Lecture 16: Sufism and Sufi Orders
Course: Introduction to Islam
Lecture: Sufism and Sufi Orders
Sufi Muslims are more contemplative, mystical, individualistic, syncretistic, and non-legalistic than someone who is an orthodox Muslim.
Sufism is a movement of mystical Islam, mystical tendencies in Islam. It started out as a highly personal emphasis of a few individual Muslims who secluded themselves.
I. Sufi Timeline
If you look at a timeline of Sufism, it divides up into fairly neat categories.
A. 661-850 AD
You have a period from around 661 to 850 where you have the emergence of another number of individual Sufi saints, much like the North African tradition in the Christian Church which began, as you know. Before you have the emergence of the Roman monastic tradition, you have individual aesthetics, desert fathers, if you will.
This becomes quite an interesting movement. No-one knows for certain the origin of the word, “Sufi.” I think the best guess, which I think the textbook points out, is probably that it comes from the word, “wool,” those who wore the coarse wool. It is a sign of aestheticism and probably some of the clothing they wore; again, a lot like the Christian hermits as a sign of their renunciation of the world.
Essentially the Sufi movement seeks to create a union of the believer with Allah, a personal encounter of the believer with Allah. This is going to of course blow apart our whole discussion about border crossings, Allah being on his throne, the enthronement passages. All of that is now being challenged by the mystical saints.
B. 850-988 AD
Eventually, from 850 to 988 this begins to dramatically influence Islam in Persia. Because of the growth of the Shia tradition in the early days, you are going to have an emphasis on poetry, especially poetry on divine love. Divine love is not a major theme in mainstream Muslim writings. You begin to find both philosophers and metaphysical writers who are influenced by Christian mysticism and begin to talk about the concept of union with the divine. This occurs definitely in Persia over about a one-hundred-year period, these writings begin to emerge.
C. 988-1075 AD
Things begin to change, however, from 988 to 1075. In that period it is the first time that we begin to see a Sufi movement occur. This is kind of a brief historical overview. A Sufi movement emerges where you are no longer finding just individual poets or aesthetics; but you are going to find communities of Sufi saints, monasteries, if you will. You are going to find publications that begin to come from the pens of more respected Muslim scholars.
There are two things that actually occur simultaneously to help this movement out. On one hand, you have the mainstream Muslim clerics who at this time
period were extremely rigid and dogmatic about interpretation of the Qur’an. They were extremely rigid on enforcing through Sharia law the forms of Islam, how to do everything. So that naturally creates a reaction movement, when you have that kind of real rigid interpretation of things, very legalistic.
Secondly, you had some well-known theologians in the Muslim tradition who broke with their colleagues and began to write theology that would say, “Perhaps we should listen to the Sufi movement, we should listen to what they are saying. There is something here theologically. They are seeing things in the Qur’an that perhaps we have missed.” When that happened, then things began to dramatically change. This is the period they say is the rise of what they call “Sufi orders.” We have not looked at these orders yet; but this is the origin of the Sufi orders and we will look at four of the Sufi orders. It is during this period that this happens.
You begin to see from the theologians, for the first time some theological reflection on the movement, trying to analyze it theologically. These other things
are poetry, people movements, theology from below at best, but not really analyzed theologically. So all of this begins to happen in this third period.
D. 1075-1150 AD
In 1075 to 1150 you have another major period with the writings of a man named Al-Ghazali. This is often considered to be more or less the major figure in the founding of Sufism. Ghazali is very important. People have said that Ghazali is to Islam what Martin Luther is to Protestants. He is the Augustine, the Martin Luther. He is a major figure who begins to challenge the theology of traditional orthodoxy as it was viewed at that time. You have to understand, as Protestants we do not realize that in the sixteenth century Luther was viewed as a great heretic. Ghazali was viewed as a great heretic; but they believed that he was arguing for something that was opening the door to Sufism. He was a very well respected academic in The University of Baghdad. He gave up his post. This would be like somebody in a major academic post in the Western world and they give it up and become a wandering aesthetic. He gave himself completely to this whole movement.
This gave tremendous theological support for the movement as a whole. You begin to have the whole idea of orthodox – this is a Protestant term – but the idea of orthodox (Sufi orders). They began to distinguish between which Sufi orders were acceptable and which were not. So it definitely is a period when the movement is coming together.
E. 1150-1250 AD
Between 1150 and 1250, is a one-hundred-year period where you have what is called the “classical poetic period.” This is when you have the emergence of a number of classical Sufi poets who write some of the poetry that you find in your textbook. For example, Atar, Rumi, Saadi), these are very famous poets in the Sufi tradition.
F. 1250-1350 AD
Two more chunks of time. Roughly 1250 to 1350, that one-hundred-year period is when for the first time the Sufi began to launch missionary activity. This is a missionary impulse where the Sufi began to realize they could actually take over the majority of Islam; and they believed they could have an impact if they sent missionaries. The Sunni were not at all mission-minded at that point, so they were trying to influence. It is in this period that you begin to find Sufi ideas filtering into many, many other mainstream Muslim movements.
Finally, 1350 to the present is mainly a period of consolidation of the orders and the movement began to gain more cohesion and more solidarity. We are now still in that period today of the consolidation of the four orders, on which we will focus.
II. Key Terms
We finally get to a term which I think appeared, amazingly, two or three lectures ago and kind of surprised some of you as it suddenly popped up and I don’t think we had a proper chance to deal with it, the word “tariqa.” Now you know what it is. This is the term that is used by the Sufi for a particular path or way of pursuing this divine contemplation, mystical union with Allah.
You have the emergence of the Sufi sects. Tariqa becomes a very important term for the Sufi.
Also the term “pir” becomes very important. This is a mystical figure who is looked to for spiritual guidance and leadership, a popular mystical teacher. Usually every Tariqa is headed up by a mystical pir.
This is actually a very big thing if you have ever been in the Muslim world. In my case, I have only experienced it by surprise. I would see this huge meeting of thousands and thousands of Muslims. You couldn’t believe the number of people that would gather into, not a stadium, but a big field, the one I saw. It was all to hear a pir teach, like a teaching thing, praise and worship, and teaching. They would have worship services, a lot of aesthetic singing and dancing. Then this pir would teach. They have vast followings throughout Africa and throughout the Middle East, even in places like Pakistan. Particularly as you get into Africa it is a major, major movement. You also will hear the person referred to as a shaykh, a pir or a shaykh. You will see that term from time to time.
III. Six Major Differences between Orthodox and Sufi Islam
We are going to launch into the six major differences between orthodox and Sufi Islam.
A. Contemplative and Mystical
That is a major difference between the two traditions. The mainstream tradition says that you have Muhammed, who gave us the Qur’an and the Hadith. The Hadith is verified through the Isnad and this constitutes the basis of revelation. Even the whole idea of the Ijtihad is merely to apply the Hadith or Qur’an to particular situations. So it is a very fixed, stable view of revelation.
In the Sufi tradition, it is more mystical and it goes into everything, including the Qur’an and the Hadith. You have what they call the Ah-Hadith Qudsi, the holy utterances. This is a statement by a Sufi saint: “No verse of the Qur’an has been revealed which is not an external aspect and an inner aspect.” You begin to see the emphasis on inward, internal experience and internal insight into, as we will see later, the Qur’an, etc. It is very contemplative and mystical oriented. They talk a lot about this arduous journey that every Muslim must undergo in order to reach this blissful moment where you have union with Allah. It is like a beatific vision of sorts. The aim is to unite with the Creator because Allah breathes his life into every person and therefore every person has a part of Allah in them.
The tariqa, or the path, is given as a way of finding this blissful moment. It is the way that you can discipline your outer self and instead, bring alive your inner self. It is a lot like what you find in Hinduism.
Secondly, it is non-legalistic. It really breaks from mainstream Islam in terms of legalistic kind of perspectives in two major ways.
1. They reject a strict view of Allah’s transcendence and otherness and they replace it by a doctrine of contemplation and union. They are going to break from this idea of Allah’s transcendence and they are also going to break from the whole idea of seeing Islam as ultimately Sharia, that is, a legal system. The whole idea of law to them is an improper way to view religion. So they are going to replace the Qur’an/Hadith as a legalistic system creating Sharia. They are going to reject that and say, “In fact, the Qur’an and Hadith are not to produce a law, but to produce a doctrine of God’s love.”
2. Because you have rejected the transcendence of Allah in the creation, because this line is now blurred and you are replacing law with love, then you know now you can have Muslims who can directly approach Allah. Muslims can now enter into a relationship with Allah. Muslims can have an immediate experience with Allah.
This, by the way, is a feature in Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. It is a very interesting thing to note. In the case of Hinduism and Buddhism and Islam, all
three in their original vision there is no place for intimate relationship with God. Yet in all three of those religions they developed doctrines which concede this point. This says a lot about the fact that we are created to be in communion with God and the fact that this was eventually viewed as an Achilles heel; and you have a significant movement to challenge that. We often say as evangelicals, people need to have a relationship with Christ; but in fact, the whole of the religious world testifies to this need. I believe it can only be found in Christ; but certainly we find that the desire for this is present throughout the religious spectrum.
The third major difference is that it is individualistic. Even though you do have the emergence of Sufi communities, still it is primarily an individualistic expression, as compared with the umma. There is a big difference between the two.
Fourth, it is syncretistic. Sufism is highly syncretistic. That is to say, it is very free about uniting traditional African ideas with Muslim ideas. This is why many of the tariqas were referred to as still partial and others as “folk Muslims.” A folk Muslim is nothing more than a Muslim who has been dramatically influenced by Sufi doctrine and maybe at this point has opened the door to all kinds of innovations from traditional practices, whether it be mau-mau, African practices or other parts of Africa, whatever, traditional practices which have been brought into the Islamic faith. So, very syncretistic.
It is estimated that as many as 70% of all Muslims are familiar with the teaching of some brotherhood or tariqa; not to mention that many millions of Muslims worldwide actively call themselves Sufi Muslims. The syncretism has influenced Islam. As this course develops, you will see how we will develop this point as we look at how Islam is actually practiced in many parts of the world, particularly in Africa. What we will find is that the kind of traditional views of Islam have been seriously compromised in the actual practice of Muslims in the world. The kind of orthodox line that is put out by Saudi Arabia that it is this seamless garment of orthodox practice according to certain forms, the five pillars of Islam, is largely a mythological projection. It is not to overstate the case. It is not to say there are not millions of Muslims who follow the fivefold pillars of Islam. But to project that as a seamless garment over the world of Islam, which is done routinely in the West by movies and video clips and by Muslim writers, is really a projection of fantasy. When you actually go to a country, countries in Africa especially, or Indonesia and you actually look at the practice of Muslims, you will find how syncretistic they are.
E. Esotericisms in Qur’an and Hadith
Fifthly, there are esotericisms in the Qur’an and the Hadith. Let me give you some examples of this. I mentioned earlier the comment by one Sufi saint, a guy named Surat Al Kader who said, “No verse of the Qur’an has been revealed which is not an external aspect and an inner aspect.” Again, this is such a classic idea in Hinduism, that everything operates at various levels of truth. Today they say that every ayah contains within it, at some point in the ayah, in the verse, what they call a “place of ascent.” A place of ascent is a place where the one who meditates on that place can rise into the presence of Allah.
One thing you should know, which you probably already know from Hebrew, is that one of the features of Semitic languages like Arabic, Hebrew - it is even true with some Indo-European languages like Sanskrit to some degree – is that they don’t have that big of a vocabulary. You may not feel that way if you are taking Hebrew right now, you may feel overwhelmed by the vocabulary. But in fact, compared with other languages, Hebrew has a relatively limited vocabulary. This does not mean that you cannot say anything in Hebrew that you want to say. What it means, as you probably know, is that a given word, X, in Hebrew can be used in a pretty wide range of semantics, the semantic field is quite wide; which is why it is difficult to translate the Old Testament, because the semantic field is much wider than a particular Greek word, where the semantic field is a lot narrower. That is a feature of each language in general, including Arabic. This means that when you have a particular word in the Arabic that probably does mean X, in certain contexts it could mean Y. In another context it could mean Z.
What happens was, the Sufi saints began to explore esotericisms based on alternative meanings of words if you had a text where this word was used, but the context would be such that it almost certainly means that. From our point of view, a Hebrew word in a given text may have a semantic range quite large, but because of the context, you are pretty sure of the meaning. Someone would say, “I would put my last penny on the fact that that word means X in that context.” That is assuming a grammatical translation methodology which assumes certain kinds of assumptions regarding the context of a passage.
If they accept, as the Sufi did, that in fact this word could be a pointer to something hidden, then that opens up a whole semantic range. That is exactly
what the Sufi saints did. It wasn’t that they just took a verse and they said that we think this means something totally bizarre. You find people who accuse them of that. What they usually do is actually try to find alternative meanings of a word that is legitimate, then spin that out into a new doctrine based on this text.
Let me give you one other point they make along this line. One Sufi saint said, “The entire Qur’an is esoterically present in the first Surah, Surah 1.” They are saying that you open up the Qur’an and you know already the emphasis placed on the first Surah. So they are taking it a step further and say, “The entire Qur’an is mystically present in this first Surah, so if you can meditate on the first Surah, then the whole Qur’an can be known to you.”
That is very, very important because as Islam spread outside the Arab-speaking world in places like Africa, people do not speak Arabic. The only thing they knew in Arabic was, what? They knew this chapter. This is like the first thing you memorize. They knew Surah 1. It is the only thing they knew, in fact. Therefore, if someone says, “The whole Qur’an is mystically present in Surah 1 and you know that, then we can go from there.” The entire Surah 1, the whole Qur’an is in Surah 1, the entire Surah 1 is mystically present in the Bismallah. “In the name of Allah, the compassionate and merciful.” If you know that and learn that. For example, they would say to the infidel that Allah – they would divide into three parts – Allah, merciful and compassionate. The Allah represents all of the infinite aspects of the Qur’an’s teaching, his absoluteness, his transcendence, all of that. The Merciful is all of the text from the sources and cause of the world that allows for the reality of certain kinds of existence, etc. The Compassion, is this re-absorption of the world into Allah. This is compassion, how it is interpreted. The world is re-absorbed into infinite reality. So the whole Qur’an is in Surah 1. The whole Surah 1 is present in the Bismallah; and the entire Bismillah is mystically found in the first utterance “Ba.” Someone has said, “You read Surah 1:12 and you have read all of the Qur’an.”
That is a lot like the “ohm” doctrine in Hinduism, which says that the whole of Hindu philosophy and theology and thought is encapsulated into one utterance, “ohm.” If you meditate on that, if you resonate with that, then you get the whole thing. This is a lot like that. This would be said in chanting form, too, as the whole Qur’an is, so that is not a new thing particularly. This esotericism is very, very important in the Qur’an.
Have you noticed the phrase in the Qur’an, “To him we shall return, to him we shall return” over and over again? Again, this is a Sufi esotericism to describe the return of the soul to Allah. This is Allah calling for his children to come unto himself. Again, according to our text, “Oh, let me not exist, for nonexistence
proclaims in organ terms, ‘to him we shall return.’” Again, according to the Qur’an, going to nonexistence. This is a lot like Buddhism, a lot like ideas in Buddhism, present in Muslim teaching.
F. Role of the Pir
Sixth and finally, as I have already alluded to earlier, is the role of the pir. A pir essentially we will define in this class as a mediator between Allah and humanity. Orthodox Islam rejects any mediator, affirms there is no mediator between Allah and man except the Qur’an. The pir, they believe, actually has united with Allah in some way mystically and therefore they believe there can be many mediators. This is a people you see huge crowds gathering to hear and to listen to.
I mentioned the poetical period. One of their writers Rumi, one of the poets in that period, writes: “Come unto the shadow of the men of reason.” – this is the pir – “Thou cannot find it in the road of the traditionalist. That man alone, the pir, enjoys close proximity to Allah.” This is an overt rejection of the traditionalist. This instead is an embracing of a very different kind of way. This should really blow your mind, because we now open the doors up to another whole side of Islam we haven’t looked at yet.
Please do not misunderstand me here – we are not saying that everything we have heard about Islam is now rubbish and this is really what is happening. That is not what we are saying. We are saying that there is the mainstream orthodox Islam that does not change. Everything we have said up to this point in the class is true of those who follow orthodox Islam. What we are saying, though, is that as you go out from Saudi Arabia and you begin to go even into Iran and particularly into North Africa and sub Saharan Africa, and as you go further eastward into India and into Indonesia and into China, you are going to see that the strict orthodox Islamic strictures no longer apply and Folk Islam rules the day. Probably 75% of Islam is influenced by some aspect of Folk Islam, which includes Sufi practices and other kinds of indigenous thought that has drifted into Islam.
I think even Christian mysticism has influenced Islam. It is not always Islamic influence, but the influence from non-Islamic sources as well as Islamic sources that have influenced Sufism. You have to keep that in mind when you actually work with Muslims and talk to them. Especially take note of where they are from.
IV. Four Orders
We now want to focus briefly on the four major Sufi orders and the distinctive emphases of each of the four orders.
A. Chishti Order
The first is the Chishti Order, which is going to be well established in the subcontinent, which is today Pakistan and India. The Chishti is known for their emphasis on spiritual power being transmitted through a material substance. In other words, the clothing of a holy man can be transmitted; and such a person that has that power is called a Chishti. Therefore, clothing from a Chishti Baba Farid, for example, Farid was buried in a tomb in what is today called Pakistan, in the Punjab. The Punjab is the extreme northern part of today, India and Pakistan. There are a lot of Sikhs and Muslims in the Punjab. He is buried on the Pakistan side, he died in the year 1265. They may have re-opened his tomb. His tomb is known as “the door to paradise.” According to Sufi tradition, when Farid died, he had a vision of Muhammed, who came into the tomb with Farid and said, “Whoever enters through this door will be saved.” This is almost an exact quote of Jesus in John’s Gospel: “Whoever enters through this door will be saved.”
So Muslims will go into the tomb and then out again; and they believe by passing through this tomb – of course there are remains there somewhere – that one is transformed. Of course, talking about analogy, here is this powerful example of the role of a tomb. Yet, of course, in the Gospel it is the empty tomb which of course is the power of salvation, that God vindicated our Lord Jesus Christ, raised him from the dead and that is the doorway to paradise, as it were. This is an example of the kind of things that come out in the Chishti Order.
Not only the belief in material substances, but also the spontaneous words of Allah. This is the praise music side of Islam that you don’t find in mainstream
Islam. In fact, there is a famous story about Jerusalem. Jerusalem of course is a much more traditional part of Islam. This has been quite some years ago, maybe 12 years ago, they decided to have a special celebration of the music of the religions of the Middle East. They were going to give each religion two or three weeks to plan special musical services and put on special music. They asked the Christians. “We want to have two weeks where we celebrate Christian music, Christian worship.” The Christians went for it. They had Handel’s Messiah and all of these things that had been written over the centuries to celebrate Christ and the work of Christ. They came to the Jews and said, “We’d like to have Jewish music.” They said, “No problem, we can do that.” They came to Muslims and they said, “No, we don’t have any music, we don’t have musical traditions.”
The whole idea of a worshipful tradition in the way that we recognize it is largely absent from the mainstream Islamic tradition. This Chishti Order is trying to make up for that and purports the same kind of things that we would argue for in terms of spontaneity in worship and all of that, it talks about in the Chishti Order. Quite amazing, isn’t it? The obvious spontaneous worship of Allah. People writing praise and worship choruses to Allah.
As I said before, I think this is one of the real definite emphasis points of the rival systems and the reaction against formalism. I think it is true to this day. That is why when you talk to a Muslim, it is very likely you are talking to a Muslim here that is from the Middle East and they are not involved in the Chishti movement. You would say to them, “May I pray with you?” I’m sure you have done it, “May I pray with you?” Muslims of course are taught from their mother’s knee that prayers are wonderful things, prayer is a good thing. So Muslims will not generally say, “Oh no, no, I don’t want you to pray for me” unless they are just angry Muslims. Generally Muslims will say, “Well of course, pray.” So you pray a prayer that expresses your relationship with God. It has a profound impact because Muslims don’t have that. These movements are reactions to that lack. No doubt about it.
B. Suhrawardi Order
The second movement, the Suhrawardi Order, once again is a popular belief around a particular Sufi saint, Suhrawardi, who they believe has been given intercessory powers. Now we see, not only the lack of worship and the lack of relationship in the Chishti Order, but here the complete lack of intercessory prayer. I have read Muslim scholars who will say, pointblank, “There is no intercessory prayer in Islam.” Others disagree with that. This is an example of a disagreement. They believe that Suhrawardi can intercede and apply merit to a devotee who can be saved, which goes back to the question raised earlier about the bodhisattva ideal in Buddhism. This is very similar to that. It is a seam that is in all of Sufism to some degree; but this is a particularly strong one because they believe that Suhrawardi has been bestowed certain titles from Allah. These titles can be recited. These titles can be remembered and they have the power to give forgiveness. There are prayers that he left behind and people pray those prayers and believe that if you pray those prayers, you will be forgiven of all your sins.
Strong belief in miracles. Countless stories about faith. This is where you have a lot of overlap with Ismail doctrines of the seveners and the doctrine of the
Suhrawardi Order because they have a number of stories about miracles with Ismail. For example, when Ismail was supposed to grind corn, he put it in the mill and rather than grind it with his hands, he pronounced prayers and those prayers made it grind on its own. It sounds like a mantra idea, Hinduism. When Ismail milked a cow, it gave twice as much milk as an ordinary cow milker, kind of like Krishna. It is amazing the parallels. So everyone brought their cows to Ismail to milk. The poor guy was constantly milking cows. His contact created great blessings. So this is the kind of thing that happened.
C. Qadiri Order
The Qadiri Order, the third one, founded in India. A lot of these come out of India. All three of these orders are found in India. It does not surprise you that you are going to see Hindu and Buddhist ideas that come into Islam. This is also popular in Africa as well.
The emphasis on meditative techniques, the role of esoteric experience rather than obligatory prayers. They even will say that the fivefold prayers as given in the Hadith by Muhammed, are for those who are not initiated into the true prayers, which are spontaneous and can happen at any moment, and cannot be regulated by a clock or by any kind of muezzin. That kind of thing is not possible.
They tell particularly the story of one guy who refused – this is an open contradiction of orthodox Islam – he refused to say the fivefold prayers, the
prescribed prayers. Instead he entered into an ecstatic experience with Allah. This took place in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Ulama, the leaders of the Muslims there, threatened to punish him if he would not perform Salat. They said, “You must perform Salat or you will be punished.” He said, “How can I perform Salat unless I go through the ablution or the washing?” He said, “I cannot perform ablution and therefore I cannot perform Salat.” He said, “Isn’t it true that you cannot perform Salat unless you perform ablution first?” He knew the legalistic perspective of the mullahs there. They said, “That is true. You must perform ablution first.” He said, “I cannot perform ablution.” They said, “Okay, we’ll test you in this.” They got water and they poured it on his hands to perform ablution. When they poured the water on his hands, his hands were completely dry. They could not get his hands wet. So you see the kind of stories that developed. Because he could not perform ablution, he therefore was exempt from prayers. They actually poured a bucket on his arms, he just could not get wet. This is not exactly walking on water. The Buddhists believe that the Buddha walked on water and all this. They have doctrines along those lines. But here you find he couldn’t get his arms wet.
Other kinds of experiences: Not only do you have these stories about prayers and all, but you actually have the ability for a Sufi saint to be translated physically to distant places. This of course goes back in some ways to Muhammed himself because Muhammed had his famous night journey, which the Qur’an details, the Hadith explores as well. Because of the night journey, that opens the door to the possibility that other people could be transported the way Muhammed was. According to their Hadith, Aisha checked on Muhammed during the night, and he was there, his body was in Mecca. Meanwhile, Muhammed was actually in what is today the Dome of the Rock and ascended into heaven in Jerusalem. How could Muhammed be in Jerusalem and in Mecca at the same time? Because of ecstatic experiences. So that opens the doorway for Sufi saints to say, “Just like Muhammed had a night transport, so these saints have also had night transports.” You have many people appear from India, Afghanistan who claim to be physically transported, or translated, to Mt. Hira, near Mecca, or other holy sites like Jerusalem, where they spent the night in meditation. So, with those kinds of things, the crack is now being broadened.
You have what is called “God intoxication.” This is a form of intense physical and spiritual emotional union with Allah, extreme emotion. Again, I have seen some pictures of this at these musical festivals. They will beat themselves. They hang up in trees and they rock and they eventually get into a frenzy and shout, “Illah, Illah, Ellah, Ellah, Allah” thousands of times to get themselves into a frenzy. They eventually faint from exhaustion. They will experience forms of what we would call glossolalia, or tongue-speaking, other kinds of experiences like that.
If that doesn’t help you, they do smoke a particular ganjo weed which does fit in the god intoxication. I say that with all seriousness because in fact, I have seen this, not only among the Muslim saints, but also the Hindu saints. If you ever go to Varanasi or some big site like that in India where these people go and pilgrimage, I have seen hashish. They will smoke this hashish. This is very, very powerful stuff. It is that very potent form of marijuana. They will have the water pipes and all of that, when you smoke it through water. Unfortunately, this has also gotten into this movement.
The Nagshbandi Order, the last one found in India, Turkey, throughout the Middle East. They are not in Saudi Arabia, Africa. This arose as a Sufi movement intended to purify Sufism from non-Islamic elements. This is a standard theme throughout Sufism that I mentioned already in the case of Africa where they try to forbid. In this case they tried to forbid the use of music or dancing. They try to emphasize more standard mystical practices and meditation. The idea of prostrating before a pir, which is done throughout this Sufi movement, was banned. You could not prostate yourself before a pir.
They spent a lot of time trying to harmonize the Qur’an and the Hadith with mystical teachings found in the Sufi doctrine. That is an attempt to regulate their doctrine with mainstream Islam. After the concession you have the direction. It always happens both ways. It is a good thing to observe about religious activity.
Belief in Qayyum. This is an office like a caliph, but a Qayyum is somebody who has responsibility to control the movement of a planet and the whole cosmic order. This Is an office which is no longer a live office. They say it died out in 1739. I do not know what has kept the planets in orbit since that time. Also Ahmad Faruqi and his immediate three successors were known as Qayyum. They claimed that they controlled the movement of planets, the tides, the waves, the rain, the bearing of fruits; and they believed that when the last one died in 1739, that is the reason why the Muslim Empire collapsed, the dissolution of the Islamic Empire. Because of that, Allah has taken over, I guess, direct control until this can once again be brought back.
This is where you find again these huge tent meetings. Thousands of Muslims gathered to venerate and to listen to these pirs; and some will say even to see a pir is to have all your sins forgiven. So the Sufi orders have been found throughout the Muslim world except Saudi Arabia, because Saudi Arabia has been less inclined to accept Sufi orders, of course. Veneration of pirs is rejected, etc., so this is something that you find primarily outside of mainstream Islam, but nevertheless is part of it.
V. Schismatic or Political Oriented Groups within Islam
I want to mention a few other schismatic groups that do not really fit within Sunni or Shia, or in the Sufi camps, only because I think it is important to understand that there are yet other kinds of movements besides this category. So we will give a general summary.
You have Sunni, which represents roughly 80-85%, some say 90% of Islam, it depends on how you count it. Shia, which represents roughly 10-12% of Islam,
somewhere in that category. The Sufi movement is a part of all of this. Granted, it arises mainly out of Shia theology, but it has influenced both Shia and Sunni groups with some exceptions. There are some Sunni groups that have no Sufi present. Basically it has influenced it on a popular level. So Sufism does not really form a third block in quite the way we have looked at Sunni and Shia. Even though we admit that some of the Sufi groups are so way out, in many ways some of their doctrines would be fundamentally in conflict with orthodox Islam either way, on either side of this ledger. But the people who belong to it still call themselves “Sunni or Shia.” So you have a little bit of a problem there.
We do have other groups that aren’t really a part of this whole world I want to briefly mention. It is hard to mention all of these because there are so many groups that fall into this category. But I think a few are worth mentioning.
The Kharijites is a group that you should at least be aware of, only because I alluded to this earlier on in the course and I promised you we would come back to it. The Kharijites broke away from Ali. They were part of Ali’s group that broke away because they were very upset that he gave in as a concession to Muhyi. Remember how they had the battle of Siffin and Muhyi waved the Qur’anic pages on the tip of the swords; and because of that, Ali, even though he won the battle, conceded and said to them, “Let Allah decide.”
The Kharijites said that was a mistake and that they would break from Ali’s party; but they never joined in with the Sunni or Shia. In fact, the word “Kharijites” means “those who exited.” They basically are the earliest fundamentalist movement in Islam. Very, very stark views about other Muslims who are not going to heaven. As a general rule, most Muslims have a pretty broad view about heaven, that every Muslim will go to heaven because Allah will bless his children, etc. This group is actually saying that many of the Muslims in the world will actually go to eternal damnation. Some Muslims have the idea similar to the Catholic idea of purgatory, who say that some Muslims will suffer for a brief period, but will eventually go to heaven. The Kharijites actually have a doctrine that says there will be some Muslims who will suffer eternal punishment.
Secondly, they emphasize quite strictly that Islam was really meant to be for the Arab people. It was never meant to be a global movement among Africans and Indonesians, etc., or Europeans. Therefore they insist that non-Arabs should not be a part of Islam. So there is a group of Kharijites today found in Amman and today these groups are often also known by the term as “Ibadites,” an alternative term for them. They have a lot of money and they have a lot of influence and they publish a lot of very strict fundamentalist type literature. If you read this literature, you may think that, “Wow, this is an example of some of the hardline, only in Arabic, only Arab” and all of that will come out of this movement. It is a very small movement. You do find some of these in East Africa, again Arabs that have moved to East Africa; you find it in Algeria. They are not in Amman only, but they are mainly in Amman.
Another schismatic group is the Adhmadis. The Adhmadis is a very important movement. It was founded by a guy named Mirza Ghulam Ahmad He died in the year 1908, a twentieth-century figure. Adhmadis are the ones that led the way in re-interpreting the jihad in spiritual terms. I mentioned this a long time ago in passing. I told you we would come back to this and we are now back to this. There were people who tried to say that the jihad was not actual physical warfare, lopping off heads, but is actually lopping off spiritual enemies, a form of spiritual renewal. They go back to the meaning of the word jihad which means striving and they say it is about spiritual striving.
Important from our point of view is that they also developed a very anti-Christian polemic with their doctrine, very negative about Christ. They deny Jesus’
sinlessness. They deny his ascension. They deny things that are clearly taught even in the Qur’an about Jesus. They believe that Ahmad is the final Mahdi and that Muslims should not be looking for the return of Jesus, but instead for the return of Ahmad. They believe that the concept of ijma is dead. They reject the four schools of law within Sunni Islam; and they believe that revelation can be an ongoing reality for all true believers. This is popular in West Africa and this has influence on movements which we will develop later, such as the Black Muslim movement, the Nation of Islam which come from this sectarian side of Islam. Today this so-called Nation of Islam does not come from any mainstream Muslim movement and is not in any way recognizable as Islam, according to what we would discuss in any part of this class, including Sufism.
C. Political Groups
Other groups fall into a political category, groups like the Hezbullah, the army of Allah, Hezbu-Allah, Hezbullah; or the Hamas; and the PLO, Palestine Liberation Organization. These type groups, with which you are familiar in the news, constantly in the news, the Druze, the PLO, the Hamas. These are all political groups that are nationalistic groups using the language of Islam to further political aims. They are typically anti-Jewish, typically anti-Western, typically try to use the umma idea in Islamic doctrine to create what is called – something that has never really been successful except in a limited way – but is called pan-Arab nationalism.
This was the original idea, especially under Nasser and other well-known Muslim leaders earlier in the last century. Nasser was probably one of the most influential people, in his case from the perspective of Egypt, to create an Arab consciousness that transcended Egypt or any particular Arab country. There are many people who have tried to re-invigorate this, all of the way up to the present-day time, such as Sadam Hussein, who I think really believed that if he could launch a scud attack against Israel and Israel could respond; if Israel could ever be seen as attacking a Muslim country, the idea was, all Muslims – this is mainly an Arab thing – but Arabs everywhere would join together as a seamless garment.
The main reason why this has not worked politically is because unfortunately the Arab nations are radically divided economically because of oil. As you know, there are certain Arab countries that are incredibly wealthy because of oil; and there are certain Arab countries that simply do not have oil. Even look at the difference between Iraq and Kuwait. One of the major differences there: Iraq does not have a lot of oil, compared to Kuwait. Therefore, Iraq wants Kuwait as a province of Iraq. Obviously, part of the problem here is economics.
There is internal tension in the Arab world. You cannot compare a country like Syria, for example, with a country like Saudi Arabia in terms of their economies and what it means, or Arabs in a place like Pakistan, as opposed to a place like Amman or United Arab Emirates. Because of this, it has been difficult to pull off this kind of pan-Arab nationalism with all kinds of political implications.
I had a course, again when I was in my Masters in Islam at Princeton, called “God and Politics.” It was a required course. I went into it with a little bit of trepidation because, “God and Politics,” what was this going to be about? In fact, it was quite interesting because it got into the whole history of how political movements – not just dealing with Islam actually, but dealing with also Hinduism and other religions – but how God is invoked and used to promote nationalistic political agendas.
This is, unfortunately, the face of Islam often in the Western media. What has happened is, even though these groups throwing stones at Jewish riot policemen, are not necessarily at all representative of faithful Muslims like you might find in other parts of the world, people have this view, this is what Muslims are like. Again, these are not clear blocks. There are certainly people who are faithful Muslims, who also throw stones and are part of the political aspirations of the Palestinian cause. But I think it is fair to say that a lot of these groups are using Islam and the language of the umma in order to unite together Arabs against the West, against Israel. This is something that you should view as a sectarian aspect of nationalistic Islam. It is not something that we should focus in on as mainstream Islam.