Ahl Al-Bayt Forum 2014: Introduction to Western Sufi Movements by Dr. Prof. Marcia Hermansen

Below are some notes I took during the Ahl al Bayt Forum 2014 in Streamwood, IL at the Bait-ul-Ilm center.

Sufism: Islamic “Mysticism?”

If this definition is to be believed, one must properly define mysticism. Culturally and popularly, the word invokes several other terms:

-Mystery and occultism

-Popular religion and cultural relevance (note that this point lies in contrary to the first)

-Deviance and innovation to a monolithic reality

There are obviously stark differences in the way that people treat Sufism, depending, of course, on the time and place they are witnessing it, the ways it is being manifested in its own cultural milieu, and the public exposure to Sufi practices and practitioners. Most of the time, the topic of Sufism as a particular and separate issue is regarded as “bid’ah” in Sunni circles, but in Shi’i circles, the criticism is of another nature: “They don’t work! They are lazy!” Shi’is usually don’t take issue with some of the practices that make Sunnis uncomfortable, such as calling upon the dead or visiting their shrines.

The Garden of Sufism

Perennials, Hybrids, and Transplants.

Perennial Movements

The Sufi Order of Inayat Khan

     -Does not specifically promote Shari’a compliance or Islam as an exoteric practice

     -Has a strong following in the United States through Wilayat Khan and Inayat Khan’s other children

     -Has a small following in Muslim-majority countries

International Association of Sufism

     -Two main branches of differences: a particularly “Islamic” one and a “universalist” one

     -Only half of this movement is Perennial, seeing a universal important truth in all manifestations of the message

Traditionalism: A Subset of Perennialism

     -Rene Guenon, Frithjof Schuon, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Martin Lings

     -Does not match the Perennial ideology completely but contains some concepts

     -Finding the One truth in all religions and hearkening back to a primordial past that is contained in all later religions

Perennial Themes

-Therapeutic religion

-Religion must “do” something for us (something very particular to the West, esp. The United States”

-Not much engagement with other Muslims

Hybrid Orders

-Bawa Muhyiddeen  Order (Indian derivation from the Qadiri Order)

-Helveti-Jerrahi Order (Turkish order with heavy Turkist cultural influence)

-Naqshbandi-Haqqani Order (From Cyprus; an order concerned heavily with engagement of multiple groups around the world)

In all of these orders, social engagement plays a heavy role, along with the ‘mainstreaming’ of the Order through culture-mixing and political engagement (Naqshbandi links with White House and other global political figures)

Authenticity Sufism (1990s)

-Distinctly non-cultual, a desire to return to a ‘default’ and ‘compliant’ Sufism in an imagined past.

-Shaykh Hamza Yusuf is a product and a producer of this brand of Sufi thought in the United States.

-This type of Sufism presents a focus on the ‘indigenous,’ the ‘convert Imam’ that allows traditional Muslims from other countries and American young Muslims to engage with each other fruitfully.

-This type of Sufism imagines itself as part of a neo-madrasa system as part of its hearkening back to a nostalgic past. This presents a dissonance between modern amenity and worldly engagement and the zuhd, or detachment of that traditional system. One may have it both ways.

Affective Sufism

1. Ta’leef Collective

-Third spaces

-“Hip” to current youth trends

-“Come as you are” attitude

2. CelebrateMercy

-Global unity

-Open access to knowledge about Islam’s depths, for anyone

-Engaging in mutual respect and empathy for the plight of other’s (often through the lens of minding the struggles of the Prophet Muhammad)

3. SeekersHub

-Fiqh and other and Knowledge for anyone

-Social and media engagement, promotion of a style and look of Islam that has been unbranded, lost

-Discipline in spirituality takes precedence over openness and freedom

The themes of this type of Sufism involve ritualism, devotionalism, love and mercy as talking points and emphases, and mutual respect and restoration of old types of Sufi engagement as ‘new.’ Often, social justice is emphasized as a form of ‘love.’

The World Beneath His Feet: The Axis Mundi, Al-Khidr, and The Cosmos in a Mughal Painting

Wrote 7 pages about this painting for a final.

The painting I shall examine in this work is of the Emperor Jahangir, fourth Mughal ruler, successor to Akbar The Great. In this iconic allegorical painting, the artist, Abu’l Hasan, represents Jahangir’s wealth and grandeur by depicting him shooting at a sickly figure of poverty with his royal bow. In the background, putti fly, bestowing him with his royal crown and offering aid in the form of  arrows. Jahangir stands upon a globe containing a lion and lamb seated in harmony, all resting atop a fish swimming atop a great expanse of water, with another passenger engaged in reading a text. In the background, a lone putto supports a line of hanging red tassels and bells, tied to the ground at a shrine. Continue reading


Conversion as Connection: Examining Latina/o Identity in The Americas

(This essay is in reference to Latina/o Musulman: The Construction of Latina/o Identity among Latina/o Muslims in the United States by Hjamil A. Martinez-Vasquez)

           Islam in the Americas is unique because it is irreversibly tied to problems of identity and ethnicity. Most Latina/o Muslims living in the United States and in South America are converts to Islam, many of whom must engage in negotiation processes, disillusionment with their previous faith, and unfair treatment by family and peers, as well as their own co-religionists. Muslims are also forced to reorient themselves to navigate structures of ethnic superiority. To deal with these obstacles, these converts strive to adopt alternative narratives, from aligning themselves with historical movements locally to drawing chronologically and culturally distant connections to empires. I seek to argue in this essay that the adoption of these narratives, and therefore conversion to Islam entirely, is ultimately about establishing connections with three entities: God, who is invisible and personal; the ummah, or Muslim global community, and the Latina/o communities they are part of. Continue reading