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20. Sufism in Egypt today


									Sufism through Ethnographic Eyes

    Women in contemporary Egyptian Sufism
       Intro: what is ethnography?

• How is the ethnographic approach to Sufism distinct
  from that of other types of material we have read?
• How does Hoffman become involved with Sufism
  during her stay in Egypt?
• What surprised you about Hoffman’s experiences with
  Shaykh ‘Izz al-Hawari?
            Framing her argument
• Sufism dead in the modern world? Pure Sufism only
  in the past
• the critique of Islamic modernism (Abduh, Rida)
• the critique of the Muslim Brotherhood (despite
  Banna’s own formation as a Sufi)
• State regulated Sufism: the Egyptian Supreme
  Council of Sufi Orders
• Two Sufisms?
             Sufism in Egypt today

• how many Sufis? 3-5 million? 50% of the population?
  What does it mean to be a Sufi? Tasawwuf as just
  religiously observant
• all social classes
• contrast category of darwasha
• an alternate social world? A spiritual underworld? How to
  explain the difference between Hoffman and Gilsenan?
      The importance of classical authors

• al-Qushayri (d. 1072)

• al-Ghazali (d. 1111)

• al-Makki (d. 909)

• Ibn ‘Arabi (d. 1240)

• But above all the importance of oral instruction to make
  sense of the literary heritage
The presence of the past, the reality of
      the mystical experience:
“Here were people who ranged from illiteracy to only
modest education but who nevertheless were aware of
the great early Sufi saints and quoted Sufi poetry
allegedly composed by them. They openly defended
such controversial Sufis as al-Hallaj (d. 922) and Ibn
‘Arabi (d. 1240) and embraced a lifestyle that mocked
the materialistic concerns and obsession with social
status that characterized so many of their countrymen.
Although they lauded the spread of education, they
emphasized that no amount of book learning could
substitute for divine illumination.” (Hoffman, Sufism,
Saints, and Mystics in Modern Egypt, 30)
  Women in Modern Sufism in Egypt

• No official presence of women in Sufi Orders

• Yet a strong female presence in practice, attendance at
• The importance of female Shaykhas and spiritual
                The Nature of Sufism
“Often, in my conversations with Sufis who did have personal spiritual
experience and sufficient awareness to be able to articulate what
Sufism meant to them, they were reluctant to speak. The question
“What is Sufism?” was confusing to some, because the meaning of
Sufism was too vast to answer in a succinct fashion. When I changed
the question to “What is the essence of Sufism?” I sometimes heard the
answer, “That is a secret,” or “You would never be able to understand.”
Many Sufism feel keenly their separateness from the broader society,
and the deep spiritual truths they believe they have experienced are
secrets, not meant to be revealed to society at large, both because of the
fear of persecution (one shaykh said,” If you say the truth openly, they
will accuse you of unbelief”) and because it is assumed that the truth
must be experienced before it can be understood.” (Hoffman, Sufism,
Saints, and Mystics in Modern Egypt, 33-34)
          The meeting with her Shaykh
“‘Amm Amin suggested, “Let’s see if Shaykh ‘Izz is here.” At that
very moment Shaykh ‘Izz appeared at the door . . .He immediately
welcomed us in. Later I learned that ‘Izz regarded it as a sign of
divine guidance and spiritual connection between that he appeared
at the door just as we were about to pass the mosque . . . Shaykh
‘Izz claimed that Khidr had pointed out to him the place where he
was to build his mosque, although the location had been a garbage
dump . . . The essence of Sufism . . . is morals and self-denial . . .
On ‘Izz spoke, erasing any doubt I might yet have entertained that
true Sufism still existed in Egypt . . . Months later he went much
further, telling me that at that first encounter he had seen the lights
of God descending upon me, and his spirit responded to this, so
that he spoke to me openly and under inspiration (ilham).”
(Hoffman, Sufism, Saints, and Mystics in Modern Egypt, 34-35)
                  Teacher and disciple
“A shaykh and his disciple should always have such a preformed
affinity; a natural mutual attraction is considered a prerequisite for a
proper shaykh-disciple relationship. In this sense, ‘Izz and I
conformed to the pattern that was expected of a shaykh and his
disciple. Although I never became a true disciple of his —indeed
that was impossible without my conversion to Islam—’Izz came to
hope and even expect that ultimately we would experience the
spiritual connection that typifies a good shaykh-disciple relationship.
Although ‘Izz believed that Muhammad was the only gateway to
God, in contemporary Egyptian Sufism it is “annihilation” in the
shaykh, effected through intense love and identification with the
shaykh, that brings a person into the Prophet’s presence. ‘Izz hoped
this would occur with me . . . Being a practical man, however, ‘Izz
also checked with friends who worked in state security to see what
information they had on me, to make sure his spiritual discernment
was not incorrect.” (Hoffman, Sufism, Saints, and Mystics in Modern
Egypt, 36)
       Women and Sexuality in Sufi thought

• women as spiritual mothers, as Sufi leaders in the
  informal Sufi networks
• “Sufi attitudes toward women are bound with a
  perspective on the nature of spirituality and sexuality that
  sets them off from other Muslims. This perspective has
  deep roots in Sufism and must be situated in the broader
  context of the position of women in Islam and Sufi
  tradition.” (Hoffman, Sufism, Saints, and Mystics in
  Modern Egypt, 227)
       Ambivalent attitudes towards women

• fear of sexual temptation

• female Sufi saints such as Rabi’a classified as men

• asceticism with its wariness regarding sex

• the presence of women as spiritual guides and leaders

• women’s roles in Sufism influenced by their social class
  Ibn ‘Arabi’s view of women and sex
“In his major work, The Meccan Revelations, he states, “I used to
hate women and sex at the start if my entry into this path.” he
continued this way for eighteen years, until he came to
contemplate the hadith in which Muhammad says, “Three things
have been made beloved to me in this world of yours: women,
perfume, and prayer.” He noted that Muhammad’s love for
women did not spring from his own nature, but he specifies that
God had made them beloved to him. Ibn ‘Arabi writes, “I feared
God’s wrath, for I hated what God had made beloved to his
Prophet.” He asked God to remove this hatred from his heart,
and his prayer was answered.” (Hoffman, Sufism, Saints, and
Mystics in Modern Egypt, 235)
         Ibn ‘Arabi’s view of sex (II)
“When a man loves a woman, he desires sexual union with her,
because there is “no greater union that between the sexes.” The
goal of the Sufi is to be annihilated in God, in order to achieve
union with Him. Iin sexual intercourse, the man is annihilated in
the woman, says Ibn ‘Arabi, but this is in fact a type of
annihilation in God. The ritual washing that is required after
intercourse is a total purification of his desire, for God is jealous
that man should desire any but Him. This purification by ritual
ablution enables man once again to behold God in the woman.
Yet, he says in The Meccan Revelations, if a gnostic’s passion is
divine and not carnal—that is, if his attachment is to God and not
to a temporal being—then no purification is needed. It is not the
act that is polluting but carnal desire, or “seeing oneself” instead
of God . . . Sexual union imitates God’s relationship with man. It
is a sacred act because it corresponds to God’s manifestation in
the forms of the cosmos.” (Hoffman, Sufism, Saints, and Mystics
in Modern Egypt, 236-37)
           But how is this relevant?

• do Ibn ‘Arabi’s views reflect Sufi practice in Egypt?

• control of the body within sex, not the fulfillment of
  desire, is seen as the direction taken by Sufis who
  experience sex spiritually
• here again, Muhammad is seen as a model to follow
       The limits of redefining gender
“As honored guests, Shaykh ‘Izz and I were escorted to Ahmad
al-Tuni’s own bedroom and told to sleep there. There were two
large beds and a couch. I slept in one bed, Shaykh ‘Izz on the
couch, and we left the main bed for our host, leaving the door
open and instructing his wife to tell him he was free to enter.
However, when our host joined us for breakfast the next morning
he informed us that he had no slept in his bed because he had
been told that a woman was in there. But he added, “Had I
known it was a dervish, I would have come in.” This incident not
only underscores the relaxation of rules permissible among Sufis
alone, but also let me know that I had attained the status of a
dervish in his eyes!” (Hoffman, Sufism, Saints, and Mystics in
Modern Egypt, 251)

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