6 Beyond West Meets East: Space and Simultaneity in Post-Millennial Western Sufi Autobiographical Writings 149

In: Sufism East and West

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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.”