Reformist Muslim

Exploring possibilities for the future of Islam and other thoughts

Location: London, United Kingdom

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Sufi's, Mullah's and Musharraf

"Ten o'clock on a cold Monday night in the Pakistani city of Lahore, and there are strange scenes outside the Alhamra Cultural Complex. Men are dressed as horses, others are inside giant puppet-like structures, all are shuffling into position alongside a red carpet. Around them dozens of armed police and special forces are keeping the crowds at bay and checking there are no cameras. The president, General Pervez Musharraf, is going to a concert."(keep reading)

The excerpt is from a fascinating piece in the Guardian covering an international cultural festival which recently took place in Pakistan. Particularly interesting is the idea being pushed by the likes of the festival's organiser Faizan Peerzada of promoting Sufism, which is inherently tolerant, as a means of counteracting the rise in fundamentalism.

This isn't as naive as it initially sounds. Sufism was a crucial element in the spread of Islam in the Indian Sub-continent in the first place. However it's influence gradually began to decline as it was attacked both by western-influenced elites who were skeptical of it's mysticism and religious conservatives who saw it as straying from the teachings of Islam.

While I would place myself on the rational side of the above spectrum, I believe that to discount the Sufi tradition for being irrational is a mistake as it underestimates it's enormous spiritual power. To finish I'll recommend the article again - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan references aside, it provides a more nuanced account of Pakistani society than most Western analysis, and for more on Sufism, I would suggest this article by William Dalrymple which explores how the age-old conflict between Sufism and Wahhabism is playing out in modern India.


Blogger DA said...

I don't think sufism is a bad thing--in fact, I am a sufi-- but I do resent what it often becomes in the west and WHY the west likes it so much. Sufism in the town I live in is mainly middle-age, well-to-do white people who like Rumi and consider themselves progressive. And, fair enough, you know? But it seems to lead both to a willingness to ignore Islamic rules of conduct and core teachings much of the time. It also includes a somewhat apalling political naivite, which is, I'm convinced, the reason so many westerners like it. Most Sufis won't speak up against Western Empire building or cultural imperialism, and seem obsessed with proving to the west we can be just as harmless and loveable and anyone else. I'm no raging Wahabi, but some problems have to be met head on, you can't spend all day praying for bad people to discover love and it'll all be okay.

Anyway, though, cool article.

5:59 pm, December 03, 2005  
Blogger Tony said...

Salaam, and thanks for the interesting post. I was in Delhi last April and I visited the Salim Chisti Dargah. I did n't get a chance to visit Nizamudeen (this isn't near the Jama' Masjid, is it?), but will look for that dargah when I return to Delhi next month, inshallah. On your reference that you would put yourself on the rational side, so would I. On the other hand, that's why I am attracted to the mysticism of Sufism. What's more irrational that faith in God? That is why the Salafis are forever to be frustrated, inshallah. Because they have confused "mythos" with "logos," as Karen Armstrong would put it. As for me, I'd much rather spend hours with Sufi fire eaters, or sword-swallowers, than a minute with the Salafis.

6:11 pm, December 03, 2005  
Blogger reformist_muslim said...

Salaam, very interesting stuff. Firstly, Calabash I think that you hit the nail on the head that belief in god is irrational. As you suggest Sufis's are a lot more interesting because they don't engage in unnecessary triumphalism. This is also why I have no time for the likes of Harun Yahya (shall hopefully be posting on him soon).

On DA's point that it leads to a violation of core teachings, one could make the argument that the emphasis on namaz and hajj leads to people ignoring what Islam says about treating other people safe in the belief that they are fulfilling their obligations towards Allah. I don't necessarily agree with this but you can't always judge something based on it's effect on some.

I'm not sure about the link between political apathy and sufism. While sufi's don't get involved politically, most people who visit shrines do lead normal existences the rest of the time and are likely to have political interests.

At the same time,I don't really have a lot of time for the sort of new-age, association with sufism found in the west.I think it's superficial and doesn't really understand its context.

12:04 pm, December 04, 2005  
Anonymous bananabrain said...

oo, i'd really like to hear what you think of harun yahya. i'm always getting preached at by his followers and frankly, he seems to be the deepak chopra of islam. mostly harmless but content-lite, if you follow me.

my first exposure to islam was through the members of a couple of sufi tariqas and actually i found it most enlightening and a good source of friends. i have a soft spot for sufism and have done a fair bit of reading on it, so i'd be interested to know if you've read idris shah, who seems to be the big writer in this field. he seems kind of bigheaded, unfortunately, as well as saying that all religions are basically corruptions of the original sufism. it sounds a bit like that whole "abraham was the first muslim" line of argument that i hear sometimes. he's still pretty informative though.

it seems to me that the western, new-age form of sufism (which i've also come across) is not a million miles from the western, new-age form of kabbalah as espoused by the likes of madonna and all those other pop-tarts. i know enough about the jewish mystical tradition to be writing a book on it, as it happens, so i am pretty caustic about the so-called "kabbalah centre"; what a bunch of crooks and charlatans. anyway, i'll watch this space.


1:30 pm, December 05, 2005  
Blogger thabet said...

I'm not sure there is a sharp divigin line between "Sufism" and "conservative Islam". Many, if not most, Sufis also follow traditional schools of fiqh and theology, so are "conservative" Muslims (that is, interested in 'conserving' their traditions). We should not confuse "conservative" with "fundamentalist" or with "Wahhabi"; it is likely the former is as at odds with the last two.

In India this has been quite evident. Shah Wali Allah and Ahmad as-Sirhindi were both Sufis, but were also interested in "shari'ah values".

Also the portrayal of Sufis as politically naive or navel-gazers when it comes to world-affairs is far from the truth. Safavid Iran was formed around a Sufi order; Sufism was intergral in giving the Ottoman sultans their prestige; the Libyan Sanussi movement or the Sokoto Caliphate of Usman dan Fodio, both formed by Sufis or Sufi brotherhoods. Lastly, Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Egyptian Ikhwan, was also a Sufi.

12:00 pm, December 06, 2005  
Blogger reformist_muslim said...

Thabet, you make some excellent points. I would agree that there it is not possible to classify sufi's in one way. I'll have to research the nature of most sufi's or at least the more prominent ones.

BananaBrain, comments on Harun Yahya will be up shortly. I'm not an expert on Idris Shah and Sufism in general so I can't comment on those points. I do agree with you on the charlatan nature of the whole madonna/kabbalah movement.

4:46 pm, December 07, 2005  

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