Thursday, May 04, 2006

"In Saudi Arabia, a Resurgence of Sufism"

See this article: In Saudi Arabia, a Resurgence of Sufism.
The centuries-old mawlid, a mainstay of the more spiritual and often mystic Sufi Islam, was until recently viewed as heretical and banned by Saudi Arabia's official religious establishment, the ultraconservative Wahhabis. But a new atmosphere of increased religious tolerance has spurred a resurgence of Sufism and brought the once-underground Sufis and their rituals out in the open.

Analysts and some Sufis partly credit reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States for the atmosphere that has made the changes possible. When it was discovered that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi, the kingdom's strict Wahhabi doctrine -- which had banned all other sects and schools of thought -- came under intense scrutiny from inside and outside the country. The newfound tolerance Sufis have come to enjoy is perhaps one of the most concrete outcomes of that shift.
Sufism—the word sufi may come from the Greek sophia, or wisdom—is an ancient and mystical movement found within all Islamic denominations, and is not a particular sect. Sufis venerate relics, worship within a communion of saints, use prayer beads, and have a great emphasis on art, literature, philosophy, and music; fundamentalist Islam tends to be more iconoclastic. Sufi's central idea is that God is Love and that likewise we need to love each other. Sometimes mainstream Islam is viewed as being dry or legalistic, while Sufism fits in more with Westerners' romanticized notions of Islam. Sufism encourages chivalry and good hospitality, which are also ideal Catholic virtues.

Like the mystical traditions of ancient Christianity and orthodox Judaism, mysticism in Islam has its roots in the spirituality of Neo-Platonism: where a soul, in a state of grace, looks inward in meditation and contemplation in order to acheive a sort of union with God. Integrated within the religions, mysticism is completely orthodox. However, mystics can sometimes confuse their subjective visions for divine revelation and can "go off the deep end"; this has happened with Sufism, as well as in Christianity and Judaism, giving mysticism a bad name, and sometimes leading to persecution. Just like we have some people who divorce the mystical Kabbalah from Judaism (as practiced by Madonna and Britney Spears), Sufism in the West is sometimes divorced from Islam (the Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam was very popular for a while); this is considered to be very misleading and unhelpful, or perhaps even spiritually dangerous. Often these mystical movements divorced from orthodoxy leads to a form of pantheism, which is not surprising if Neo-Platonism is followed too closely: the Creature begins to worship himself as the Creator. However, within the framework of orthodoxy, mysticism can instead be enriching and beautiful.

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