II. The Relationship Between Islam and Sufism
Though plenty of Muslim scholars have spoken out in favor of Sufism, the prevailing opinion among both Islamic legal scholars and Muslims as that Sufism is bid’ah, (an inauthentic innovation) that is not wholly Islamic, and therefore rejected as an acceptable way to practice Islam. Sufism has always been an ‘alternative’ discourse in the Islamic world “existing in tension with stricter, legalistic elements in the tradition, and there continue to be voices in Islam that would deny the legitimacy and the pervasiveness of Sufism in Islamic culture” (Miller 1995). In fact a fatwa (an Islamic legal opinion) was delivered by Shaykh 'Abd al-Halim Mahmud, a former Shaykh al-Azhar, the chief religious authority in Egypt against Sufism in the 1970s. His main objection to Sufism was the attempt of practitioners to take on the qualities of God, which was to compete with God instead of surrendering to him and serving him. Despite some disagreement as to the authenticity of Sufism, it continues to grow and thrive. Especially in the West (the home of many esoteric Organizations like the Free Masons, the Knights Templar and Order of the Golden Dawn) Sufism is growing in popularity alongside other mystical traditions like Kabbalah (the Jewish mystical tradition). Sufis have been “major transmitters of Islam far beyond the religion’s ‘Middle Eastern’ origin, especially in Africa, the Indian sub-continent, and the Maylay-Indonesian world” (Miller 1995).
III. History of Sufism in the United States
The development of Sufi groups in America has gone through three major phases, roughly corresponding to three distinct periods of interaction between Euro-American and Asian worlds in the 20th century. The first window of contact, beginning in the early 1900s is characterized by Americans’ (and Europeans’) interest in ‘Oriental’ wisdom, which grew out of the colonial period (Miller 1995). Some in the West saw a spiritual void growing in the wake of the rise of nationalism and increasing secularization, and they wished to borrow from Sufi traditions in order to bring a renewed sense of religiosity back to the West (Miller 1995). The earliest phase of an American interest in Sufism began with the figure of Hazrat Pir-O-Murshid Inayat Kahn (literally, Master, Shaykh and Guide Inayat Kahn). Inayat Kahn came to America and founded the first American Sufi Order in 1910 (Gabbay 1988). Kahn saw his philosophy as one that would unite East and West through its teachings of universal brotherhood and attunement to “the unitive [sic] structures of reality both at the macro and micro cosmic levels” (Miller 1995). Kahn’s teachings were characteristic of Chistiyya Sufism which melded Hindu and Islamic “unity of being “ philosophies (Miller 1995).
The second major phase of Sufi growth in the United States occurred in the 1960s along with other counterculture movements. Many of these movements sought to reject traditional Western...