August 20, 2008
I spent two days learning about Sufism at a conference last week at the Institute of Southeast Asia Studies – jointly organised with the Department of Malay Studies, NUS. It was truly fascinating, from someone who knew little to nothing of its teachings. A mystical spirituality is taught, that transcends systematic or regulated religion. The Wahabiyah movement would be typically opposed to Sufi teachings, since the former preaches more regulated practice of Islam. In fact, some even argue that Sufism is not Islam.
Neverthless, there also exists tarekah, which means a more organised version of Sufism. This comes in the form of groups that meet regularly. The tasawuf is a movement in reaction to the tarekah. Indonesia has little mushroomings of Sufi groups, although they may not necessarily be called Sufistic in nature. (Since it was a Western term to begin with..)
What was interesting to me was the political dimension of Sufism. The West has been looking to Sufism as an alternative to radical extremist Islam, which is both good and bad. Good, because it is true that Sufism does not preach violence nor hatred. In fact at the heart of it lies love. But it is bad because the only way to counter terrorism through Sufism is to have a systematic response – when Sufism is predicated on non-systematic faith. As a result, you may get a secret society-type movement that is overly reliant upon one leader alone. You know, like how Christian types can get all crazy over a charismatic leader (just because he can speak well and repeats himself five times over).
Prior to this, I’d only read about Maimun and Layla’s story – and the beauty of longing and desire after something so intensely felt – this is the longing of a human after God, it was argued.
I still know very little, but people have been messaging me with little bytes of knowledge. The conference was good since it exposed me to the philosophical ideas of Islam, and finally some good solid Arab music (from Yemen) finished it off nicely.
Although Sufism is not debated widely in Malaysia, I think it would be an interesting idea to discuss it vis-a-vis the Wahabi standards that we currently practice today. Just a thought to simmer in the mind.
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