On the last post, Bebe g commented:
“…We were even taught by our pakistani sheik that all white people where naturally evil and would never convert to Islam because they naturally have dark hearts. But he was quick to marry a white woman 1st chance he had. Good thing I never believed him.. To many people who are donned leaders of the community and are followed by the ignorant non reading locals….”
Hoo boy, did that part of her comment trigger memories! Things that people’s shaykhs taught them. Or, things that people claimed that their shaykhs had taught them, anyhow. Things that people we looked up to as “scholars” and “shaykhs” taught us, and that we felt that we had to believe. Things that people claimed to know because they were following the Sufi path….
My earliest memory of that sort of thing falls into the latter category. We were visiting the family of a friend of my ex. This friend (and his family) were from the same ethnic background, but that was about where the similarities ended, because the friend (unlike my ex) was a devoted Sufi who followed a shaykh from back home. (My ex told me later that this shaykh was a charlatan who was well known for his shady financial dealings and lavish person lifestyle… but anyway.) While we were at my ex’s friend’s house, we met another of that shaykh’s murids. When the murid realized that I am a convert, he immediately wanted to know what my ethnic background was.
I replied that my mother’s side of the family is originally from X, and my father’s side from Y.
The murid loudly objected, telling me: “No, you are only what your father is, not what your mother is! Your essence can only come from your father.”
I guess that I looked doubtful, because he added emphatically that as a Sufi, he knows all about the inner truths of things. (!?!)
After we left, I thought that that was a bit odd, but put it aside as someone confusing “culture” with “Islam.” Little did I know that I hadn’t seen anything yet when it came to mystically-legitimated full frontal patriarchy. Or for that matter, essentialism run amok.
* * * * *
In the insular, highly conservative and very Sufi-oriented cult that I became involved with, we looked to our leaders for guidance on everything. And we were certainly given that… even on things that I now realize that they knew nothing about.
Essentialist generalizations and tired stereotypes were passed off as ageless, profound spiritual wisdom.
Native people had this deep spiritual connection to nature, we were told—unless they were deemed to not be “native enough” because they did things such as getting involved in groups like the American Indian Movement or using English nicknames for themselves. In other words, a Native person in the Hiawatha mold was fine, but not the likes of Leonard Pelletier.
Africans (we were told) have this innate affinity to rhythm and music, as the example of Bilal (who used to give the adhan) supposedly indicates. ( Somehow, tone-deaf Africans, or Africans who don’t like music didn’t exist.) And, African American brothers supposedly had a higher sex drive than other men.
Arabs have a god-given feeling that they are superior to all other Muslims and that they should lead the umma, we were taught. And that there’s nothing anyone can do about it, nor should they, really, because after all, the Prophet was an Arab, and he is supposed to have said that anyone who loves him should love the Arabs. Oh yes, and because the language of paradise will be Arabic.
Essentialism didn’t begin and end with ethnic and racial stereotypes—it extended to men and women (natch), as well as to people who had committed certain sins. So, we were told that a particular sister who used to smoke pot before she converted to Islam, and kept on smoking it until she learned that it is forbidden clearly had an intrinsic flaw. Because she should have naturally, intuitively known that pot isn’t allowed and stayed away from it, even before she had heard of Islam, if the integrity of her fitra hadn’t been compromised somehow.
Men in general (we were told) are “naturally” aggressive and want to dominate. And for men, sex and violence are “naturally” intertwined, and there is no way to separate them. Women in general are supposedly passive and yielding and want to follow men’s lead and are fulfilled in nurturing others—unless their fitra has been corrupted by modernity. A woman who doesn’t recognize herself in this description of what a woman “naturally” is has clearly been corrupted by modernity.
We believed that our shaykhs could interpret dreams. And that our shaykhs had unparalleled insight into people, including our own children. Our kids were labeled according to their supposedly “essential” characteristics—and this didn’t worry us, even when the labeling was mainly negative. We were grateful for having received the shaykh’s insights into what our kids “really are” and (supposedly) what they would grow up to be like, and what probably lay in store for them. We had much more trust in the shaykhs’ judgments about our kids and even ourselves than we did in our own sense of what was going on.
Sometimes we did raise our eyebrows about some of these ideas, and even meekly asked how this could be. But we would be quickly put in our place, and we acquiesced. Because we had been taught (and we believed) that God chooses certain select people, and gives them higher degrees of insight than everyone else. “Beware of the penetrating insight of the believer!” we were told repeatedly. Because this is supposedly a hadith, so the Prophet said it, and we weren’t to question it. Nor were we to ask why it is that “believer” here means shaykhs specifically. So, our leaders laid claim to penetrating insight, that could see realities that we couldn’t see, and understand things “as they really are,” while we couldn’t. Therefore, if something they said didn’t make sense to us, or didn’t jibe with our own experiences of the world, it had to be that our thoughts and experiences were wrong.
And it was also comforting in a way to believe that there was someone who knew these things, who we could ask. We might not know much ourselves, but by thinking that we had access to people who did, we felt as though we had more control over where our otherwise difficult, often chaotic, socially marginal and economically precarious lives were going.
But anyway… just thinking about all this seems mind-blowing to me now. The things we believed….
What things have your shaykhs taught you??