Sufism and Islamic Reform in Egypt: The Battle for Islamic Tradition

Sufism and Islamic Reform in Egypt: The Battle for Islamic Tradition

Sufism and Islamic Reform in Egypt: The Battle for Islamic Tradition

Sufism and Islamic Reform in Egypt: The Battle for Islamic Tradition

Synopsis

The tension between tradition and reform in the Arab world is one of the most urgent and problematic issues of today. The Sufis of Egypt are one of the most important sects in the Islamic world. Using material recorded at Sufi gatherings over the last five years, this book presents a contemporary, balanced study of their attempts to reform Sufism from within and maintain its traditions in defence of hostile criticism.

Excerpt

Sufism (taṣawwuf) is the term which designates the inner, experiential aspects of Islam. It is often translated as 'Islamic mysticism', a term which presents certain methodological difficulties to the researcher. Perhaps the greatest of these is how one might sum up, in a manageable definition, those realizations which take place in the inner reaches of religious experience.

As the inner dimension of Muslim worship, Sufism can be said to be the essence of Islam. However, in attempting to understand this essence from the outside, we are bound to rely on observable phenomena; whilst these can provide a great deal of information about the lives and sayings of Ṣ+ūfī's, their ritual gatherings, and their relations with others, they cannot supply us with a Ṣūfī's experiential knowledge (ma'rifa) of God. To be precise, such experience is absolutely personal, being the Ṣūfī's own realization of Absolute Truth, a knowledge of which defies rational expression, let alone communication to others.

Despite this formidable difficulty, or perhaps because of it, Sufism has caused considerable interest throughout most of the history of Islam. It has always been a controversial issue. Exoteric authorities have accused the Ṣ+ūfīs of neglecting the formal, ritual aspects of Islam, whilst many Ṣ+ūfīs have argued their own defence in terms of orthodoxy. Not surprisingly, definitions for Sufism abound in such a discourse. To locate and present Sufism, to define it in relation to recognized concepts such as asceticism, moral integrity, upright behaviour, or the refinement of character has been the concern of scholars for as long as the word itself has been known. In the Islamic world, it is rare to find a book or newspaper article which does not preface its discussion of this subject with an attempt to define Sufism as the equivalent of one or more of these terms. Yet the sheer variety of definitions cannot only be explained by their authors' concern for methodological rigour. Sufism as personal, inward-looking piety, the way towards . . .

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