The Pakistani state has become riven with sectarian and ethnic divisions. There is the ever-present threat of the puritanical version of Islam and Sufism is projected as a counter-narrative to this version. But your book busted this myth of Sufis being about peace, love, tolerance and inclusiveness since they were used during the Safavid Empire as a means to capture state power. Was that a surprise for you as well?
It was bit of a surprise that Sufis were used that way but there is, of course, that message embedded in Sufi poetry and there is no denying that. Rumi’s poetry is all about finding truth and there are multiple ways to it. The intellectual Sufism and the Sufism of poetry certainly has that message. However if you ask how was that message spread, it was spread through networks of shrines and it was only when Sufism became embedded in very real material nodes in society, where large numbers of people came to listen to devotional songs, was when that message was permeated.
But because saint shrines became centres of pilgrimage where people donated large amounts of money, where agricultural land was donated as waqf to them, they also became centres of power. The devotion of the people allowed the Sufis to act as kingmakers and sometimes become kings.
That is the argument in my book, which sees the rise of Sufism as networks of shrines become a very popular form of religion. Empires begin to adopt those religious forms for kingship during the Mughal era, the rituals are borrowed from saint shrines. It is about piety and meditation but because these messages are spread through these nodes and shrines become centres of wealth and power, they also become centres of politics, which leads to competition, which leads to war and which leads to violence. It is a different form of violence which has very much to do with land, property and people’s loyalties. It is not based on notions of truth and falsehood or of declaring people outside the pale of religion. So it is not as abstract but very much bound to local politics. And that’s one of the things I discovered
How do you see the shifting Sufi culture in South Asia, especially with the rise of Hindutva, Taliban and now the IS?
Historically there were different elements to the Sufi culture. Part of it was ritualistic, located in shrine culture, festivals and pilgrimage. Another aspect was it supported a literate culture that created philosophy, metaphysics, rationalised the place of humanity in the cosmos and thought about how to deal with religious difference. And another aspect of it was it connected to imperial power and notions of kingship and sovereignty.
Slowly, as the empire dissolved, we stopped writing those books and studying those traditions in the 19th century. All that was left was the shrine cults. In the 20th century, whether it was a secular modernist who said all this is rubbish or the Taliban and the IS who started to critique shrine culture saying they are local people and are illiterate, the political and intellectual backing that Sufism had enjoyed for hundreds of years was, and is, no longer there. There is nobody to argue back. In some ways the inevitability of today’s critique of Sufism comes from the fact that in the 18th and 19th century, Sufism retreated into particularist local devotional form of religion. Today it is a relic of the past, we pine for it but it is not a living culture anymore.
But one could say the same thing about the madressah culture. According to historian Barbara Metcalfe, the Deobandi madressah, which becomes the model of the madressah across South Asia, was, in fact, a modern institution.....
What are you working on these days?
I am looking at a number of things: one of them is violence against shrines in pre-modern times, where the shrines were attacked not by people who considered shrine culture to be heretical or innovative but rather by other Sufis. I am trying to understand why there was violence in the age of Sufism, how was it tied to politics, what lessons can be drawn from that and the relationship between religion and politics at the time.
LAHORE - One way or the other, almost every visitor gets robbed at Data Darbar - the shrine of famous Sufi saint Hazrat Ali Bin Usman Al-Hajveri.
Tens of thousands of devotees from across the country visit the Lahore’s historic shrine daily. But they are virtually robbed by the food sellers, contractors, and mafias who in fact enjoy the administrative control of the shrine.
In addition to fleecers and fraudsters, the populous Data Darbar locality is among the worst crime-hit areas of the provincial metropolis.
Devotees from across the country visiting the shrine take sigh of relief when they pay homage to their spiritual leader buried here. About 40,000 to 50,000 pilgrims daily visit the shrine of Hazrat Ali Hajveri widely known as Data Ganj Bakhsh, according to Data Darbar manager Mr Jahangir.
Due to poor administration of Auqaf department which is also custodian of the shrine, security, janitorial and administrative issues are not up to the mark.
When a devotee enters in the Darbar limits, he has to face swindlers, pickpockets and kidnappers roaming around the premises in guise of beggars, food sellers, addicts, and flower sellers.
Food (Lungar) sellers not only sell substandard food but also in lesser quantity than declared. A devotee, Muhammad Salman said, “I bought a Daigh of rice of 10 kg to distribute among the poor but when I checked, there was hardly 5 kg food in ‘Daigh’. The irony is that one cannot countercheck the weight at the Data Darbar.”
Another regular visitor told The Nation that some food sellers only receive money from the rich devotees to distribute food among the people but after distributing minor chunk of the food, they put the food again at their counter for sale.
Similarly, many devotees coming from far flung are deprived of their money through pickpocketing when they enter in the rushy area of the shrine.
Another grave concern of Data Sahib devotees is overcharging by the contractors of Auqaf for shoes-keeping. The department has fixed Rs5 for each pair of shoes when a devotee goes inside the Darbar he has to put his shoes off and hand them over to the Darbar staff.
But in ‘normal’ practice, the contractor charges Rs100 to 150 per pair of shoes keeping in view the dressing and financial position of the devotee.
Jabbar Ahmad, a resident of Bahawalnagar, who was there with his family, complained to the Darbar manager that the shoes-keeping staff had charged Rs100 from his wife and also misbehaved with her
he Supreme Court has directed the inspector general of Punjab police to submit a report into the alleged brainwashing of a youth by a “faith healer” in Lahore.
Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar took notice of the case on an application filed by Mohammad Salman Shakeel’s parents in the Human Rights Cell of the Supreme Court.
Qazi Shakeeluddin stated in the application that a pir (faith healer) named Sufi Khurram and his disciple Rizwan had brainwashed his son, leading to him abandoning his family.
He urged the court to order authorities to recover his son and take action against Sufi Khurram and Rizwan as per the law.
Taking notice of the application, the director of SC’s Human Rights Cell wrote a letter to IG Punjab earlier this week, directing him to submit a report of the case within 15 days.
According to the father, Salman was introduced to Sufi Khurram by a friend he met at the local mosque while studying for his BCom degree. Salman started spending his evenings and eventually staying over at Sufi Khurram’s dera (camp), he said.
A year later, in an apparent first sign of his radicalisation, Salman started wearing shalwar kameez to college and grew out his hair.
(Corboy note: shalwar kameez is a long shirt, often below knee length
and loose trousers. SK is worn by many in Pakistan, but considered traditional garb by Pakistanis who aspire to more modern lifestyles and prefer to wear western style clothing
Salman then took admission in the MA programme at the University of Central Punjab, only to quit less than a month later citing the “presence of female students” in his class.
Salman devoted his next five years in service of Sufi Khurram, forgoing his studies and prospects of a job. He eventually started living away and would visit his family home for only a few hours every day.
Shakeeluddin alleged that Sufi Khurram had managed to separate several young men from their families and was exploiting them for his ‘faith healing’ business.
Most had their eyes closed and appeared to be in a state of intense concentration as they swayed together. I couldn’t resist the pounding rhythm and became carried away with rocking back and forth as I repeated “Allah Hayy, Ya Qayyum” over and over again. The room became hazy and looked like a black and white negative image; everything around me was disappearing. It was an almost psychedelic experience and I was completely lost in the moment, throwing myself backwards and forwards without any inhibition or self consciousness. Unfortunately it also meant that I was unaware of the abrupt end to the proceedings and to my great embarrassment, I continued chanting and swaying for a second or two after everyone else had stopped.
Sheik Nazim recited some prayers and began his sermon. He spoke in a heavy accent, mispronouncing many English words.
“Allah love all his serv-hents. Allah love everything! Every human, every creature, every plant, every rock. Allah does not hate. If Allah hate something it cannot exist.”
He would choose someone in the audience to look at in the eye, as though he were speaking to someone special.
“Allah’s love is not animal love we see in Dunya (this world). It is love that never change. It is love that never die. Our purpose is to reach higher love and immerse ourselves in Love Oceans.”
I wasn’t sure what he meant by ‘Love Oceans’, but it sounded wonderful.
“Only when the serv-hent worship Allah can he wake Love Oceans. We live in time of hate and misery. Most human know only physical love and so become unhappy and miserable. Without waking Love Oceans we can never content.”
I was impressed by both his message and his manner, but felt uncomfortable about the exaggerated reverence his followers showered on him, and decided to ask him about this, during the question and answer session that followed.
“Is it Islamic to allow people to prostrate at your feet? Prophet Muhammad didn’t have people prostrating at his feet, did he?”
My question prompted angry murmurs and boos, which made my face blush and eyes water.
“I do not ask they do, but if they wish for love and respect, I accept. Remember parents prophet Yusuf prostrate to him.”
Eventually he got up and moved towards the staircase, still surrounded by petitioners. This was my final chance, before he disappeared. I squeezed myself forward through the crowd.
“Sheikh Nazim, can I ask you about the Mahdi. You said he’s coming?”
He started walking up the stairs followed by his green bodyguards.
“He is here!”
“In this room?” I followed him up the stairs.
“No, in Hijaz.” (The area around Makka and Madinah.)
“Does anyone know who he is?”
“He has not exposed to anyone yet.”
“Then how do you know?”
“My Sheikh tell me.”
“Is that the Sheikh who’s dead?”
Sheikh Nazim believed he was in contact with a Sheikh who had died in the 1940s.
“It depend on what you mean dead?”
“In the meaning of not being alive.”
Sheikh Nazim’s bodyguards had heard enough of my questions and aggressively blocked my access, pushing me back down the stairs. The Sheikh was swiftly escorted out of sight.
I was a little disappointed with what I had witnessed at Sheikh Nazim’s circle. Not so much with Sheikh Nazim himself, but the way his followers fawned upon him. It seemed little more than a cult of personality. I was also extremely skeptical of his claims to special knowledge from a dead Sheikh.
After Sheikh Nazim had retired upstairs with some of his Murids, I started to move towards the exit when I was approached by
a tall bearded Englishman.
“Are you on the path, brother?”
“Do you mean am I a Sufi? No, not really. I like Sufism and want to learn more, which is why I came here today.”
“To learn more you must take the path.”
“The problem is I find some things a bit off-putting, like kissing feet and special knowledge from a dead Sheikh.”
“In order to follow us you must not judge or object to anything. This is how the Seeker of knowledge must approach his teacher, just as Khidr told Moses not to question anything if he wished to learn.”
“Well, Moses is one thing, but it seems there is a dangerous potential here for the blind to lead the blind, wouldn’t you say?”
“That’s why you must follow the true Sheikh, so you can completely trust him.”
“I find it difficult to completely trust anyone in such matters.”
“Then that is the source of your problem, brother.”
“What makes you trust Sheikh Nazim so completely?”
“In every age there is one chosen representative (Khalifah) of God. In our age it is Sheikh Nazim. He is the Perfect Saint.”
“What is your evidence?”
“Those who follow him have evidence. Sheikh Nazim knows things that cannot be known by ordinary men. He has proven this on many occasions. For example I myself witnessed him predict the precise time that one of his followers would die and it happened exactly as he said it would.”
“I’m not doubting your word, but there may be many rational explanations for that.”
“Yet another proof for you, my dear brother, is that he has the ability to be with every one of his Murids at every given moment. He can be in one place with one and with another in a different place.”
“I’m sorry but I find that very hard to believe.”
“It’s the arrogance in your Nafs (Ego) that prevents you from believing. You must stop resisting, let go and open your heart.”
Our conversation reminded me of a passage in Alice in Wonderland:
“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again, draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said. “One can’t believe impossible things.”
“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Sufism is admired in the West as it suits the trend for religion to be moderate, liberal, and embracing a variety of lifestyles. One Sufi Sheikh I invited to give a talk at SOAS explained that Sufism is the pinnacle of all religions and one can find Christian, Jewish and Hindu Sufis as well as Muslim Sufis. Sufi Sheikhs were often regarded with the same awe in the 60s and 70s as Hindu Gurus and other mystics of the East, and many a hippie trail ended up following Sufism in one form or another.
But I was unconvinced by Sheikh Nazim’s circle and the Sufi circles I susequently visited. My experiences made me very skeptical of the claims of such Sheikhs, which seemed at best harmless eccentricity and at worst dangerous self-delusion.
Of course I did not blame Sufism as a whole for the short-comings of particular Sufi Sheikhs or their followers, but it did put me off joining a Sufi order. Nevertheless I was drawn towards the spiritual and metaphorical understanding of Islam that Sufism taught ... belief that behind the words was a deeper meaning and significance that was not immediately apparent. I also enjoyed Sufi writings, poetry and parables.
Mathurine said, on January 3, 2009 at 8:45 am
I was deeply into Sufism for the last decade or so, even though I had some of the same problems you are describing here, such as blind adherence to shaykhs, the reverence, the fantastical claims about their abilities, and so forth. But what I ended up seeing was that a lot of these groups are cults of personality, as you mention, and some of them function as cults. It is all so tiring. Not only is prophet the perfect person but so is the shaykh and all shaykhs before him and it’s like, god isn’t there a single regular person on this earth besides me?
BoB said, on January 8, 2009 at 3:00 am
This is a good read.
Reminds me a bit of Ziauddin Sardar’s book, Desperately Seeking Paradise.
Corboy note: Desperately Seeking Paradise is a splendid read. Sardars' brother, very talented, became a follower of Nazim and ended up poor.
prep4md said, on January 26, 2009 at 1:16 pm
-” It seems odd now that the Saudis, who did not approve of Sufism, allowed him to preach” —- Yes, that is very odd.
-“His followers spoke very highly of him and told me he had ‘special’ knowledge about many things, including the coming of the Mahdi – ‘the Rightly Guided One’ prophesized in hadith” —-
this is common nonsense that you hear in some sufi groups which you wont hear in salafi groups. They praise their scholars and teachers way too much and some claim they not only have special knowledge but “special skill” too. Like knowing what the students are doing in secret, interpreting dreams, meeting with or seeing the prophet. you can find more ridiculous examples in the old books of sufis that claim that some of their scholars could walk on water and others went into the sea to teach jinn (demons) underwater.
-“ushed up and kissed his feet. Several others followed and either prostrated at his feet or kissed his hands.” –
again this is common. But doesn’t it contradict what islam teaches about one being humble and down to earth and sufi teachings of purity selflessness?
-“My question prompted angry murmurs and boos” –
so typical of blind followers.
-“My sister is sick, Sheikh. Please pray for her recovery” -
why dont they ask God directly for her recovery?
-“Sheikh Nazim believed he was in contact with a Sheikh who had died in the 1940s.” -
this is common in extreme sufi circles
-“I was a little disappointed with what I had witnessed at Sheikh Nazim’s circle. Not so much with Sheikh Nazim himself, but the way his followers fawned upon him.” –
Ill be more disappointed with him, if I were you. They are naive and follow him blindly. If he noticed flaws in their actions he should make them change.
-“In order to follow us you must not judge or object to anything. This is how the Seeker of knowledge must approach his teacher, just as Khidr told Moses not to question anything if he wished to learn” —
were we created with brains to set them aside and follow others blindly? I do not think so. Perhaps this is why this cult has come so long. Generations upon generations of blind close minded people.
-“In every age there is one chosen representative (Khalifah) of God. In our age it is Sheikh Nazim. He is the Perfect Saint.” —
what about the guy that is followed now in Indonesia, and the other one in Sudan and the third in Syria and the forth in Iraq, all of them are claimed to be “chosen representatives” who should we believe?
-“It’s the arrogance in your Nafs (Ego) that prevents you from believing. You must stop resisting, let go and open your heart.” —
you should have told him: for gods sake you open your brain!
Bodyguards are vital for the Shaykhs because they travel extensively and frequently stay in western countries where the population is hostile to ordinary Muslims, let alone to flamboyant ministers of conversion. Beyond the hostility of the ignorant, crowd control and event coordination are required because tens of thousands of people may crowd around merely to catch a glimpse of Shaykh Nazim (such as when he visits the Jakarta National Mosque).
This provides ample reason for the patronage of the guru silat, who, apart from being skilled in several different martial arts, may have received military training (perhaps national service). As the royal tarekat the Haqqani Sufi Order surrounds itself with the royal retinue, and includes bodyguards drawn from many different martial arts including silat, kung fu and aikido
Reading the International Haqqani-Naqshbandi Sufi Tarekat Trawling the copious literature produced by the tarekat helps to make sense of some of the thinking, ideology, and practice underlying its offshoot, Seni Silat Haqq Melayu. Naqshbandi Sufi resources include books, music CD’s, videos (VCD and DVD), websites, and a downloadable resource of speeches and talks called “Sufi Cinema.”31 Haqqani websites offer “Islamic Internet shopping” for books, prayer beads, and instructional videos, and supply chat rooms and Internet dating for “Sufi singles.” Most of the books are produced from transcripts of the recorded speeches of Shaykh Nazim, others are written by his son-in-law, Shaykh Kabbani.
Only a few works of this extensive corpus are considered reliable reproductions and “authorized” for consumption by Pa’ Ariffin. Several of these works make sense of the ideas that Pa’ Ariffin imparts alongside his silat (martial artis training) training, so much so that sometimes the words I record directly from Pa’ Ariffin’s mouth appear verbatim in texts attributed to Shaykh Nazim. Like “Chinese whispers” (same as the American game of 'Telephone' -- Corboy)these words echo through the silat troupe with ever greater degrees of distortion.32
Four Naqshbandi books are significant here. The first concerns the impending approach of doomsday (Kabbani 2003a);
the second documents the establishment of the Naqshbandi Sufi tarekat in London (Kabbani 1995); and the third, [
i]Pure Hearts[/i] (Nazim 1998) offers an exceptionally clear summary of Sheikh Nazim’s social, economic and political beliefs.
The fourth book by Shaykh Kabbani (2003b) is a hefty tome tackling the history, beliefs and practices of the Naqshbandi Sufi Order as a whole. Pure Hearts (Nazim 1998) sets out the Haqqani view of modernity.
Early on, Nazim (1998: 34) slams democracy as a recent invention, created so that the Jews could rule Palestine. According to Maulana, the Sultan and monarchy were in the way of the Jews, as Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire. Democracy led to the foundation of the parties of the “jackals,” “wolves,” “foxes,” “scorpions,” 31 32 [www.shaykhnazim.net].
Meanwhile, Nazim (1998: 35) tells us the Ottoman Caliph was gradually modernized and westernised, drugged, and left to die of shame. Nazim (1998: 51) criticizes the modern nation state, and berates the division of the Islamic ummah (community) into nationalities. The solution is to return to monarchic rule, and have one sultan for all Muslims (Nazim 1998: 52). Nazim (1998: 54) regards democracy as hypocrisy, and wonders when the British people will figure out that switching from the Labour Party to the Conservatives and back again achieves nothing.
Instead of democracy for Britain, Maulana advocates a return to a “traditional kingdom.” Echoing Wright Mills (1956), Nazim (1998: 85) criticizes the capitalist industrial complex, observing that people consume bad food that makes them sick, therefore, one multi-million dollar industry, fast food, feeds directly into another, the health industry. He is highly critical of modern technology (even refrigerators are satanic), and warns his followers to return to “nature.” Nazim (1998: 88) criticizes “officialdom” as producing a kind of bureaucratic personality disorder, and advocates “going back” to live on the earth instead of in skyscrapers.
Apparently life away from the earth exposes people to harmful bacteria, leading to illness and cancer. Collectively, Maulana’s thoughts form part of the rationale behind the Sufi community at Janda Baik, one of the sites where I conducted fieldwork. Furthermore, the silat camp that took place there in December 1999 occurred directly in response to Nazim’s apocalyptic visions. The Naqshbandis are preparing for an almighty war, “Armageddon, the biggest war which will be on earth before the last day” (Kabbani 2003a; Nazim 1998: 40).
After a gruelling prayer marathon one Friday morning, we sat around drinking coffee tongkat ali, when Pa’ Ariffin declared to Suleiman: Friday prayers “don’t count – you don’t have to go if it’s too hot, if the road is slippery, or if you are sleeping. You don’t need to learn Arabic either as the vocabulary is enormous with millions of meanings. For each verse in the Quran there are 24,000 meanings; people think they understand it when they know one. ‘Just follow’, says Shaykh Nazim, ‘there are people you can follow’ ” (Pa’ Ariffin, from fieldnotes).
Friday prayers in the mosque were only entertained when Shaykh Nazim or Shaykh Hisham were in town, or if Shaykh Raja Ashman called upon his followers to accompany him.41
During a Friday visit to Kuala Lumpur’s central mosque, the Shaykh Raja’s followers lined up and “prayed” behind him a short distance from the other “worshippers.” His followers performed dozens more rounds of prayer (raka’at) than the other men present. Finally, one-by-one, the entourage proceeded to bow and kiss (salaam) the hand of the prince.42 These demonstrations of power did not go unnoticed
Male murids sported a distinctive sunna fashion. Walking sticks were in vogue. Some men wore black eyeliner (celak). Normally applied to the corpse before burial, celak heavily applied by the living gives a bizarre hollow eyed stare. Along with the ubiquitous beards and moustaches some male murids dressed in doublebreasted striped shirts.
During the evening performances of prayers and dhikr the men donned cones surrounded by massive turbans of yellow, green, blue or white (Fig. 4.7). The turban’s colour supposedly depends upon nationality, but also relates to hierarchy and function within the order.
According to Pa’ Ariffin: “The yellow turban is a very big significance; you are supposed to be 100 percent disciplined in the art of war.” Men and women displayed rings with large colourful stones with the best ones considered to be those given by Maulana
. Haqqani homes invariably display photographs of Shaykh Nazim. Due to Islamic restrictions on displaying the human image, the pictures of the Shaykhs are often the only photographs displayed in the house. Placed in prominent positions on cabinets or bureaus, the photographs may stand together with fresh flowers in a vase, and they provide a religious focal point that differs from a shrine in that murids do not pray towards it.
All murids wore the distinctive tawis, a small black triangular leather pouch containing a circular photocopied version of a prayer or ayat written in the hand a Shaykh.
The pouch is usually tied about the neck with a leather cord. It contains a photocopy of Quranic verses drawn by Maulana, verses that have been breathed upon by the Shaykh with the breath of Isa (Jesus). In order to prevent its potency from leaking out the paper is specially folded into triangles and sealed in plastic wrap that formerly contained bread. The sealed tawis charm provides a public symbol of allegiance to the Haqqani. The tawis is also openly displayed on car windshields, private residences and business premises. The tawis serves to ward off jinn (Fig. 4.9).
Babies and toddlers are especially vulnerable to unseen malevolent forces and have the tawis perpetually attached to their clothes with a safety pin. Opened tawis are sometimes pasted on either side of doors, and function like door guardians. The tawis serves to infuse Seni Silat Haqq Melayu practitioners with the power of Naqshbandi Sufism.
For example, some robbers set upon Chief and Moone returning home late one night in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. Both of them managed to adopt the flowing ready postures of silat and after a slight scuffle the robbers fled. During the fight Chief lost his tawis. Chief believed that the tawis had saved them from the robbers, and that when its task was complete, and its powers exhausted, the tawis departed. In an altercation the tawis serves to call the benevolent powers of the unseen, such as jinn Islam or guardian angels to provide aid against the forces of evil.43 43
....It can be inconvenient to attain a replacement tawis as one must ask the Shaykh or the guru silat, and they may inquire into the circumstances of the loss of the old one. Given that the tawis can depart of its own volition, its departure might indicate the wrongdoing of the holder, who may have lost the tawis whilst engaged in some illegitimate activity that the Shaykh disapproves of, such as drinking alcohol or committing adultery. Such misdeeds would then have to be confessed to the Shaykh, which is potentially embarrassing, and could encourage his intervention. For example, confessing adultery could result in a speedily arranged marriage.
Shaykh Nazim, the head of the Haqqani-Naqshbandi Sufi order, is believed to be the last Saint, the “Seal of the Saints,” just as the Prophet Muhammad is believed to be the last Prophet, the “Seal of the Prophets” in Islam (Fig. 5.2).
For one week in Singapore Pa’ Ariffin attended to Shaykh Nazim round the clock from 5.30 a.m. to 1.00 a.m. or later the following morning. Throughout the entire week Pa’ Ariffin wore white clothes, an inversion of his usual black attire. The Shaykh enjoys boundless energy belying his eighty plus years of age. His followers describe Shaykh Nazim as a living Saint and as Allah’s representative on earth. Pa’ Ariffin and Raja Ashman form part of a group, an inner circle, comprised mainly of Malays, who serve the needs of the Shaykh. Only this group are allowed access to the Shaykh’s private quarters.
In this back region away from the scores of visitors the Shaykh, the Raja and the other members of the core group can relax, exchange stories, and tell mischievous jokes. The Shaykh doesn’t always like to be surrounded by “them” says Pa’ Ariffin, “they” also being on occasion referred to as the “Sufi goofies” (Fig. 5.3).
Some of the adherents would hand round blessed leftovers of curry puff from Maulana’s plate, and parcel out dozens of bottles of holy water from a bottle he had sipped from.
In a more revolting variation of the salaam, some of the Shaykh’s visitors would slobber their mouths all over his hands. Several of the Shaykh’s followers seemed mentally disturbed, a point duly noted by Pa’ Ariffin. Initially I could not understand the Shaykh’s English, which he spoke Fig. 5.2 Shaykh Nazim, Chief, and Raja Ashman in Singapore The Veneration of Shaykh Nazim 191 Fig. 5.3
Shaykh Nazim, Shaykh Raja Ashman and a Singapore silat group through a thick beard with a heavy Turkish Cypriot accent. Later, his speech became easier to follow, although without the aid of the others I could not always comprehend his cryptic statements. For example, Shaykh Nazim talks about a green cup. The Shaykh would then say it is a red cup: “You don’t stare at it perplexed, you don’t look amazed; you just accept it. A red cup,” says Pa’ Ariffin, laughing and looking away.
According to the Naqshbandi the most important duty for a Muslim is to find and follow their Shaykh.
As Pa’ Ariffin says: If you go to the Shaykh, nothing is private to the Shaykh. If you go to the Shaykh and he says “die” – die. If he says, “cut your hand” – cut your hand. He is not going to ask you to do that, he is not Shaytan . . . I am here to tell you that I am authorized by Shaykh Nazim, Shaykh Raja Ashman, Shaykh Hisham (Pa’ Ariffin, from fieldnotes).
In part Pa’ Ariffin derives legitimation for his own autocratic behaviour from the Naqshbandi shaykhs. Not surprisingly, however, outside of the liminal events of saint veneration, shadowing the exemplary behaviour of a Saint or Prophet can prove difficult to sustain.
From 1992 to 1996 Pa’ Ariffin was imam at St. Ann’s Mosque in North London. From “donations” he was paid £50 to £400 per week, based on fifteen percent of the takings. Free accommodation was provided. However, in the U.K. the life of a Sufi imam is not easy because, as Pa’ Ariffin puts it, “in the summer 192 5 The Guru Silat prayers start at 4.00 a.m. and finish so late! And they call all day long with all sorts of problems.” So he “got fed up.” “But,” he continues, “the winter was nice: 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. off.” However, to “dress like the Prophet, act like the Prophet – it’s a heavy responsibility, and that’s why I just couldn’t take it.” Finally, “it’s hard to deal with all these problems when you have so many (expletive deleted)problems yourself.”