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Discuss the challenges Sufism has faced in the modern Muslim world

Discuss the challenges Sufism has faced in the modern Muslim world

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Michael Dwyer. Originally submitted for Arts at None, with lecturer Dr Oliver Scharbrodt in the category of Philosophical Studies & Theology
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Michael Dwyer. Originally submitted for Arts at None, with lecturer Dr Oliver Scharbrodt in the category of Philosophical Studies & Theology

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 30, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
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Discuss the challenges Sufism has faced in the modern Muslimworld.
 
2
The challenges posed to Islam in the modern world have been many and varied coming notonly from forces outside of Islam but also from inner Islamic challenges. Since the earlymodern period in particular the Muslim world sought to reform Islam in response to thosechallenges. The resultant reform movements commonly focused their attentions on themysticism and beliefs of the Sufi orders which have at various intervals been accused of being excessive, quietist, and anti-modern. But if we scratch beneath the surface of the anti-Sufi discourse it is possible to discern that attempts to discredit Sufism were in fact anattempt to undermine the religious, social, and political authority exercised by charismaticSufi
shaykhs
.In the eighteenth century the impending encroachment of western colonial powers elicited asense of decline in the Islamic community. This notion of decline instigated the
Wahhabism
 renewal movement within Islam, which sought to restore
Islam to its ‘Golden Age’; an age
when Islam was thought to be at its ideal state at the time of Muhammad and the rightlyguided caliphs. This attempt at renewal stimulated a movement which sought to re-adjustSufism as a movement within Islam as a whole, a movement which manifested itself in avariety of 
tariqas
such as the
Tijaniyya
,
Khatmiyya
,
Sanusiyya
,
 Rashidiyya
,
Salihiyya
, and
 Dandarawiyya
.
1
The term neo-Sufism has been applied to the impact of this reformmovement by Fazlur Rahman (d. 1988) who asserted that this inner Islamic reform wasinstigated under pressure from orthodox Islam which sought to strip Sufism of its ecstatic andmetaphysical character and content,
2
but also to address its hierarchical structure, and thedisparate nature of its
tariqas
.The metaphysical character of Sufism was viewed by Islamic reformers as being excessive.The popular Sufi practice of visiting the tombs of Sufi saints was viewed as being a
1
Rex O’Fahey,
Enigmatic saint: Ahmad ibn Idris and the Idrisi tradition
, (London, 1990), p. 1
2
Ibid, p. 2
 
3
distraction from the worship of God, and Sufi claims of attaining union with God werequestioned by reformers, asserting that ordinary human beings could never attain such aunion. Reformers questioned the hierarchical nature of the relationship between Sufi masterand disciple, asserting that Islamic law and doctrine were to be maintained at all times even if this meant that the disciple must disobey the master. The number of disparate Sufi
tariqas
 was viewed negatively by reformers stating that the sectarian relationship between
tariqas
 served to preserve the dislocation of Muslim communities in a time when reformers sought tounite Islam. Reformers promoted the idea that all Sufis were Sufis through a direct initiationby the Prophet and therefore all Sufis belonged to one
tariqa
,
 
that of the Prophet. Thereformers focused on uniting the Islamic community and reconnecting it with the Prophetwith a view to constructing a mass organisation engaged in social and political activism asopposed to ascethecism. In addition, reformers emphasised renewed
 Hadith
scholarship andpromoted an emphasis on
ijtihad 
(independent reasoning) as opposed to the Sufi practice of 
taqlid 
(referring to the interpretations offered by ones Sufi tradition). In essence, Rahmanasserts that Sufism was shorn of its characteristics and assumed in its place the characteristicsof orthodoxy. He states:
This fact cannot be over emphasised, since through it Sufism was made to serve the activist impulse of orthodox Islam and is a ubiquitous fact in all major forms of pre-Modernist reform movements.
3
 
Shah Wali-Allah (1703-62), an Indian Muslim of the Naqshbandi Sufi order perceived thateighteenth century Mughal supremacy in India was in decline and that Indian Muslims wereexperiencing an identity crisis. As a response to the Hindu and Sikh revolts, Wali-Allahcalled for reform by lobbying neighbouring Muslim rulers to restore Islamic political
3
Elizabeth Sirriyeh,
Sufis and anti-Sufis: the defence, rethinking and rejection of Sufism in the modern world 
,(London, 2003), p. 11

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