Philsophy, Religion, and Science: Realm of the Saint: Power and Authority in Moroccan Sufism

By Homerin, Th Emil | The Middle East Journal, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Philsophy, Religion, and Science: Realm of the Saint: Power and Authority in Moroccan Sufism


Homerin, Th Emil, The Middle East Journal


Realm of the Saint: Power and Authority

in Moroccan Sufism, by Vincent J. Cornell.

Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1998. xliv

+ 285. Notes to p. 361. Bibl. to 383. Index to

p. 398. $50 cloth; $19.95 paper.

Walaya and wilaya are central to Vincent Cornell's meticulous study Realm of the Saint. Both words have been translated loosely as "sainthood," but Cornell distinguishes between the terms to highlight fundamental aspects of Muslim sanctity in Morocco from the 11th through 16th centuries CE. In this North African context, an individual's wilaya (private intimacy with God) could lead to walaya (his public authority in the world). These two dimensions are complementary, and Cornell demonstrates convincingly that activism was integral to Moroccan Islam.

Cornell constructs a detailed history of Sufism and sainthood in Morocco, derived largely from hagiographical works, and he argues that early notions of sainthood were linked to the paradigmatic salih, or "virtuous person," normally associated with establishing a consensus oriented Sunni Islam in the urban areas. Similarly, the rural ribat served as a teaching center of "Sunni internationalism" and Sufism, albeit with a distinctive local stamp as individual ribats and, later, Sufi orders, forged close links to particular tribes or ethnic groups. The role of many saintly figures, then, was that of "both a tribal arbitrator and an Islamic imam" (p. 48). Cornell notes that sainthood and Sufism were "normal aspects of premodern Islam" (p. 94), and generally accepted by jurists. This Sunni flavor was accentuated by biographical and hagiographical works which promoted an acceptable saintly paradigm. Quantifying 316 hagiographical notices, Cornell draws a sociological profile of formative Moroccan Sufism and sainthood. This analytical section offers few surprises, though it supports earlier observations regarding the pious, proactive, and educated urban orientation of many saintly individuals. Yet, as Cornell admits, "one of the purposes of the hagiographical anthology was to provide a `theology of behavior' that was consistent with the values of...Sunni internationalists" (p. 108).

Cornell goes on to plot the route of Sufism and sanctity in the 13th-15th centuries, which were marked by the proliferation of the tariqas or Sufi orders. He profiles several pivotal figures, including Abu Madyan (d. 1198), whose doctrines attest to the strong socially active futuwwa tradition of "Sufi chivalry" in North Africa.

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