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November 17, 2010

Sufism-a life for truth seekers

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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There was a time when many Muslims were members of the Sufi order. Sufis would practice what other Muslims did and more. They would try hard to be God-centered on planet Earth.

To be a Sufi, one practices the basic tenets of Islam but focuses more on the discipline of inner purification, the struggle against evil within and without. To know, to love, and to serve summarizes the Sufi approach to life. The Qur’an instructs believers to know God, to love Him and to serve Him. The same approach would apply to any of His creations, including mankind: to know, to love and to serve.

But the Qur’an says that true believers love God more than everything and more than anyone. A Sufi should practice Zikr, awareness of God. Once a week they get together to sing hymns in praise of God and His Prophet.

In 2000, Al-Ahram Weekly Fayza Hassan wrote that, according to author Valerie Hoffman (Sufism, Mystics and Saints in Modern Egypt, 1995) the proliferation of Sufi orders in 20th-century Egypt can be traced to 60 Orders registered with the Sufi Council in 1958, and 64 in 1964.

“In April 1989 there were seventy-three recognized Orders.” [Hoffman] cautions, however, that ‘the proliferation of Orders may not mean that more people are drawn into Sufism, but that an Order has split in two, as two rival teachers have emerged. These figures should not be taken at face value, however, since Sufi adapts form loose ties with their own as well as other tariqas. The dynamics that govern their formation, merger and disbandment are therefore constantly changing.’

“The Sufi orders in Egypt, according to Hoffman, are thought to be derived from four qutbs, or great Sufi saints of the 12th and 13th centuries: Abdel-Qadir Al-Jilani of Iraq (d. 1166), founder of the Qadiriya; Ahmed Al-Rifa’i of Iraq (d. 1178), founder of the Rifa’iya; Ahmed El-Badawi (d. 1276), originally from Morocco but buried in the Egyptian Delta, founder of the Ahmadiya; and Ibrahim El-Dessouqi of Egypt (d. 1297), founder of the Burhamiya. Of equal importance for Egyptian Sufism, she estimates, is Abul-Hassan Al-Shadhli of Morocco, who died in Egypt in 1258 and was the founder of the Shadhiliya. In addition, one should take into account a plethora of lesser saints who, though obscure in their origins and deeds, can nevertheless command a significant following.”

Government sponsorship of Sufi Orders goes back to the time of Saladin, who founded a Sufi retreat called Said Al-Saada and gave its sheikh preeminence over other sheikhs, with the title sheikh al-shuyukh.

Throughout their history, Sufis have led the struggle against many forms of injustice, such as poverty, ignorance, lack of education and health care, consumerism, exploitation, idolatry and egoism. They have fought invading armies including the Crusaders, Mongols, Tatars, and later the Spanish, Portuguese, British, French and Dutch.

Sufism was, and still is, the door by which millions of non-Muslims in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas have come to know of and embrace Islam.

My favourite Sufi Imam is Al-Ghazali (1058-1111) whose many books have been translated into English. He wrote on law, theology, Sufism, psychology and philosophy. After all, he was in his 20s when he was appointed professor of Islamic studies at the top university of his time in Baghdad. Although he did not himself belong to a Sufi Order, his writings made a strong impact on Sufism during and after his life.

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Today’s topic is the Origins of Islamic History Month in Canada In this show, we are interviewing Dr. Mohamed El-Masry a professor at the University of Waterloo

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