Articles & Op-eds
Tayyip Erdoğan receives much criticism from Western media because of his conservative and repressive policies. It’s quite difficult to refer to him as a typical example of ‘Sufism’ or Islamic mysticism. Nevertheless, for a long time Tayyip Erdoğan belonged to the Naqshbandi tariqa — one of the eldest and most widely spread mystical brotherhoods in contemporary Turkey.Interestingly the Gülen movement, which, in the last few years, grew out to be one of Erdoğan’s greatest political enemies, also has a supposed 'Sufi' background.
Our misconceptions about 'Sufism' wouldn’t be much of a problem if they were simply some ‘misunderstanding’ based on a ‘lack of knowledge’. Yet the fact of the matter is that our misunderstandings about Islamic mysticism do not simply stem from innocent ignorance. They are misunderstandings that are closely tied to the enormous blind spots of the contemporary view on religion and they are misunderstandings that are heavily entwined with pressing political issues.
(Re-visioning Sufism - part 3) - The typical modern dichotomy of ‘religion’ vs. ‘mysticism’ is utterly useless to describe Islamic mysticism for what is generally called ‘Sufism’ is, in fact, a rather ‘normative’ form of the Islamic tradition. This norm only gradually started shifting because of modernist influences and contemporary geopolitics. However, acknowledging these facts doesn’t imply that one should get carried away by yet another modernist assumption when trying to understand the place of mysticism within Islam.
The first article of this series explained how ‘Sufism’ isn’t a ‘separate branch’ at all (as is often claimed), but is in fact a very central aspect of the broader Islamic tradition and why it should rather be seen as ‘normative Islam’. Sadly enough however, one cannot deny the fact that the varied mystical expressions of Islam were far more prominently present before than they are today and once can easily notice a strong opposition towards ‘Sufism’ in many Islamic environments.
One of the most misunderstood aspects of Islam today is the role and place of Islamic mysticism within the broader tradition. Commonly this aspect of Islam is referred to with the term ‘Sufism’. Yet the typical descriptions of 'Sufism' are full of misunderstandings and the conclusions they lead to are in great need of nuance. In a series of articles I will address these misunderstandings and bring together some material which is frequently ignored yet crucial for a thorough understanding of mysticism within Islam.
A conversation with Michael Muhammad Knight on the fluid boundaries of religion.
Debates on the general media channels seem to take the religious motivation behind the recent attacks in Brussels for granted. Often the nuance is added that the perpetrators adhere to a specific extremist interpretation of Islam, which isn’t supported by the majority of Muslims. At the same time, however, op-eds and analyses also seem to start from the (often unexpressed) premise that something dangerous lurks deep within the tradition of Islam which forms the taproot of Daesh’s ideology. In the wake of the Paris attacks I wrote two articles in which I argued the opposite.
It’s a much heard proposition that fundamentalist Islamic groups take their Qur’an literally. This would be the theological and scriptural backbone of their violent acts. Such an idea is voiced by critics of Islam and Muslims alike. There are, however, quite some good reasons to doubt this seemingly self-evident idea.
No matter how much adherents of Daesh (IS) make use of Islamic rhetoric, their violent reign and attacks can’t be disconnected from many other motives that are deeply linked to broader geopolitical realities. And some of the strongest motives aren't religious scriptures, but the remembrance of previous violence perpetrated by secular entities.
Two mental talismans protect my life. These are two questions that keep me from making the wrong choices. They are two questions that offer a way out of existential dilemma's and spiritual impasses. For to know which questions you should ask can be worth a lot when you feel caught in the vagueness of life.
The first Talisman seems simple. When my searching soul finds itself in a dilemma, when I can't see the choices I should make, then the impasse is circumvented by asking myself the question: “What focuses most on God?”