Friday, October 01, 2010

COMMENT: Commercial Sufism in Australia

I'm not the most observant Muslim on the planet. But I hold enormous respect for those who are observant Muslims. I honour men and women of knowledge who devote years of their lives to studying Arabic, Ottoman and other languages commonly used to transmit classical Islamic sciences. And I especially honour those who can stick to a Sufi path, something I have failed to do.

Sufism isn't just something you learn from books purcahsed at the Theosophical Bookshop. It is about experience. And it is something you cannot learn without a teacher.

Sufism is also the highest form of Islamic orthodoxy. You cannot have sufism without sharia. You cannot be a true sufi unless you follow the outer requirements of Islamic worship.

Advanced sufi texts are not something you can pick up and read. You need a teacher. It is spiritually dangerous to try and develop your spirituality by reading an ENglish translation of the work of someone like Imam Ghazali or Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani, regardless of how good the translation is.

So when I heard that Afroz Ali has decided to start teaching sections from Imam Ghazali's Ihya and charging $50 for the course, it really reminded me of some of the commercial sufis who charge money from unwary and well-meaning non-Muslims. It also reminded me of the commercial "pirs" in India who charge money for a wazifa and who even carry business cards advertising their rates.

The idea of charging money to teach people sciences of the heart is tragic. And so I need to ask questions, some of which many readers hear are probably sick of reading:

1. Will Afroz Ali be teaching the relevant sections of Ihya Uloom ad-Din ("Revival of the Religious Sciences) in Arabic? Or will he be using an English or Urdu translation?

2. Has Afroz Ali studied Ihya under a shaykh of tasawwuf? If so, who is this shaykh, what tariqa does he belong to and for how long has Afroz Ali studied under him?

3. Did this Shaykh give Afroz the relevant authorisation to teach such an advanced text as Ihya?

4. Is Afroz himself part of a tariqa (Sufi order)?

Apart from commercial charlatans, I have never heard of people charging money to teach tasawwuf.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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