Friday, May 30, 2008

In the Ocean of God

By Jorg Luyken, "Mystical transcendence" - The Jerusalem Post - Jerusalem, Israel
Friday, May 23, 2008

During sunset, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari, a leading adherent of Sufism, worships on the roof of the Naqshabandi order's school for meditation on the northern edge of the Aksa complex in Jerusalem.

Sheikh Atallah Nasser, the reciter at the Aksa Mosque, joins him in prayer. As the two men bow forward in unison, the wavering call of the muezzin pierces the air.

Later in the evening Bukhari, dressed in robes and shrouded in a thick fog of incense, takes a seat outside. Nasser begins to sing Sufi songs, while fellow adherents, including the imam of the Dome of the Rock, beat drums and clash cymbals.

The image is one of a religious sect that manages to combine solemnity and joyousness.

Sufism is often lauded as the moderate face of Islam, and here in Israel the Naqshabandi Sufi order advocates interreligious tolerance and places a great emphasis on fostering feelings of love.

Some Sufis argue that this tolerant spirit is fostered by a divine connection to other mystical movements, which transcends the religion from which they are derived and commentators are optimistic that it will come to overtake more fundamentalist approaches to the Koran, such as Wahhabism.


(...)

"Sufism," Bukhari says, "is based on worshiping God, not because we are ordered to worship God, but because we love God. A strong connection to Sufism makes you love everything in existence, love humankind and love the things which God ordered us to do."

In a typically enigmatic metaphor, he adds that the highest attainment of Sufism is to "swim in the ocean of God," meaning that the mystic becomes completely immersed in God's presence.

"Because you are uniting yourself with God, all your actions and thoughts are aimed at Him."

This leads to results one might not normally associate with Islam. Bukhari, who sees himself in a family heritage dating back to the ninth-century scholar Ismail al-Bukhari, is a member of Jerusalem Peacemakers, a group which aims to establish interfaith tolerance.

Respect for other religions, he says, is essential to Sufism.
"There is a saying [in the Koran] that you are not a believer unless you love for others what you love for yourself. From this, Sufism established love among religions."

His work with the Jerusalem Peacemakers means that he is in contact with rabbis who also get involved in outreach groups. One of the group's more recent projects has been to decorate the partition wall between Israel and the West Bank with posters of Muslims and Jews from the same professions pulling faces for the camera. On the wall near Bethlehem, Bukhari can be seen wearing a fake beard next to his friend Eliahu Maclean.

There is a school of thought, often termed "perennialist," which says that this capacity for religious outreach, which Sufism seems to display, comes from a divine connection to mystic traditions from other religions.

Rabbi Menahem Froman, a kabbalist who lives in Tekoa, where he teaches the Zohar, like his Muslim counterpart in the Old City emphasizes the importance of unity to religious experience. He explains that the Zohar, Kabbala's integral text, attempts to find a "covenant" between man and God through rejecting the false temptations of the "Tree of Knowledge" and embracing the "Tree of Life."

(...)

Dr. Avraham Elqayam is professor of mysticism at Bar-Ilan University. He has an attachment to Sufism which clearly goes beyond the academic. He himself has meditated with Sufi sheikhs and he explains that the actual practice of mysticism is an integral part of his course.

"I can tell you what an apple looks like, I can tell you its shape and color, but I can never tell you how it tastes," he says. "You must taste it yourself to find that out. It is the same with mysticism."

(...)

Froman says, with a wily smile, that he is a Jew in the sense that he believes in the power of the prophets, but he's not a Jew in the sense that he doesn't share in his people's hubristic notion of being God's chosen people.

Elqayam, meanwhile, argues that God does not have a religion. He claims that when you break through the confines of self-awareness, you stop thinking in terms of man-made concepts such as religion. As he points out, Sufism shares this history of rejecting religious constraints.

(...)

However, Dr. Jonathan Garb of the Hebrew University, says that while the spiritual connection between different forms of mysticism is important, a certain amount of Sufism's influence on Jewish mysticism was a result of cultural strains in societies where Jews were a minority faced with the pressure to conform.

Garb also claims that it is generally impossible to view mysticism outside of the context of its own religious tradition and that it would thus be naive to view mystics as connected to one another rather than to their own religions.

"As the aim is often the performance of God's will through practice," he says, "it is hard to differentiate between aims and practice. For example, much of kabbalistic meditation is on the regular Jewish prayers. This is an example of how the kabbalistic path is embedded within a wider religious context."

Garb also warns against seeing Sufism as the pluralistic and accepting face of Islam, or of drawing this conclusion about mystics in general. "There is no reason to assume that mystics are more or less tolerant of other faiths than other religious persons," he says. "Ibn al-Arabi, heralded as a universalist, forbade Muslims to dwell under non-Muslim rule and opposed a peace treaty with the Christians."

(...)

Although many Sufis see mystical experience as something indescribable, there are notable exceptions. Dhul Nunal-Misri (d. 861) espoused the doctrine of irfan - direct knowledge of the divine, and was subsequently arrested by Caliph Mutawakkil. Even more controversially, Al-Hallaj (d. 922) pronounced "I am God," and ultimately paid with his life.

What mystics see as a profound utterance of a man's unity with God, Islamic clerics saw as a man putting himself forward as a false idol.

According to an article on ww4report.com, Sufism has been in this conflict with mainstream Islam since its inception, but it has now been thoroughly defeated by fundamentalism. "The fundamentalists today," it says, "attack the surviving Sufis, seeing their struggle as a unified jihad against both imperialism and heresy."

The oppression is ongoing. In November the Associated Press reported that dozens of Sufis of the Nematollahi-Gonabadi order, which has had an increasingly uneasy relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran's clerical regime, were shot and wounded by police. Their lodge was reported to have been bulldozed to the ground.

Meanwhile, the article argues that Sufism has lost popular support to fundamentalism, because it preaches a form of universalism which is now associated with the West.

"All over the Islamic world, the disaffected flock to Wahhabism and related doctrines as the alternative to the corruption of official leaders and their supine stance before imperialism and globalization," it claims. "

And because imperialism and globalization have appropriated the mantles of secularism, pluralism, tolerance, universalism - these are also being rejected. This final reality has much to say about why it is Wahhabism rather than Sufism that now provides the wellspring of resistance."

[Picture: Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari in his Jerusalem Old City home. Photo: Jorg Luyken].

1 comment:

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Friday, May 30, 2008

In the Ocean of God
By Jorg Luyken, "Mystical transcendence" - The Jerusalem Post - Jerusalem, Israel
Friday, May 23, 2008

During sunset, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari, a leading adherent of Sufism, worships on the roof of the Naqshabandi order's school for meditation on the northern edge of the Aksa complex in Jerusalem.

Sheikh Atallah Nasser, the reciter at the Aksa Mosque, joins him in prayer. As the two men bow forward in unison, the wavering call of the muezzin pierces the air.

Later in the evening Bukhari, dressed in robes and shrouded in a thick fog of incense, takes a seat outside. Nasser begins to sing Sufi songs, while fellow adherents, including the imam of the Dome of the Rock, beat drums and clash cymbals.

The image is one of a religious sect that manages to combine solemnity and joyousness.

Sufism is often lauded as the moderate face of Islam, and here in Israel the Naqshabandi Sufi order advocates interreligious tolerance and places a great emphasis on fostering feelings of love.

Some Sufis argue that this tolerant spirit is fostered by a divine connection to other mystical movements, which transcends the religion from which they are derived and commentators are optimistic that it will come to overtake more fundamentalist approaches to the Koran, such as Wahhabism.


(...)

"Sufism," Bukhari says, "is based on worshiping God, not because we are ordered to worship God, but because we love God. A strong connection to Sufism makes you love everything in existence, love humankind and love the things which God ordered us to do."

In a typically enigmatic metaphor, he adds that the highest attainment of Sufism is to "swim in the ocean of God," meaning that the mystic becomes completely immersed in God's presence.

"Because you are uniting yourself with God, all your actions and thoughts are aimed at Him."

This leads to results one might not normally associate with Islam. Bukhari, who sees himself in a family heritage dating back to the ninth-century scholar Ismail al-Bukhari, is a member of Jerusalem Peacemakers, a group which aims to establish interfaith tolerance.

Respect for other religions, he says, is essential to Sufism.
"There is a saying [in the Koran] that you are not a believer unless you love for others what you love for yourself. From this, Sufism established love among religions."

His work with the Jerusalem Peacemakers means that he is in contact with rabbis who also get involved in outreach groups. One of the group's more recent projects has been to decorate the partition wall between Israel and the West Bank with posters of Muslims and Jews from the same professions pulling faces for the camera. On the wall near Bethlehem, Bukhari can be seen wearing a fake beard next to his friend Eliahu Maclean.

There is a school of thought, often termed "perennialist," which says that this capacity for religious outreach, which Sufism seems to display, comes from a divine connection to mystic traditions from other religions.

Rabbi Menahem Froman, a kabbalist who lives in Tekoa, where he teaches the Zohar, like his Muslim counterpart in the Old City emphasizes the importance of unity to religious experience. He explains that the Zohar, Kabbala's integral text, attempts to find a "covenant" between man and God through rejecting the false temptations of the "Tree of Knowledge" and embracing the "Tree of Life."

(...)

Dr. Avraham Elqayam is professor of mysticism at Bar-Ilan University. He has an attachment to Sufism which clearly goes beyond the academic. He himself has meditated with Sufi sheikhs and he explains that the actual practice of mysticism is an integral part of his course.

"I can tell you what an apple looks like, I can tell you its shape and color, but I can never tell you how it tastes," he says. "You must taste it yourself to find that out. It is the same with mysticism."

(...)

Froman says, with a wily smile, that he is a Jew in the sense that he believes in the power of the prophets, but he's not a Jew in the sense that he doesn't share in his people's hubristic notion of being God's chosen people.

Elqayam, meanwhile, argues that God does not have a religion. He claims that when you break through the confines of self-awareness, you stop thinking in terms of man-made concepts such as religion. As he points out, Sufism shares this history of rejecting religious constraints.

(...)

However, Dr. Jonathan Garb of the Hebrew University, says that while the spiritual connection between different forms of mysticism is important, a certain amount of Sufism's influence on Jewish mysticism was a result of cultural strains in societies where Jews were a minority faced with the pressure to conform.

Garb also claims that it is generally impossible to view mysticism outside of the context of its own religious tradition and that it would thus be naive to view mystics as connected to one another rather than to their own religions.

"As the aim is often the performance of God's will through practice," he says, "it is hard to differentiate between aims and practice. For example, much of kabbalistic meditation is on the regular Jewish prayers. This is an example of how the kabbalistic path is embedded within a wider religious context."

Garb also warns against seeing Sufism as the pluralistic and accepting face of Islam, or of drawing this conclusion about mystics in general. "There is no reason to assume that mystics are more or less tolerant of other faiths than other religious persons," he says. "Ibn al-Arabi, heralded as a universalist, forbade Muslims to dwell under non-Muslim rule and opposed a peace treaty with the Christians."

(...)

Although many Sufis see mystical experience as something indescribable, there are notable exceptions. Dhul Nunal-Misri (d. 861) espoused the doctrine of irfan - direct knowledge of the divine, and was subsequently arrested by Caliph Mutawakkil. Even more controversially, Al-Hallaj (d. 922) pronounced "I am God," and ultimately paid with his life.

What mystics see as a profound utterance of a man's unity with God, Islamic clerics saw as a man putting himself forward as a false idol.

According to an article on ww4report.com, Sufism has been in this conflict with mainstream Islam since its inception, but it has now been thoroughly defeated by fundamentalism. "The fundamentalists today," it says, "attack the surviving Sufis, seeing their struggle as a unified jihad against both imperialism and heresy."

The oppression is ongoing. In November the Associated Press reported that dozens of Sufis of the Nematollahi-Gonabadi order, which has had an increasingly uneasy relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran's clerical regime, were shot and wounded by police. Their lodge was reported to have been bulldozed to the ground.

Meanwhile, the article argues that Sufism has lost popular support to fundamentalism, because it preaches a form of universalism which is now associated with the West.

"All over the Islamic world, the disaffected flock to Wahhabism and related doctrines as the alternative to the corruption of official leaders and their supine stance before imperialism and globalization," it claims. "

And because imperialism and globalization have appropriated the mantles of secularism, pluralism, tolerance, universalism - these are also being rejected. This final reality has much to say about why it is Wahhabism rather than Sufism that now provides the wellspring of resistance."

[Picture: Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari in his Jerusalem Old City home. Photo: Jorg Luyken].

1 comment:

Air Setitik Community said...

Please visit us at http://airsetitik.tk