November 12, 2013

Is Sufism 'the tolerant antidote'? A different view

Very often, Sufism is presented as the tolerant antidote to an all too violent mainstream islamism. The reality of the matter turns out to be quite a lot more complex. As Jonas Yunus explains on his Halal Monk website:

"I most certainly agree that the Islam of the average Pakistani is very different from the aggressive Islamism that has kept their politics hostage for the last few years. But unlike many others, I could not agree that Sufism is the simple oppositional answer.

All over the Muslim world, Sufism has a lot of different faces. (...) There’s the Sufism of the people, the Sufism of the middle class and Sufism of the academics. This is certainly the case in Pakistan as well. We can even add the Sufism of the artists and the Sufism of the state.

And yet, even though all these ‘Sufisms’ have been present in Pakistan for a very long time, we also have to keep in mind that the word ‘Sufism’ was quite alien to the vocabulary of Pakistani Islam until some fifty years ago. As the Pakistani scholar and expert Samina Mian told me “The word Sufi or Sufiya (the plural in Arabic) was always traditionally used to describe the saints. But the saints themselves would never say ‘I’m a Sufi’. They would say ‘I’m a Muslim’. Or simply call themselves believers. So we talked of people who were given the title, but it was not a part of our self-definition.

(...) So is Sufism truly the antidote or the counterpart of an all too rigorous and violent interpretation of Islam? It depends."

Click here to read the full article.

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