Sufism


These articles are freely available until 31 January 2015 on the Brill Website.

Islamic Law in the Modern World
Author: Aharon Layish
Islamic Law and Society, (Volume 21, No. 3, pp. 276-307)

An Epistemic Shift in Islamic Law
Author: Aria Nakissa
Islamic Law and Society, (Volume 21, No. 3, pp. 209-251)

Reconstructing Archival Practices in Abbasid Baghdad
Author: Maaike van Berkel
Journal of Abbasid Studies, (Volume 1, No. 1, pp. 7-22)

The Early Ḥanafiyya and Kufa
Author: Christopher Melchert
Journal of Abbasid Studies, (Volume 1, No. 1, pp. 23-45)

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The Egyptian intellectual Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 67, made a major contribution to the study of the Qur’an and other important aspects of Islam, for which he was branded an apostate in Egypt. For a summary of his life with links to videos and major works, check out the page on him in the series of “A Profile from the Archives” on al-Jadaliyya. For a film on his thinking, Youtube has the Lebanese film في إنتظار أبو زيد .


Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah; Photograph by Wael Hamzeh/European Pressphoto Agency

My friend Omid Safi has created a provocative blog entitled What Would Muhammad do? Today I would like to ratchet up the commentary game to an approach which may, at first glance, seem sacrilegious. Given that the Lebanese “Party of God” (Hezbollah) is now known to be sending its fighters to support the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Asad, it is time to ask “What Would Allah do?” As much as I admire the spiritual sentiment of the crucified mystic al-Hallaj, I am not advocating oneness with the Supreme Being. But if I were to try and imagine what Allah would say about the current trials besetting his umma, I think I might begin by insisting that those who spread messages of hate and turn jihad into an excuse for political gain stop using my name. The Shi’a at least had the common decency to call themselves shi’at Ali, rather than presume from the start that they exclusively spoke for me. If these partisans of the hundreds of sects that have evolved since the Prophet Muhammad received the Quran want to hear me, they should stop selecting isolated verses from my message for their own agendas. Submission to Allah is the message of Islam, not submission to any party claiming to be Allah’s party.

Muslims should remember the history not only of their faith, but also the religions founded by other of my prophets. Jews and Christians are not infidels; their lives are as precious to Allah as those of Muslims. Muhammad was sent as the “seal” of the prophets, not to brag that he was superior to my other prophets. Each prophet was sent for a specific purpose, to guide people at different times in history. Muhammad received the Quran not so everyone after that could stop time and live as though it was still 7th century Mecca and Medina. Look at his life and you will see that he was a mediator, who preached salam and knew full well that the greater jihad took place within the individual. Jews and Christians heard from their prophets that humans are not divine, not perfect, and easily seduced to go astray. But Moses gave commandments to run society, Jesus showed the power of love to conquer hatred and Muhammad was a living example of how to live, but not an icon to follow blindly because of the recorded faulty memories of his companions. (more…)


For a moving dhikr performed by Muslim women of the sufi fraternity of Kunta-Hadjee Kisshieva, there is a Youtube video posted in 2008 and well worth listening to.


Once again AQAP/Ansar al-Shari’a shows its mean spirit, not only destroying the lives of the living but resorting to desecrating the dead. Before pulling out of Ja’ar in southern Yemen, several of the iconclasts destroyed the shrine of al Ja’dani in Al Tareyyah, among other shrines. Ibrahim Suleiman al Rubaish, a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay and now a senior AQAP leader, issued a video taking credit for the demolition work. Here is what he is reported to have said:

“Here are the mujahideen by the grace of Allah the Great and Almighty carrying out what Allah commanded them to do and reviving their jihad in the Cause of Allah…. So, just as they fought democracy and representative councils which make laws alongside Allah, they are destroying the domes which are being worshipped other than Allah, along with the graves and mausoleums, which people try to get close to other than Allah the Great and Almighty.”

“We fight the idolatry of the palaces and the graves – both are the same.”

The idolatry he does not see is his own intolerance, as though Allah has made him a successor of the prophet. Yemen’s south is dotted with shrines, reflecting the generations of Sufis and other devout scholars who have lived in Yemen over the centuries. Rubaish, who is in fact a Saudi and not Yemeni, places himself above all these Yemenis of the past. Like the other AQAP leaders, he is not likely to last long, but the destruction he touts adds salt to the wounds of the current turmoil in Yemen. Yemen has a rich Islamic history of monuments and saints tombs. Unlike the Taliban blasting in 2001 of the Buddha images at Bamiyan, also a senseless act, Rubaish cannot even claim to be destroying an image from another religion. He thinks he is fighting “the palaces and the graves,” but he is really fighting against time and doing more to harm Islam than promote it.


Brill has just announced the inaugural issue of a new publication, the Journal of Sufi Studies. The first issue is currently available free online. the following excerpt is from the editor’s introduction:

While the academic study of Sufism has a relatively long and productive pedigree in both western and Islamic academic discourses, in recent years the mainstay philological, philosophical and literary approaches to the subject have begun to give way to a much wider array of approaches drawn from across the humanities and social sciences. In the new conversational vistas and cross-fertilizations attendant to the study of the subject that such a situation portends, it would appear that the time is now ripe for sentiment to give way to assurance. What can, for example, anthropologists bring to the table which might be of interest to art historians? How might the insights of those dealing with philosophical discourse inform the work of those interested in cultural history? How and in what ways might a study devoted to pre-modern Sufi communities be usefully placed alongside one investigating globalized Sufi networks in modern times? While disciplinary territoriality and parochialism might been seen as posing difficulties to an effort seeking to link together scholarly engagements produced in different academic arenas, creating a space for genuine conversation and cross-fertilization on a subject of shared interest is not necessarily as arduous as it may sound. This, especially when dealing with a subject as amendable to a general multivocality, scholarly or otherwise, as that which this journal looks to engage.

It is precisely such a space which the Journal of Sufi Studies looks to create: an international scholarly forum for research on Sufism which, in taking an expansive view of the subject, brings together all disciplinary perspectives so as to promote a wide understanding of the richly variegated Sufi tradition in both thought and practice and in its cultural and social contexts. By providing a forum for academic research of the highest caliber on any and all denotable instances of Sufism wherever they may be situated, the journal looks to make a distinctive contribution to current scholarship on Sufism and its integration into the broader field of Islamic studies. As such, it is the fervent hope of the editors that this journal will come to serve as a meaningful outlet for the field of Sufi studies, one which fosters, shapes and energizes the efforts of those researchers who have ventured to engage one or another instantiation of the particularly persistent feature of the Islamic tradition which is Sufism, and in doing so contribute to those processes which are presently shaping the contours of the field itself.


Photo:Metropolitan Museum of Art

by Misha Habib

America has changed so much since my adolescence. Growing up as an American bred a very different outlook on life from the breeding it is providing today. And it is a shame because America is a piece of land that made a promise to allow everyone to speak the truth; to do whatever it takes to find the truth and to fearlessly defend the truth no matter what the consequences.

When I look back over the last decade I see one of the unfortunate consequences of its moral degradation…

To create national support for an enemy, the last decade has been spent breeding hatred and resentment against a symbol.

Accumulating support to annihilate the enemy was strategized along the lines similar to the ones used for the Soviet Union. In a hurry, the symbol chosen accidently represented far more people than they initially estimated. And as time began to show they really had no idea what the power of that symbol held.

By the time someone realized this symbol has far more strength than the iron curtain…
By the time someone realized their own people would spend their lives fighting for sanctity of this symbol.
By the time they realized it was too late…

America had become a victim of Islamophobia

The objective was to unite the nation against a common enemy- whether fear, vengeance or accumulating oil was the reason is irrelevant- we might eradicate the enemy and we might find alternative energy sources, but we most definitely have a new problem.

The US government likes to plan for the worst and hope for the best. The reality is that breeding a decade of hatred has led to what the government probably fears may have accidentally sown the seeds of a situation they never intended.

American children have witnessed countless displays of hate towards Islam and all its associated parts. Whether it be towards the person sitting next to them in the subway or instructions warning them not to play with the potentially evil Muslim children; worse if a family member, neighbor or any soldier the child cared about died on the battlefield fighting the evil Muslim enemy, the child has dealt with the loss on the reassurance that the sacrifice was for a good cause.

Media in a lot of ways does rule the world- and the American media has a significant control over the national minds. When I watch an American movie or television miniseries and a visual displays the sounds of the azaan (call to prayer), followed by hoards of people bowing down in worship I know something bad or violent is about to be introduced onto the screen. Whether it is Hollywood or American television productions the last decade has made something very clear- Arabic words, Arabic sounds, veils, beards and Islamic forms of worship- all these things represent evil.

Ten years of subliminal messages are a powerful enemy to fight.

In the last decade those seeds have grown. Those children are now adults. Their breeding has been blossoming in ways that those watering the seeds could not have imagined- the government has lost control of the hatred.

What we now have is regret and an urgency to do damage control. The situation must be handled before it leads to the frightening scenario of future national violence or the many unthinkable possibilities that anger and hatred result in.

Today when a politician or spokesperson comes in front of the camera saying Islam is about peace; reassuring us there are many good Muslims and we should build them mosques in the name of peace, that too on places like ground zero- these statements will seem absurd in the face of those programmed to hate anything and everything that has to do with Islam.

Subliminal messages have a far more powerful impact that can be quantified and reversed.

Sufism has become an umbrella term for the various methods of preaching and practicing a peaceful Islam. A desperate attempt is being made to use this label to display a positive side of the religion. People are waving the label Sufi like a white flag in a war zone. (more…)


A second revised edition of a text attributed to Muhammad ibn ‘Isa al-Tirmidhi (d. 279/892) and called Bayan al-Farq bayn al-Sadr wal-Qalb wal-Fu’ad wal-Lubb, edited with a brief introduction by Yousef Meri is now available from the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan (ISBN: 978-9957-8533-5-8). A pdf may be downloaded from the RISSC website by clicking here.

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