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Exploring Charisma in Sufism: Saints, Sainthood & Pilgrimage


In this session, we will explore sainthood in the Sufi tradition Essays! 1. Recap 2. Prophets & Saints 3. Defining Saints and Sainthood 4. Saints in Literature 5. Pilgrimage


Recap Hierarchical understandings of God, Creation & Humanity Different layers of faith: Islam, Iman & Ihsan Different ways of knowing: exoteric (zahir) and esoteric (batin) Sufism as the science (`ilm) of Ihsan and Batin Purification of the self (tazkiyat al-nafs) through spiritual discipline and knowledge

An Important Tradition
Whosoever shows enmity to someone devoted to Me [wali], I shall be at war with him. My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks...

An Important Tradition
... Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him, and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it. I do not hesitate about anything as much as I hesitate about [seizing] the soul of My faithful servant: he hates death and I hate hurting him Recorded in al-Bukhari

Wali is the primary term for saint in the Sufi tradition When I love him...: union with the divine? My servant draws not near to Me...

Stages of the Spiritual Journey

1. 2.

Spiritual development often conceptualised as an eternal journey to and then in God Understood to consist of two distinct elements Stations: maqamat (sing. maqam) States: Ahwal (sing. hal) Stations achieved through human effort and discipline; psychological stages; stability Ahwal are passing states and are the gift of God That is, they are not under the control of the individual themselves Greatly elaborated in Sufi thought; a kind of spiritual map See examples on Blackboard Saints are those who have already traversed this terrain

Prophets & Saints

Prophets & Saints

Finality of Muhammads prophethood (based on Quran 33:40) becomes an important Muslim doctrine quite early on Questions of legacy & legitimacy: Who has the right to lead the community after Muhammads death? Who are the true heirs to Muhammads spiritual authority? Emerging Sunni and Shi`i communities develop different answers to these questions Sunni focus on companions of Muhammad (sahaba) and scholarly elite (ulema)

Prophets & Saints

Shi`ite emphasis on authority of Muhammads family (Ahl al-Bayt) and the Imamate Ali ibn Abi Talib (Muhammads cousin & son-inlaw) as the first infallible Imam (literally, guide) Gradual development of fixed doctrinal positions Sufi tradition developed its own ideas of postprophetic religious authority Scholarly learning and the charisma of Muhammads family acknowledged But, Muhammads legacy open to all who successfully undertake spiritual journey In other words, the saints (awliya) are Muhammads true heirs

Prophets & Saints

Doctrinal impact of finality of Muhammads prophethood Relationships between saints (awliya) and prophets Most Sufi authors rank prophets above saints This hierarchy expressed in explicit and implicit terms Explicit: see diagram Implicit 1. Revelation: prophets = wahy; saints = kashf 2. Miracles: prophets = mu`jizat; saints = karamat

Nur-i Muhammad
According to a number of Sufi writers, the Light of Muhammad the first thing to be created One prophetic tradition has Muhammad say: I was a prophet when Adam was between water and clay Thus, Muhammad is the spiritual essence of prophethood Sahl al-Tustari (died c.896CE) early representative of these ideas Influences exegesis of a number of Quranic passages: 21:107; 33:46; 53:13-18 Saints partake of Muhammads light/charisma?

What is Charisma? Collins English Dictionary as:
1. a special quality or power of an individual making him capable of influencing or inspiring large numbers of people. 2. A divinely bestowed power or talent

Max Weber one of the first theorists to explore charisma Inherently personal, does not derive from popular will, overthrows traditional structures The social dimension of charisma Baraka grace, blessing; a person, object or place specially blessed by God

The Descent of Baraka


Muhammad Ali The Awliya (Saints) Muslim Community at large (Ummah)

Defining Saints and Sainthood

Defining Saints & Sainthood

Id like to start this section with a song! Qawwali tradition of South Asia A song in praise of 12th century mystic and saint Mas`ud Farid al-Din Also known as Baba Farid (Father Farid) and Ganj-iShakar (Storehouse of Sugar). Excellent summary of sufi ideas about saints and sainthood Performative context also another important We will return to music in the Sufi tradition next week So, it will be useful to watch this video again before then Allah, Muhammad, Char Yaar See handout for lyrics

Defining Saints & Sainthood Questions: What image of saints does this song portray? What do they do?
The Story of Moses and Khidr Spend 2 minutes reading through this short text In groups, what is this story about? Who is this mysterious teacher of Moses? How does he teach Moses? What are his conditions?

The Story of Moses and Khidr Sufi tradition identifies this enigmatic figure as Khidr Literally meaning, the Green one) Legendary figure: immortal, appearing whenever someone is in real need Possessor of hidden knowledge (ilm alladunni). Often used in Sufi teaching, especially to describe the proper relationship between master and disciple

Defining Saints & Sainthood

Earlier scholarship saw Islamic sainthood through the lens of Protestant Christianity Thus, practices reminiscent of Catholicism were criticised as degraded More broadly, see Orientalism: A Reader Sainthood as a definition a useful starting point though replace angels as the intermediaries between God and humanity, and have a relationship with God that reduplicates the patronage network of society; this raises the possibility that they can intervene with God on behalf of the believer (Ernst, 1997) The key term for saint in Islam is Wali and we will look at this term more closely now

Arabic words formed from three letter roots These word roots offer important insights into significant concepts Wa-la-ya to be very near to any one, either as kindred or neighbours (Penrice, Dictionary and Glossary of the Koran) Wali (plural awliya): near, a friend, patron, benefactor, helper, protector God is described by the Quran as al-Wali (meaning Guardian, or Protecting Friend); see 2:257; 3:150 The friends of God [awliya] for them there is no fear, neither do they grieve (10:62) Mawla (plural mawali): lord, companion, protector, a patron or a client; a master or a servant He whose mawla [leader and guardian] I am, Ali is also his mawla Wilaya (guardianship) is an absolutely essential term and concept

Links with Shi`a Islam As demonstrated by the Shi`i testament of faith (shahadah): There is no god but God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God and `Ali is the wali of God Guidance Allah is the Wali of those who believe. He brings them out from darknesses into the light (2:257) Love and emotional attachment Tawalla to turn backto adopt or choose any one as a friend More broadly, repentance The Awliya embody these qualities, as friends of God and thus in some sense, as intermediaries Members of the divine court

Spiritual Hierarchy A number of traditions refer to a developed spiritual hierarchy among the awliya The authenticity of some of these traditions has been debated through the centuries That is, there are gradations within this class of elevated human beings The following diagram illustrates this hidden hierarchy

The Hierarchy of Saints*

1 Qutb (Pole)

Hidden axis of the spiritual world; supreme vice-regent; heir of Muhammad

3 Nuqaba (Deputies) 4 Awtad (Pegs) 7 Abrar (Righteous Ones) 40 Abdal (Substitutes)

Consciously aware of their role in spiritual hierarchy; and of each other

300 Akhyar (Those of Goodness) 4000 Awliya (Saints)

Known only to God; unknown to themselves and others

* First advanced by al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi, becoming part of mainstream Sufi ideas; sytematised by Ibn Arabi

Saints in Literature

Saints in Literature
Recap Charisma as a social force Baraka as divine grace inherent in certain places, objects and people Spiritual Hierarchy Allah Muhammad Ali Saints The Hierarchy of Saints Saints as members of divine court and thus intermediaries Saints as successful spiritual travellers Teaching functions In Sufi literature, saints play these roles and more Indeed, charisma is often embodied in literature Hagiography, apologetic works, poetry all attempt to embody baraka

Saints in Literature
Readings By yourself, spend 5-10 minutes reading through the material I have given you What are the saints doing in these documents? What roles do they play? What functions do they perform? What are these texts about? In groups, compare your answers


Pilgrimage an important element of Islam: the Hajj Visiting Muhammads grave in Medina is another important practice Both believed to possess baraka Sufi shrines are believed to possess a similar kind of power Though theorists were generally careful to rank this below that of prophets Ziyara literally, visitation Visiting tombs of dead saints Seeking intercession, healing, aid Visiting graves of masters of individual lineages an important practice saints are therefore embodied in the social landscape A controversial practice, especially today Growth of an apologetic literature

Further Reading
Geaves, R (2000), The Sufis of Britain : an exploration of Muslim identity, Cardiff: Cardiff Academic Press Buehler, A F (1998), Sufi heirs of the Prophet : the Indian Naqshbandiyya and the rise of the mediating sufi shaykh, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press Birnbaum, L & Lenzer G (1969, eds.), Sociology and Religion: A Book of Readings, New Jersey: Prentice Hall Inc. Eisenstadt, S N (1968, ed.), Max Weber on Charisma and Institution Building: Selected Papers, London: University of Chicago Press Ernst, C. W. (1997), The Shambhala Guide to Sufism, Boston, Mass.: Shambhala Publications (especially Chapter 3) Friedmann, Y (2003), Prophecy continuous: aspects of Ahmadi religious thought and its medieval background, New York : OUP Macfie, A L (2000), Orientalism: a Reader, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Malik, J. & Hinnels, J. (2005), Sufism in the West, London: Routledge Curzon

Further Reading
Meri, J (2002), The cult of saints among Muslims and Jews in medieval Syria, Oxford: OUP Metcalf, B D (1984), Moral Conduct and Authority: The Place of Adab in South Asian Islam, Berkeley: University of California Press Mojaddedi, J A (2001), The biographical tradition in Sufism, Richmond: Curzon Press Qureshi, R B (1986), Sufi Music of India and Pakistan, New York: Cambridge University Press Radtke, B (1999), The Concept of Wilaya in Early Sufism in Lewisohn, L (1999, ed.), The Heritage of Sufism Volume I, Oxford: Oneworld, 483-496 Renard, J (2004, trans.), Knowledge of God in Classical Sufism, New York: Paulist Press

Further Reading
Renard, J (2008), Friends of God: Islamic images of piety, commitment, and servanthood, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press Rozehnal, R T (2007), Islamic Sufism unbound : politics and piety in twenty-first century Pakistan, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan Schimmel, A. (1975), Mystical Dimensions of Islam, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press Schimmel, A (1985), And Muhammad is His Messenger, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press Turner, B S (1974), Weber and Islam : a critical study, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Weismann, I (2007), Naqshbandiyya: orthodoxy and activism in a worldwide Sufi tradition, London: Routledge Werbner, P (2003), Pilgrims of love : the anthropology of a global Sufi cult, London : Hurst Werbner, P & Basu, H (1998, eds.), Embodying Charisma: Modernity, Locality and Performance of Emotion in Sufi Cults, London: Routledge Westerlund, D (2004, ed.), Sufism in Europe and North America, London: Routledge Curzon

Sufi Devotional Music

Songs in praise of the awliya form a very important part of Sufi music Here are some further relevant examples Turkish Sufi Music Example 1: Mevlevi Naat-i Serif Pakistani Qawwali Music Example 1: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan - Shahbaaz Qalandar Example 2: Sabri Bros - Shabaz Qalandar