Q: What is your opinion of the theory that Sufism has its roots in the Ancient Egyptian Kemetic religion?
The Tailor: The connection to Egypt has been documented in the Holy Books in the journeys of the Prophets, in particular, those of the Prophets Abraham, Joseph and Moses.
More obscurely, it goes further back still, to the Prophecy of Idris and the Divine origin of the writing of signs.
These are Prophets of Islam and inasmuch as Sufism “is” Islam, there
is within it a direct connection, a root in Egypt (though not a central root because the tree of life is a rhizome).
But as Sufism is also all about deconstructing assumptions, before pursuing this line of inquiry as Sufis, we also need to question what “cultural and religious practice” is, what “having roots in something” means and what “Egypt” is!
Yes, I was asking more from a historical perspective of lineages and origins of practice, rather than actual Sufi spiritual metaphor.
The Tailor: The Hermetica is a safe place for you to start with if you wish to be remain, for the moment, conservative in your investigation. The recent CUP translation is excellent.
The authors you refer to, however, are somewhat less conservative and perhaps even disingenuous. We might argue that they have conflated a “spiritual” perspective with an “historical” one but are either unaware of or insincere to this fact. The insincerity would source from the utilization of a particular objective-historical position to empower an essentially spiritual perspective. All the while with the implicit distinction between history and spirituality remaining unquestioned! This is a problem if you are seeking Truth, because ultimately no one understands the (shifting) grounds of power over which they are playing a game.
You have brought to light a good example, because a lot of standard Muslim Prophetic biographies fall into the same trap.
You see, history is itself a pretty slippery thing.
To assume a difference between historical/objective narrations and a spiritual/personal belief system is problematic. The very possibility of the two perspectives is rooted in a kind of Western Enlightenment subjectivity and have been effectively discounted within (the hipper kind of) cultural studies departments for quite a while (though a Sufi could have told us that in a flash).
Historical narratives of religious origins are, in particular, are implicated within a form of spirituality: they are alternative creation mythologies. Imagine if someone were to claim “Islam derives from practices of the Egyptians, based on the following external evidence relating to practice, ablution, prayer timing, cats, liturgy, etc”. To frame the religion in such a way necessarily requires the overdetermination of an inner realm of the “spiritual”, one that is separate, fixed, delimited and distinct from the evidential, archeological discourse of history. Islamic practice has a personal, spiritual meaning for the Muslim — but that is separate from the objective, archeological/historical origin of the practice. The inner practice and its beliefs (particularly those relating to their own revelatory origin) are necessarily dependent on faith and consequently fixed as dogma, while the outer exploration of origins are individually free and scientific. The spiritual realm is an inner space that is not permitted overlap with the historical: it is, in fact, this threat of overlap that maintains the possibility of a historical discourse, the essential repressed source of power for any kind of historical narrative or archeology of Islam’s origins.
And conversely, this form of spirituality that is itself a product of the assumptions about the function of history.
Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with demarcation of spaces of investigation. However, when we paradoxically turn archeology onto itself, we find that the current spiritual/objective distinction is comparatively recent relation to doing religious history. And it is important to, at least, note the dependence of history’s objectivity on an ontology of the mind and body: the objectivity does not stand on its own in isolation, but constitutes a means to power/control that is utterly rooted in what might be called a particular regime of signs formed by suppressing/overdetermining/ignoring/interiorizing spiritual perception. Rooted in Egypt, to put it in Sufi terms.
All religious historical investigation is dependent on the suppression of an Islamic perception that Western Enlightenment’s historical subjectivity itself constitutes a kind of Egypt that, paradoxically, can be entered into, and come down from (as the Prophets did), in order to earn wealth but also to gain exodus from.
Harold Bloom recognizes these problems in his Book of J, where he undertakes an ironic re-imagining of the Torah’s origin: an acknowledgement that history is also a form of literature and, further, a Gnostic misprison.
Bloom has also given an amusing defense of Freud, with his psychohistorical reimagining of Moses as a Pharonic, non-Jewish priest who introduces an original monotheism from Egypt to the polytheist Israelites — who then in turn murder him and cover up the deed with the Torah. Subhanallah. But maybe it might provide another, more sincere (!) source to your investigation, everyone ought to at least read it. After all, all history is psychohistory: the question then is on the psychology of the historian.
But from a postcolonial perspective, even better than Freud, why not go totally wild in creating a mythopoeic historico-spiritual assemblage, via the Nation of Gods and Earth, the music of Sun Ra into the apotheosis of George Clinton’s Cosmic “Parliament” of the Afronaughts, complete with its own Egyptian origin story (we note incidentally that Clinton knew his Leibniz, monadology being the undercurrent of his art):
Funk upon a time In the days of the Funkapus
The concept of specially-designed Afronauts
Capable of funkatizing galaxies
Was first laid on man-child
But was later repossessed
And placed among the secrets of the pyramids
Until a more positive attitude
Towards this most sacred phenomenon, Clone Funk,
Could be acquired
(we want the funk, give up the funk)
There in these terrestrial projects
It would wait, along with its coinhabitants of kings and pharoahs
Like sleeping beauties with a kiss
That would release them to multiply
In the image of the chosen one: Dr Funkenstein.
And funk is its own reward.
May I frighten you?
—George Clinton, “Prelude,” The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein.