Western Sufism

Western Sufism

Monday, December 19, 2016

A note on the Gathas

In Western Sufism, I noted that the word "Gatha," used by Inayat Khan to designate one set of the "papers" used to transmit the teachings of his Esoteric School, was of Sanskrit origin. What I missed was that the word is also used by Zoroastrians to denote the hymns of Zarathustra/Zoroaster. Inayat Khan enjoyed such hidden references, which in this case also fitted with his Universalism.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Sufism according to Google

Google's search database is, as always, interesting, and shows that the greatest interest in Sufism on the internet is at present found in the United States, Indonesia, and France. A second group of countries with a significant interest in Sufism is made up of India, Germany, Italy, the UK, and Russia. Then come (in descending order) Brazil, Spain, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Canada, Mexico, Israel, Sweden, Ukraine, Argentina, Kazakhstan, and Australia.

As ever, care must be exercised in interpreting these results. The country that actually comes out on top in search volume is Colombia, but this is because of Sufi, short for Sufinanciamiento, the Compañía Suramericana de Financiamiento (South American Finance Company), a member of the Bancolombia group. Also, it is probably not safe to conclude anything from the absence of other countries in the Islamic world, which may not show up for a variety of reasons.

It is also interesting to see what searches are associated with "Sufi." "Dervish" remains popular, as do whirling, Sufi music, and Sufi poetry. In France, people search a lot for Ibn Arabi, as they do in Morocco and Algeria among searches in French. In France there is also a lot of interest in J. M. G. Le Clézio, a Nobel prize winning novelist who is rumored to have converted to Islam and had expressed admiration for Sufism, and in Eric Geoffroy, a Sufi academic, writer, and teacher of Traditionalist origins. There are more searches for Geoffroy in France than for Sufism in Mexico. The only other persons to show up in associated searches are Gerhard Schweizer in Germany and Mirzakarim Norbekov in Russia. Schweizer is a writer whose book on Sufism, Der unbekannte Islam: Sufismus (The Unknown Islam: Sufism) has evoked interest. Norbekov is a healer who evidently uses Sufism in his back story.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Traditionalists: CounterPunch attacks Maryamiyya

Traditionalists: CounterPunch attacks Maryamiyya: An article on the Maryamiyya has just (November 2) been published in CounterPunch, arguing that ""Western... Sufism has increasingly gone in another direction, allying itself more and more with the agendas of Western establishments and the core interests of Empire in the Muslim world."

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Western Sufism now shipping

Western Sufism: From the Abbasids to the New Age is now officially published and shipping from Amazon.com! Readers in the UK will still have to wait a month before it reaches Amazon.co.uk, I am afraid.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Western Sufism shipping soon

Western Sufism: From the Abbasids to the New Age is on its way! My own advance copy has arrived, and Amazon.com are giving it as in stock on October 30, 2016. Only a few days to go.

Monday, September 26, 2016

New York Sufis profiled in New York Times

The New York Times has just published a long article on the New York Sufi scene, Adela Suliman, “Sufi Sect of Islam Draws ‘Spiritual Vagabonds’ in New York,” New York Times September 23, 2016. The article focuses on the Nur Ashki Jerrahis, but also mentions some other orders, though it gives little space to the larger ethnically-based orders. The article is interesting because it gives a somewhat higher profile to what has previously been fairly low-profile. It also avoids focusing excessively on the angle that is hinted at by the article's URL, which ends "new-york-converts.html."

The article is generally accurate, and only makes one serious error, in stating that Sufism "has been cloaked in secrecy for most of its existence, having been forced underground by Ottoman rulers in the 13th century" and in citing one New York Sufi without comment as saying that Sufism "has never been embraced by mainstream Islam.” Since Osman I did not die until 1326, there were in fact no Ottomans in the 13th century, and when the Ottoman empire did come into being, it generally promoted Sufism, as did the Mamlukes and others. Sufism has, mostly, been embraced by mainstream Islam, then, and has never been cloaked in secrecy, though certain aspects of Sufism have been handled with discretion.

My thanks to Ivan Timonin for drawing my attention to this article.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Sufi albums of Franco Battiato

One of the best-known singers of the 1980s in Spain and Italy, Franco Battiato (born 1945, pictured here in 1986), was a Universal Sufi who wrote of his debt to George Gurdjieff, referred to René Guénon, and failed to make much impact on the American market with an album entitled "Echoes of Sufi Dances." This included the lines:
Yet the king of the world
Keeps our hearts enchained.
In the full white dresses
Echoes of Sufi dances
In Japan's undergrounds today
Oxygen machines;
The more all becomes useless
The more we believe it's true
And in the final days
English will not help.
From a Guénonian perspective, it is indeed true that English will not help in the final days--the days at the end of what Guénon on one occasion glossed as "the era of the white boar," a gloss that became the title of Battiato's most Guénonian track, "L'era del cinghiale bianco."

According to Manuel Ángel Vázquez Medel (“Ecos de danza sufí: la influencia de la cultura árabe: El islam y el sufismo en Franco Battiato,” in El mundo árabe como inspiración, ed. Fátima Roldán Castro; Seville: Universidad de Sevilla, 2012, pp. 153-77), Battiato read P. D. Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching in 1975, and in 1978 started learning Arabic, in which language he later recorded some of his songs. He became famous in 1981 with "La voce del padrone" (His master's voice), the first Italian LP ever to sell more than one million copies, which included the track "Centro di gravità permanente"(Permanent center of gravity), which refers to the Gurdjieffian idea of centering the consciousness of self. As well as these albums, Battiato has also composed operas--Genesi (1987) featured whirling dervishes and Arab themes--and painted--again, often dervishes.

My thanks to Francesco Bentivegna for drawing my attention to Battiato's Guénonian connections.

Friday, August 19, 2016

New book on "Jewish Sufism"

Just too late to be included in my Western Sufism: a fine new book on Judaism, Sufism, and the Pietists of Medieval Egypt: A Study of Abraham Maimonides and His Times by Elisha Russ-Fishbane (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015). I couldn't believe that no-one had done a proper book on this amazing episode (discussed in chapter 3 of Western Sufism) and here it is--the proper book.

The book has six chapters, divided into three chapters. First come social foundations ("The Making of a Movement" and "Ideals and Institutions"), and then prayer ("The Devotional Life" and "Prayer Reforms"), including adoption and adaption of Sufi forms. The book ends with prophecy and messianism ("The Return of Prophecy" and "From Prophecy to Redemption"). The prophecy is, essentially, the consequence of union, making the completed man (al-insan al-kamil) into a [lesser] prophet, and messianism or redemption was, in some ways, the logical consequence.

Well-researched and well-written.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Website now live

The companion website for the book Western Sufism is now live, at WesternSufism.info.

Some finishing touches are still needed, including completing the gallery.

There are links for pre-ordering Western Sufism.

What is "Western Sufism"?

Sufism has a long and rich history, mostly in the Middle East. It is also found in the West, however, and Western Sufism has its own history and characteristics, just as (say) Indonesian Sufism does. What is sometimes called "neo-Sufism" is part of Western Sufism. The term "neo-Sufism" is problematic, however, partly because it is also sometimes used to denote an eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Middle Eastern phenomenon, and also because the prefix "neo-" carries all sorts of implications, mostly negative, some inappropriate or even wrong, and only some appropriate.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Israeli Sufism

I don't cover Israeli Sufism in Western Sufism as it starts after the "new age" period, but it is an interesting phenomenon, and one constituent group has just made The Washington Post. This is the group that practices whirling, led by Ora Balha. See here.