BOOK REVIEW: Global Sufism-Boundaries, Structures and Politics


By Shamsudeen Sani

Authors: Francesco Piraino and Mark Sedgwick

Date of publication 2019 Number of pages 299

It is likely this book might shatter some preconceived assumptions and prejudices about the phenomenon of Sufism in this environment. Most of my earlier understanding of global perspective Sufism have been put to test by this book as it exposed readers to broader perspective of this spiritual practice. Who would have thought there will ever be a distinctive categorization of Sufism as a form of a movement of spiritual structure and practice and sometimes not necessarily pegged to a particular divine religion? To this day, most of us define Sufism as a mystical form of Islam but to the Western world it means much more in terms of practices and doctrine.

This interesting book was divided into 3 major sections as reflected in the title. Part I dealt broadly with the boundaries of global Sufism. This segment set to address contemporary global as well as transnational but contested Sufi boundaries some of which have been recalibrated over time due to shifting trends as a result of globalization.

An entire chapter was dedicated to offer a detailed overview of the Jalaluddin Rumi (the 13th century Persian mystic poet) phenomenon with emphasis on the spread of his reconstructed image in the West and in relation to the ‘New Age’. It highlights the current reality of the romanticizing and endorsement of Rumi which is now the norm even in the non-Muslim circles in the West; completely stripped of its Persian and Islamic context.

Discussions on the global Sufi boundaries, as this book shows, isn’t complete without depicting the transformative Islamisation of Sufism in the Western world following the characteristically universalist picture of the movement in the New Age. This transformation has been largely attributed to the travelling Sheikhs of the early New Age. Of these 5 were Turks and the 6th one, a Sri Lankan Sufi. These Sheikhs established strong Islamic institutions and tariqas with significant success.

An important component of the first part of the book-its largest-worthy of mention here is the chapter on Afropolitan Sufism. This subdivision dealt extensively with the contemporary Tijjaniya movement and debunked the notions of it being an exclusively black African sect. The book was able to show the global picture of Tijjaniyya beyond cultural and intellectual African influence. This was a very new knowledge for me to be honest! I was shocked to discover that, the Ethiopian Tijjaniyya population to be close to 8 million!

The second segment of this book dealt with the structure of global Sufism and how it has been reconfigured over time with cultural hybridity through practices. This in relation to practices such as Maulud celebration in the Western world and reordering of the Sufi tariqa models as result of multiple factors such as diversification of the immigration in the America, global resurgence of Islam, increased religious market place in the West and the influence of the European-American traditionalism.

In part 3 of this book, a light was shone on the global Sufism from a political perspective. This part stabs to showcase the transformational outlook and the role of Sufism in getting a reshaped image of Islam and building alliances to confront modern global challenges.

This book has a very deep academic inclination, and stylishly so. If you are the uninitiated about the Sufism practice, this is not the book for you. However, the editors have done a very diligent job of a pristine research on the subject matter with expansive note for further reading. It is an all-embracing assortment of contributions from 12 scholars in the field.


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