• Category Category: S
  • View View: 79
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Sufi orders represent one of the most important forms of personal piety and social organization in the Islamic world. In most areas, an order is called a tariqah (pl., turuq), which is the Arabic word for “path” or “way.” The term tariqah is used for both the social organization and the special devotional exercises that are the basis of the order’s ritual and structure. As a result, the “Sufi orders” or tariqahs include a broad spectrum of activities in Muslim history and society.

Mystical explanations of Islam emerged early in Muslim history, and there were pious mystics who developed their personal spiritual paths involving devotional practices, recitations, and literature of piety. These mystics, or Sufis, sometimes came into conflict with authorities in the Islamic community and provided an alternative to the more legalistic orientation of many of the `ulama’. However, Sufis gradually became important figures in the religious life of the general population and began to gather around themselves groups of followers who were identified and bound together by the special mystic path tariqah of the teacher. By the twelfth century (the fifth century in the Islamic era), these paths began to provide the basis for more permanent fellowships, and Sufi orders emerged as major social organizations in the Islamic community.

The orders have taken a variety of forms throughout the Islamic world. These range from the simple preservation of the tariqah as a set of devotional exercises to vast interregional organizations with carefully defined structures. The orders also include the short-lived organizations that developed around particular individuals and more long-lasting structures with institutional coherence. The orders are not restricted to particular classes, although the orders in which the educated urban elite participated had different perspectives from the orders that reflected a more broadly based popular piety, and specific practices and approaches varied from region to region.

In all Sufi orders there were central prescribed rituals which involved regular group meetings for recitations of prayers, poems, and selections from the Qur’an. These meetings were usually described as acts of “remembering God” or dhikr. In addition, daily devotional exercises for the followers were also set, as were other activities of special meditation, asceticism, and devotion. Some of the special prayers of early Sufis became widely used, while the structure and format of the ritual was the distinctive character provided by the individual who established the tariqah The founder was the spiritual guide for all followers in the order, who would swear a special oath of obedience to him as their shaykh or teacher. As orders continued, the record of the transmission of the ritual would be preserved in a formal chain of spiritual descent, called a silsilah, which stated that the person took the order from a shaykh who took it from another shaykh in a line extending back to the founder, and then usually beyond the founder to the prophet Muhammad. As orders became firmly established, leadership would pass from one shaykh to the next, sometimes within a family fine and sometimes on the basis of spiritual seniority within the tariqah At times, a follower would reach a sufficient degree of special distinction that his prayers would represent a recognized subbranch within a larger order; at other times, such a follower might be seen as initiating a whole new tariqah

Within all this diversity, it is difficult to provide a simple account of the development of Sufi orders, but at least some of the main features of the different types of orders and their development can be noted.

Premodern Foundations. Different types of orders developed in the early centuries of tariqah-formation. These provide important foundations for the Sufi orders of the modern era.

Large inclusive traditions. One type of order is the large inclusive tadgah tradition with a clearly defined core of devotional literature. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, some major figures emerge as the organizers of orders that were to become the largest in the Islamic world. In some cases, the orders may actually have been organized by the immediate followers of the “founders,” but these teachers represent the emergence of large-scale orders. The most frequently noted of these early orders is the Qadiriyah, organized around the teachings of `Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (d. 1166), which grew rapidly and became the most widespread of the orders. Two other major orders originating in this era are the Suhrawardlyah, based on the teachings and organization of Abu al-Najib al-Suhrawardi (d. 1168) and his nephew, Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi (d. 1234); and the Rifa’iyah, representing the tariqah of Ahmad al-Rifa’i (d. 1182). By the thirteenth century, increasing numbers of tariqahs were being organized in the traditions of great teachers. Many of these were of primarily local or regional influence, but some became as widespread as the earlier orders. Among the most important of these are the Shadhiliyah (established by Abu al-Hasan alShadhili, d. 1258) in Egypt and North Africa, and the Chishtiyah (Mu’in al-Din Chishti, d. 1142) in Central and South Asia.

These large tariqahs are an important type of order representing a coherent tradition based on a central core of writings by the founder. Within these broad traditions over the centuries, later teachers would arise and create their own particular variants, but these would still maintain an identification with the main tradition. For example, throughout the Islamic world there are distinctive branches of the Qadiriyah, but these are generally identified as part of the Qadiriyah tradition, as is the case with the Bakka’iyah established by Ahmad alBakka’i al-Kunti (d. 1504) in West Africa, or the various branches of the Ghawthiyah originating with Muhammad Ghawth (d. 1517) in South Asia. This process of creating independent suborders continues to the present and can be seen in the variety of relatively new tadgahs in the traditions of the early orders, often identified with compound names, such as the Hamidiyah Shadhiliyah of contemporary Egypt.

Orders based on “ancient ways.” A second major style of Sufi order developed within less clearly defined traditions that appealed to the early Sufis and utilized some of their prayers and writings but developed distinctive identities of their own. Thus many tariqah organizers traced their inspiration back to early Sufis like Abu al-Qasim al-Junayd (d. 910) or Abu Yazid alBistami (d. 874). One may speak of the Junaydi tradition and the “way of Junayd” as insisting on constant ritual purity and fasting (Schimmel, 1975, p. 255) or the more ecstatic mood in the tradition of al-Bistami. However, the great “Junaydi” or “Bistami” orders are independent and have their own separate traditions. Among the most important Junaydi orders are the Kubrawiyah and the Mawlawiyah; orders such as the Yasawiyah and Naqshbandiyah are seen as being more in the Bistami tradition. Within the framework of affirming inspiration and instruction by a chain of teachers that stretches back to the early Sufis, new orders continue to be created within this broader framework.

Individual-based orders. A third type of major order is the tariqah that develops as a result of the initiatives and teachings of a later teacher and has its own clear identity. These teachers usually would affirm their ties to earlier teachers and tariqahs, but in some significant ways they would proclaim the unique validity of their particular tariqah. Sometimes this would take the form of an affirmation that the new tariqah. was a synthesis of preceding tariqahs, sometimes the claim for authority would be based on direct inspiration from the prophet Muhammad, in which case the order might be called a tariqah. Muhammadiyah, or from some other special agent of God, for example al-Khidr. Orders of this type have been very important in the modern Muslim world and include the Tijaniyah, the Khatmiyah, and the Sanusiyah.

Shrine tariqahs, Local orders centered on particular shrines or families represent another very important type of tariqah. Teachers with special reputations for sanctity might develop significant followings during their lifetime, but their writings and work might not provide the basis for a larger order to develop. Tombs of such pious teachers throughout the Muslim world have been important focuses of popular piety, and the rituals surrounding the ceremonies of remembrance and homage become a local tariqah. Sometimes these might be indirectly identified with some more general Sufi tradition, but the real impact and identity is local. The special centers of popular piety in North Africa that have developed around the tombs of the “marabouts,” or the various centers of pilgrimage that developed in Central Asia and even survived the policies of suppression by the former Soviet regime, provide good examples of this style of tariqah.

Foundations of the Modern Orders. Many observers have proclaimed the effective end of the Sufi orders in the modern era. A major French authority on medieval Sufism, for example, announced in the middle of the twentieth century that the orders were “in a state of complete decline” and that they faced “the hostility and contempt of the elite of the modern Muslim world” (Massignon, 1953, P. 574). This reflects both the long historical tension between the Muslim urban intellectual elites and the tariqahs, and also the specifically modern belief that mystic religious experience and modernity were incompatible. However, by the end of the twentieth century it was clear that Sufi orders remained a dynamic part of the religious life of the Islamic world; moreover, they were at the forefront of the expansion of Islam, not only in “traditional” rural areas but also in modern societies in the West and among the modernized intellectual elites within the Muslim world. These apparently contradictory views reflect the complex history and development of tariqahs, since the eighteenth century.

There is an underlying continuity of experience in the Sufi orders which provides an important backdrop to specific modern developments. The rituals of popular piety among Muslims-educated and uneducated, rural and urban-cannot be ignored. Although over the past three centuries educated Muslims have paid less attention to the more miraculous and magical elements of saint visitation and other aspects of popular Sufi piety, the intellectual appeal of Islamic mysticism has remained strong, and the sense of social cohesion provided by the Sufi organizations has been important, especially in areas like the Muslim Central Asian societies of the former Soviet Union. Popular participation in regular Sufi gatherings and support for various types of tariqahs, remain at remarkably high levels throughout the Muslim world. Estimates of membership in Sufi orders in Egypt, for example, are in the millions, in contrast to the hundreds or thousands in the more militant Islamic revivalist organizations.

Popular Islamic piety among all classes of people remains strong throughout the modern era and shows little sign of a decline at the end of the twentieth century. This popular piety frequently is expressed in terms of participation in the activities of tariqahs, or other groups reflecting Sufi approaches to the faith. However, the activities of the organizations of this popular piety do not usually attract much attention, despite their long-term importance. This situation provides the proper background for examining the specific experiences of the more visible Sufi orders of the modern era.

The history of tariqahs, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries provides an important foundation for understanding the dynamics of the recent development of Sufi orders. Sufi organizations and leadership from this period remain significant in setting the discourse and defining the issues of Islamic piety in the modern era.

Some modern scholars argue that a number of new initiatives can be seen in the development of the Sufi organizations and thought of the early modern era. Among some Sufi teachers there were efforts to remove the more ecstatic and pantheistic elements of the Sufi tradition and to create more reform-oriented Sufi organizations and practices. Fazlur Rahman called this tendency “neo-Sufism” (Islam, Chicago, 1979), a term that came to be used by other scholars as well. “Neo-Sufism” referred to a mood rather than making any claim that the term represented a monolithic school of Sufi thought. Other scholars have tended to reject the term because it seemed to ignore important continuities in Sufi traditions and also seemed to assume a greater degree of similarity among movements than might exist.

Regardless of the details of the debate, in the eighteenth century the broad spectrum of Sufi orders and practices extended from the local varieties of popular folk religion to a more sober and sometimes reformist Sufi leadership that did not approve of the popular cultic practices. Whether or not one calls the latter approach “neo-Sufism” is less important than it is to recognize that the less ecstatic and more shari`ah-minded Sufism existed and provided the basis for emerging tariqahs important in the modern era. These orders represented a “new organizational phenomenon” of orders that were “relatively more centralized and less prone to fission than their predecessors” (O’Fahey, 1990, p. 4).

In the context of Islamic societies in the eighteenth century, immediately before the major encounter with the modernizing West, Sfifi orders were a significant part of the social fabric throughout the Islamic world. They provided vehicles for the expression of the faith of urban elites, served as networks for interregional interaction and travel, acted as an effective inclusive structure for the missionary expansion of Islam, and in some ways shaped the context within which movements of puritanical reform or spiritual revival developed.

Elite Fariqahs. In the large urban centers in regions where Islam was the established faith of the overwhelming majority of the population, the orders were vehicles for the expression of piety among both the masses and the elites. New presentations of the old traditions, such as the Qadiriyah, Shadhiliyah, and Khalwatlyah, were important in places like Cairo. By the eighteenth century the larger orders of all types were expanding into many different regions.

The history of the Naqshbandiyah in the Middle East provides an important example of this development. It spread from Central and South Asia into Ottoman lands in at least two different forms-that of Ahmad Sirhind! (d. 1625), called the Mujaddid or renewer of the second millennium, and the earlier line of `Ubaydullah Ahrar. By the eighteenth century, notables in the tariqah were prominent in Istanbul and other major Ottoman cities like Damascus, where the great Hanafi mufti and historian Muhammad Khalil al-Muradi (d. 1791) was a scion of a family associated with the Naqshbandlyah. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Shaykh Khalid alBaghdadi (d. 1827) of the Mujaddidi line led a major movement of revival in the lands of the Fertile Crescent; the activities of the Khalid! branch established the Naqshbandlyah as “the paramount order in Turkey” (Hamid Algar, “Nakshbandiyya,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., 1960-, vol. 7, p. 936).

Interregional networks. The Naqshbandlyah also presents a good example of how the orders provided structures for interregional networks among the `ulama’ and commercial classes. Students, pilgrims, and travelers could move from city to city, finding shelter and instruction in the Naqshband! centers. One such person was a Chinese scholar, Ma Mingxin (d. 1781), who traveled and studied in major Naqshbandlyah centers in Central Asia, Yemen, and Mecca and Medina. Combined networks of commercial activities and pious instruction can be seen in the activities of family-based tariqahs like the `Aydarusiyah, the order of an important family in the Hadramawt, the `Aydarus, with branches in the islands of Southeast Asia, India, South Arabia, and Cairo. The lists of teachers of scholars in the eighteenth century show that major intellectual figures often received devotional instruction in broad interregional networks of Sufi masters.

Missionary expansion. Sufi orders had also long been vehicles in the missionary expansion of Islam. The less legalistic approach to the faith of Sufi teachers often involved an adaptation to specific local customs and practices. This helped Islam to become a part of popular religious activity with a minimum of conflict. At the same time, the traditions of the Sufi devotions represented ties to the broad Islamic world that could integrate the newer believers into the identity of the Islamic community as a whole. In this way, orders like the Qadiriyah played a significant role in the expansion of Islam in Africa. In Sudan, for example, its decentralized structure allowed specific regional and tribal leaders to assume roles of leadership within the order. In Southeast Asia, the tariqahs, were also important in providing a context within which existing religious customs could be combined with more explicitly Islamic activities. Thus orders like the Shattariyah became major forces in the Islamic life of peoples in Java and Sumatra. This missionary dimension is visible wherever Islam was expanding in the eighteenth century-in Africa, southeastern Europe, and central, southern and southeastern Asia. [See Da’wah.]

Puritan reformism. Sufi orders also helped to provide concepts of organization for groups actively engaged in efforts to “purify” religious practice and revive the faith. Although the best-known eighteenth century revivalist movement, the Wahhabis, was vigorously opposed to the Sufi orders, most revivalists in fact had some significant Sufi affiliations. In West Africa, the leaders of movements to establish more explicitly Islamic states in Futa Jallon and Futa Toro, in the areas of modern Senegal and Guinea, were associated with important branches of the Qadiriyah. The great jihad at the beginning of the nineteenth century in northern Nigeria and neighboring territories was led by Usuman dan Fodio, a teacher closely identified with the Qadiriyah. At the other end of the Islamic world of the eighteenth century, the “neo-orthodox reformist movement” called the “New Teaching” that “swept Northwest China” in the late eighteenth century was the Naqsh-bandiyah as presented by Ma Mingxin (A. D. W. Forbes, “Ma Ming-Hsin,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., 1960-, vol. 5, p. 850). In many other areas as well, Sufi orders were associated with the development of reformist and jihadist movements of purification.

The developments of the eighteenth century provide important foundations for later events in Islamic life in general and in the history of Sufi orders in particular. It was the Islamic world as it existed in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, not some classical medieval formulation, that encountered the expanding and modernizing West. In those encounters the Sufi orders played an important role, which sometimes does not receive as much attention as the activities of more radical movements or movements more explicitly shaped and influenced by the West.

Sufi Orders in the Modern Era. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the different Sufi traditions were involved in many different ways in helping to shape Muslim responses to the West and also in defining Islamic forms of modernity. At the same time, although in changing contexts, many of the main themes of the older experiences of the orders continue. Among the many aspects of the history of Sufi orders in the modern era, it is important to examine a number more closely: the Sufi orders continued to serve as an important basis for popular devotional life; they were important forces in responding to imperial rule; they helped to provide organizational and intellectual inspiration for Muslim responses to modern challenges to the faith; and they continued to be an important force in the mission of Muslims to non-Muslims.

Popular piety. Tariqahs remained very important in the life of popular piety among the masses; however, this important level of popular devotional life is not as visible in the public arena as the more activist roles of the orders. New orders continued to emerge around respected teachers and saintly personalities important in the daily lives of common people. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century it is possible to identify such orders in virtually all parts of the Islamic world. It is especially important to observe that these new devotional paths were not simply the products of rural, conservative, or so-called “traditional” people.

An example is the career of Qarib Allah Abu Salih (1866-1936), a pious teacher in Omdurman, Sudan, and a member of the Sammaniyah tariqah. an order established in the eighteenth century within the Khalwatlyah tradition. He participated in the Mahdist movement in the late nineteenth century and during the early twentieth century attracted disciples from both the poorer people and the emerging modern educated classes in Sudan. His devotional writings and mystic poetry were published and became an important part of the modern literature of Sudan (Tahir Muhammad ‘Ali al-Bashir, Al-adab al-Sufi ft al-Sudan, Cairo, 1970). The Qaribiyah was not politically active as an organization, although its members may have been politically involved as individuals.

Across the Islamic world, similar groups have emerged as a pious foundation for devotional life in all levels of society. Similarly, intellectuals and professionals as well as the more general population continued in relatively significant numbers to participate in activities of the older established orders. This phenomenon could be observed, for example, in Cairo during the 1960s at the peak of enthusiasm for Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Arab Socialism (Voll, 1992). Although the contexts had changed since the beginning of the nineteenth century, at the end of the twentieth century, new orders which served popular devotional needs continued to be created and to flourish in ways that provide a sense of both great continuity and significant adaptability to changing conditions.

Antiforeign resistance. Sufi orders provided significant organization and support for movements of resistance to foreign rule. This was especially true in the nineteenth century, when many of the major wars against expanding European powers were fought by Muslim organizations that originated with Sufi orders. At the beginning of the nineteenth century in Sumatra, a revivalist movement building on reform activities initiated by the Naqshbandiyah and Shattariyah and possibly inspired by Wahhabi strictness or the teachings of Ahmad ibn Idris, provided major resistance to Dutch expansion in the Padri War of 1821-1838. The strongest opposition to the French conquest of Algeria, which began in 1830, was provided by a Qadiriyah leader, Amir `Abd al-Qadir, whose resistance lasted until 1847. In the Caucasus region, Naqshbandiyah fighters under the leadership of Imam Shamil maintained a holy war against Russian imperial expansion for twenty-five years, ending in 1859. At the end of the nineteenth century, it was a tariqah. leader, Muhammad `Abd Allah Hasan (1864-1921) of the Salihiyah, who led a major anti-imperialist holy war in Somaliland against the British. Sufi orders provided the basis for many other movements of resistance, but these examples confirm that the phenomenon was significant and widespread.

Some other Sufi orders that came into conflict with expanding European imperialism also reflect the development of distinctive, new tariqah. traditions. Perhaps the most important of these orders are those established by followers of Ahmad ibn Idris (d. 1837) and others influenced by this Idris! tradition. Ibn Idris was a north African scholar who taught for a number of years in Mecca; some of his major students established tariqahs, that became important orders throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The best-known of these groups is the Sanusiyah, founded by Muhammad ibn `All al-Sanfis! (d. 1859). This order established centers in North Africa and Saharan areas, with special centers in Libya. It provided stability and regional coordination among nomadic tribes and became very influential in a vast area in northern Africa. As a result, expanding French imperial forces in many Saharan areas contacted and eventually came into conflict with the Sanusiyah in the later nineteenth century. When Italy attempted to conquer Libya in the twentieth century, it was the Sanusiyah that provided the most effective opposition, both during the Ottoman-Italian war of 1911-1912 and following World War I, when the victorious allied powers decided to create an independent Libya, it was the head of the Sanusiyah who was proclaimed Idris I, the king of independent Libya. The Sanusiyah as a Sufi order was tied to the newly created tradition of Ahmad ibn Idris rather than being solely associated with older tariqah. traditions.

Other similarly independent orders which developed in this Idrisi tradition were the Khatmiyah, which became one of the major Islamic organizations in the modern Sudan; the Salihiyah and Rashidlyah, which were important in east Africa; and the Idrisiyah, established by the family of the original teacher. These orders, along with the Sanusiyah, represent a major Sufi tradition in the modern era, especially in Africa. Less directly, teachers influenced by the Idrisi tradition had some impact in southeastern Europe and South and Southeast Asia.

Another independent Sufi tradition developed as a result of the work of Ahmad al-Tijani (d. 1815). The Tijaniyah was an exclusive order that claimed to be a synthesis of major tariqah. traditions inspired and instructed initially by the prophet Muhammad himself. The order became an important force in North Africa but did not get involved in opposition to French expansion in the Mediterranean countries. However, the Tijaniyah expanded rapidly into Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa. Al-Hajj `Umar Tal (d. 1864) organized a major holy war under the Tijanlyah banner in the regions of Guinea, Senegal, and Mali; ultimately his successful movement was restricted and then ended by the consolidation of French imperial control in the region. However, the Tijanlyah was more than an antiforeign movement. It became a major vehicle for intensification of Islamic practice in already Muslim areas and for the expansion of Islam into non-Muslim areas. By the end of the twentieth century, the Tijaniyah had become a major force throughout the Sudanic region.

It is clear that major orders like the Sanusiyah and Tijaniyah which were established in the nineteenth century, were not simply anti-imperialist movements in Sufi form. They represented an important style of cohesive social organization based on the traditions of tangah structures. They were not necessarily alternatives to emerging modern state structures but were autonomous within the developing polities defined as sovereign nation-states. This alternative mode is also seen in the developments of distinctive orders whose self-definition was more closely identified with older Sufi traditions. Thus the Naqshbandiyah suborder established by Said Nursi in Turkey in the twentieth century became an important vehicle for the articulation of a revivalist Islamic worldview in the context of an officially secular state. Similarly, a number of orders provided important foundations for the unofficial, “underground” Islam that was so essential for the survival of the Muslim sense of community in Central Asia under Soviet rule.

Responses to modernity. Sufi orders also were important in helping to shape the responses to the challenges to Muslim faith in the modern era. In the nineteenth century this was more in terms of providing organizational bases for opposition to European expansion and in the direct continuation of the traditions of activist reformist movements such as the Nagshbandiyah. In the twentieth century, tariqahs, reponded to specific needs in a variety of ways. In some countries orders provided the direct organizational basis for modern-style political parties. In Sudan, for example, the Khatmiyah provided the foundation for the National Unionist Party, then the People’s Democratic Party; late in the twentieth century the head of the order was also the president of the Democratic Unionist Party. In Senegal, the Muridiyah provided an organization for the development of cash crops and played an important role in modernizing the agricultural sector of the Senegalese economy. In the days of Soviet communist rule in Central Asia, the popular local tariqahs and the established traditional ones like the Naqshbandiyah provided the framework within which Islamic communal identity could be maintained in the face of the official efforts to suppress religion. In the holy war in Afghanistan after the Soviet occupation in 1979, leaders of established orders like the Qadiriyah and Naqshbandiyah Mujaddidiyah were among the most important organizers of mujahidin groups. These examples affirm the fact that in many different areas, the organizational traditions of the Sufi orders provided important bases for responding to specific challenges.

In the twentieth century, however, the role of the orders was sometimes different. The established tariqahs might seem ineffective in meeting particular challenges of modernity, but the basic structures or the general approach might still provide models for new Islamic revivalist and reformist movements.

Sufism and participation in a reform-minded tariqah was, for example, an important part of the early experience of Hasan al-Banna’ (d. 1949), the founder of one of the major modern Muslim revivalist organizations in the twentieth century, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. As a young man, al-Banna’ was impressed by accounts of the strictness of a Sufi shaykh, Hasanayn alHasafi (d. igio), and became an active member of the tariqah he had founded, the Hasafiyah. Al-Banna’ was involved with the tariqah for twenty years and maintained a respect for this strict style of Sufism throughout his life. It appears to have influenced his organizational thinking in terms of the methods of instruction in his Muslim Brotherhood and the daily rituals required of its members. Another major Islamic activist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood in Sudan, has some similar aspects. Many of its early organizers came from families strongly identified with tariqahs, in Sudan. The most prominent of the leaders in the Sudanese Brotherhood in the second half of the twentieth century is Hasan alTurabi, who came from a religiously notable family whose center was a school-tomb complex of a traditional localized Sufi type. One of his ancestors in the eighteenth century had proclaimed himself to be a Mahdi bringing purification to the Muslims. Turabi emphasized the continuing need for humans to reinterpret the implications of the Islamic faith in changing historical circumstances. In this, one active member of Turabi’s movement noted that “Turabi’s revolution” was a “reaffirmation of the ancient Sufi ethic, with its emphasis on the spirit rather than the letter of Islam” (Abdelwahab El-Affendi, Turabi’s Revolution, London, 1991). The Sufi organizational traditions thus both provided direct means for meeting challenges in modern situations and also helped to inspire new approaches.

Missionary expansion. The Sufi orders continued in the modern era to serve as important vehicles for the expansion of Islam in basically non-Muslim societies. In many areas, this is simply a direct continuation of past activities. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, under colonial rule the Sfifi orders were among the few types of indigenous social organizations that imperial administrators would allow. As a result, they became very important structures both for the expression of indigenous opinion and for the expansion of Islam. It was under colonial rule in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries that Islam was able to make significant advances in areas south of the Sudanic savannas.

More remarkably, the Sufi orders have become important vehicles for Islamic expansion in modern Western societies, where the open inclusiveness and the aesthetic dimensions of the great Sufi philosophies have considerable appeal. Sufi thought was important in influencing nineteenth-century Western intellectuals such as Ralph Waldo Emerson; in the later twentieth century, the writings of Idries Shah became very well known and could be found in bookstores that appealed to popular as well as intellectual tastes. Important Western converts to Islam in the twentieth century were often Sufi in orientation and institutional affiliation. The writings of Martin Lings and his description of the tariqah of the Tunisian Sufi Shaykh Ahmad al-`Alawi are significant examples.

Sufi orders are active organizationally in Western societies. They provide a clearly satisfying and effective vehicle for the expression of religious life and values in modern Western societies and have an appeal among professionals and the general population. The communities established by orders in western Europe and the Americas have been strengthened in the second half of the twentieth century by the significant growth of the Muslim communities through both immigration and conversion. A good example of this tariqah activity is the expansion of the Ni’matullahi order, which by 1990 had centers in nine major cities in the United States, published a magazine, Sufi, and worked with academic institutions in organizing conferences on Sufism. In ways like this, Sufi orders continue to serve as an important means for the modern expansion of Islam.

Challenges and Future Prospects. Throughout Islamic history there have been strong critics of Sufi teachers and organizations. In one of the most famous instances, a medieval mystic, al-Hallaj (d. 922), was executed for proclaiming his mystical union with God in an extreme manner. More literalist and legalist interpreters of Islam have opposed the practices of the Sufi orders as providing vehicles for non-Islamic practices and beliefs. In the eighteenth century, some of the strongest opposition to the tariqahs came from the developing Wahhabi movement. In the modern era, modernizing reformers strongly criticized the orders for encouraging and strengthening popular superstitions, and Islamic modernists attempted to reduce the influence of Sufi shaykhs in their societies.

Such modernist opposition can be seen in actions of reformers throughout the Islamic world. Wherever the Salafiyah modernist movement-which emerged with the thought and actions of late nineteenth-century scholars such as Muhammad `Abduh (d. 1905) of Egypthad influence, there was strong opposition to the popular devotional practices and influence of the Sufi orders. This can be seen in the activities and teachings of `Abd Allah ibn Idris al-Sanusi (d. 1931) in Morocco, the Association of Algerian `Ulama’ organized in the 1930s, the Muhammadiyah in Indonesia throughout the twentieth century, the Jadidist movement within the old Russian Empire, and many other areas. In addition, more explicitly westernizing reform programs attempted to eliminate the influence of the orders, best illustrated in the reforms of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk during the 1920s and 1930s in the new republic of Turkey.

Many observers also thought that as societies became more modern and industrialized, the social functions of the Sufi teachers and their organizations would decline. In the mid-twentieth century, many analyses painted a picture of reduced and possibly disappearing Sufi orders. Despite the opposition and the predictions, however, Sufi orders continue to be remarkably strong in most of the Islamic world and also in communities of Muslims where they are minorities.

The Sufi orders continue to provide vehicles for articulating an inclusive Islamic identity with a greater emphasis on individual devotional piety and small-group experience. The contrast with the more legalist orientation with its emphasis on the community as a whole is a longstanding polarity in Islamic history. It is clear that the great transformations of the modern era have not destroyed the basis for this polarity.

In the changing contexts of the late twentieth century, the traditions of the Sufi orders have special strengths in situations where there is a high degree of religious pluralism. They allow the believer to maintain an individual Islamic devotional identity in the absence of a national or societywide Muslim majority. These traditions also allow for an articulation of Islam in a form compatible with secularist perspectives. Thus Sufism has importance in the non-Muslim societies of Western Europe and North America. In addition, as it becomes clear that it is not possible simply to transfer institutional copies of Western-style associations such as labor unions, political parties, and other nongovernmental organizations, tariqah traditions may provide ways of adapting modern institutions to the needs of emerging civil societies throughout the Islamic world.

[See also Chishtiyah; Idrisiyah; Khalwatiyah; Khatmiyah; Mawlawiyah; Muhammadiyah; Murildiyah; Naqshbandi-yah; Ni’matullahiyah; Qadiriyah; Rifa’iyah; Sanusiyah; Shadhiliyah; Shattariyah; Tijaniyah; and the biographies of `Alawi, Bakka’i al-Kunti, Dan Fodio, Ibn Idris, Tijdni, and `Umar Tal.]


Awn, Peter J. “Sufism.” In The Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 14, pp. 104-123. New York, 1987. Good introduction to the medieval foundations of Sufi beliefs and orders.

SUFISM: Sufi Shrine Culture            117

Baldick, Julian. Mystical Islam: An Introduction to Sufism. New York and London, 1989. Broad historical presentation providing critiques of a number of interpretations of Sufism in the modern era as well as a helpful list of major orders.

Bennigsen, Alexandre, and S. Enders Wimbush. Mystics and Commissars: Sufism in the Soviet Union. Berkeley, 1985. The best source on the experience of Sufi orders under Soviet rule.

Gilsenan, Michael. Saint and Sufi in Modern Egypt. Oxford, 1973. Important analysis of the general issues involved in the development of orders in the modern era, using the Hamidiyah Shadhiliyah as a case study.

Hoffman-Ladd, Valerie. Sufism, Mystics, and Saints in Modern Egypt. Charleston, S.C., 1995. Important study showing the continuing vitality of Sufi organizations at the level of popular religion.

Jong, F. de. Turuq and Turuq-Linked Institutions in Nineteenth-Century Egypt. Leiden, 1978. Careful and detailed discussion of Egyptian orders and their relations with the state.

Lings, Martin. A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century: Shaykh Ahmad al-`Alawi. Berkeley, 1973. Sympathetic presentation showing the basis for the continuing appeal of Sufism in the modern era.

Mardin, Serif. Religion and Social Change in Modern Turkey: The Case of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi. Albany, N.Y. 1989. Study of the experience of a revivalist Sufi tradition in the context of official Turkish secularism.

Martin, B. G. Muslim Brotherhoods in Nineteenth-Century Africa. Cambridge, 1976. Well-documented study of major African activist orders in their historical context.

Massignon, Louis. “Tarika.” In Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam, edited by H. A. R. Gibb and J. H. Kramers, pp. 573-578. Leiden, 1953. An old but still useful summary of the development of the orders, with a long descriptive list.

O’Fahey, R. S. Enigmatic Saint: Ahmad Ibn Idris and the Idrisi Tradition. London and Evanston, Ill., 1990. Very important study of a major tariqah tradition that emerged at the beginning of the modern era.

Schimmel, Annemarie. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1975. Sound and readable presentation of the full range of issues related to understanding Sufism.

Schimmel, Annemarie. Islam in the Indian Subcontinent. Leiden, 1980. Very helpful interpretation giving special attention to the role of the orders in South Asia.

Trimingham, J. Spencer. The Sufi Orders in Islam. Oxford, 1971. The single most comprehensive presentation of the origin and development of the orders.

Voll, John Obert. “Traditional and Conservative Orders.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 52¢ (November 1992): 66-78. Discussion of the more conservative orders and their role in the modern period.


Sufi Shrine Culture


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/sufi-orders/

  • writerPosted On: August 17, 2017
  • livePublished articles: 745

Comments (2)

Most Recent Articles from S Category:

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Translate »