Sufism and Politics Research Proposal

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¶ … interconnection between Sufism and political rulers during the period ranging from the Almoravid dynasty (year 1040) until the colonial period (1912-1956). To this end, this paper provides a review of the peer-reviewed and scholarly literature to develop an analysis concerning how Sufism became politicized in Morocco and an examination of the activist or rebellious Sufism who railed against the political state as well as acquiescent Sufists who cooperated and were used by the state. In addition, a discussion concerning the causes that lead Sufism to be co-opted by the state and how it was accomplished, and those that pushed the Sufis to be oppose the state is provided, together with an assessment of how these events transpired. A discussion concerning several specific Sufi orders in Morocco including the Tijani order, the Derqaoui order, the Kettani order, and the Qadiri order is followed by a discussion and a summary of the research and salient findings that are presented in the conclusion.

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Research Proposal on Sufism and Politics Assignment

The past millennium has been an eventful and frequently violent period in the history of Morocco as first one and then another foreign power sought to rule the Moroccan people and exploit its resources. According to Combs-Shilling (1991), "At the height of its power, Morocco extended its dominion over much of the western Mediterranean; it ruled into Spain and Iberia in the north, Mauretania in the south, and the Libyan desert in the east" [see map at Appendix a] (661). In 788 CE, approximately 100 years following the conquest of North Africa by Arabs, successive Moorish dynasties ruled in Morocco (Morocoo 2009). Arab domination of Morocco persisted for the next eight centuries until the 16th century, when the Sa'adi monarchy, especially under Ahmad Al-Mansur (1578-1603), managed to expel the foreign invaders and the period the followed is regarded as a golden age in Moroccan history, but this period would only last two centuries or so before Morocco once again fell under the sway of foreign invaders (Morocco 2009). For example, Spain occupied northern Morocco in 1860 thereby introducing 50 years' of competitive trade with various European powers that resulted in a gradual but relentless erosion of Moroccan sovereignty; in 1912, France acquired Morocco and designated it a protectorate (Morocco 2009).

The next half century would witness the Moroccan people waging an on-again-off-again effort to regain their independence and by 1956, they managed to secure their sovereignty from France and achieve independence (Morocco 2009). These eventful episodes in Morocco's history contributed, perhaps, to a mindset that has combined mystical Islam with militant views when it comes to foreign occupiers. In this regard, Hammoudi notes that, "At the heart of Moroccan culture lies a paradigm of authority that juxtaposes absolute authority against absolute submission. Rooted in Islamic mysticism, this paradigm can be observed in the drama of mystic initiation, with its fundamental dialectic between Master and Disciple; in conflict with other cultural forms, and reelaborated in colonial and postcolonial circumstances" (1997, vi).

The Islamic mysticism referred to above relates to Sufism. In this regard, Ahmed advises that, "Most Western scholars define Sufism as the spirituality of Islam or the mystical version of Islam. It is thought to be the inward approach to Islam that emerged and flourished in the non-Arab parts of the Islamic world" (2008, 233). According to McManus (1999), "The ascetic Persian faith of Sufism, like other mystical religions, seeks union with God or the Divine. The first Sufis were followers of the prophet Mohammed. They would sit outside the mosque on a platform, or suffe, and listen to him. Following his example, the Sufis sought to lose all sense of self and become united with God" (p. 35). In their first step toward illumination, neophyte Sufis would first be cleansed in preparation to receive their teachings and then would be introduced to a spiritual master who served them a special meal and assigned a personal zekr, or chant (McManus 1999). The initiates were then taught the specific acts that formed the path to the Divine; these specific acts consisted of meditation, the invocation of God's name, and contemplation (McManus 1999). While Sufism was primarily descended from Islam, it also assimilated various teachings of other religions and beliefs, borrowing from such groups as the Pythagoreans, Hermetics, and Buddhists (McManus 1999). Although fundamentally devoted to the union with God, over time the various Sufi orders would become actively involved in the political events swirling around them in North Africa and beyond as various Sufi leaders sought to liberate Morocco from Western colonialists or by allying themselves with the ruling monarch at the time and acceding to the protectorate in ways that would be used by the powers-that-be to help maintain the status quo. As to the former, Schwartz (2003) asserts that, "There are pious and sober Sufis, and rebellious, ecstatic Sufis. Although most advocate for peace, they do not preach surrender to aggression" (37). As to the latter, Hammoudi notes that during the 1930s, some Sufis allied themselves with the ruling monarch and the protectorate in direct defiance of the nationalist groups railing for independence at the time.

Like Saladin before him, one Sufi leader in the former tradition was "Abd al-Qadir al-Jazairi, the leader of the Algerian Muslim struggle against the French during the mid-19th century. According to Schwartz, "Abd al-Qadir al-Jazairi was a Sufi who made protection of Christians and Jews his outstanding mission in times of war. The greatest Arab jihad fighter of his time, he wrote that Sufis found participation in jihad the most difficult duty they incurred as Muslims. Yet war is not the only means by which activist Sufism contributes to struggles for freedom" (37). Indeed, the Sufi leadership was keenly aware of the powers that were arrayed against them as well as their own limitations in combating them and some sought alternatives to outright warfare to oust their foreign occupiers. In this regard, Azra (2006) advises, "Sayyid Uthman's opposition to Sufism may in one way or another have been influenced by Snouck Hurgronje's fear of activist or rebellious Sufi brotherhoods. Snouck Hurgronje makes no secret of his fear of political repercussions for European rule created by such tariqahs [Sufi brotherhoods or oders] as Sanusiyyah in North Africa" (p. 269).

The activist of rebellious aspect of some Sufi orders was used by various leaders over time, though, to mobilize forces against European colonizers throughout the Moslem world (Azra 2006). Nevertheless, the historical record contains scholarly accounts of these activist and acquiescent Sufis as well as narratives of the saints of their various orders. According to Green, "Competition narratives have long existed in the Islamic world. In such narratives the Muslim holy man (generally though not exclusively cast as a Sufi) variously competes in the performance of miracles with the figure of a Hindu, Buddhist, shamanic, or Christian holy man" (2004, 221).

An early Western observer of Sufism in Morocco emphasizes the importance and mystical practices of saints in the Sufi religion: "The cult of these saints has given rise to two of those unpleasant fraternities, under which are united almost all the low classes of Morocco -- taifas -- madmen and neurotic persons, who work themselves into a frenzy by a succession of songs, dances, and religious cries, ending in a paroxysm of religious ardor, which enables the Aissaoua to eat all sorts of horrible things, the Hamadsha to receive the heaviest weights on their heads, and Droughiyin to slash their skulls with hatchets" (Aubin (1906, 346). Notwithstanding the Sufi practices that appeared bizarre to Westerners, the "religious ardor" that the Sufi religion inculcated was successful in mobilizing the faithful to overthrow one powerful foreign occupier after another. Moreover, the Sufis in Morocco were faced with a Moroccan king who was analogous to the Pope for Roman Catholics and who claimed to be a direct descendant from the Muslim Prophet Mohammed and bore the distinguished title of Amir al Mouminine ("Commander of the Faithful"); the king was and is both the spiritual and temporal leader of Morocco (Howe 2005). There were some distinct differences, though, in the approaches used to deal with the leadership that was in place at Morocco at any given point in its history from the Sufi's perspective, with some orders believing that a direct confrontation with foreign invaders was appropriate while others appear to have been used by the state to maintain their power and these various orders are discussed further below.

The Tijani Order.

The Tinaji order was an early incarnation of Sufism that emerged about 700 years ago. According to Morgan, "In the seventh century (thirteenth century a.D.) Timbuktu was the center of Islamic culture. Five centuries later Muslim expansion received a new impetus with the founding of Sokoto State and the subjugation of the major portion of Western Sudan with the help of the Moroccan Sufi brotherhood, the Tijani order" (1958, 80-81). As Esposito (1999) notes, Ahmad al-Tijani (1737-1815) was another North African scholar who established an important tradition of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Sufism and Politics.  (2009, August 26).  Retrieved February 25, 2021, from

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"Sufism and Politics."  26 August 2009.  Web.  25 February 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Sufism and Politics."  August 26, 2009.  Accessed February 25, 2021.