Where To Turn To When Returning To Spirituality

 

There has been a great increase in interest in spirituality from the Muslim community over the last several years. Published manuscripts of this or that teacher, new translations of Ibn ‘Arabi’scosmology as well as lesser known, more esoteric authors have hit the shelves of book stores in waves. The Muslim readership in the English-speaking world are hungry for spiritual sustenance. But is this hunger being fed? That is the question I would like to ask.

This new call for methods and practices on Muslim spirituality have not been solely limited to print. Many neo-Traditional institutions have found themselves in demand, holding numerous seminars across the United States and Britain, calling for returns to a spiritual practice of Islam. And while I laud these efforts, I will illustrate how some of these mediums may not actually be accomplishing their goals: to help engender a spirit of God conscious amongst the rank and file believers. And finally, to go beyond just critique, I will try and offer a few meager suggestions myself.

It goes without saying that Islam is a religion that has a strong historicaland spiritual practice, what some may call Sufism, Tasawwuf, or mysticism, found in all corners of the earth, where ever Muslims have traveled to. It is linked with many of the great intellectual and philosophical figures in Muslim history (the aforementioned Ibn ‘Arabi, Mulla Sadra and of course, the famous Abu Hamid al-Ghazali). Many if not most of these spiritual traditions have survived up to the present day, from Africa to Asia, the Balkans to the Middle-East, in various turuq (plural of tariqah, or a Sufi brotherhood). And now that Islam has arrived on America’s shores, what will its spiritual tradition look like? Is there one at all? Proto-Islamic groups, such as the Nation of Islam, had their roots in a “holy protest” against white supremacist values and socialinjustices; spirituality was not a primary or even secondary focus of their experiences as Muslims (note: I am obviously aware of the doctrinal differences between orthodox Islam and the problematic theology of the NOI, but for the purposes of this article, I will refer to them nonetheless as Muslim here) in America. Following the popular demise of the NOI in the face of Muslims hailing from the historical Islamic world, again, we see most Muslims in America primarily concerned with existential matters: education, employment, assimilation. And while these are all necessary matters, they cannot sustain a community over the long haul alone. So why the recent interest in spirituality? And more importantly, how will it shape itself in this unique context, addressing the many various needs of the American Muslim community? These are some of the questions that beg many answers.

I have spent a fair amount of time over the last severalyears attending, photographing, and observing many religious functions of Muslims in America. Many of these, whose objectives are a call to spirituality and the return to a more focused spiritual life. The significance of this shift coming post 9/11 cannot be ignored, as it helps us to see who’s interested and why. To be more direct, calls for a return to spirituality have been championed primarily by immigrant-supported groups. By supported I mean groups either led by leaders or more importantly, support financially by immigrant Muslims. Many, though not all of these Muslims tend to come from more affluent backgrounds, having both more formal education than their Blackamericancounterparts as well as the disposable income to support such groups and even the human capitalto volunteer and assist in their implementation. This should not be thought of as a critique versus merely an observation. In fact, it is because of the lack of both economic and human capital that many indigenous [and here I am referring to Blackamerican] institutions have yet to fully take flight. So the question I ask myself is in what way, in what role, will indigenous Muslims have a role in shaping the future of the development of spiritual practices. But before attempting to answer such a question, first we must look at what are the current practices and trends on the ground and what does the triage call for.

Like any thing else in the American Muslim experience, divergent groups will have divergent needs. The spiritualneeds and practical implementation of any such developed practices will have to vary from community to community. The trials and tribulations of immigrant Muslims may indeed be very different from those of BlackamericanMuslims, regardless if they are low-income urban Blacks or educated, upwardly mobile. It is the different histories of the two communities that will drive (or ought to be) and dictate the spiritual needs of the communities. What I believe should be paid more attention to is that bothcommunities have a real need for such a return. And while this has been felt by the immigrant Muslim community, in large, this has either been ignored by the Blackamerican population, especially in urban settings, where there is a palpable mistrust of such practices as deviant, or not fully articulated into a “need”, and thus practice. But there has been a small groundswell of interest in more independent-minded BlackamericanMuslims, many of whom I have been in contact with and have discussed this very same topic. For them, the question is not “if”, in terms of spiritual practice, but “how” and “by whom”, and in what way. Many of us have toured the travel circuit, attended the lectures and workshops but have yet to be left with a feeling of a workable plan. A functional spirituality that gives meaning to their private lives as Muslims. That bring them closer to God.

With two possible tracks articulated, the question now turns to the institutions themselves. How are they, if at all, prepared to deal with the multiplicity of backgrounds, cultural proclivities and the like of the above groups. The traveling workshop has left many with just a taste of what might be possible, but with no solid or tangible means to pursue these practices further. Many have stated they do not feel they can learn or accomplish much in a one-day or two-day talk, often of which the topics seem more like a talk show format than something truly topical. Should we be asking more and/or different formats of dissemination from our Islamic higher institutions of learning? Many would seem to think so. And given that time and money are of limited supply, many of these attendees feel that their money, time, and resources could be put to better use for better results.

To be certain, a great deal of this difficulty is brought about by modern life itself, which at many times can seem and feel antithetical to the betterment of the human being. Time constraints, inflation, taking more to obtain less, all add to the stress and detracted interaction of not only Muslims from one another, but to all peoples caught in this bind. And while the Internet has made the dissemination of information doubly more proficient, it has yet to prove to be truly capable to mimicking the experience of bona-fide human involvement. In short, both short seminars and web casts are poor substitutions for proper teachers and real companionship (suhbah, the word from which the word Sahabah (the Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وسلم companions) is derived). And it may be true that the greater aspects of spirituality are those demons we all rankle with on the inside, there is also an outer aspect that involves companionship with our common man. And in our case specifically, with other Muslims. I myself saw the proof of this when interviewing many of the attendees at conferences such as MANA and ISNA or even talks by Zaytuna. They all attested to the fact that the greatest benefit from those conferences wasn’t the talks, wasn’t the shopping at the bazaars, but it was just the honest-to-goodness social interaction with other like-minded Muslims. I believe this to be step one in commencing our journey towards a healthy spiritual practice. We must come to know one another. And there is plenty of evidence that we, as an American Muslim collective, still do not know one another as well as we should.

“O’ mankind! Without a doubt we created you from a single pair of man and woman and made you of various sorts and tribes so that you may get to know one another.” al-Hujaraat, 13.

As for the second step of this journey, we, both the rank and file and the administrators of such institutions, must constantly ask, “is this serving our purpose?” Is this what we need? Along with a new generation of imams, who will need to be trained in more than just Qur’anicrecitation, our next generation of scholars and community educators must need be multifaceted, trained in many areas of expertise, capable of on-spot cultural analysis, assessing that the community needs, what they’re facing, and how best to prepare them for the world in which they not only live in, but for one they want to live in, and of course, for the life to come. Perhaps in there lies a hope for divergent communities to come together, utilize and celebrate the genius of our communities, and not just sending our best and brightest off to study medicine and engineering. I encourage many of my Blackamericanbrethren to take a second look at the intellectual and spiritual history and tradition of Islam and not right it off as just “bid’ah“. With all of the difficulties that Blackamericans face, especially those coming out of urban backgrounds, we need to deliver to them an Islam that is more than simply an conglomerate of rules and regulations. More intelligent ways of saying “halal” and not just “haram”, without giving up or into the demands of the dominant culture and yet not completely disassociating ourselves from it. Without a doubt, we need a return to spirituality, but we can ask for and receive better.

And God knows best.

38 Comments Where To Turn To When Returning To Spirituality

  1. domeshotsfatlaces@gmail.com'Hamza Umar (Hamza 21)

    Until reading this article I never thought about the lack of black folk delving into tasawwuf. You touch upon many good points. A day or weekend long seminar is helpful but not sustaining enough for one change their behavior as you pointed out. Many of these seminars are like martial arts seminars where a student learns some useful information however not enough to really apply the information successfully. At best at a seminar dealing with spirituality you may hear one or two things that may change your perspective about a particular subject but can it bring long term results in your deen? I don’t believe so.It is possible but not probable to incorporate a concept from tassawwuf taught at a conference into your life. Something is indeed better than nothing.

    As far as Ibn Arabi I would advise most to leave him. His writings are full with personal opinions (الظن)that can never be proven and even some that can disproven.The works of Al Ghazali & Al Muhasibi should be sufficient for most to perfect their character and draw closer to their Creator (and of course the Qur’aan and Sunnah).

  2. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    Many of these seminars are like martial arts seminars where a student learns some useful information however not enough to really apply the information successfully.

    Salaams Hamza and good point. I myself had thought of martial arts as well. And like martial arts, it’s more than learning “a couple of moves”. There are also the other spiritual and philosophical avenues of martial arts that one needs to intellectually own and digest in order to make it a practice. I believe that it is this component that we as a community are missing out on.

    I concur for the most part with your observation on Ibn ‘Arabi – though I would further it and link it with the above, that even a well written book on al-Ghazali may prove to be insufficient for most to develop a mindset/skill set for them to implement and deploy such a spiritual framework.

    Thanks for the input.

  3. margari.hill@gmail.com'Margari Aziza

    Salaam alaikum,
    Besides the conferencing, which a lot of our peers are experiencing a burn out from, a lot of people became involved in Sufi orders in an effort to get that long term spiritual training. But many are finding that a lot of thing involving those orders have little to do with spirituality. Instead, it is formulaic with an extension of rules and prohibitions and lots of social functions that emphasize the exclusiveness of their particular club. In fact, a lot of the things you hear and read about seem to have little to do with spirituality and religion and are more about control and indoctrinization into some cooky ideas and unhealthy social patterns. I have a feeling someone is about to write a whole series on the Sufi burnout. Now that promises to be a a real eye opener.

    I’ve often had conversations about the trendy Muslims who feel deep after reading some esoteric Ibn Arabi book that they don’t understand. You’d get folks who stop practicing, but continue to read these books, saying they are focusing on their inner development as opposed to their outer. I always found that to be bankrupt. Often they misappropriate something Ibn Arabi wrote to justify their own personal weaknesses and shortcomings. That includes calling a number of sincerely practicing folks things like “people of blame” while going on some moral high horse about authenticity. These ideas are seductive, no lie, but like Robert Frager said purifying your heart is not about reading some esoteric books and pontificating on some stuff you don’t understand.

    I like that martial arts metaphor. So who’s setting up some dojos?

  4. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    Ahmed – Salaams and thanks for the heads up. I had some technical issues just a short while back. I’m still trying to work out all the little bugs. The RSS feed is still one of them.

    Ma’a salaam,

  5. dls917@gmail.com'Devin

    I hope I can add a little different perspective here. This problem is essentially a sunni problem rooted in the creation of deep separation between the Islamic sciences as well as a general atrophying of all those sciences. Fiqh, which is in a state of paralysis, is divorced from aqida, which is even further fossilized, which is divorced from tasawuff, which has been greatly decayed although it still has some life. Is it any wonder that we are left with people who cannot find any gatheredness in themselves? The very way Islam is generally being taught is flawed.

    Seminars and books are good, but they really only give a taste; they serve to whet ones appetite and inspire people to search further. Other than their short duration one of their problems is that they are passive events when people need to be actively engaging these subjects. I was at one time involved in a sufi order and they are not a panacea either. Like all things there is good and bad in them, but they definitely are not for all people.

    Most of that is dismal, but I have some positive thoughts. Although I am sunni I have found myself immersed in the shi’a irfani tradition which I think can give us a lot of positive examples. Shi’a Islam in general has a less austere nature and it inclines in a more integrated way towards spirituality, but more importantly they have maintained a living philosophical as well as gnostic tradition. They still study and comment upon Ibn Arabi in a very serious way (even Khomeini wrote extensively on the thought of Ibn Arabi) to this day. I don’t think that theoretical sufism is a problem, on the contrary I have found great benefit in it, but the important thing is that people are in a state where they can benefit from it and that requires both intellectual and spiritual training. I know that I came to know and understand more on the deepest level from one Shi’a teacher than from all the sunni ones I have met including a number of sufi Shaykhs.

    The biggest question I think is why is Islam not effusing spirituality? Why isn’t it easily on tap for us all? Why are so many people experiencing Islam as spiritually dead?

  6. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    Devin,
    Salaams and thank you for putting some thought into your feedback.

    I think you point to something significant in the Sunni tradition, but I would like to add that this is mostly, though not exclusively, a modern injection. For we have many examples out of the past, within the Sunni tradition, that speak to the counter of these modern day maladies. And therein lies the issues: they lay dormant in the past. How can we resurrect them so they might speak to us here in the present and now?

    Seminars and books are good, but they really only give a taste

    Very true. And to some degree, they can even pose a detriment to ones practice and faith. For many of these books and their authors [not to speak of translators’ influence] have complicated arguments and postulates that may confuse the untrained mind. And even for those that grasp the theories, they provide a poor second-best companion. I will say again that I believe that a strong part of spirituality is the communal, social aspect. Something that I believe we’re all missing. Not to mention a teacher that can help guide the student along the path, an active engagement, versus a passive one, as you articulated above.

    I think your mentioning of the ‘Irfan tradition in Shi’ism is both interesting and erudite. A similar thought had occurred in mind – that it seems many Shi’ites have done a far better job of preserving both their intellectual and spiritual traditions as a complete practice over the years than have done many of the Sunni traditions. But the question remains, how can we take this to the rank and file? How can we meld the various intellectual studies back into a complete fabric. One that sees both the jurisprudent, intellectual and spiritual sciences as parts of a whole, complementary, and completely separate. For if there’s one lesson we can take from modernity, is that the separation and isolation of the various sciences is detrimental to both the individual and ultimately to the society in which s/he lives in.

    It is my firm believe that such traditions do reside in the Sunni tradition. It is up to us to creatively make it speak to us in the here and now.

  7. safiyaoutlines@gmail.com'Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Very interesting post, Masha Allah.

    I would like to think that the problem is that our community is still at a very early stage.

    Your comment about much available Islamic teaching being very disjointed is a good one. To use an analogy, if one wishes to study medicine, then you have to learn, not only about the systems of the body, but how they all interact and effect each other. This learning takes place, in depth over many years.

    At the moment, in both the U.S and the U.K, we lack the Islamic equivalent of medical school and the internet is a poor substitute. Insha Allah, as our community matures, more quality institutions and scholars will be available and so people will be able to receive an integrated Islamic education from people of good character.

    P.S Mabrouk on your recent marriage, May Allah the Almighty shower you both with blessings.

  8. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    I believe that Sunni Islam is in dire need of a revival

    I couldn’t agree more whole heatedly. And it’s by no coincidence that Imam al-Ghazali, may God have mercy on him, titled his opus, The Revivalization of the Religious Sciences [Ihyâ ‘ulûm al-Dîn]. For he lived in a time that has many similarities to ours in terms of misplaced religiosity, moral and spiritual bankruptcy, an attack on the religion from outside forces [especially intellectual], and the increased tendency towards a hyper-rational worldview. I believe there’s a tremendous lesson we could be learning from Imam al-Ghazali – not just from the erudite books he left us but from how he lead his life, the trajectory that his life took and the times in which he lived and how he answered those challenges as a Muslim.

    As for the community aspect, it’s tricky. While many Muslims in North America do live fairly spread out, I happen to live in one of the greater concentrations of Muslims here in Philadelphia. And despite having numbers, Islam here is still dormant, slumbering away. And this is not a type of beauty sleep either. While we sit on our laurels, opportunities that abound slip away and we take the benefits and luxuries that God has bestowed us here that many of our brothers and sisters across the globe would trade for in a heart beat.

    There have also been some posts as of late around the Muslim blogosphere talking about this very same issue – of clustering. And yet, Philadelphia [where I currently live] and Detroit [my home town] show that numbers alone are not enough. That we can be like that multitude which is akin the scum on the river, floating aimlessly down stream. But it is as you said, the answer lies within us. But also, like fitrah, having that blue print isn’t enough. For none of us could be Muslim without the Prophet [s], of which, without his guidance on how to be a Muslim [everything from how to wash for wudu’ to canonical prayers], we would surely be lost. In the end, there’s no replacing the student-teacher dynamic. May Allah make us from amongst the best of students and provide us with the best of teachers.

    Amin. And God knows best.

  9. dls917@gmail.com'Devin

    Salamu alaikum Marc,

    I agree with you that many of the problems are modern, with the exception of the loss of the philosophical tradition which probably ended with Ibn Rushd. On a broader level than what your original post was dealing with I believe that Sunni Islam is in dire need of a revival; that is, a religo-spiritual revival in contrast to modern attempts at a socio-political revival which have been and continue to be failures.

    Having community, as you say, is definitely beneficial, but how do we achieve this in a country (I actually live in Canada but it is similar) where muslims are so spread out? And what prospects are there for those inevitable few who are unavoidably isolated from similar minded muslims? And in the end, is not everything that we are looking for already inside ourselves?

    I know that in Turkey there have been some efforts through the movements of Said Nursi and Fethullah Gulen to implement more integrated and spiritual visions of Islam. I am not completely satisfied with what they have done, but it is a start that maybe we should look more into. I am sure that there are similar groups in other muslim countries as well.

    More questions than answers from me unfortunately. Please continue your good work, you write some of the most engaging material I see online.

  10. yursil@gmail.com'Yursil Kidwai

    BismillahirRahmanirRahim
    Salamu’alaykum,

    The Sufi Tarikats came to be in the form we know them as, in a time when prayer was if not legally, but socially mandatory. It was a time when most children knew more fiqh than most of today’s adults. It was a time when today’s ‘sleazy’ lawyers and judges spoke the language of the Quran, and instead of ammendments and articles, they discussed the various grades of hadith and levels of sunnah. Heavy books on these subjects were not just being read, but being *written*.

    The Tarikats grew out of this system to say, “This is not the proper focus, this is not enough!” That might be considered our first spiritual revolution, from a legalistic black hole of Islam. So many masters of spirituality grew out of this environment, but it was not because they read Ibn Arabi (R), it was because they were Ibn Arabi (R), and he was receiving benefit from the Divine Presence.

    Of course, Islam took a beating spiritually in the last 100 years. Sufi Tarikats are outlawed or strictly regulated in the main countries in which they blossomed to their highest peaks, from the home of Imam Bukhari (R) to the home of Maulana Rumi (R). One must wonder why this is so… and one of the best answers is that the Sufi Tarikats bring peoples hearts together in the example of the Sahabi (R), who (when it comes to applying that spirituality) moved nations.

    Yes, the Musaylama’s of our time have usurped some of the authority of what are ostensibly “Sufi Orders”, but his presence did not detract true believers from our Prophet (S). And because there exist pretenders, it does not mean the answers cannot be found. Allah is the source of all causality.

    If our intention to submit is really pure, we will find ourselves with what is best for us.

    Right now, again, as we are starting over we begin to look to books and scholars to try to recover our spiritual legacy.

    I assert, this will never be sufficient and will never be the answer. We can choose to wait for “American Islam” to catch up and grow up beyond books, seminars, ‘education’, Arabic classes, and the like, and experience its own ‘spiritual revolution’, or we can begin to seriously consider some of the living Tarikats which still have the spiritual energy to move us.

  11. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    as-Salaamu ‘alaykum, Yursil.

    Thanks for taking some time to put in some thoughtful remarks. Let me reply back to some of them.

    I do not depart with you on your opening words. In times past, in many nations that were Muslim majority, yes, prayer was socially mandatory, if not legally so. But for many American Muslims [I believe in this context, Blackamerican, Whiteamerican and immigrant Muslims may equally apply in this case] who were born here and raised in a context where it wasn’t mandated socially or legally, then there is a divergent psychological approach to the construct of prayer. This fact should not be overlooked. Indeed, I would propose that like many other things in America, prayer is seen and felt as something “personal”, whether it be on an explicit level of understanding [i.e., “I pray because I want to.”] or an implicit level of understanding [i.e., “I come from a Muslim family therefore I should pray.”]. In this case, while history may potentially show us something we could aspire to, we have to look at the realities on the ground in the here and now and deal with them by the here and now.

    I know that you belong to a Tariqah – and I respect that. But I have my doubts as to whether or not the tariqah format will work in America on a mass level. My skepticism is rooted in two points. 1) Many American Muslims [especially many Blackamerican and even some Whiteamerican Muslims] hold an askance view of Sufism to begin with and are distrustful of such groups. This sense of distrust is rooted in a perception that many are not orthodox practices. Their initial interaction with Islam had an entirely different look and feel to the tariqah, compared to the many other groups that serviced them religiously. 2) The tariqah may not be the best format to fit American Muslims, especially if the leaders of these movements are from abroad. In some of my research, many American Muslims [Blackamerican and Whiteamerican] felt that the tariqah was out of touch with their sensibilities and they felt like they were putting on someone else’s clothes.

    I say the above not as an attack on tariqahs or on Sufism [I think it should be obvious to any reader of this blog that I have a great interest in tasawwuf, though I do not claim to be a Sufi or a practitioner in a tariqah] but rather examining the dynamic between American Muslims and the turuq.

    The Tarikats grew out of this system to say, “This is not the proper focus, this is not enough!” That might be considered our first spiritual revolution, from a legalistic black hole of Islam.

    As was put forth by another commentor, I do believe that there has been an over emphasis on legalistic rules and regulations in the American Muslim experience thus far. This is in part, I believe, due to the fact that Muslims in America are having to deal with real, on the ground social struggles. Whether those struggles be fighting against state-sanctioned racism or economic disparity, many American Muslims have been dealing with various existential crises and therefore influencing a more legalistic approach to the religion. With that said, I whole heartedly agree that we need more than legal rulings. That there are whole areas of our lives, from personal and public conduct to more fulfulling private lives, that can only be addressed through spiritual means. Can this be addressed by the tariqah in American? Perhaps, and for some no doubt it is. But is it the only way?

    Islam took a beating spiritually in the last 100 years

    Islam took a beating since it showed up! To be serious, though, Islam has suffered abuse since the time of Abu Jahl, the scourge of the Mongols, inner fighting and discord in Andalus, to Colonialsm and now the Post-Colonial age. I personally believe that if Sufi orders wish to be successful in the States, then they will have to work on growing a indigenous constituency that not only has American Muslims in its leadership but also has America proclivities and values at its operational core. This should not be seen as departing from The Path either. Anything else would just be window dressing.

    We can choose to wait for “American Islam” to catch up and grow up beyond books, seminars, ‘education’, Arabic classes, and the like, and experience its own ’spiritual revolution’, or we can begin to seriously consider some of the living Tarikats which still have the spiritual energy to move us.

    I agree that the waiting is done. The time to act and produce is now. I would only have truck with the Tariqah method as a totalizing aspect.

    Jazakallahu khayran, sidi, for the words.

  12. yursil@gmail.com'Yursil Kidwai

    BismillahirRahmanirRahim
    Salamu’alaykum,

    I know that you belong to a Tariqah – and I respect that. But I have my doubts as to whether or not the tariqah format will work in America on a mass level.

    I think this is important to understand. There is no need for it to work on the mass level.

    It has to work for those who are seeking, and what are they seeking?

    A traditionally grounded, absorbing, defining, and intimate Islamic relationship to spirituality.

    Spirituality, like love, requires sacrifice.

    There will always be a feel-good spirituality or religion which is akin to the casual friendship you have with your friends you joke with at ISNA once a year. You have to sacrifice somewhat for that, since you have to pay the fees, travel. It is somewhat enjoyable and you feel good for some time afterwards. Its impact is also light, or at least, temporal.

    Then there is the relationship which has to stand the test of challenges, the test of time, the test of our own pride. Tarikat, to me, is that level of relationship, not so casual, but more like marriage in that it is life changing. Marriage is a combination of challenges of sacrifice and rewarded with intimacy, and maybe this is a spiritual way to understand why it is called half of our deen.

    Also, not everyone is suited for marriage this instant.

    Can we apply a single broad philosophy to address those yearning for the latter relationship, for the highest stations, to the masses? I don’t think we can, because most of the masses are still spiritual children, still having short flirtations or just dating or maybe they are utterly satisfied with a lesser relationship. Or maybe, they are not willing to sacrifice what is necessary for higher.

    On top of that, they have the hangups which you mention.

    Many American Muslims [especially many Blackamerican and even some Whiteamerican Muslims] hold an askance view of Sufism to begin with and are distrustful of such groups. This sense of distrust is rooted in a perception that many are not orthodox practices. Their initial interaction with Islam had an entirely different look and feel to the tariqah, compared to the many other groups that serviced them religiously.

    This is definitely true.

    The tariqah may not be the best format to fit American Muslims, especially if the leaders of these movements are from abroad. In some of my research, many American Muslims [Blackamerican and Whiteamerican] felt that the tariqah was out of touch with their sensibilities and they felt like they were putting on someone else’s clothes

    Well, there is so much that could be said about this. In many tarikats, over the centuries, authority moved around from Central Asia, to Turkey back to India. Each movement brought to it its own unique flavor and taste, for what fit in that time and place. Americans will have to adopt tarikat in order to progress and inherit the wisdoms and authority that allowed that to occur.

    But going back to my original point in the first comment, America is still emulating the first stage of Imam Ghazali’s life, we are still focused on university and an understanding of religion through that.

    Some of us, one by one, will have to think, whether we will be like the other university professors and students where Imam Ghazali taught, or will we also need to step away like he did.

    I don’t think we will ever find a situation where the seeker will find a society so spiritual that he has nothing to step away from, and where his highest spiritual aspirations have been achieved by the masses surrounding him.

    Not, at least, until Isa’s (AS) return.

    So, for me, I’m not so worried about the masses.. They will inshaAllah do what it takes to make themselves satisfied, events here and there, books, some nice talks, a party..

    I have to do and represent what I know, and that is what I weakly try to do.

  13. margari.hill@gmail.com'Margari Aziza

    Salaam alaikum Yursil,

    It seems like your approach to Tasawwuf is culturally specific, especially in regards to Sufism that does not reach the masses but focuses on a select few. Like Marc, I’m not in a Tariqah, nor do I claim to be a Sufi. But, I have studied the rich history of Islam in Africa as a student of history. No one can deny that Sufism played the most significant role in the spread of Islam in Africa. The reality is that Islam took hold as leaders of Sufi orders saw the importance of bringing in the masses. They also developed new institutions and new means of networking and dealing with the social, cultural, and political environment. In the 18th century Sidi Mukhtar al Kunti spread the Qadiriyya in West Africa, controlling a vast region without the force of a state because entire villages from the elites to the slaves took ba’yah with him. Some slaves that worked as slaves or agents for Sidi Mukhtar al Kunti became wealthy themselves and well educated. Similarly, Uthman Dan Fodio, who was a Qadiri, produced religious texts intended to edify the public in their vernacular language. His daughter played a huge role in educating the women in the Sokoto Caliphate. The Tijani order made considerable inroads as well in the early 20th century by similarly focusing on non-elites and opening up their order to regular folks.

    I know a number of people who have joined a tariqah or other and have found themselves being caught up in formulaic practices or have little access to the sheikh who is supposed to guide their spiritual development. Some of the things people focus on are more social and cultural than spiritual. Let us not get started with the charlatans that are out there. Perhaps the masses is not your worry, but for me I am concerned that many Muslims long for a richer spiritual life. I don’t want them to get caught up in the cultural and sociological formations that can be exploitative and lose their faith.

  14. yursil@gmail.com'Yursil Kidwai

    BismillahirRahmanirRahim
    Salamu’alaykum,

    It seems like your approach to Tasawwuf is culturally specific, especially in regards to Sufism that does not reach the masses but focuses on a select few.

    I believe that the necessity for mass appeal is unnecessary *for today*, especially in the American environment where the masses are either uninterested in spirituality, unable to get past the hangups Marc mentioned, or satisifed with the spiritual growth they experience at a conference or event at the Hilton.

    This has pushed tarikats in America to an earlier, almost Ghazalian stance, to serve, primarily, those who seek to separate from the masses.

    No one can deny that Sufism played the most significant role in the spread of Islam in Africa. The reality is that Islam took hold as leaders of Sufi orders saw the importance of bringing in the masses.

    Yes, and its clear that sufis reached the masses in India, Turkey and elsewhere. However the level of commitment of the masses to spiritual purification varied hugely. And while the needs of the masses were met through Shaykhs who spoke to the masses (and indeed my shaykh speaks to masses)… but the reality always was there were higher levels to be achieved when separating from the masses and living a tarikat lifestyle with dedication.

    When one looks at how the Sufi orders worked then, one can see that the masses were involved at a different level than initiates who sought a spiritual closeness and were willing to sacrifice for it.

    In our tarikat, we too have people who take bayat and take advantage of him rarely (the masses), then we have those who are in suhba consistently (the determined).

    So, what is clear is that spirituality cannot be treated like the economy of communism. Everyone is not necessarily equal.

    I know a number of people who have joined a tariqah or other and have found themselves being caught up in formulaic practices or have little access to the sheikh who is supposed to guide their spiritual development.

    I cant speak about other tarikats ways, but I would suggest that people who find things formulaic might consider to extend the line of formulaic-ness to the five pillars and they may find they are incredibly dissapointed in Islam as well.

    The secrets and meanings behind formulas are often found with exposure and concentrating on cleansing the heart within it, not focusing on dissatisfaction which is the antithesis to spirituality.

    Some of the things people focus on are more social and cultural than spiritual. Let us not get started with the charlatans that are out there. Perhaps the masses is not your worry, but for me I am concerned that many Muslims long for a richer spiritual life. I don’t want them to get caught up in the cultural and sociological formations that can be exploitative and lose their faith.

    If you believe in Allah and are sincere, then He will guide you to the best teacher for you. If you choose to follow and surpass him, or dont benefit any longer, its time to move on.

    If you end up with a charlatan, its no cause for worry, Allah protects the sincere with guidance towards Haqq.

  15. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    @Yursil,
    Wa ‘alaykum salaam.

    If I may, perhaps the gist of what I was saying wasn’t entirely received or heard. I will reiterate here.

    I would first caution you to your statements regarding spirituality not being for the masses. If not for the masses, then who for? A select few? We must differentiate between those who may try and strive towards it and those who may actually attain it. As for the former, I would say the game is open to all, per the Prophetic command to worship God as if we see Him, and in the absence of seeing Him, we know He sees us. This mindset, articulated in Islam as Ihsaan, was not something that was recommended to only a select few. And while few may truly achieve this, it is open to all [if not highly encouraged by this Prophetic admonition to achieve such a state of mind]. Can there be any higher spiritual state than Ihsaan? And whether it be a common man or woman, who works a mundane job and yet worships their lord as if they see Him, then they have achieved the highest spiritual state.

    especially in the American environment where the masses are either uninterested in spirituality, unable to get past the hangups Marc mentioned, or satisifed with the spiritual growth they experience at a conference or event at the Hilton.

    I had initially pointed out in my article here that to the contrary, there are many who are indeed very interested in spirituality, seeking to added a deeper component and commitment to their religious lives. To write them off as “simple folk” who are happy with what they either have or don’t have, borders on elitist and is far from The Path. Indeed, for those who set off on this Path, it is a means dealing with the aforementioned “hangups”. And finally, as you have missed, these seekers are far from content with what they have experienced or taken away from the “Hilton halaqas”. You may even say that was one of the main impetus for writing this piece.

    As for Imam al-Ghazaliy [may God have mercy on him], I see his separation from society not simply as a physical one, though he did indeed withdraw from the world. For al-Ghazaliy, that was his solution, but the Prophet, may God send peace and blessings upon him, upon taking up the mantle of prophethood, did not withdraw from society, but instead engaged it and its people, with a genuine love of his people [for more on this, I recommend delving into the seerah (biography) of the Prophet [s], and investigating on how the Prophet [s] both loved and worked with his people and relied upon them, despite their pagan ways]. I myself have found Imam al-Ghazaliy’s life and works to be profoundly useful and enlightening, but never forgetting that his example never trumps the Prophet’s [speaking in literal terms] and that if looked at in the correct light, neither departs from it [speaking in interpretive terms].

    Yes, and its clear that sufis reached the masses in India, Turkey and elsewhere. However the level of commitment of the masses to spiritual purification varied hugely.

    I have essentially addressed this point in the paragraph above, but only wanted to point to it again. I will repeat myself and state that there is a difference between those who attempt and those who achieve. For the attempt, we should laude them and support them, for who knows amongst us who is truly most pious [reminding myself first and you second]. And as for the achievement, Allah knows best.

    I will not mince words when I say I have my reservations with the semantics of spiritual hierarchy. Terms such as “novice” and “initiate” sound ego-driven, and in my own interpretation, not helpful for those who are seeking a closeness with their Lord. I contest your assertion [in the spirit of brotherhood, mind you!] of attaining a higher level of spiritual awareness through separation as per defined thus far. And it is here that perhaps I can provide some bricolage or broker a middle path: I personally see the act of separation as a private matter. By private, I mean what is inside oneself, driving one’s nafs, one’s desires, proclivities and actions. Qiyam al-Layl, for example, is a means of separation. For one is truly by his or herself, standing alone at night, seeking forgiveness, repentance and deep remembrance of one’s Lord. The other many nawafil [non-compulsory prayers] prayers that can be prayed in the house, away from the mosque [as per the Prophet [s] admonishing those who sought to do them as a public speaking, stating, “hadhihi salawat al-bayt” (these are prayers for the house)]. Such private matters may extend to so many other areas of religious/spiritual life such as charity, carrying for the orphan, visiting the sick, looking after the elderly and of course fasting, just to name a few. In doing so, one does indeed separate from the dunya [the life of now], earnestly seeking the Divine’s attention, privately oblivious to the distractions of this life. But the outcome of such actions have real benefit not only for the performer of such actions, but for the poor who need such giving to meet their daily bread, for the orphan who has no patron, for the sick who waits for a cure, for the elderly, who often sit in lonely solitude, and lastly, society, who benefits from a fasting person’s patience and likelihood to repeat all of the above, as they are in a state of grace. And all of the above can be achieved without having to necessarily join a tariyqah.

    I hope you take the above as not an attack on the turuq but rather continuing a conversation and further explaining my points, hoping to better articulate my objective.

    And God knows best.

  16. abulayth@gmail.com'Abul Layth

    Bismillahi babuna,

    Thank you Marc for an interesting read. To my thoughts on your thoughts:

    1) Many American Muslims [especially many Blackamerican and even some Whiteamerican Muslims] hold an askance view of Sufism to begin with and are distrustful of such groups. This sense of distrust is rooted in a perception that many are not orthodox practices. Their initial interaction with Islam had an entirely different look and feel to the tariqah, compared to the many other groups that serviced them religiously.

    I certainly understand this first concern. I too am an American convert raised christian, though with a Muslim background. The first “Islam” I was exposed to was what most are exposed to: a wahhabified/’salafist’ approach – or literalist approach. It took me years, and only after having learned arabic, to understand the “other side” -i.e. the sufic/sunnic- as I saw it. The problem with this “distrust” and belief of unorthodoxy is ignorance and nothing more. It speaks volumes that my grandfather, born in Hamama Palestine during the reign of the Ottoman Caliph, sat in circles of dhikr when he was a child but has not seen one since then. Why? Ignorance of the masses I dare say!

    To be honest Sayyidi Marc, I feel robbed by American Muslims and “American Islam”. For nearly eight years I practiced an Islam that was purely physical, devoid of the heart and its purification. Whom did I learn this from? “American Muslims” teaching “American Islam”. Why is it that it took me nearly 8 years to a) learn arabic properly enough to read and translate and b) find the books of say Imam Al-Ghazzali, Nawawi, Suyuti, Badru-din, Ibn ‘Ataa’illah etc etc? Is it because “AMERICAN Muslims”, though not a monolith, allow ignorance to trump knowledge? Or is it that they see the sweet riches of capitalism and the “golden streets” of America that turns them away from The Path of asceticism and inner-struggle – the American Sihr?

    Which leads me to your point number 2:

    2) The tariqah may not be the best format to fit American Muslims, especially if the leaders of these movements are from abroad. In some of my research, many American Muslims [Blackamerican and Whiteamerican] felt that the tariqah was out of touch with their sensibilities and they felt like they were putting on someone else’s clothes.

    Exactly! We can not have “the abroad” Shaykh – inheritor of the Prophet (‘alayhis salam) – impart knowledge on us. It would be impossible for such a man to understand an “American Muslim”! After all, Americanism is superior to the classical tradition – the “old” and backward way of the Muslim forefathers. How can a man who lived in a third-world country possibly understand the systems and structures of the west?

    How many a time have I heard such from “American Muslims”!

    Sayyidi Marc, you are correct in your assertions. The Sufi Turuq, and I can speak from my personal experience within the Hashimi-Darqawi branch as taught by Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller, an “American Muslim”, does not brand well with Americanism. In fact, I would argue that everything it teaches, from abstinence, asceticism, simplicity of living, having what one “needs” not one wants, abandoning ANYTHING that would stand in the way of achieving the ultimate state of Ihsan (such as the television) – is in fact a complete contradiction of what American Islam is.

    I do not see “American Islam” as you do Sayyidi Marc. I see it as a disease, corrupt and devoid of the way of the Muslim forefathers. I see it as a dogma that does not nurture the Sunnah in all of its forms, but challenges it and condemns its ways as backwards. How many a times was I told by “American Muslims” that a “Thobe” is not Sunnah or that using the Miswak is “outdated”, that Islam must be fluid enough to fit OUR WANTS and DESIRES. Afterall it is the American way to change religions, not abide by them! Or that, in America, it is “ok” for Muslim men and women to mix – a fine example is the first ISNA convention I attended where I saw young “Muslim American” teens making out in the lobby!

    But of course, Sufism will not fulfill their needs, for tasawwuf fulfills the needs of those truly aspiring for Ihsan, American Muslims do not aspire for such – they aspire for the mundane as well as a quick fix to their IMMEDIATE spiritual lows – not their long term ones – so that they continue in their search for a riba’ based mortgage, owning their flat screen, and living the “American Dream”!

    I thought it was interesting that Margari Aziza pointed out how Tasawwuf and its Shaykhs such as Dan Fodio moved entire nations with the call to Allah, though such has not occurred in America! Why? I forward, if you may let me, that American Muslims are not “Eastern” in their simplicity and long-term spiritual goals. They are not raised to be submissive to spiritual authority as we see in the African and Eastern cultures, but rather they are raised as children of the Capitalists, Empiricists, & libertarian dogma of “freedom of choice”. After all, was it not their forefather T. Jefferson who re-wrote the “Book of Providence”, Madison who forwarded God without a ‘state’, and B. Franklin who sketched:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    How then, Sayyidi Marc, can tasawwuf – a regiment of complete submission to a inheritor of the Prophet Muhammad (‘alayhis salam) through spiritual rigor and mujahada – be a proper spiritual outlet for an “American Muslim” or “American Islam”?

    The Sufi turuq of old, did not call to their tasawwuf, rather individuals came to them by seeing the signs of spiritual progress in the students of the order. This is something I was personally shocked by. Shaykh N.H. Keller has been asked as to why he does not solidify his “da’wa” to tasawwuf through organizational means, and he insists that Allah ta’ala guides individuals to tariqahs. There is no da’wah to tasawwuf. The Sufi Shaykh does not sit around calling people to the “order”.

    So, what is the solution for the “American Muslim”, rhetorically I ask!? I believe that the solution is to remove the very “American” and replace it with the simple, oh no! here it comes: “Muslim”. Remove the baggage of American Jahaliyyah – for that is certainly what Americanism is. If that baggage is not removed, if the black stains left by Locke and Jefferson are not purged, it is impossible to attain what Islam really has to offer – Ihsan!

    In an earlier comment someone mentioned that they are awaiting some blogger to mention their “sufi burnout”. I do not, for a moment, doubt that such has not already occurred. In fact, I do know wannabe sufis like myself who left tariqahs because they could not keep up with the struggle; the rigid ritualization and nafs-beating daily litanies, suhba with the Shaykh or Murids, self-introspection through dhikr and meditation etc.

    The fact is, Americanism and by extension Westernism, is not conducive to an environment of spirtual mortification that leads to The Ultimate Truth – the exalted. It is then, that I say, even small attempts to introduce tasawwuf to “American Muslims” such as Hamza Yusuf’s “Agenda to Change our Condition” through a revival of simple awrad – Salah, some dhikr etc – will not be affective in America. True Islam is incompatible with the principles laid forth by the forefathers of America, you know it, and I know it, and any one who understands Tawhid knows it.

    The solution then is to remove the Americanism and do as Allah says to do:

    “O you who have believed, enter into Islam completely [and perfectly] and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy.” [2:208]

    and lastly, I say to another commenter – and they know who they are:

    The Prophet said “Facilitate and do not make things difficult.”

    Commenting on this hadeeth, The Sheikh (Abul Abbas Al-Mursi) said:

    “In other words, lead people to Allah and to nothing else. He who leads you to this world has deceived you and he who leads you to good deeds will wear you down. But he who leads you to Allah has counseled you aright.” [Taken from Lataa’if Al-Minan]

    That is the path of tasawwuf, and the path to the Merciful.

    Was-Salam,

    Abul Layth

  17. margari.hill@gmail.com'Margari Aziza

    Salaam alaikum Yursil and Abu Layth,

    I hope you take this in the spirit that it is given, because I am not trying to sow any seeds of enmity. But I do take umbrage with some of what both of you have said. Marc’s post addressed the reality that many Muslims are looking for more spiritual orientation in their Islam. [Marc can correct if I am wrong] This was not an attack of the turuq. But some of your comments have really blown my mind. Your words convey a significant level of condescension and disdain for the average American Muslim.

    Abu Layth, in particular, I would like to apologize on behalf of all American Muslims for robbing you of your spiritual development. I think it is unfortunate that you had those experiences, but I hope that you can forgive your brothers and sisters and approach them with a bit more gentleness. I am convinced that in arguing your points, neither of you are aware of the ways your words and tone can both be hurtful to those who have not chosen your path. At the same time they undermine some of the arguments you make.

    Marc pointed out that the turuq has not been a viable alternative for a number of Black American Muslims, but they still long for a deeper relationship with Their Lord. The argument of anelect few being chosen for the turuq render the turuq irrelevant for many Black American Muslims, and the majority of American Muslims as well. I am not here to argue I think you have a right to your opinion. But if you feel that way, I don’t understand why would you comment on a post about the masses who you see as unworthy of spiritual guidance or incapable of the type of spiritual ascension that you both aspire to.

    If I am wrong in my assessment of your stances, please correct me. But what I gather is that in your opinion American Muslims are too corrupted by materialism (unlike their peers in “Muslim lands”) to be spiritual. I differ and would argue that American Muslims can do with an infusion of spirituality and deeper love for their Lord.

    So in light of that I would like to stick with the spirit of Marc’s post. While the rest of the world recognizes it, I think that Muslims seem to deny that Black spirituality has been a key to the survival of the people in the African Diaspora. I am not a proponent of the Black church (which by the way is declining due to the rise of evangelical mega-churches), but rather I will argue that Black folks are deeply spiritual. And now a number are left without an outlet for expressing and experiencing their love for their Lord. We cannot just have some selective memory when conducting our social critiques of American society, and I don’t appreciate being put into some monolith. American, with all its flaws, remains one of the most religious western nations.

    As a historian, I’ve found the development of Islam in Africa and Indonesia, the periphery, to be the most productive to thinking about the development of Islamic life and spirituality in America. For centuries, these Muslim communities were the minority in societies that were often antithetical to their beliefs and practices. I’m interested in the careers of tajdeed reformers in these lands who worked to educate the public and improve daily spiritual life. A lot of Muslims in the Middle East, in both Arab countries and in Turkey, look down on African Islam. For centuries some North African Muslims refused to accept that sub-Saharan Africans were really Muslim. But now, people are beginning to recognize quality of scholarship and deep rooted-ness of Islam in a number of African societies. Similarly American Muslims may not cut the mustard for some of our brethren. They may not deem us worthy of attaining some higher spiritual state, or perhaps they see that we are only worthy if we follow their particular set of practices or join their particular group. But, I am trying my best to make Islam more relevant by infusing my daily practice with love for my Lord and educate myself and others. And I’m here to encourage and support any of my brothers and sisters who are interested in doing the same, as well as any institution that are working to uplift the masses. I don’t see how holding everyday Muslims with such contempt and disdain will help us attain a better state. Rather, we should envy the man who has knowledge, applies it, and in turn teaches it, and what better knowledge to share than Sacred knowledge?

  18. yursil@gmail.com'Yursil Kidwai

    BismillahirRahmanirRahim
    Salamu’alaykum,

    I think there is a level of misunderstanding between us, I am sure it is not deliberate but simply my lack of ability to articulate things.

    You said:

    I would first caution you to your statements regarding spirituality not being for the masses.

    I didn’t say anything like the above.

    Spirituality is for everyone, certainly. It is open and accepting and inviting to all.

    But it is a different question completely to ask whether the masses want it? Are they ready to seek it? To struggle for it? What are they willing to sacrifice for it?

    Are they willing, for example, to abandon anything in their daily lives which they have to struggle with, do they want to be held accountable for that? Or are we talking about spirituality which simply means the addition of ritual prayers in the night?

    I said the Tarikats have to “work for those who are seeking”.

    And that it has to work specifically for those who are seeking:
    “A traditionally grounded, absorbing, defining, and intimate Islamic relationship to spirituality.”

    In that regard Tarikats work, and have worked for centuries.

    But in this thread there was hostility to Tarikat work in America, so what I was addressing was the incorrect notion of judging Tarikats and their relationship to the masses of American Muslims. Coming to the conclusion that the tarikats are inherently at fault for the inability to provide for the spiritual needs of the American masses, simply because the masses don’t flock to them, is a logical fallacy.

    The people who the tarikats serve are the ones who have chosen to participate in them.

    As far as the relationship of tarikats to the masses… as you noted, there are a number of factors including biases and other issues which prevent the masses from even examining them. But I would also add that the masses are “generally” unprepared to sacrifice dunya for spirituality at the level the tarikats guide people to. The ‘masses’ know this quite well, and hence they discredit Tarikat life.

    Voluntarily submitting to authority is very, very hard for some.

    The masses are, generally, satisfied at the levels they are at, with the vehicles they have come up with, speeches, meetings, halaqas, and Arabic classes. This is their spirituality.

    I suppose that is, by definition, one aspect understanding ‘masses’ which are not in an uproar or rebellion, they tend to share a feeling of complacency.

    As you mentioned, some may realize and wake up to the fact that it is insufficient, but attempting to now create something as another new ‘bridge’ to what is required for true spiritual training is somewhat of a futile effort. Why not walk to bridge to reach the destination?

    I also see a disconnect when we discuss spirituality.. What is it? When you mention of caring for the orphan, visiting the sick, and fasting with extra prayers, I see that we are discussing different things. I do not consider this spirituality, I consider these the natural physical results of working on spirituality.

    Looking to suggest and enforce and build these ‘results’ on the masses, with a ‘feed the orphans day’ or ‘fast-a-thon’ is looking at the effect to create the cause. This is viable technique, and it is one of the main reasons behind the five pillars. But doing ‘extra’ without a guide to stabilize and rear you in, and give meaning to what you do, yields highly mixed results, and more often leads to burnout.

    but the Prophet, may God send peace and blessings upon him, upon taking up the mantle of prophethood, did not withdraw from society,

    I think while we are both reading about the Seerah, you need to concentrate on the Cave of Hira again, and the characteristics of the Prophet (S) in which he embodied the principal “Solitude in the Crowd”. Yes, he was called back to society to engage it and transform it, but he was also always separated from dunya and knew it as an illusion.

    The impetus for Imam Ghazali (R) in an age when Islamic ‘knowledge’ was literally overflowing, to step away and seek “something else” was very much in line with the Prophet’s (S) times of withdrawal in Hira. Imam Ghazali (R) didn’t come back with extra nawafil prayers, he came back transformed from the inside.

    Terms such as “novice” and “initiate” sound ego-driven, and in my own interpretation, not helpful for those who are seeking a closeness with their Lord.

    You may consider them as such, but they are the opposite.

    These are not terms enforced by tarikats or real shaykhs, they *may* be used *by* the ‘novice’ himself as a means of reducing his ego as a means to describe himself, or higher titles may be used by the seeker to describe others than him, as another way to control his own ego.

    That one will eventually, one day, not be a novice, in that he will have been given authority or specific permission.

    By the very nature of this system, the one who reaches the positions of authority within the Tarikat does not need titles, does not desire them. He gives higher titles to others and low titles to himself. When he hears of high titles and greetings being applied to him, he knows that he is not worthy. He is always considering others to be higher than himself, and his position of authority is an unfortunate burden coming from his Shaykhs orders. This is the birthing process of a ‘Shaykh’.

    When it comes to what nothing other than the tarikats can provide. Let me give you a personal experience of tarikat…

    When I was traveling in Cyprus, I was attacked physically. I thought I was dead. After it was all said and done, I was asked about my experience with my Shaykh. He asked me … what went through my mind in what I thought were to be the last moments of my life. And I answered, “I was wondering about providing for my family”.

    And he told me, “You have just lost your faith.” And he explained how vitally important it is to trust in Allah’s rizq for your family and your own future. This is a practical spirituality that has better prepared me on how to die as a Muslim, but of course there is still a lot for me to learn.

    But, for sure, this is beyond self-help and beyond anything I could have achieved on my own without a figure of respect and authority guiding me. I might have gone through a dozen near death experiences without realizing the grossness of thinking about such materialistic things in my last few moments.

    Taking it to other levels, it is through imitation, copying and looking at how my Shaykh perceives the world through the filters of Quran and Sunnah that I have learned how to perceive the world at a completely different level than I could justly articulate. And even then I am only implementing sliver of what he has taught me.

    And at another level, it may be that I copy the way he applies kohl to his eyes, the way he ties his turban, that awakens my heart to connecting back to the Prophet (S) and realizing my own weakness and sad attempt to try imitate our Nabi (S)… but I try out of love. The honest truth was for me, I didn’t love the Prophet (S) until I built love for my Shaykh, and then it became easy to see why and how I should love the Prophet (S).

    Just a few thoughts.

  19. dls917@gmail.com'Devin

    Salams to everyone,

    I realize that I may be overstepping the bounds here in responding to others comments rather than Marc’s original comments, but I felt strongly that there were a couple things that I needed to say.

    I realize that there are certain people who are strongly opposed to the natural growth and development of Islam in the American context, but I believe it is a deeply flawed stance. Islam has always been fluid and organic in its interaction with different cultures. It has engaged in a collaborative adaption with the cultures it has encountered to the extent that we can see today how Islam is experienced and practiced in a very different in different areas of the world; Islam in Iran is Iranian, Islam in Bosnia is Bosnian, and Islam in Pakistan is Pakistani. Why can’t Islam in America be American? What makes America so different that Islam cannot positively interact with it? And if it can’t then how can we be serious about Islam being for all people if we don’t believe it is for Americans?

    As for scholars from other countries, we should respect them and learn from them, but it is only logical that what is appropriate in one place may not be appropriate in another. As a Canadian I was struck when I heard Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah mention that living in Chicago he did not feel comfortable giving fatwa to people in Canada on a number of issues because of the different situations in the two countries. If that is so then how big must the differences be between America and Malaysia, for example.

    I think we should be clear as well that not all spiritual paths advocate turning away from the world in the radical way that some others do. I know that in both my former tariqa and in my current path it is always stressed that we do not reject the world. Instead we learn to interact appropriately with the world so that we control it instead of it controlling us, as per the words of Imam Ali. In the same way not all paths are based on beating the nafs into submission and some instead focus on cultivating and nurturing the growth of the nafs in positive directions. I personally believe that this path is more appropriate for most people here and now although of course some have more affinity for more ascetic approaches. I have met some of the Qadiri-Boutchichi in Morocco and recognizing the state of people and the world they adapted their tariqa to address the needs of the people around them, including ordinary muslims, and their tariqa has flourished to an amazing degree ever since. What we need to do is not transpose solutions from other places and times upon ourselves, but instead we need to focus on doing the right thing at the right time.

    Hopefully Marc or Margari or others can comment on these issues in a more coherent fashion than myself.

  20. yursil@gmail.com'Yursil Kidwai

    BismillahirRahmanirRahim
    Salamu’alaykum,

    I just want to add that I really don’t want to come across as boasting about some high spiritual levels, etc.. rather I am trying to convey how it is that an tarikat (in America), has helped me (an American) in a somewhat practical manner. My examples of benefit are countless, it has helped my marriage, my family, everything, and I’m just sharing a bit of that.

    I do also want to extend an open invitation for you to attend a Tarikat-based Zikr program on Friday nights, in NYC if you are ever in the area. So you can see how other Americans, including Blackamericans, have and are benefiting spiritually.

    The address is 353 W 39th St, Room 304. Manhattan on Fridays at around 7pm. The program will run until the late hours and we rest until fajr to continue, so you can’t be too late.

  21. abulayth@gmail.com'Abul Layth

    Sister Margari,

    Maybe I did not clarify all of what I said clearly, and I certainly apologize if I offended anyone. What I am saying is that in order for an “American Muslim” to attain true ma’rifah, they must remove the “American”. In my humble view, it does not matter if they are white or black. “Americanism” itself, is counterproductive to the crux of Islam – attainment of Ihsan.

    I say this as an American convert, as someone that has experienced the jahaliyyah therein, and as someone who has seen what it takes to attain the high station – though I only hope that one day such could be attained for myself.

    To be American is not a subjective claim. There is a certain amount of cultural objectivity – such as adherence to the Constitution, cultural norms, etc. As you can see, Americanism represents a culture of separation from spirituality “ruling” the milieu one is within – specifically a removal of Providence’s laws from the lives of the people. Simply put, the very core of being “American” is to throw Allah out and let the whims of man “in”. Such is certainly not in conjunction with the foundations of Islamic spirituality as said by our Nabi (‘alayhis salam), ‘None of you truly believe until your desires are in line with mine.’ It is the very concept of “Submission” that is counter to be American. Even as children we are told to look up to “rebels” not submitters. We are taught from kindygarden 🙂 to take as our role models men such as Jefferson, Madison, Franklin etc. all of whom are certainly deists, but certainly not “submissive”. In fact Americanism looks harshly upon any interference of “God” into the “state”. Whereas we know as Muslims that there is no such separation within Islam.

    If you will allow me briefly to explain further; Shaykh Nuh Keller, a White american (you can read his bio online), studied for over 20 years the ‘science’ of tasawwuf in traditional fashion. He will not hesitate to tell you that in order to reach the state of men greater than us, one must leave behind the “baggage” of Americanism and redefine one’s self as Muslim in order to attain ma’rifah. Even the ‘arabs had to abandon the “arabism” of their forefathers; killing girls, starting wars of petty differences, abusing women, even removing what it meant to be a Qurayshite – worshipping 365 idols etc! Allah ta’ala, due to their abandonment of the jahaliyyah, even renamed them as “Ansar” and “Muhajirin”. The point is, Islam works to purify the heart from the mundane – and all the other unislamic societal tendencies – but it is impossible for one to allow Islam to work in one’s life if they cling to the baggage of their jahaliyya – and in this case it is “Americanism”. It is for this reason, I believe, that many Americans, whether black or white, after accepting Islam still seek more. It is because they have not shed the garments of Americanism, the way of their pagan forefathers and a way premised upon utter disbelief, that they still seek. Islam itself suffices – in fact it is the only thing acceptable to Allah – “Verily the din unto Allah is Islam…” as Allah says in the Qur’an. The spiritual void can easily be filled by Americans realizing that one thing must occur:

    – They must redefine themselves by abandoning the principles of Americanism.

    Just as sociologists have the conflict theorists, so does Islam! Islamic identity is an entire frame, not a partial one and that is why I quoted earlier Allah’s words:

    “O you who have believed, enter into Islam completely [and perfectly] and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy.” [2:208]

    So the reason, honourable sister, that I decided to respond to Sayyidi Marc’s post was that I see, in my little person’s view, that the answer to these “American Muslims” spiritual void is not anything other than Islam itself. They seek more because they have not attained the realization that in order to progress, in order to have proper khushu’, to live through Allah (as the Sufis say), the heart must be completely purified of the “black spots” (as said by The Nabi). The remaining black spot is the very essence of what they were raised upon; “Americanism”.

    Islam has always been fluid and organic in its interaction with different cultures.

    The fluidity of Islam is contingent upon the “what” and the “whom”. Is Islam fluid when it is contradicted? The obvious answer is no. Even our beloved Sayyid Muhammad (‘alayhis salam) stated, “Whoever imitates a people, is from them.” [Abu Dawud & others]

    I forward beloved brother, that Americanism in its very basic form – and here I am not talking about the Hamburger and fries – is ideologically contrary to Islam. I have given the examples above, and forgive me for any of my faults.

    From nearly every aspect Americanism represents what is diametrically opposite of Islam. From an economic standpoint Americanism forwards a capitalistic approach that has two main controls – ribaa (usury) and taxes. Such an economic model is tantamount to “war” on Allah ta’ala as He the majestic said in the Qur’an. It is indeed, a manifestation of the greed of Americanism! From a legal standpoint, as I have shown above, Americanism is in fact a separation of spirituality – “the state of spiritual submission i.e. Islam” – and a “submission” to the WILL of the masses! This very premise of the constitution, what makes one officially American, is itself tantamount to Shirk – may Allah save us. I understand that such may sound harsh, or even extreme – especially to “American Muslims”, and you must forgive my bluntness, but that is the upshot of it all. The WILL of the people, is not the WILL of Allah ta’ala! Allah warns:

    ??? ???? ?? ?????? ??? ?????? ???? ??? ????? ?? ?? ????? ?? ?????? ???? ??? ???? ??????? ??????

    “But no, by the Lord, they can have no Faith, until they make thee judge in all disputes between them, and find in their souls no resistance against Thy decisions, but accept them with the fullest conviction.” [4:65]

    “Wa Yusallimu tasleemaa” – Submit in full willing submission…

    Maybe this all sounds like a rant, or like some young “American Muslim” letting off steam or that I am claiming I have all the solutions etc. By our Lord, I am not saying this out of boast or any other baatil. In fact, it is possible that I am wrong and all of you people who think Islam is somehow compatible with a system of “for the people BY the people” are right! In fact, I believe that I am still tainted with Americanism – the very fact that I have to function in a society premised upon evil is proof that I have not purified my heart of it. I live the “American Dream” daily, all based and premised off of a system created by criminals and man-worshippers. So what do I really know? Alls I know is what I see, and what I see is that it is possible to fill the spiritual need with Islam itself – by means of utilization of the age-old system of tasawwuf – a system that is not SEPARATE from Islam and was never deemed such by the Muslims until now, but a system that is inherent to the religion, codified and brought about by knowledge and experience of 1400 years of Islamic scholarship.

    I dare say, based upon the nusus of Providence’s last religion, that the very premise of being “American” is contrary to the very premise of being Muslim – tawhid.

    I apologize if I offended anyone, forgive this poor ignorant youth, and I ask Allah to forgive us all amin! If you will pardon my exit from the conversation, I see no reason for me to continue, and I hope I conveyed my claims thoroughly, though if not: abulayth@gmail.com

    Thanks Marc for provoking this interesting discussion…

    was-Salam,
    Abul Layth

  22. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    @Safiya – Wa ‘alaykum salaam and thank you. Amin, for your du’ah for us. We ask Allah to return it and increase its bounty for you as well.

    @Abul Layth – Salaams. I think perhaps your comments departed a bit from the spirit of the article and the discussion surrounding it but I will try to address some of your comments.

    The first “Islam” I was exposed to was what most are exposed to: a wahhabified/’salafist’ approach – or literalist approach.

    I would like to point out, before I delve too deeply in, that there is a difference between Wahhabis and Salafis. The two are not interchangeable terms for the same thing or group. This is more akin to something you might here on an uninformed CNN broadcast, where various groups are reduced to a convenient similitude, tossing out important differences. Also, let me make it perfectly clear that I am not a Salafi basher. I have written many critiques of some of the Salafi groups and movements [though not individuals], but that was based on observation and most certainly was never meant as an epithet, in the way in which Wahhabi or Salafi can now connote these days.

    I would also like to link to this the very modern [though not exclusively so] attack on literalism. The idea that literalism being equivalent to a uniform understanding of the Qur’an or Islam is baseless, and found its way not only into the attacks from those on the outside of Islam, but also those who have been affected by the apologists, who wish to appease popular sentiment towards both religion in general and Islam in specific, have ceded descriptive authority to the dominant culture and thus wish to avoid the topic of literalism, conveniently label literalism as uniformity, hoping for the patting approval of the critics of religion and the opponents of Islam. This is made further possible as Islam is increasingly seen these days, especially in the Academy, as the quintessential pre-Enlightenment religion, where Muslims are, “those folks who really believe that the Qur’an is literally the word of God [a point that is incumbent for anyone to claim an orthodox belief in Islam]”. So I encourage you to rethink your words and stances on having to broad a brush to paint this wide canvas with as well as rethink your conceptualization of literalism.

    For your next point,

    “The problem with this “distrust” and belief of unorthodoxy is ignorance and nothing more.”

    I would ask you to provide proof that a group’s mistrust of another’s practice as, “ignorance and nothing more.” It is always curious that when Black proclivities are viewed from the outside, their history and how it affected their arrival at such decisions is never even considered, thus making it a simple-cum-simpleton conclusion to brand Blacks as ignorant. This derisive tool has been used throughout history towards Blacks, especially by whites in the American context, and even by other Muslim ethnic groups and how they thought of and conceived of Blacks [a quick example would be that most Arabs still use the term ‘abd/slave to refer to Blacks, clearly articulating who and what they think and perceive Blacks to be]. I will concur with your point that this does indeed “speak volumes” on this topic. But, alas, this will need to be addressed in a future post, as it was not the primary focus of my article above.

    And while I appreciate your honesty towards the questions at hand, I would contend it seems more likely that you were robbed before you entered into Islam. Your disgruntlement with America [justified or not is not the case I’m trying to make (yet)] and American lifestyles/proclivities seems much more deeply rooted than you have conveyed. To say that, in this case, American Islam robbed you is akin to sleeping in a mansion yet not keeping the doors locked. There are reasons people put locks on doors, reasons not only behind why crimes are committed but also but why people leave themselves vulnerable to crime. Your complaining of not learning Arabic is not necessarily the fault of your community. I myself learned Arabic well enough in nine months to read Qur’an, hadith and some beginning books on Islamic thought. Within two years I was able to further my studying of Arabic to learning in Arabic and all this was done here in the United States and not going abroad. It was through a dedication of study and a lifestyle commitment. I did not wait for my community to teach me – instead I sought to add something to my community by becoming an asset. The first summer after I first started studying I was offered a teaching position at a Muslim school teaching Arabic to high school students. I say this not from an ego-driven point of view, but rather to illustrate we had very different outlooks on America and on ourselves. I chose a very different path, based on a different personal- and worldview that garnered results for myself and for my community. And as for taking eight years to be able to read the books of al-Ghazali, that is not unrealistic, as al-Ghazali’s language is quite eloquent and more, to understand not just the words but the framework that al-Ghazali is talking in, eight years sounds just fine. Perhaps you’re being too hard on yourself. To conclude this small point I would say it is you who allowed disgruntlement, disaffection and impatience to trump knowledge. And while my case may be one in a thousand, so is yours – which is my point exactly. Personal narrative is always a sloppy second when used as precedence.

    We cannot have “the abroad” Shaykh – inheritor of the Prophet (’alayhis salam) – impart knowledge on us. It would be impossible for such a man to understand an “American Muslim”! After all, Americanism is superior to the classical tradition – the “old” and backward way of the Muslim forefathers. How can a man who lived in a third-world country possibly understand the systems and structures of the west?

    I am not sure what you’re trying to get at here but your point is both premature and immature at the same time. I would ask you to furnish some real substantive proof of the “abroad shaykh”, who you’ve made synonymous as an inheritor of the Prophet [s], having produced anything really groundbreaking here in the States. I myself took from and learned a great deal about hadith methodology as well as matters relating to fiqh and Qur’an from a shaykh who was from “abroad”. But as for inheritor of the Prophet [s], and I am aware of the ahadith concerning this, I would again ask you to furnish some evidence. Most of the imams and teachers who come from abroad cannot speak English well, have little to no familiarity of the cultural and intellectual framework that Americans are coming out of, thus making what they may have to offer difficult at best to disseminate to their target audience. The result of this is often the disgruntled American Muslim who has felt robbed because they’ve been able to walk away with very little in substantial means, especially if they’ve had little to no prior training in the Islamic sciences [which is to say nothing of the hostility that some of these imams harbor towards the America, inculcating a second-class citizenry where one must doubt everything and anything from your own cultural background as suspect]. Is this to say I think that foreign scholars have no role to play or that I am against foreign scholars playing a role in teaching American Muslims? By no means. But there is culpability on both sides of the isle to demand and produce better. American Muslims must foster and generate their own scholars who are seated both in the Islamic sciences as well as the cultural milieu in which those sciences can be applied, disseminated and articulated. Not only is this essential to the success of Islam in America as part of the indigenizing process but it should also not be seen as departing from the tradition of Islam as it spread to all the corners of the globe. That is why, as Devin pointed out above, Islam in Pakistan look Pakistani, in Bosnia looks Bosnian, in Nigeria looks Nigerian and so forth. So why then should this process be given a pass in America?

    How many a times was I told by “American Muslims” that a “Thobe” is not Sunnah or that using the Miswak is “outdated”, that Islam must be fluid enough to fit OUR WANTS and DESIRES. Afterall it is the American way to change religions, not abide by them! Or that, in America, it is “ok” for Muslim men and women to mix – a fine example is the first ISNA convention I attended where I saw young “Muslim American” teens making out in the lobby!

    Here again is an example of the lack of maturation in the understanding of the Sunnah of the Prophet [s]. I do not wish to label this as a misunderstanding but rather the lack of scope and vision of what constituted Sunnah, and what were the categories and gradations within the Sunnah that the Prophet placed emphasis on [or lack there of] that the scholars of the religion have understood in times past. Your citing of the thobe is a classic example, where it may indeed be a sunnah [small ‘s’] to wear a thobe, but what was the emphasis that was placed on this. How did the Companions understand this? What emphasis did they place on it? Are there any Prophetic commands that instructed or even encouraged the Companions to wear a thobe? Were there admonishments for those who didn’t? I find such emphasis one outward matters [which many of our scholars understood as simply ‘urf, or custom of the time, for at the same time, even pagan, idol-worshiping Makkans wore thobes! In this case, the wearing of the thobe, at best is a neutral point and is debatable whether or not it garners a reward for doing so.

    Turning to religious life in America and how America “changes religion”, I think a simple lesson in history should suffice. To start, we can examine Christianity. One of the major events in its history was of course the Reformation, which took place in the 16th Century, in Europe. And likewise, for the Jewish reformations, they have their roots in Europe as well [see Germany] in the 1800’s. And while both American Christianity and Judaism changed shape and appearance compared to their European counterparts, this would be more of an adaptation, versus the hardcore changes mentioned above. Thus, I would have to depart with you on that America, as an active agent, changes religious, as some large mechanism that actively goes out in search of religion and “alters it”. Like Christianity and Judaism, Islam in America will have to come of age, so to speak, find its footing and express itself in a fashion that is both true to the unalterable aspects of the faith [the Oneness of God, the finality of the Prophet Muhammad and the Truth of his message, etc.] and to its reality as being in America. Only an American Islam will work here if it seeks to be something other than a foreign curiosity, an “exotic cultural exercise” or worse, a foreign, hostile entity. And if you think Muslims in America should not be concerned about PR, just read suwrah ‘Abasa. The Prophet was constantly concerned about how Islam was perceived by the Makkans, both the poor and abject as well as those in power, to such an extent that God had to admonish him and keep his message and vision on point and balanced. The Treaty of Hudaybiyyah is also a prime example, though the examination of such is beyond this short conversation.

    I forward, if you may let me, that American Muslims are not “Eastern” in their simplicity and long-term spiritual goals.

    I am not going to comment much more from here. I think the irrelevant aspects of comments like these speak to their own lack of validity. While I welcome comments and dialog, I find such comments baseless and unfounded and incapable of being substantiated. To say that Americans are not “Eastern” is to say that Chinese are not Australians, with the resulting answer being, “…and so what?”. Easterness and Westerness belong more in Orientalist and imperialist circles. Curious that they found their way into your camp.

    tasawwuf – a regiment of complete submission to a inheritor of the Prophet Muhammad (‘alayhis salam) through spiritual rigor and mujahada – be a proper spiritual outlet for an “American Muslim” or “American Islam”?

    With comments like the above, though not part and parcel for all opinions from Sufi circles, lends only further credence to the mistrustful stance that American Muslims, black and white, have towards the semantics as articulated in the above statement. Many will see this as a breach of ‘aqiydah and bordering on shirk [a regiment of complete submission to a inheritor of the Prophet Muhammad]. Complete submission, in their minds, belongs to God and God alone. It is from here that the cult-like mentality would seem to manifest. Again, I do not believe this to be indicative of every tariyqah, but the semantics and their implied meanings cannot be easily ignored, nor can one simply label those who do not wish to “completely submit” themselves to an inheritor as “ignorant”.

    I shall address some of Yursil’s comments shorlty.

    And God knows best.

  23. abulayth@gmail.com'Abul Layth

    Ok Sayyidi Marc. I respect your views but certainly disagree with them.

    Easterness and Westerness belong more in Orientalist and imperialist circles. Curious that they found their way into your camp.

    Read the books of rijaal or taarikh and you will see distinctions made between “westerners” and “easterners”. For me to make such a distinction has as much to do with imperialism and orientalist circles as you have with the books of the salaf.

    was-Salam,
    Abul Layth

  24. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    @Abul Layth,

    Read the books of rijaal or taarikh and you will see distinctions made between “westerners” and “easterners”.

    The point I am making has not to do with books on the men of hadith or history but on looking at the Qur’an and the Sunnah and being able to validate an articulation from it where mankind is commanded to be “Eastern” or “Western”. And if it is not there directly, then I’ll even lend you the process of qiyaas [analogy] and even then, can it be substantiated through the bulk of Muslim scholarship? The answer would be: no.

    I am still working on your response, Yursil! And thank you for the invite. I hope, in sha’Allah, we can come up to NYC sometime and do just that.

  25. yursil@gmail.com'Yursil Kidwai

    BismillahirRahmanirRahim
    Salamu’alaykum,

    The title of the post is where to turn to when returning to spirituality.

    An interesting and relevant excerpt from Hujjat al Islam, Imam Ghazali (R) These are the vitally important parts of this text in my opinion, especially when speaking to this topic.

    Deliverance from Error

    When I had finished my examination of these doctrines I applied myself to the study of Sufism. I saw that in order to understand it thoroughly one must combine theory with practice. The aim which the Sufis set before them is as follows: To free the soul from the tyrannical yoke of the passions, to deliver it from its wrong inclinations and evil instincts, in order that in the purified heart there should only remain room for God and for the invocation of his holy name.

    So we understand that the aim of the sufis is the control of the ego and purification through this.

    As it was more easy to learn their doctrine than to practice it, I studied first of all those of their books which contain it: “The Nourishment of Hearts,” by Abu Talib of Mecca, the works of Hareth el Muhasibi, and the fragments which still remain of Junaid, Shibli, Abu Yezid Bustami, and other leaders (whose souls may God sanctify). I acquired a thorough knowledge of their researches, and I learned all that was possible to learn of their methods by study and oral teaching. It became clear to me that the last stage could not be reached by mere instruction, but only by transport, ecstasy, and the transformation of the moral being.

    So, the stages that Imam Ghazali went through were beyond study and oral teaching of great Sufi texts. The real stages of spirituality required ‘transportation’ and ‘transformation’.

    To define health and satiety, to penetrate their causes and conditions, is quite another thing from being well and satisfied. To define drunkenness, to know that it is caused by vapors which rise from the stomach and cloud the seat of intelligence, is quite a different thing to being drunk. The drunken man has no idea of the nature of drunkenness, just because he is drunk and not in a condition to understand anything, while the doctor, not being under the influence of drunkenness knows its character and laws. Or if the doctor fall ill, he has a theoretical knowledge of the health of which he is deprived.

    In the same way there is a considerable difference between knowing renouncement, comprehending its conditions and causes, and practicing renouncement and detachment from the things of this world. I saw that Sufism consists in experiences rather than in definitions, and that what I was lacking belonged to the domain, not of instruction, but of ecstasy and initiation.

    Hence Tassawuf and adjustment of the self cannot be taught via instruction, but one needs to be ‘initiated’ into a process of ‘experience’.

    The researches to which I had devoted myself, the path which I had traversed in studying religious and speculative branches of knowledge, had given me a firm faith in three things—God, Inspiration, and the Last Judgment. These three fundamental articles of belief were confirmed in me, not merely by definite arguments, but by a chain of causes, circumstances, and proofs which it is impossible to recount. I saw that one can only hope for salvation by devotion and the conquest of one’s passions, a procedure which presupposes renouncement and detachment from this world of falsehood in order to turn toward eternity and meditation on God. Finally, I saw that the only condition of success was to sacrifice honors and riches and to sever the ties and attachments of worldly life.

    Coming seriously to consider my state, I found myself bound down on all sides by these trammels. Examining my actions, the most fair-seeming of which were my lecturing and professorial occupations, I found to my surprise that I was engrossed in several studies of little value, and profitless as regards my salvation.

    What was Imam Ghazali studying and teaching and what was it that he considered ‘profitless as regards to his salvation’? It was the studying of Islamic Law (Sharia), of theology (aqidah), of fiqh (rulings), of the scholarly and superficial view of spirituality.

    It was the entirety of what we are sold as Islam today.

    Its analog is easily found today in American Islam, focused on infusing Arabic into everyday conversation, forcing learning and literacy on the masses as a means of salvation, publishing books en masse. But it should be known this is not isolated to “American Islam” but to “Islam” across the globe.

    Such was the state of the Apostle of God, when, before receiving his commission, he retired to Mount Hira to give himself up to such intensity of prayer and meditation that the Arabs said: “Mohammed is become enamored of God.”

    This state, then, can be revealed to the initiated in ecstasy, and to him who is incapable of ecstasy, by obedience and attention, on condition that he frequents the society of Sufis till he arrives, so to speak, at an imitative initiation. Such is the faith which one can obtain by remaining among them, and intercourse with them is never painful.

    The reference to the cave of Hira by Imam Ghazali is very clear, and the similitude with the Sufis is very clear. As far as what Imam Ghazali suggests, it is frequenting the society of the Sufis, and through absorption of their character, to achieve higher levels. It is ‘obedience and attention’ and an ‘imitative initiation’ which Imam Ghazali finds as the means to success.

    But behind those who believe comes a crowd of ignorant people who deny the reality of Sufism, hear discourses on it with incredulous irony, and treat as charlatans those who profess it. To this ignorant crowd the verse applies: “There are those among them who come to listen to thee, and when they leave thee, ask of those who have received knowledge, ‘What has he just said?’ These are they whose hearts God has sealed up with blindness and who only follow their passions. Among the number of convictions which I owe to the practice of the Sufi rule is the knowledge of the true nature of inspiration. This knowledge is of such great importance that I proceed to expound it in detail.

    And what do we have today except the above? Sufis are either considered charlatans, viewed with contempt and their words are viewed irony. The benefit of the doubt is not given to what they have to say or do, but numerous assumptions are made without participation or engagement.

    -Yursil

  26. yursil@gmail.com'Yursil Kidwai

    BismillahirRahmanirRahim
    Alaykumsalaam,

    It would wonderful to have you, anytime you come up. Even outside of the zikr program, if you are in the area we can enjoy a meal.

    -Yursil

  27. dls917@gmail.com'Devin

    Salamu alaikum,

    I realize that I may not have been all that helpful in my previous comments, so I wanted to take a second attempt at the issue at hand which is the how of a growing spirituality. I think that the previous discussion highlights the fact that it is unlikely that there will be one singular approach; instead, I suspect that as American muslims are very diverse we will see a diverse range of approaches, some of which will be successful and others less so. Marc’s suggestion of companionship with good and like minded people probably applies to all these approaches, but I wanted to briefly mention the options as I see them. Please note that this is from my experience which is by its nature limited, for example I have almost no exposure to anything like the Blackamerican Muslim community which essentially does not exist in my country.

    1) Traveling workshop: As noted, I don’t believe that they are bereft of value, but they are no more than a taste and are too limited to be very useful.

    2) Turuq: The different turuq will continue to grow and aid people, but I believe that it will be a small number of people. A lot of muslims are opposed to the idea of turuq and I can hardly name a single tariqa that is directed towards the masses. Barring the rise of some exceptional shaykh that ignites the masses of muslims I don’t see this being much more than a niche phenomena.

    3) Spiritual psychology/philosophy: I don’t know what to call this. Basically the tradition that deeply investigates, through the use of the intellect, who we are, what we are doing here, where we are going, and the nature of God. Personally I am very attracted to this approach and think that aspects of it should be incorporated into other approaches, but it is also doomed to be a niche approach. An example of where I think it can be of benefit is to give better answers than just saying we are slaves of God here to serve and worship Him. While the previous may be true at some level, it is very limited in scope and I find those to be completely unsatisfying answers both intellectually and spiritually.

    4) Gulen/Nursi movements: Those two are just examples of this approach. It basically involves taking the outer aspects of the religion and trying to give some spiritual depth to them by understanding the meanings behind them. It also focuses on ethics, values and character building as well as strongly encouraging hard work and education and being successful in the worldly life as well as the spiritual. In Canada, this is the approach that I think will eventually be most successful. I think that this will become the default Islam of the middle-class who are interested in Islam. It’s good, but usually falls short of the ultimate goal of ma’rifa.

    5) Non-tariqa tasawwuf: I am thinking here of informal groups of people getting together to occasionally do some dhikr and/or read and discuss tasawwuf related resources with or without a qualified teacher. This is sort of the Hamza Yusuf approach of studying tasawwuf just like any other Islamic science and then some dhikr on the side and being in the company of each other. Once it get going I think this could be relatively successful and is probably quite similar to #4 above in both its prospects and limitations (once again it probably usually stops short of marifa).

    There are probably other approaches, but my guess is that while numbers 2 and 3 will continue to function by drawing in the few who are exceptionally committed, the majority will opt for numbers 3 or 4 or some variation of the two.

  28. margari.hill@gmail.com'Margari Aziza

    Salaam alaikum Devin,

    I’ve appreciated your comments and insight. Do you mean 4 and 5 will be the approaches most popular amongst the masses?

    Abu Layth,
    I’d disagree with you about the East/West divide and the monolith that you make of the West. Would you group African Diasporic communities in the Caribbean, Central American, and South American context as Western? How does this neat divide work if people still have cultural vestiges or develop spiritual practices different from the dominant society? I mentioned Black spirituality, but that did not get addressed in an effort to paint the West with such a broad brush. I also have problems with your reduction of culture to constitutionalism and consumerism.

  29. dls917@gmail.com'Devin

    Wa alaikum salam Margari,

    That is my opinion, but I am not able to look into the future any better than anyone else. As I stated, it is also based on my experiences with the Muslim community in certain areas of Canada which may not apply to the US.

  30. Pingback: From the Seas of Blog « Abdur Rahman’s Corner

  31. maryanncoledia@yahoo.com'Sister Seeking, Miriam, Mary Ann

    Salaam’Alaikum everyone:

    In advance, I ask you all to pardon my ignorance–I have NO formal training or education in ANY Islamic science.

    Brother Marc, this is an OUTSTANDING essay! Waaaaaaaaay overdue! For real!
    Thank you VERY much for this. *smile*

    I did not convert to Islam to:
    1) Get married ( I was teenager)
    2) Join a movement
    3) Reject my heritage, history, family, race, nation, and ethnicity
    4) Pretend to be someone or something I am not

    I’ve been a Muslim for over a decade, and have experienced the Salafi cult, and once joined a Naqshabandi Sufi order as well. I found that both experiences left me spiritually empty, and longing for something else. I quite couldn’t put my finger on it but Brother Marc has articulated it very well.

    I knew that something was just terribly wrong when after loosing my mother I could not find: solace, strength, hope, or comfort in the rituals or so called theology of Islam. That awareness was eventually led to my fleeing the Muslim ummah ( including the activities Brother Marc and readers mention in their comments) in addition to bigotry, misogyny, and the exclusiveness I’ve experienced.

    I confess that I’m bitter, and deeply disappointed.. BUT…

    I still have a desire to some how, some way draw closer to Allah… to feel the way I did ( maybe this is childish thinking) when I first became Muslim… to feel that peace, and confidence that comes from a strong sense of feeling, loved, connected, corrected, and guided by Allah s.w.t. I once felt that way, and would love to learn how to be at one with or draw near to Allah. It was terrifying and uncomfortable to half to face the fact that I did could not find joy, inspiration, or hope in the faith that I had converted to. It was even more terrifying when seeking professional help and being told that isn’t something a secular psychologist is trained to assist their patients in?

    I hope you do a follow up Brother Marc. Despite my bitterness and disappointment I’ve held on this long because I didn’t convert to Islam for people, places, or objects–I converted in search of Allah and thus in search of self…

    To the person who dismissed the distrust of American Muslims ( read BAM’s) as “pure” ignorance let me share this:

    Some of us are distrustful based on results:

    I don’t care what was intended, I care what that intention resulted in:

    As a person who has been apart of the Salafi Movement, and one Sufi movement here is what I’ve observed, and why I‘m distrustful:

    1) Demanding “American” Muslims to disregard the laws reciprocity, and self preservation in order to further some one or a groups personal and or political agenda. Strained relationships to the degree that different ethnic and racial groups don’t want to bond–including those in the same class tier-.

    2) The inability to create/sustain checks, and balances ( I will note that I just read Sr. Margari’s post about a pledge from scholars) which has led to charlatans, and cultists using, and abusing financial resources, and social resources. That pledge is a great start, and hopefully it can eliminate the fitnah but I’m waiting for a pledge of mutual respect between the various ethnic and racial groups with in the American Muslim community. I don’t’ see how the first plege will be functional with out the other.

    3) Domestic violence, child abuse, and neglect “ In the name of Allah” or “In the name of Islam” astirfullah–this is the primary justification cited to a social worker, judge, or other public servant.

    4) Hiding behind false piety and bunch of Arabic terms, in order to remain on public assistance, and avoid personal responsibility.

    5) The cutting of ties with ones non-Muslim relatives.

    6) The lack of African American academics like Brother Marc in command positions WHO ARE NOT criminals, or have serious ethical or risk management issues

    Nobody can ever tell me that some one who honors their oaths and agreements because they love Allah and the Prophet sews would commit such transgressions.

    Thank you kindly,
    SS

  32. maryanncoledia@yahoo.com'Sister Seeking, Miriam, Mary Ann

    Salaam Brother Devin,

    Do you think it’s possible to have both #4 and #5 you listed in your last comments?

    I think your points in #4 are great, I look at them as the bones but I also think your points listed in #5 are the meat IMHO.

    Thank you kindly,
    SS

  33. dls917@gmail.com'Devin

    Wasalam SS,

    Of course. The two do compliment each other and in fact people in group #4 do tend to get together and do some dhikr and read books together, mostly the Risale-i-Nur. They do focus much more on the path of intellection than group #5. You also need to understand the context from which group #4 grew out of. Said Nursi for example was put on trial numerous times and one of the accusations against him was that he started a new sufi order in Turkey at a time when the tariqas were banned and that context effected how the movement developed to be distinctly different from sufi orders and have less focus on things like dhikr. Said Nursi also stated that he wasn’t giving people tariqa, instead he was giving them haqiqa directly. A discussion of Said Nursi’s thought is a whole other topic however.

  34. Pingback: An American Spiritual Tradition « Saifuddin

Leave a Reply