Sufis Under Fire in Macedonia

Damage from an arson at the Harabati Baba teqe, a Sufi Muslim religious complex in Tetova, Macedonia. Photo: Bektashi Community of Macedonia

Stephen Suleyman Schwartz is author of The Two Faces of Islam: Saudi Fundamentalism and Its Role in Terrorism (2002) and The Other Islam: Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony (2008). He is the Executive Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism.

As an informed global media audience should know, traditions of pluralism that were long established in Islamic statecraft, law, and public institutions today face a mortal threat from adherents to radical, fundamentalist interpretations of Sunni Islam. The latter mainly comprise Saudi-financed Wahhabis, who masquerade as “Salafis,” and South Asian Deobandis, who support the Taliban. In the Balkans, the front line between Sufism and Wahhabism runs through the Albanian- and Muslim-majority – and in the past, Sufi-identified – city of Tetova in eastern Macedonia.

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New Media = New Dynamics?

Amir Ahmad Nasr, aka Drima from The Sudanese Thinker blog, recently created a project exploring new media—a source of information that altered his life many times. From fundamentalism to heartbreak and disillusionment, and finally to his current spiritual practice of Sufism, Nasr says he was greatly influenced by the internet and the different kinds of religious resources that he read throughout his Islamic spiritual development.

His new project, The Future of Islam in the Age of New Media, highlights the perspectives of 60 academics, scholars, and bloggers on how access to new media has shaped Islam and Muslims around the world. While most contributors see the internet as a “democratizing force,” some warn of the dangers that arise with equal access and speak about the potential hazards of providing a platform for anyone and everyone to offer their voice. Continue reading

Travelogue: Sufi Shrines in Linxia, China’s “Little Mecca”

Yu Baba Gongbei in Linxia Photo: David Dettmann

In summer 2010, David Dettmann, Assistant Director of the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin, traveled to the Hui heartland in central China to collect material for his course Islam in China. The following is about his experience in Linxia, sometimes called China’s “Little Mecca,” in Southwestern Gansu Province.

When I arrived at Linxia’s bus station, I liked the town immediately. It was obvious upon leaving the bus station that there is a hearty mix of people in Linxia, practicing different faiths and speaking different languages. There were Tibetan monks (likely in transit from the nearby Labrang Monastery in Xiahe), Hui (Chinese-speaking Muslims of various backgrounds), Han Chinese, Salar (Turkic-speaking Muslims), and the Santa and Bonan peoples (Mongol-speaking Muslims). Linxia, formerly known as Hezhou, is located in today’s southwestern Gansu Province, and is sometimes called China’s “Little Mecca” due to its important role in the spread and development of Islam in China. It is a central location in China’s Muslim heartland, part of a broader region that spans from Eastern Qinghai Province in the West, across Gansu and Ningxia, that straddles the borderlands of many historical powers: Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian, and Turkic. The largest concentrations of China’s Hui communities—China’s largest Muslim group—are located in this region.

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What is the Qur’an?

Arabic script from a 14th century Iraqi Qur'an Source: British Museum

This coming Wednesday, February 23rd, University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Anna Gade will speak with Jean Feraca about Islam’s most important text–the Qur’an. A scholar of Sufism and Qur’anic recitation, Professor Gade has also done extensive work on the Indonesian island of Java where she studied eco-Islamic grassroots movements.

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The Real Deal on Sufism

Dervishes, Konya, Turkey

Islamic extremists have one thing in common with many American media outlets: they don’t understand what Sufism is. Often referred to as “liberal Islam,” even major reputable news sources attempt to boil down an integral part of Islamic tradition into a single, ambiguous word. A growing number of Islamic extremists accuse Sufis of idol worship, or shirk, and have recently taken to violence, destroying Sufi shrines and killing Sufi worshipers in the name of purifying Islam. These extremists understand neither Sufism nor Islamic law justifying the killing of humans, and are part of an increasingly large group of both non-Muslims and Muslims that characterize Sufism in a way that benefits them.

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Peaceful Coexistence or Heretical Practice?

Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai, India

Manhattan’s Lincoln Center recently housed The Manganiyar Seduction, a musical  performance with multiple interfaith elements. Last week, 36 Sufi Muslim Musicians from the Indian state of Rajistan offered New York the traditional sounds of their Manganiyar culture. A formerly nomadic group that lives in both India and Pakistan, the Manganiyar’s folk music praises God. Performances often begin with the seeking of a blessing from the Hindu God Krishna. Many Manganiyar also celebrate aspects of Holi, a Hindu holiday observed by a number of faith traditions in India, including other Muslim groups.

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Poetry Festivals and TV Shows

The Dubai International Poetry Festival was held the first week of March as a way to open the eyes of the world to poetry and increase global interconnectedness. The festival is significant in a larger religious struggle against fundamentalism and cultural repression in the region as well. Poetry is part of a debate of whether the arts are permissible expressions of worship in Islam.

Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, has in fact a long and vibrant tradition of poetry, music, and dance. The sufi poet Rumi may sound familiar to foreign ears, for instance. For this reason, sufi tombs are often important cultural epicenters of Muslim communities and have become symbolic of a centuries-long conflict with fundamentalists who have literal understandings of the Koran and want to repress mystical traditions, sometimes violently.

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