Jew, Christian, Muslim: ‘See the Beloved everywhere’

jew christian muslimNothing in my uber-Catholic background (weekly Mass and confession, memorizing the Baltimore Catechism, strict nun teachers) could have prepared me to participate in a zikr at which Muslim, Jewish and Christian people chanted the name of God, while the imam sang a melodic line over the chant.

Some of the women draped in scarves swayed back and forth, we all felt held by the chanting, and I began to understand why it is a component of much of the world’s worship. The dictionary definition of zikr is a form of remembrance “associated chiefly with Sufism, when the worshiper is absorbed in the rhythmic repetition of God’s name or attributes.”

 

Much of the imam’s initial talk resonated with what I already believed. “See the Beloved everywhere,” he encouraged. “Be so crazily in love you’re like the besotted 13-year-old who, asked about ice cream, sighs, ‘My favorite flavor is chocolate.’ ”

His words about God’s spark within being the source of human dignity touched a familiar chord — as a Catholic, I’d heard that message, named Divine indwelling, often. Muhammad said, “Wherever you turn, there is the face of God.” In the Jewish kabbalah or mystical teaching, God hurled forth the holy in countless sparks at the beginning of time; it whispers to us from all created people and things. When we descend to the deepest underground stream, all religions echo similar truths.

I’ve learned this firsthand from my interfaith group of five Muslim, five Jewish and five Christian women who meet monthly, taking turns in their homes.

A typical gathering starts with a potluck of snacks and informal conversation. Then after prayer, a facilitator (a rotating role) lays groundwork for the theme of the evening. We’ve discussed threads common to all traditions, like various religious holidays, the importance of pilgrimages, communal and individual prayer, action for justice, and environmental protection. There’s strong consensus that we must, in whatever small ways we can, offset the current government’s antipathy to Islam and hostility to refugees. After both January Women’s Marches, we shared our experiences and chortled at our favorite signs.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER

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Misunderstanding the Victims of the Sinai Massacre

lead_960What are Sufis? This was a question many were asking after at least 305Egyptians were massacred on Friday in the Sinai. They were killed in an assault by Islamist militants (likely from the local Islamic State affiliate, although the group has not yet made a claim of responsibility) on Al Rawdah mosque, which is commonly described as a “Sufi mosque.” The implication is that its congregants observed a more “mystical” version of Islam, one that, for example, venerates saints. While such a description is not necessarily inaccurate—it is common to refer to mosques by their apparent ideological or spiritual orientation—like most things related to Islam, it’s a bit more complicated. Many Sufis do not self-define as Sufis, since for them, this is just how Muslims practice—and have always practiced—Islam.

For most of Islamic history, Sufism wasn’t considered as something apart. That it is today has much to do with the rise of Islamism, which is generally perceived as anti-Sufi. (Indeed, many contemporary Islamists, particularly ultra-conservative Salafis, are precisely that.) Yet, none other than Hassan al-Banna, perhaps the most preeminent Islamist of the twentieth century, was initiated into the Sufi Hasafiyya order in 1923, just five years before he founded the Muslim Brotherhood. (Banna, for a time, would regularly visit the tomb of Sheikh Hasanayn al-Hasafi, the order’s namesake.) Similarly, Abdessalam Yassine, the late founder and leader of Adl Wal Ihsane, Morocco’s largest Islamist movement, was a member of the Boutchichiyya order.

To describe Sufis as “tolerant” and “pluralistic” may also be true, but doing so presupposes that non-Sufi Muslims aren’t tolerant or pluralistic. On the other hand, describing Sufis as heterodox, permissive, or otherwise less interested in ritual or Islamic law is misleading. In 2005, I lived down the street from an area of Amman called Kharabsheh, where the followers of the American convert Sheikh Nuh Keller, of the Shadhili order, lived. Here, I met some of the most strict, orthodox Muslims I’ve ever met. If, for instance, female followers of Sheikh Nuh wanted to live in Kharabsheh and take part in the community, they were required to wear the niqab, or face veil, which I initially found quite odd. Perhaps the most well-known Sufi-influenced traditionalist imam in the United States is another convert, Hamza Yusuf, who is nothing if not orthodox.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE ATLANTIC 

Sufi Sect of Islam Draws ‘Spiritual Vagabonds’ in New York

25sufi1-master768On a leafy block of West 72nd Street, a Muslim Sufi order meets each Thursday evening, squeezing into Abdul Latif’s three-bedroom apartment. You don’t have to know Mr. Latif, born John Healy, to attend. Raised in the Yorkville neighborhood on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, he greeted his guests in Arabic with a thick New York accent, inviting them to sit on the floor.

A group of about 10 beloveds, as they call one another, then stood and locked hands, forming a circle. Mr. Latif, 57, weaved around the ring, leading the chants in unison, including the 99 sacred names of God and prayers of adoration.

The participants — mostly American-born converts to Islam — squeezed their eyes shut; some gently swayed, letting themselves be carried away by the rhythmic mantras. The pace of the chants quickened, one man stamped his feet, another wept silently, and after 30 minutes the beloveds were captivated and perspiring.

Sufis call this practice zikr and see it as a way of connecting with God and elevating themselves through communal meditation. Worshipers frequently lose themselves in a spinning frenzy, as with the well-known whirling dervishes.

Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, has been cloaked in secrecy for most of its existence, having been forced underground by Ottoman rulers in the 13th century. Nowadays, however, many of these spiritual communities, like the beloveds in Mr. Latif’s apartment, are in plain view around the city if you know where to look. Some can even be found through a simple Google search.

The Murid order, for instance, meets in West Harlem and follows the teachings of its Senegalese founder, Ahmadu Bamba. The Tijaniyya group congregates on Fridays in a brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.The Naqshbandis meet on Saturday nights in a 19th-century church on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES