Monday, December 27, 2010

Dalrymple, Sufis, and the Middle

This has been hanging out in my drafts folder for a little while. But the topic is one that stays current.

So, a little while back a friend/senior of mine from college forwarded the article yesterday by William Dalrymple in the New York Times titled "Sufis—The Muslims in the Middle".

I have great respect for Dalrymple Saahib, especially how he has one been one of the folks to start and unpack the exaggerations, myths, slurs, and slander that has become the received wisdom about our elders and forebears in South Asia. (I refer, of course to the Nawabs and gentry of Awadh, and such luminaries as our last native emperor.)

And it's a great article, in which he basically uses the case of Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam of the mis-labelled "Ground Zero Mosque" to make the case for Sufis and Sufism.

But on the question of how the mosque has become such an issue in the silliness that is the American political echo chamber and the wider discussion about Islam, radicalism and fanaticism, I wish he'd not left the "…or political calculation" half of his argument to what amounts almost an after-thought. To me, as I have said before (here, for example, or all the way back here), it is not even a question whether the Xenophobic Right—be it in the US, in India, or  within the Muslim Ummah itself—gets excited over hot button issues (such as this mosque, or the—also mis-labelled—hijab, or this or that historical site) out of ignorance or out of political calculation. To me, bit is pretty obvious that these issues are used lightening rods to, we say in Urdu, add shine to their work.

And I can't leave the discussion of Dalrymple's little tangent on the Sufis without noticing that it does seem like he's trying to project his strong feelings and experience about the South Asian Sufi tradition onto the topic of the day. While it definitely is the case that Sufism represents the "softer side of Islam", so to speak, projecting one's feelings onto Sufism some times starts feeling like a lot of wishful thinking. But I have said that before in a post titled "Sufi Bunnies".
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