World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Diverse Roles for Contemporary Sufism: Developments and Perspectives (184) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: WED 21, 9.00-11.00 am

· NOT_DEFINED institution: Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University (Sweden)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Leif Stenberg

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: Diverse Roles for Contemporary Sufism: Developments and Perspectives Panel sponsored by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University, Sweden General Description: An increased interest from scholars in Sufism as a lived experience has showed that this spiritual tradition (if, indeed, it is appropriate to speak of it as a single tradition) remains highly significant in both local and global Muslim arenas. Sufism, or various facets of it, serves as individualised religiosity where personal choice is stressed as well as a mobilising factor in battles over who defines the Islamic heritage in present political environments. This panel seeks to explore recent developments in contemporary Sufism, acknowledging e.g. changes in organisational structures, the impact of transnational connections, and political dimensions of Sufi activism. The panel will also investigate useful perspectives in analysing these developments. The participants will present material from recent field research in various locations, from the Mediterranean area to South Asia, where Sufism plays an important role in shaping the lives and realities of Muslims.

Chair: Bjørn Olav Utvik, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, Oslo University

Discussant: Mark LeVine, Department of History, University of California Irvine

Paper presenter: Associate Prof. Leif Stenberg, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University, Political Sufism in a Repressive State: The legacy of Ahmad Kuftaro
In 1938, after the death of his father, the fairly young religious scholar Ahmad Kuftaro inherited the position as shaykh of a Naqshbandi branch, and as a preacher at the Abu Nur mosque in Damascus, Syria. In 1964 he became the Grand mufti of Syria, a position he held until passing away on September 1st 2004. In this paper, I will portray some of the fundamental aspects of his legacy, including today’s Kuftaro foundation, and especially how the foundation’s current leaders are engaged in a mission to build an influential organization with local and global ambitions. This mission involves a message that is designated to present followers with an interpretation of Islam that enables them to prosper in the Syrian society.

Paper presenter: PhD Cand. Simon Stjernholm, Department of Islamology, Lund University, Individual piety and translocal connections: murids at the home of Shaykh Nazim in northern Cyprus
In the small, dusty village of Lefke in the northwest of Cyprus, disciples from various parts in the world gather to be in the presence of their spiritual guide, Shaykh Muhammad Nazim al-Haqqani. They all have personal stories to tell of how they got there and, in some cases, what kept them staying there. Yet, though each person's story is individual, many common elements are traceable. Sufi concepts, histories and practices are blended with individual experiences. Their stories take on a genre character, and the experiences in their various ''back home'' environments link them together in an intricate translocal network. Moreover, regular live broadcasts disseminate the shaykh's communications instantly to a global audience. This paper, based on recent fieldwork in Cyprus and London, emphasises how contemporary Sufism links the Eastern Mediterranean area with Western Europe and beyond.

Paper presenter: PhD Cand Ida Sofie Matzen, Department of Anthropology, Copenhagen University, Engaging (in) humanity: Pakistani Sufi pirs and ideologies of love, peace and equality
Hitherto, many studies of Pakistani Sufism have tended to focus less on political dimensions of Sufism than e.g. esoteric and ecstatic aspects. Departing from an assumption that political dimensions are immanent in Sufi social and spiritual cosmologies, this paper sets out to discuss how Sufi concepts of love, peace and equality carry visions for future societies. In this regard the concept of insaniyat (urdu for ‘humanity’) plays a central role in the spiritual ideology of Sufis concerning economic and social equality. Subsequently, this has several implications for an expansion of what ‘the political’ might contain. This paper will be based primarily on material from fieldwork in Lahore at the lodge of a Sufi spiritual leader (pir) and his disciples.

Paper presenter: Prof. Catharina Raudvere, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, Copenhagen University, The present paper is based on on-going fieldwork in Bosnia-Herzegovina and is focused on everyday religious practices where Sufi-oriented rituals constitute an important dimension.
The paper will focus on to what extent Sufi traditions are perceived in wider circles as a capstone of national heritage, and how these references are used by women and young people when constructing ritual spaces and alternative interpretive domains. The examples of community building in the paper will indicate how Sufi traditions play an important role in the national (istic) understanding of a specific ‘Bosnian Islam’ as well as a tool for more general identity politics.