Thursday, 2 March 2017

** FATHER FRANK’S RANTS Rant Number 716 2 March 17 WAR ON THE SUFIS

Use this area to offer a short teaser of your email's content. Text here will show in the preview area of some email clients.

Who would harm a mystic? A spiritual devotee, whose aims are meditation, ecstasy, absorption into the Divine? Yet an ISIS suicide bomber in Pakistan last month slaughtered over 90 Sufi mystics and injured hundreds. People praying at the Sindh shrine of saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. It was an act of war. Savage and indiscriminate. Waged on innocent civilians. By Muslims on fellow Muslims. An ongoing war - last November 52 mystics had been killed at another shrine - a terror whose end is not on sight.

The Qalandari Sufis - wandering, ascetic beggars - date back to the tales of the One Thousand and One Nights. Some say their Order is extinct but followers of Sheikh Lal Shahbaz feel him as a living, uplifting presence. When the bomb - a beastly device, packed with ball bearings - went off, the worshippers were doing dhaamal. A Sufi percussive dance and song akin to that of the whirling dervishes. Aimed at inducing a trance-like state. Direct communion with God. Violent Salafis, affiliated to al-Qaeda and the Caliphate, consider Sufis and their riotous music types of polytheism and unbelief. Deserving death. Their close-minded scholars issue the appropriate, odious fatwas. Murder and mayhem follow.

There are many millions of Sufis worldwide. Organised in tarikats, brotherhoods, presided over by a master or sheikh. Disciples owe him complete obedience. Dodgy? Not all that different from old-fashioned Catholic Orders like Dominicans or Benedictines. The Abbot’s wishes are normative for the monks. Of course, monastic rule has to be in harmony with Church’s teachings. Problem: mainline Sunni Islam has no Pope-like figure. Hence the power of Sufi sheiks can challenge orthodox Islam. Example: a Malamatiya master from North Africa told a student to marry a harlot. For self-abnegation. Is direct union with God really achievable via shameful deeds, plunging into sin and evil?

Undeniably, the dhaamal dance betrays the influence of native, African musical traditions. Descendants of black slave converts exist in Sindh. Thus that boo-word, syncretism - a merging of disparate elements - surfaces in many Sufi practices. Justified moral ground for hurting or slaying the adepts? At Christmas, when I prayed at the Martyrs Catholic Church in Marrakesh to the joyful, frenetic rhythms of Nigerian songs, I saw nothing essentially pagan or un-Christian about it. Not my style, perhaps, but so what? One man’s meat…Why not the same with Sufis?

Sufis should not be unduly idealised, mind you. They are not all cuddly, loving and other-worldly. On the contrary, many of the tarikats are militant, bellicose and war-like. The Mahdi of Sudan, who besieged Khartoum, killed General Gordon and raised a dervish army against the British, came out of Sufism. Mystical sheiks gave French and Italian colonialists in North Africa a hard time. Likewise, the Turkish Mevlevi Order was integral part of the Ottoman military machine. Sufis are also powerful in the Caucasus, with their formidable Chechens warriors fighting the Russians and in the ranks of ISIS. Sweet, Gandhi-like pacifists many Sufis are not.

The medieval Salafi scholar Ibn Taymiyya gets cited as the fountainhead of juristic opposition to Sufism. His pet hatred was the Andalusian mystic Ibn Arabi – rightly nicknamed the Supreme Sheikh. Ibn Arabi’s esoteric doctrine of the Unity of Being disgusted Ibn Taymiyya. He accused his adversary of having seduced the poet Rumi into pantheism: ‘You claim to find Allah everywhere? It follows there is no difference between the Creator and his creation. Do you then see God in a dog, a hog, piss and dung?’ He also asserted that Ibn Arabi’s ideas had perverted another Sufi into fornicating with his own mother and sister. Huh! If Ibn Taymiyya had been familiar with Christian Gnosticism he could have mentioned a dupe called Carpocrates. Similarly hoodwinked into embracing evil as a path to God. Further, had he read Plato’s Parmenides, he might have discovered the key to a proper understanding of Ibn Arabi’s teaching on evil.

Remote theological disquisitions? Not when they reverberate on, or determine, the bloody battles now unfolding within Islam. The Pakistan massacre happened partly because of such diatribes. Politicians and the media tend to pit an almost monolithic and aggressive entity called ‘Islam’ against a liberal, democratic and tolerant West. It’s vital to stress that many or most of the victims of the Islamic State’s version of Islamism are Muslims of a different persuasion. Like the Sufis. It is indicative of the fanatics’ sectarian ferocity that they butcher innocent Muslims in Pakistan as ruthlessly as they murder Christians in Egypt or in Paris and Nice.

Is there a cure? Western voices call for an Islamic ‘reformation’ in answer to the violent onslaught. Sensitive writer Christopher De Bellaigue, in his The Islamic Enlightenment, documents ample evidence for that in Islamic history. But, if so, ‘infidels’ cannot be credible as the chief promoters. To advance such a project – if really desirable - only Muslims could be taken seriously. It is an intra-Islamic task. Nor should the fraying European liberal paradigm be assumed as the necessary template of the reformers. Sufis, whether whirling in spiritual frenzy or lost in quietistic contemplation, remain rooted in their classic Muslim faith and practices. I can’t see them dying to imitate occidental Zeitgeist fads like feminism, animal rights and compulsory sex education for 4 years old kids. Indeed, I hope they won’t.
Revd Frank Julian Gelli


** follow on Twitter (Twitter Account not yet Authorized)
| ** friend on Facebook (#)
| ** forward to a friend (

Copyright © Fr Frank Gelli
Email Marketing Powered by MailChimp
** unsubscribe from this list (
| ** update subscription preferences (

No comments: