Guest Post: ‘Sufism’ and US Foreign Policy (Part I)

This is the first in a special series of guest posts by Sindbad of Islamophobia Watcher. Sindbad will be analysing the 2004 Nixon Center’s report, Understanding Sufism and its Potential Role in US Policy [pdf].

Note: This piece has NOTHING to do with the experience of Sufis or Sufism, and so I’ve put the word ‘Sufism’ in single inverted commas. I understand the Sufi Muslim Council as a lobbying group more than money-grubbing, money of course is guaranteed though I feel there‘s a real ideological filament burning somewhere.

I shall break this piece into several structures, because it’ll be easier for you to understand and for me to write. I’ll first begin on a corrective note to humanize the dehumanized in this report i.e. the Salafis. I want to firmly state that ‘Wahhabism’ is a corruption of the term ‘Salafism’. There are many who argue (like Shaykh Kabbani) that ‘Wahabbism’ is an appropriate term, but it must be really a joke like the one about ‘Mohammedanism’ a more appropriate term for Islam from an antagonistic non-Muslim perspective?

Another issue that I must raise is the distinction between Wahhabis and Salafis. There is no such term as Salafi in Islam. This term can only be applied for the first three centuries of Islam, called a-Salafu-saleh.

Let’s all call our opponents names to ridicule them and we’ll all get together swell. But nobody call us names. We are sacred. We are right. You and yours are wrong. We decide for you but you aren’t allowed to decide for us. The truth is that everybody has the right to decide for themselves what they ought to be called. If the Salafis say they are Salafis and ’Wahabbism’ is a denigrating term, I support them because they have a right like everybody else. If we should indeed abide by demands of condition, I doubt Shaykh Kabbani would be a Sufi in one sense of the word as he doesn’t wear wool.

I’ll take up half the speakers in this part and half in the second part. In the third part insha’Allah I’ll discuss this report in its advancement of foreign policy.

Shaykh Kabbani on ‘Wahhabism’

Shaykh Hisham Kabbani’s two odd quotations from Rumi and Ibn Arabi (on Hellenized binary philosophy of what is and what is not), who were basically poets and philosophers, sets the tone for this report. On close reading you’ll find that what is actually referred to as ‘Wahhabism’ by the various speakers is really Islam, which they pit against a spiritual organ of Islam. Some of their critique of fundamentalism is justified but the problem arises when they resort to smearing an entire group of people. Shaykh Kabbani even says:

…are we as Americans going to support the Sufis, or work with the Wahhabis? If we do the latter, we run the risk that we work with terrorists, whereas there is no such risk with Sufis. It is very simple: the United States must reach out to non-Wahhabi Muslims if it wants to succeed in this battle. It’s a no-lose proposition!

To garner political power, to the aims of which Western governments will be more than obliging, Shaykh Kabbani forgets some very spiritual notions of Islam, the sorts which are really intrinsically moral. By quoting European Orientalists, backing the tyrannical government of China against the so-called Wahhabis, backing the murderous government of Uzbekistan which shoves Muslim dissidents who don’t necessarily agree with Shaykh Kabbani’s version of Islam in scalding water and planning American foreign policy against those damn ‘Wahhabis’ or any Muslim who doesn‘t follow ‘Sufism‘, Shaykh Kabbani resembles a pontificating priest of the Crusade era.

Bernard Lewis on ‘Wahhabism’

Lewis’s take on the subject is even worse. After bugging us with his usual daft perspective on language and Muslim inability and all, Lewis pours all his rage on Islam. I pointed out in the beginning how Salafism is being used merely as a label to bash Islam on many counts and nobody does it better than Bernard Lewis:

Wahhabism is about as central in Islam, about as relevant to what you might call the major Islamic traditions, as the Ku Klux Klan is to Christianity. The enormous difference in impact between the two groups is due to a confluence of circumstances which happily did not take place in the Christian world: the conversion of the house of Saud and local tribal shaykhs to the Wahhabi doctrine in the 18th century, the establishment of the Saudi Kingdom in the 1920’s which included Mecca and Medina, and, worst of all, the discovery of oil.

Too bad for Lewis that Muslims got rich with oil and too bad for Muslims that Lewis provided great intellectual hubris for the taking of much of that oil with death and destruction and all in Iraq. I am going to be tight-lipped for the rest of this piece on Lewis’s comparison of Salafism to the Ku Klux Klan, which is undoubtedly a foolish libellous comparison and Lewis is a dangerous kind of fool.

As to my argument that Lewis is more so referring to Islam, we need to listen to his ardent praise for Ibn Arabi and Rumi for ‘not just tolerance’ but also ‘acceptance‘. Lewis plays this against ‘standard Islamic texts’ i.e. the Qur’an and the Hadith? What Shaykh Hisham Kabbani has quoted is basically what Orientalists like Lewis want to hear. How is Lewis to know of Rumi writing that he was the dust at the feet of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)? How is Lewis to know that the Qur’an is the most accepting and honest of all men and their words, because it is the Word? It is Allah’s words. It isn’t the words of a poet or a philosopher. There is more kindness and compassion in the Qur’an than in the hearts of infinite Rumis and Ibn Arabis and all the things in the earth, who are mortals who come and go, say and regret? They wouldn’t have the ability to say or write anything if it weren’t for Allah. But Lewis won’t know anything. Neither will Shaykh Hisham Kabbani in his conquistador armour as he mumbles poetry to prove his so-called tolerance but not for others of other sects or even mainstream Islam itself, at the point of a gun of the US administration he evokes, rather than God and what is essentially good and will benefit the wider community or the main body of Muslims.