Western Sufism

Western Sufism

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Sanctuary of Sufism Reoriented

In Western Sufism, I left Sufism Reoriented, the American group descended from Inayat Khan that shifted to Meher Baba and left the Western Sufi milieu, running a preschool in California. A new article by Amos Barshad in Fader reports that it has also built a large “sanctuary” (pictured) in Saranap, California, designed to withstand Californian earthquakes and last 700 years until the expected return of Meher Baba. This project is said to have cost around $35 million, most of it donated by David Overton, a long-term member of Sufism Reoriented who grew rich from his worldwide chain of Cheesecake Factory restaurants. The Sanctuary sounds a bit like a survivalist project, with two thirds of its space under ground. Curious.

My thanks to C for drawing my attention to this article.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Film about the Darqawiyya of Norwich

There is a now a film about the Darqawiyya of Norwich, formerly of Bristol Gardens, discussed in chapter 14 of Western Sufism. It is entitled “Blessed are the Strangers” and is directed by Ahmed Peerbux. It has a website, where a trailer is available. The film lasts 58 minutes.

Using autobiographical interviews with participants, “Blessed are the Strangers” tells the central story of the Darqawiyya from its origins, and also the story of the Brixton-mosque Muslims who ended up joining the Darqawiyya in Norwich. As might be expected, it does not cover all the details discussed in Western Sufism, but the basic understanding of the book and of the film are the same.

Beautifully made, and worth watching.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Burhaniya in Italy

A new article on the Burhaniya in Italy: Paola Abenante, “Essentializing Difference. Text, knowledge and ritual performance in a Sufi brotherhood in Italy,” The e-Journal of Economics & Complexity 2, no. 1 (May 2016), pp. 51-68.

The paper explores the different and competing understandings of ‘proper Islamic praxis’ between Egyptian Muslim immigrants and Italians converts to Islam within the Italian branch of an Egyptian-Sudanese Sufi brotherhood, in Rome. The Italian brethren foreground intellectual engagement with texts and scriptures over ritual performance and the role of the body, elements to which immigrants instead give prominence. I suggest that such polarization and the reasons of its persistence may be best understood by focusing on the performative role of cultural essentialisms against immigrants and of stereotypes concerning the definition of ‘orthodox’ Islam circulating in Italy and beyond. Whereas these prosaic essentialisms and binaries do not actually map socio-cultural realities, they are on their turn performative: essentialised discourses orient everyday praxis, make sense of experience and support forms of empowerment and of domination within the brotherhood.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Dervishes in Dickens and Bérault-Bercastel

Two further eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European references to Sufis again show how familiar the reading public was with Mevlevi turning. In his Histoire générale de l'Église (1778-90), the French historian Antoine-Henri de Bérault-Bercastel discusses the “Convulsionnaires” (Convulsionists), a controversial eighteenth-century religious movement that emphasized direct religious experience. He describes some Convulsionnaires as standing on their heads while others “turned rapidly on their feet like dervishes” (1840 edition, vol. 10, pp. 418-19). The same comparison is made by Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities (1859) when Dickens refers to the Convulsionists while ridiculing pre-revolutionary French society (p. 134). Dickens, however, does not mention turning, which makes the logic of the comparison hard to follow.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Interview on Sacred Matters

Sacred Matters: Religious Currents in Culture has a series in which they ask seven standard questions of the authors of books they like. They liked Western Sufism. My answers are available here.

Monday, February 20, 2017

SOI in Pakistan

Just found: an article on the Sufi Order International in Pakistan (and Dubai). Alix Philippon describes the SOI in Europe from the perspective of a summer camp in the Swiss Alps, and then discusses its Lahore branch and one of that branch's leaders, Ayeda Naqvi, showing how the SOI resolved her spiritual search, as it does the searches of other cosmopolitan Pakistanis who dislike what they see as "general intolerance and the aggressive declarations of all those groups that think they have the monopoly of religious truth."

The article, "De l’occidentalisation du soufisme à la réislamisation du New Age? Sufi Order International et la globalisation du religieux" (Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée 135, July 2014) is available online at http://remmm.revues.org/8487.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Conference on Transnational Sufism in Contemporary Societies

A Call has just been published for proposals for a conference on "Transnational Sufism in Contemporary Societies" to be held on San Giorgio Island, Venice, 9-11 November 2017, organised by Francesco Piraino (Scuola Normale Superiore) and Mark Sedgwick (the author of this blog). Download the Call, visit the website, and submit a proposal! Note that only a limited number of papers will be accepted.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Alami Tariqa of Waterport, New York

A new book by Julianne Hazen, Sufism in America: The Alami Tariqa of Waterport, New York (London: Lexington, 2017) examines a little known American tariqa, the Alamiyya, which, as the title indicates, is based in Waterport, a small settlement on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, some 50 miles from the Niagara Falls. The Alamiyya is of Balkan origin (in the Khalwati-Hayati tariqa), was established in America in the late 1970s, and now has a following that is mostly American, about equally Caucasian and African American.

The book is based on a 2011 PhD dissertation defended at SOAS, and consists of five chapters, with an introduction and a conclusion. The first chapter places the tariqa in its American Sufi, Islamic, and religious contexts. The second chapter traces the tariqa from the Balkans to New York. The third chapter looks at why people join the tariqa. The fourth chapter looks at acculturation, arguing that while the tariqa has accommodated America in many ways, it still strives to follow the Sharia. The fifth chapter looks at the spiritual path that the murids follows.

For those who cannot wait for the book, the original PhD dissertation is available online.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Gurdjieff and The OA

The OA is a much-discussed TV series, or perhaps a movie in eight chapters as Peter Debruge argues, made for Netflix by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij. With, it seems, some help from Gurdjieff.

One of the central plot elements is the Movements, learned and then taught by the central character, the OA herself (pictured). Asked about their source, the movie's choreographer, Ryan Heffington, refers to inspirations from "the 'skeletal shape' and attributes of various animals" to "face choreography... like ancient African jewelry on the face" (Hillary Busis in Vanity Fair). But they are not "just" dance. Even beyond the name, a similarity with the Gurdjieff Movements is definitely there. According to Marling, "by the time we were doing those movements for two or three months on end, something otherworldly starts to happen in your own body and starts to happen between people who are doing them" (Jean Bentley in The Hollywood Reporter).

Few people have noticed the Gurdjieff connection, but one exception is ColorMySoul88, writing on Reddit, who spotted the visual similarity between an isolated red house in the movie and a painting by Kasimir Malevich, and noted that Malevich was inspired by Gurdjieff (in fact, it seems it was Ouspensky more than Gurdjieff, according to art historian Mel Gooding). ColorMySoul88 also points out that the Movements resemble the Movements.

There may be even more to it than this. The central experience of the OA and her companions is an attempt to access another dimension through intentional suffering--though the intention is not theirs (it is involuntary suffering), and the phrase "intentional suffering" is not used.

The movements may be seen on YouTube, excerpted from the movie, or copied and performed by admirers such as Mohamed Massoud and Natalia Maldini.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Western Sufism available through Oxford Scholarship Online

Western Sufism is now available to read online through Oxford Scholarship Online for those whose libraries have a subscription. See https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199977642.001.0001.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Rumi in the New Yorker

Rumi is the topic of an article in The New Yorker by Rozina Ali, "The Erasure of Islam from the Poetry of Rumi" (January 5, 2017). The author interviews both Omid Safi, who correctly places today's interest in Rumi in the context of nineteenth-century interest in Oriental poetry, and Coleman Barks, today's most important translator of Rumi. A good piece.