The Tradition of the Sufis

I came across the following post on Facebook. It summarises some important aspects of how Sufism as a minoritarian embodied tradition relates to Islam.

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If there’s a particular aspect of Sufism that stands in marked contrast to mainstream Sunni Islam, it is the role of a teacher, as the reflection of prophetic light, a living conduit of God to the seeker.

The correctness of such a notion is not something I am qualified to dispute. I’m neither a Muslim nor a Sufi.

However, I’d argue that the Quran does not lend itself easily to such a privileging of the teacher. Teacher-as-light interpretations of the Quran (of the imam mubeen as a human) are not a natural fit, they are an artificial reading (and, in this sense, are similar to the readings of the Quran I’ve offered up here, albeit more boring.)

Islam was not written down with the idea of further “seals”, despite what ibn Arabi declared. It was defined as a spatio-temporal lock, a sealing from which no personality other than the Quranic “you” can escape. Because that’s how the author saw himself.

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6 thoughts on “The Tradition of the Sufis

  1. A hyper-literal reading like yours will of course clash with the accepted natural meaning. After all, the torah is hardly like what the zohar describes but it didn’t stop them and shouldn’t stop you.

    1. I’d argue (now, in retrospect) that the context is different, re Kabbalah and Islam.

      The Zohar was received into a tradition that embraced hyper-reading – hyper-reading was part of the DNA of the religion of Moses de Leon. And arguably that derives from a hyper-authorship which began centuries back, at least at the Song of Solomon and the story of Esther, at least at the redaction of the twin Genesis.

      The Quran is clearly authored by one person – there’s no hyper redaction, it’s too consistent with one man’s vision.

      The Torah is many voices – and interpretation comes naturally. The Quran – even when it is metaphoric – is one man’s voice, a voice over which interpretation is not only unnatural, but often antagonistic (particularly to those who embody/reflect the Prophet).

      Does this antagonism stop me from reading the Quran, in the same way I might read Torah? In a way, yes.

      I’m aware of the fact that for about 30 years, I had never experienced true hatred and anger directed at me, prior to meeting Muslims. Islam opened that door of experience to me: and the origin lies not in fallible religious practitioners, but in the religious essence of Muhammedean antagonism to an “other” voice.

  2. If you don’t mind me asking did your views on the difference in context between the Kabbalah and Islam change after you were exposed to this hatred and anger?
    Does the hatred privelige their reading above yours? I mean, you say that the zohar follows a tradition and thus has a natural place, doesn’t the tailor’s doctrine follow ibn arabi and a viable tradition aswell?

    1. Z: If you don’t mind me asking did your views on the difference in context between the Kabbalah and Islam change after you were exposed to this hatred and anger?

      T: Yes, of course – the journey is experiential and my science is empirical. And of course hatred only means something to the hated, if the hated loves the hater. So the exposure was also to myself.

      Z: Does the hatred privilege their reading above yours?

      T: Yes, because their hatred is genetic, bodily.

      There is consistently a moment of inexplicable hatred, in the interaction I’ve had with Muslims. First there’s friendship, family visits, dinner parties, the usual stuff. They get to know me, understand that I’m a bit off the wall, with esoteric ideas. Seem to accept that, seem to listen to what I’ve got to say, putting it down to the different perspectives of Islam. Then – out of the blue – they explode with anger. In some instances, the Muslim comes back to me and apologises, saying they couldn’t control it, it was like a wave.

      What’s happening here is a physical, allergic reaction to my presence within the ummah. The ummah is a body formed over centuries, whose temporal veins pump blood from the originary heart, one man, one voice, the Seal of Prophecy.

      Islam is a body, and I’m an alien to it: the Islamic reaction is physical. The body is unmentioned in naive mysticism, but is understood as central in traditions such as Tantra (and also Islam). When people convert, it’s often triggered by physical events (marriage, a near fatal car crash). When religious people are most excited spiritually, the body is the trigger (movement of the body in prayer, the sight of a kuffar in a miniskirt, the shooting of a school girl, the ritual cutting of the flesh in a rite, etc).

      This physical aspect does privilege their reading over mine: in the sense that Tailorism is also a body, and my reading has the same implications for that body, as their reading has for their body. They are different bodies – incompatible species – hence hatred.

      Justified hatred – because initially I infiltrated their body and masqueraded as one cell amongst many.

      Consider this: a Muslim has learnt prayer from a teacher, via physical initiation. And that teacher learnt it via physical initiation. A chain of tutorials going back to one man. In my case, I taught myself how to pray after studying a PDF on the Internet.

      Z: I mean, you say that the zohar follows a tradition and thus has a natural place, doesn’t the tailor’s doctrine follow ibn arabi and a viable tradition aswell?

      T: There is a tradition of Sufism – different from Islam. Another religion, really. I’ve also got hatred and anger from Sufism – again because I’m alien to it.

      For example, I’ve never read ibn Arabi! And never been physically initiated into a Sufic group. So the Sufis are correct when they call me non-representative and tell me to remove references to Sufism from this blog.

      I just met an entity I called Muhammed (in my mind) and the rest followed …

  3. I would agree with you that the ummah is a real organism and that what you represent is alien. It makes me wonder however, why the likes of Ibn Arabi did choose the vehicle of Islam for their vision, for, in the end it was a choice.
    I think perhaps they may have found that while Islam was the perfect system of tropes to awaken the Shekhinah within Muhammad and thus exclusive to him, there was an entire vocabulary available to them within which to mould their own teachings. And perhaps this is even the point. As the zohar says “a river flows down from eden”, there is reception before creation, you take a worldview and then you enliven it.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is, yes Islam is a real body but perhaps you are also a member of a real body, a body represented by the likes of the sufis and the kabbalists and that it is the nature of this body to infiltrate and to work from within a garment.

    1. I think it was a choice, but a different choice. Are we born into garments, or into bodies that are garmented? The Zohar talks about the robe of days, the garment you weave through your thoughts, deeds, readings. I like that, the idea that there’s a body, and a reading that is formed over it.

      But I’d like to conflate the two aspects as well. That the body is linguistic, its DNA is a language. And the garment is a biomaterial, a genetic fetish fashioned out of the body, to cover it in crystallised totems. What Luria refers to as Partzufim are instances of this (for my garment anyhow).

      You are born into a world view, a language-body. Ibn Arabi was born into a Muslim language-body, chose to stay within that body, to weave his bio-garment over it, from it. Arguably, even if he left Islam, he’d still be weaving a garment over a Muslim language-body, an ex-Muslim body.

      I wasn’t born into that body. While ibn Arabi was memorising surahs as a boy, I was memorising the synopses of Doctor Who seasons and eating bacon and eggs for breakfast. So for better or worse, any garment I weave out of Islamic DNA is colonial, orientalist body-snatching, a meta-fetish.

      A number of Muslims have called me an appropriating colonist in the past – it kind of hurt at the time, the way the truth often does 🙂

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