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Studies 20 June, 2013

Tariqa Islam: Layers of Authentication

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Hassan Marzouqi

Hassan Marzouqi is a Tunisian researcher who holds a Master’s degree in Urban Studies, and is currently preparing a PhD at Tunisia’s University of Sousse. His research has already been published in a number of Arabic journals and newspapers, and, at present, he is the Webmaster for the Al Jazeera Documentary website.

Introduction

Sufism, in its contemporary expression within the Sufi Orders is without doubt substantially different to the theosophical Sufism created by the masters of Islamic mysticism. Perhaps the major transformation in Sufi thought is represented by the beginnings of its institutionalization when Sufism became a collection of rituals made up of the regular ceremonial liturgical recitations of dhikr[1] and devotional prayer (wird) held at the zawiya[2]. Once the zawiya became the sole socio-cultural institution for the expression of Sufism, a new cultural coloring took shape in the Islamic cultural field. This gained its independence from philosophical Sufism on the one hand and from orthodox religion on the other. It swept the domains of folk culture in some of the Islamic lands, particularly in the Arab Maghreb, representing a very significant change to folk religion there and, even, a fundamental component of its identity.[3]

In this study attempts will be made to probe the epistemological, symbolic and sociological conditions that made this kind of cultural expression of religion both an "independent Islam" and, at the same time, one in close contact with orthodox Islam. In addition to the political and historical conditions of interest to historians, attempts will be made to excavate the structural conditions that make the Tariqa[4] an autonomous social body within Arab Islamic society by dwelling on the epistemological and anthropological conditions that have allowed tariqa Islam to continuously reproduce itself.

In order to address this question, efforts will be made to test the thesis that tariqa Islam is a religious discourse parallel to other religious discourses, and that tariqa culture has a symbolic structure of similar depth to many other cultural products. The zawiya, as a social body and in its organization, might also be similar to social bodies that it coexists with in the same "social universe".

This thesis leads us to deal with five key topics that combine the levels on the basis of which the Sufi Order authenticates itself: Epistemology: the Sufi theory of knowledge and its structure of analogical reasoning; Tariqa rituals and their particularity; The jurisprudence (fiqh) of the Tariqa and institutionalization of relations between individuals; anthropology and the symbolic structure of the tariqa world; sociology and the structure of the tariqa field.

The corpus of material that shall be worked from is texts from the tradition of the Sunni Sufi orders, the North African in particular. The study also relies on observations of the contemporary Qasimiya, Isma‛iliya and Muhammadiya Orders in Redeyef in south-west Tunisia.

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[1] Dhikr, meaning remembering, In Islamic devotional practice, represents the ways of reminding oneself of God. In Sufi devotions, the term is used both for the regular activity of remembrance and for the litanies and prayers involved in the acts of remembering. Dhikr may be an act of individual devotion, but the term usually refers to collective devotions whose specific formulas and prayers are defined by the devotional path or tariqah that identifies the group. Each Sufi brotherhood has its own distinctive poems and prayers for the regular dhikr meetings of the order and the personal devotions of its members.

[2] Zawiya is a Sufi place of worship and a location where the five daily prayers are said, litanies of the Sufi order are recited, offerings are brought, food and sanctuary may be sought, and social activities requiring religious blessing are conducted.

[3] Issa, Islamic Governance and Society, p. 18; Berque, L'Intérieur du Maghreb, p. 543.

[4] Tariqa or tariqah; refers in English to the way, road or path and is the term used for an order or school of Sufism . Associated with Tariqa is the mystical teaching and the set of spiritual practices and rituals that are performed within this order, with the ultimate aim of seeking ḥaqīqah "ultimate truth".