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From Shaykh Bandung to Syria - More Danish food for thought
Show us your Bandung
It was a Sunday afternoon. Our group had survived five days in the heat, pollution and traffic jams of Jakarta. It was our second night in Bandung, once a resting space for Dutch colonialists to avoid the severe humidity and heat of what used to be called “Batavia” (the Dutch name for Jakarta, I think).
Bandung is a gorgeous city, full of old art deco buildings from an era before I appeared on the scene. Our delegation had some free time on our hands, and our host made a suggestion.
“I know some sufi dervishes who live in a hospice with their shaykh (spiritual preceptor) out in the sticks, around 70 km from here. I doubt even many Indonesians have visited the place, let alone Aussies.”
We agreed to the idea, thinking the ride would be as smooth as the run from Wahroonga to Gosford. How wrong we were! After am hour of sitting in a bus, gathering dust and backside bruises, we finally arrived at the Zawiyya Tijaniyya (the hospice of the Tijani tradition of Sufism). To say the least, the trip there was a pain in the [edited in defiance of unbridled freedom to offend by mentioning bodily parts].
Yes, this really was the sticks. The place didn’t have any outside lighting. The walls were made of bamboo and the floor was a combination of scrap wood and what almost smelt like half-baked manure. Which meant resting our sore [edited consistent with Anglican private school education] would be sitting on a pile of [edited to win brownie points with Mum given what appears printed below ...].
Getting High on Sufism
Our hosts looked like something out of the Bob Marley Appreciation Society. The Shaykh and his students were stuffing their lungs with those nasty Indonesian cigarettes that make Indian bidis seem like Marlboro Lights. And coming from me, that comment really says something. I don’t smoke.
The Shaykh and a number of his students went into some long-winded philosophical explanation about the unity of all being and how Nur (literally "Divine Light") influences the share price of News Limited stocks on the Jamaican stock market. Or something like that. I was too stoned on the fumes to remember.
Eventually, after my lungs nearly collapsed and I felt dreg locks emerging from my brain, I was handed a copy of a prayer in Arabic. It was a special prayer known in Arabic as a salawat. This is a form of prayer common to all sufi orders, whether they be the more orthodox of my late Naqshbandi teacher, or the funkier variety that hang out in the sticks near Bandung.
Islam, like all faiths, has a spiritual tradition. Sunnis call it tasawwuf (or “sufism” for those of you unable to say the Arabic word) and Shias call it irfan. In relation to the name, I feel detached and objective enough to state that in my considered opinion, the Shias got it spot-on.
The sufis are regarded as generally a harmless bunch. Usama bin Reagan/Ladin doesn’t have a lot of time for sufis. Basically, sufis focus on purifying the heart and service to others. You might say they are Islam’s answer to Mother Teresa minus the daggy saris.
Faith and Love
All sufi orders are known to have special salawat prayers. And what is a salawat? It is a special prayer in honour and praise of the Prophet Muhammad.
And it isn’t just sufis who do this. Five times a day, Muslims perform their worship at set times. An essential item of that worship is to recite at least three forms of salawat on the Prophet Muhammad, two of which also involve praising and honouring Abraham.
Islamic faith isn’t just about intellectual conviction. It is also about love. The primary object of our love is the Creator. Muslims love the Prophet Muhammad because their Creator ordered them to. And because we love those whom the Creator loves. In similar vein, Muslims are meant to love all the Prophets and all creation. Well, almost all. We generally leave Satan out of the equation.
Love for the Prophet Muhammad is a consistent theme which appears even in the most “moderate” (whatever that word means) strains of Muslim opinion. It expresses itself in some very unusual ways.
The Wise Woman
Last year, I was getting really pussed orf (as they would probably say in Invercargill) at a certain person of the female persuasion who I felt was stringing me along. I cannot remember the number of times I felt like phoning her and telling her off. There was just one problem.
Her surname suggested that she may be a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. On such matters, and in similar vein to Mr Blackadder, I often consult “the wise woman”. Except my wise woman tends to be better looking than the one sought by Rowan Atkinson.
Mum’s response was swift. “Give her a call. Tell her off.”
“But mum”, I said, “Her surname is [edited in defiance of unbridled freedom of speech but in support of common courtesy and to avoid serious breach of confidentiality].”
“Then ignore what I just told you!”
You see, according to the Mummy school of Islamic jurisprudence, it is against religious decency to speak roughly to a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. Even if there is only a slim chance of such relation being established.
The point of this lame story is to tell all you folks out there in Margostan that even the most unusual and warped forms of Islamic theology involve love for the Prophet. But I am telling you this in confidence. Whatever you do, do NOT tell Mum I said she has warped views. Just keep it between us.
Anyway, now it’s time to get serious.
Love and Obedience
In response to a dozen or so cartoons, some Muslims are expressing their love for the Prophet Muhammad by setting fire to embassies and threatening the lives of Europeans.
They are behaving like litigants unhappy with a Family Court decision who then decide to assault or kill a judge. Already a number of judges and their family members have been attacked in this way.
Such attacks are inspired by a warped sense of love. Some poets say love has no rules, or it makes up its own rules along the way. But Islamic theology knows no such love. Instead, the consensus of opinion across all schools of Islamic thought is that love for the Prophet is displayed by obedience to his dictates and emulation of his example.
I cannot claim to be a theologian. But I have read a fair few biographies of the Prophet Muhammad. I have not come across a single incident where he has shown anything but the highest respect and honour to an envoy or ambassador.
If you want to know what mainstream Islam thinks of the rioting that the Ba’athist regime in Syria refused to put a stop to, just go to the website of the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS). Go to the search feature of the website and type in the word “Islam”.
There you’ll find a lecture by a prominent scholar and lawyer of the Nahdatul Ulama (NU), the biggest Islamic organisation in the world. Mohammad Fajrul Falaakh delivered the Acton lecture on “Islam in Pluralist Indonesia” to a crowd of Kiwis at the Great Hall of Parliament House in Wellington in December 2002.
Falaakh spoke about the five basic principles of sharia or Islamic sacred law. The fourth of these principles is the protection of property. Proprietary rights are regarded as sacred under sharia.
Attacks on Embassies Unlawful
You don’t need a PhD in sharia law to deduce that the attacks on embassies are absolutely unlawful. In Lebanon, where the most recent attacks took place, the highest religious authority of Islam (known as the “Mufti”) has repeatedly declared that any attacks on foreign embassies are unlawful acts.
It doesn’t make a lot of sense to show your love and honour for someone by doing something they hate and forbid.
Some Muslim dimwits have figured that it’s ok to defy Islamic sacred law in order to protect the honour of the Prophet. How they reach this idea, I will never know. But I can speculate. However, in offering these speculations, I am in no way excusing their conduct. I’m just trying to understand their behaviour which seems as troubling and scary to me as it would to most readers here.
The Absence of Free Societies
The only explanation I can give is that these youngsters simply don’t know what it means to live in a free society. This has a number of implications.
Let’s look at Syria for a moment. It has been correctly said that Syria is a police state. In fact, it would probably be more accurate to refer to Syria as a secret police state. It is estimated that at least 40% of the population belong to one or other of competing factions of the Syrian secret police.
Believe it or not, mainstream Islam is often suppressed in Syria. Many people don’t realise this, but the ruling party of Syria is dominated by a small sect not regarded as Muslims by either mainstream Sunni or Shia Muslims. That sect are known as the Nusayri sect, and they are form only a tiny minority of the Syrian population.
By and large, Syria is home to moderate orthodox sufistic theological schools. Syrian scholars are known for their moderate views. But like all individuals and institutions involved in public life, Syrian scholars are unable to speak freely on a range of issues.
If you have lived in such a society all your life, it is easier to presume every other place is the same. It is therefore little wonder that so many Arab and Muslim groups are calling for such crazy things as a ban by governments on the publication of the cartoons.
Many Muslims do not understand what free press is because they have never lived in a society where free press exists. They presume that all western governments have a “Ministry for Information” that censors everything printed.
(I could write about this topic for a few more pages, but I might just curb my freedom of speech a little.)
Further, freedom of speech is not a concept understood on many Muslim-majority countries. For many Muslims, it makes sense for the government to crack down on anything deemed unacceptable to whoever decides. Whoever that is. Who knows?Conclusion
I haven’t finished yet. Stay tuned for much much more!