Sociology and Anthropology

Sufism in the West

This edited volume, along with David Westerlund’s edited Sufism in Europe and North America (RoutledgeCurzon: 2004), are pioneering works, since the systematic study of this topic is still in its infancy. Its introduction and nine chapters bring together anthropological, historical, Islamicist, and sociological perspectives on questions of identity as regards Sufism’s double marginalization within a non-Muslim majority environment and within the broader Islamic discourse. The Sufis’ need to position themselves against and reconcile themselves with a variety of others causes western Sufis to employ a fascinating kaleidoscope of strategies ranging from assimilation to confrontation and appropriation.

Jamal Malik’s introduction surveys Islamic mysticism and the “major themes of diasporic Sufism” (pp. 20-25). He presents the complex interrelatedness of ethnic, cultural, religious, and generational identities and addresses important issues concerning representation, knowledge production, and adaptation. His conclusion that “Sufism – intellectually as well as sociologically – may eventually become mainstream Islam itself due to its versatile potential, especially in the wake of what has been called the failure of political Islam worldwide” (p. 25), however, is rather bold.

Nevertheless, as Ron Geaves shows, one has to acknowledge that, at least in Great Britain and the United States, Sufis have begun to confront anti-Sufi rhetoric more openly. He describes Sufi-Muslim attempts to monopolize the term ahl al-sunnah wa al-jam`ah (people of the tradition and the community) as neo-Sufi revivalism, namely, as a claim for reestablishing Sufism in terms of Sunni traditionalism as the center of Islamic faith and practice. It certainly is remarkable when “the shaykhs are beginning to successfully argue that it is their `aqida which is the norm of Islam, and it is the Wahhabi/Salafi critique that is the aberration from traditional belief and practice” (p. 156).

The question remains, however, to what extent such examples represent a new trend in terms of a global Sufi revival. Pnina Werbner focuses on British Sufis and compares the styles, activities, and interpretations of Sufism by three khalifas of the Pakistani Naqshbandi sheikh Zindapir (d. 1999). Her ethnography uncovers the extent to which these leaders’ individual styles impact local formulations of Sufism, especially in the diaspora, where immigrant Muslims must accommodate heterogeneous norms and lifestyles that influence organizational forms and cultural practices.

Gerdien Jonker classifies Germany’s Turkish Sulaymanci movement, named after Naqshbandi-Khalidi sheikh Süleyman Tunahan (d.1959), as a “Sufi lay communit[y], holding on to Sufi devotion while refocusing on worldly religious aims” (p. 71). While maintaining such Sufi practices as dhikr and imitatio Muhammadi, as well as a centralized and hierarchical organization, the group has no sheikh and considers itself a da`wah organization dedicated to individual salvation and strengthening the Islamic community within a revivalist framework. Jonker interprets this in terms of a process of adaptation, first, to Turkey’s laicist context and, second, to Germany’s secular context, in which pressures to assimilate and the fear of losing one’s identity render Turkish immigrants receptive to the rhetoric of religious revival.


Jamal Malik and John Hinnells, eds., New York: Routledge, 2006. 207 pages.

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