On May 4th, 1997, Dr. Anne-Marie Schimmel, former Harvard Professor of Oriental Studies and Sufism, presented a lecture entitled Sufism and its Influence on Europe at Stanford University. Sponsored by the Stanford Islamic Society, the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and endorsed by the Muslim Community Association's (MCA) newsletter, the lecture was extremely well-attended. Many of the audience gave "rave" reviews after the talk, which covered the effect of Sufi-Islamic thought on Europe and especially German intellectual and cultural development. Emphasizing that Sufism is the mystical essence of Islam, without which Islam would have no attraction to the West, Dr. Schimmel focused on the role of Sufi intellectual thought and poetry on the leaders and philosophers of Western Europe--especially those who brought Europe forth from the Dark Ages and lay the foundations for the Renaissance.
|Shaykh Hisham Kabbani, Chairman of As-Sunna Foundation of America,
and a large number of his students were happy to meet with Dr. Schimmel and attend her
talk. Shaykh Kabbani gave Dr. Schimmel a gift of his books on Sufism and Islam, for which
she was quite thankful, remarking about the book The Naqshbandi Sufi Way, "I
already have a copy of this book, given to me by your group in Germany."
The talk was introduced by Marghoob Quraishy, a Bay Area businessman, and one of the founders of the Islamic Society of Stanford.
|Dr. Anne-Marie Schimmel, of Harvard, with ASFA Chairman, Shaykh Hisham Muhammad Kabbani||The opening invocation of al-Fatiha was recited in a melodious form by Irfan Sa`ada, president of the Muslim Community Association of Santa Clara. ASFA congratulates MCA and its leadership for their exemplary change of heart vis-a-vis Sufism, and for their open endorsement of a Sufi event.|
Dr. Hamid Algar of the University of California at Berkeley then introduced Dr. Schimmel. In his introduction he mentioned Dr. Schimmel's prolific writing ability and her massive output of books. He compared her to:
"...Turkish Sufi Ismail Hakki. Some of his murids were curious how he managed, despite a very full regimen of daily activities and interactions with his murids, how he could produce such a vast quantity of work. And it is said that one night, one of the murids left his house and went up to the roof of a neighboring house and looked out over the balcony to the roof of the Shaykh's house, and there he saw not one, but forty (40) Ismail Haqqis, each at his writing desk, busy writing away. In other words, this shaykh has miraculously multiplied himself for maximum efficiency."
After Dr. Algar's introduction, Dr. Schimmel ascended the stage, to the loud applause of the audience, perhaps more than 50% of whom were non-Muslim. She spoke at length about the advent of Islamic-Sufi thought in Europe, with translations of prose and poetry beginning as early as 1680. She also spoke, in various digressions from the main topic, on the principles of Sufism as an Islamic science, and more importantly as the spiritual soul of Islam.
Professor Schimmel described how Islam spread from Africa to the Subcontinent not by fire and the sword but by the Sufis who knew how to win the hearts of the people. She related inspirational stories of early Sufis such as Hasan al-Basri.
The shaykh's opinion is requested by some of the attendees.
She also related the famous story of Rabiah al-Adawiyah when she went through town with a bucket of water to put out the hell fire and a torch to burn Paradise so that people would devote themselves only to the worship of Allah for Allahs sake alone and not commit shirk by longing after His creation or running from His punishment. This story reached Europe and became an integral part of European folklore. She also related how the ideas of Sufis were so influential as to have an influence on European Christian thought and not the opposite. She described how the Sufis taught people to draw closer to God by self improvement. Professor Schimmel described the Sufis as those who concentrated in their sermons and in their private lives on the constant meditation of the Quran and constant repentance.
A capacity crowd filled the auditorium to hearthe lecture entitled Sufism and its effect on Europe, sponsored by CAIR and other Islamic organizations
|"The Story of Rabi`a al-`Adawiya is really the moment that the asceticism of the early Muslims in Basra turned in to mysticism, into true love of God. The early ascetics who were disappointed by the change of life values in the times of the Ummayyad caliphs when the great Arab conquest was going on, and the Arabs conquered the wide world from East to West, this conquest brought the Muslim world greater interest in worldly affairs and the ascetics of Basra, headed by the famous Hasan al-Basri, were afraid that the essence of the Qur'an was lost. It was he and his contemporaries who concentrated in their sermons and in their private lives, on constant reading of Qur'an and constant repentance and repetition or Dhikr formulas, and live a life completely turned off from worldly affairs."|
Dr. Schimmel went on to describe the great growth of Sufism/Tasawwuf, as the expression of the ruh or soul of Islam:
"Sufism, by the end of the 9th and beginning of the 10th Century, was already like a big tree, with various branches and various birds singing in it.
"the spread of Islam was not done by fire and sword
... but rather by the preaching of the Sufis who knew how to win the hearts of the people."
We find poetry and prose in all the languages of Islam. We find that Sufism permeated the countries from West Africa to India, and, in fact it was the Sufis who brought Islam to the border countries of Asia and Africa. Sir Thomas Arnold in Sudan told me the teacher of Muhammad iqbal in Lahore had published exactly 100 years ago his famous book The Preaching of Islam, in which he shows that the spread of Islam was not done by fire and sword as most of our sources are wont to say, but rather by the preaching of the Sufis who knew how to win the hearts of the people. And the Sufis wrote their poetry in the language of the people of their lands.
They taught the love of God, love of the Prophet, love of mankind to the illiterate, simple people who were unable to understand the Arabic of the theologians. It was the same in Europe with the introduction of mystic poems."
Professor Schimmel mentioned the resurgence of interest in the Naqshbandiyya both in America and abroad.
"Studies, especially in the Naqshbandi Tariqa have proliferated during the last few years. It is interesting that last year in Bukhara that we have a conference at the mazar of Khaja Naqshband in which German and Uzbek scholars participated and scholars from other Central Asian countries. It was highly interesting to see that here the Uzbek interest in teaching the Naqshbandiyya became very visible because they claimed, and I think they were right, that the old adage the hand at work, the heart close to the Divine Beloved is a very practical way of approaching modern science. It gives you the possibility of constantly thinking of God, remembering God, as it is also taught in the Quran and yet do your daily work successfully. The interest in the Naqshbandiyya has grown considerably."
After the main presentation a member of the audience asked, "It is clear that Sufism is a beautiful presentation of Islambut why are some Muslims especially the groups in the west opposed to it?
Dr. Schimmel replied that even some of the early Sufis were unjustly persecuted by some of their contemporaries. The Sufis of Baghdad were accused of emphasizing love of God and not obedience to God. In the end the Caliph himself personally investigated the charges and "found them to be very good Muslims and innocent of all charges of wrongdoing."
Organizers of the Stanford University lecture on Sufism discuss preparing a series of lectures teaching Sufism with Shaykh Hisham Kabbani.
Following the brief question and answer session, Marghoob Quraishy, concluded her portion of the program with praise of her academic achievements and erudition. He then stated that "it requires another Sufi, Imam Hamza Yusuf, to conclude this session."
Imam Hamza then concluded with a lecture of his own, detailing the fact that Sufism is an integral part of Islam, often envied by those who either have no aspiration or who are unable to attain the level of faith and certainty characteristic of the Sufis.
Finally, As-Sunna Foundation of America would like to congratulate CAIR, MCA and the Islamic Society of Stanford for taking the courageous stand to promote Sufism as an Islamic concept, despite what the "Salafis" and their agents might say. This stand took great courage and foresight, and Muslims in America, though knowing that Sufism has always stood for the practice of Islamic Shari`ah, have often kept quiet in the face of "Salafi" vocal opposition. It is high time that the Islamic "establishment" in the US educate its audience, both Muslim and non-Muslim, to the fact that Sufism/Tasawwuf is an integral and essential part of Islam, without which Islam is as the late Mawlana Maudoodi said, 'like a body without a soul.'