Western Sufism

Western Sufism

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.