism displayed Sufi traits that can be read as remnants of path dependencies derived from the archives of the self. In doing so, it revisits some of his major contributions such as his “Wahhabi” writings before 1857, the exegesis of the Bible entitled Tabyin al-Kalam (1863ff) and the Urdu journal Tahdhib al-Akhlaq, which he launched in 1870. This ashrafi civility is compounded by some dreams which Sayyid Ahmad Khan narrated to his biographer in his old age, around 1890. Consequently, his Sufi amnesia, strategically employed to silence Sufi accounts, is enmeshed in structural mimesis, such as meticulously following the 19th century natural sciences, and imaginative anamnesis or the remembrance and visualization of the Sufi shaykh, namely the Prophet.

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Rachida Chih

Abstract

The Muhammadan way (Tariqa Muhammadiyya) provides one of the central planks of the thesis of the Muslim thinker Fazlur Rahman (d. 1988) on the Sufi revival in pre-modern Islam. This thesis dominated the study of pre-modern Sufism until it was rejected in the 1990s. The main argument of Rahman’s critics was that he didn’t have sufficient knowledge of the Sufi writings that he presented as reformist. This rejection provoked a complete re-evaluation of Islam and Sufism during the pre-modern period, but most particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Many important Sufi figures who had been presented as reformers were re-examined in the light of their own writings. They confirmed that in matters of doctrine the beginning of the modern period did not coincide with a rupture either with medieval Sufism or with Ibn ʿArabi as was postulated by Rahman; on the contrary, these Sufi scholars were diffusing his ideas. However, the debate is not extinguished, because a strictly philological approach has its limits in the quest to understand the historical evolution of Sufism: the writings of the masters must also be put back into the historical context of their production. This context is better-known today thanks to the progress made in the study of the political and economic history of the great Muslim empires. Such progress has opened up new perspectives on research in the history of Sufism and it is this which the present chapter aims to explore through the case study of Ahmad al-Qushshashi (d. 1661) and the scholarly Sufi milieu of 17th century Medina.

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Mark Sedgwick

Abstract

The interaction between Sufism and the movement established by the spiritual teacher George Gurdjieff (1866–1949) has been one of the most complex interactions between Sufism and Western culture. Firstly, Gurdjieff was an Armenian Greek, and his movement derives from Russia, involving us in areas that do not fit the neat binary division between East and West. Secondly, the role and importance of Sufism for the Gurdjieff movement varied over time. Initially, Central Asian Sufism played an essentially mythic role: the early Gurdjieff movement was thought to be of Sufi origin, but in fact drew only very little on Sufism. Then, between the 1950s and 1970s, Turkish Sufism played an increasingly important instrumental role, as those parts of the Gurdjieff movement that were associated with John G. Bennett drew more and more on Sufi sources. At this stage, not only was Sufism important for the Gurdjieff movement, but the Gurdjieff movement became important for Sufism. Then, after the 1980s, the importance of Sufism for the Gurdjieff movement has faded. For the Free University of Samadeva, an increasingly important group, Sufism plays much the same mythic role that it originally played for Gurdjieff, but the rest of the Gurdjieff movement now ignores Sufism. The developers of the enneagram, a personality analysis tool derived from Gurdjieff’s teaching, first emphasized Sufism but then de-emphasized it, and the attempt to popularize a “Sufi enneagram” has had little success. Tracing these multiple itineraries shows how the role of Sufism expanded and was amended. This chapter also asks why the role played by Sufism in the Gurdjieff movement first increased, and then decreased. The influence of individual biographies, it is suggested, is important, but even more important may be the decline in the value of the Sufi “brand” in a time of conflict between the West and the Muslim world.

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Marcia Hermansen

Abstract

This chapter considers the development of the genre of Western Sufi autobiography since the 1970s, focusing on four examples of the genre published since 2008; two by males (Nuh Ha Mim Keller and Michael Sugich) and two by females (Maryam K. Faye and Rabia C. Brodbeck). The thesis is that these autobiographies, written in English by individuals who have reverted to Islam, identify themselves as Muslim “Sufis” and are engaged in Sufi practices and traditions, draw primarily on the conventions and expectations of spiritual autobiography in Western contexts. In terms of locating Islamic elements in the texts, of particular interest are the use of Islamic Sufi concepts by the authors, and their references to actual persons and locations in the “Muslim World” including classical Sufis. At the same time a movement from quest novel, to travelogue, to manual is traced across these autobiographies. Among topics treated in this chapter are the extent to which such Sufi autobiographies are considered to reflect “Islamic”/Eastern themes or contexts, and how male and female perspectives differ. For example, the female authors have a less bifurcated sense of East vs. West in their narratives, they also seem to more fluidly move back and forth geographically and psychologically—so that their Islam as well as their overall narratives are less situated in an idealized, if fading, Muslim world. The volume theme of cross-cultural exchange is addressed through the lens of space, for instance how these post-millennial Western Sufi autobiographies reflect the new globalized space anticipated by Foucault (1986) as an age of simultaneity—”the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed.”

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Saeed Zarrabi-Zadeh

Abstract

Over the last two and a half centuries, Sufism has enjoyed an increasing presence in the West. Entering the Occident initially by means of literature in the late eighteenth century, it has expanded its domain as a living praxis since the turn of, and intensified its presence since the second half of, the twentieth century. In an effort to present a typology of typologies, the current chapter arranges the major classifications used by scholars to describe this enduring presence into five overlapping divisions, namely typologies based on (a) chronological/generational development, (b) modes of presence, (c) affiliation with Islamic denominations and Sufi orders, (d) migrant-native or East-West binaries, and (e) connection to Islam. It then examines these five-fold typologies in terms of their relevance to, and usefulness for, analyzing the issue of the engagement of Sufism with modernity in the Western context. Arguing for the insufficiency of these classifi­cations for studying the issue despite the beneficial outlooks they may provide, the chapter suggests the construct of “dynamic integrejectionism” (a portmanteau of “integra­tionism” and “rejectionism”) as a useful apparatus for investigating this changing and relative engagement. Finally, the rubric of “modern Sufism” is proposed in reference to those Sufi trends in the West with more adaptive attitudes towards, and greater compatibility with, modern culture. The title points to the second stage of the positive involvement of Sufism with modernity after the claimed first stage of Sufi contribution to the eighteenth-century process of autochthonous modernity, though this time in the Western setting rather than the predominately Muslim environment.

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Marta Dominguez Diaz

Abstract

The Qadiriyya Budshishiyya is a Sufi order of Moroccan origin that has expanded beyond its original milieu in the, mostly Berber, North-Eastern region of l’Orientale, by incorporating followers from the rest of the country and from abroad. In Western Europe, the Budshishiyya has formed a dynamic geography of small groups in urban areas of Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. In many of these locales, two different types of groups have formed. There are religious communities composed of Moroccan migrants existing in parallel to others made up of “Westerners”—the latter, including converts to Islam and revert Muslims. The phenomenon of conversion to Islam within Sufi circles has already generated some scholarly interest, yet, less consideration has been given, so far, to reversion to Islam in Sufism. This chapter attempts to address this vacuum by assessing the religious identities of Budshishiyya’s revert female devotees. In continental Europe, revert disciples of Hamza Budshish are typically the children and grandchildren of Moroccan migrants, born and raised in Europe, who are often critical of the approach to religion undertaken by their families. While some of these families adhere to a socially conservative and “customary” approach to Islam, others, more liberal, can be defined as “cultural Muslims” who are either non-observant or irreligious. By voluntarily deciding to become members of this tariqa, reverts are developing their own distinctive religious identities. Quite often, they see their (re)-embracing of Islam through the Budshishiyya as a departure, both from the lifestyles of the culturally-Moroccan social milieus of their childhoods, as well as from the non-religious perspective adopted by mainstream society. This chapter analyzes the approach to Islam of these revert faqirat in a situated manner, by comparing them with the ways in which Islam is understood and experienced by non-revert devotees of the same Sufi order.