Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Clarification regarding Sufism and Extremism

The Christian Science Monitor today published an article called "Sufism May Be Powerful Antidote to Islamic Extremism." Although well meaning, the article advances a couple of misconceptions:

1) The article implies that Sunnis and Shi'ahs, who are not Sufis lack spirituality. In other words, it inaccurately implies that Muslims who are not followers of a Sufi order (tariqah) are adhering to a form of Islam that lacks spirituality. This is false.

2) The article also implies that Sufis heighten level of spirituality makes them immune to extremism, which connotes that Sufism is non-violent. Extremism among Muslims can take on many shades. If a Muslim, for instance, divorces himself from their socio-political environment and the Islamic mandate to establish social justice for all and practices a sanctimonious form of religion, this would be a form of extremism although non-violent. Physical struggle against tyranny is not absent among Sufis either. Uthman Dan Fodio, a West African Sufi, was a leader in the struggle against corruption in 19th century Hausaland. The Sanusis in Libya also took up struggle against colonialists, who occupied Libya. The Chechen resistance against the Russians, which peaked in the 90s also had Sufis amongst its ranks.

Portion of CSM article below:

Sufism may be powerful antidote to Islamic extremism
With its spiritual tradition, 'the Sufi way' is an age-old alternative for radicals and modernists alike.

By Jane Lampman | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
from the December 5, 2007 edition

Images of Islam have pervaded the news media in recent years, but one aspect of the faith has gotten little attention – Islamic spirituality. Yet thousands in America and millions in the Muslim world have embarked on the spiritual path called Sufism, or the Sufi way. Some see its appeal as the most promising hope for countering the rise of extremism in Islam.

In recent weeks, celebrations in cities on several continents have marked the "International Year of Rumi." Sept. 30 was the 800th anniversary of the birth of Muslim mystic Jelaluddin Rumi, who is a towering figure in Sufi literature and, paradoxically, the bestselling poet in the United States over the past decade.

In the West, Sufism has appealed to seekers attracted by its disciplined spiritual practices as well as its respect for all faiths and emphasis on universal love.

"I was searching, and the writings struck me – particularly the poetry," says Llew Smith, a TV producer in Boston who has joined a Sufi order. "It's direct and consistent about turning you away from the self, but also being connected deeply to the Divine and to other people."

Across the Muslim world, Sufism has been an influential force throughout Islamic history, though it has frequently come under attack by more orthodox Muslims. Some consider it an Islamic heresy because Sufis go beyond the faith's basic tenets and pursue a direct union with God.

Many Muslims today, however, see the spiritual tradition as the potential answer to the extremism that has hijacked the faith and misrepresented it to the world.

"In the Islamic world, Sufism is the most powerful antidote to the religious radicalism called fundamentalism as well as the most important source for responding to the challenges posed by modernism," says Seyyed Hossein Nasr, professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Nasr has written a new book, "The Garden of Truth," to present Sufi teaching in contemporary language.

"Its influence is immense," Nasr adds. "Sufism has kept alive the inner quality of ethics and spiritual virtues, rather than a rigid morality ... and it provides access to knowledge of the divine reality," which affects all other aspects of one's life.

But Sufi practice faces intense pressures in Islam's internal struggle. "What the Western world is not seeing," says Akbar Ahmed, a renowned Pakistani anthropologist who teaches at American University in Washington, "is that there are three distinct models in play in the Muslim world: modernism, which reflects globalization, materialism, and a consumer society; the literalists, who are reacting, sometimes violently, against the West and globalization; and the Sufis, who reject the search for power and wealth" in favor of a more spiritual path.(MORE)

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