responses to Confused About Sufi Poetry?
Raymond Kaiser’s response to ‘Confused About Sufi Poetry?’:
Hi Mr. Alizadeh,
I was quite confused by your last paragraph in the article entitled ‘Confused about Sufi Poetry?’. The paragraph struck me as unclear and perhaps inaccurate.
My wife, I and many friends have Sufi libraries – poetry by Mevlana, Hafiz, Kabir, writings by Ibn ‘Arabi, Inayat Khan, Idries Shah, tales by Nasruddin, etc. Since none of our circle of friends and lovers of the way fit into the neo-conservative category I can only assume that we somehow fit under the rubric of ‘New Age’ (though I do not own any books by Deepak Chopra, Shirley McClane, Wayne Dyer or books about Ascended Masters).
Perhaps it might be helpful for you to meet real people who share the same love and passion for the Beloved as you do and may express that love and passion in a way that distinctly reflects their own understanding of the Mystery itself.
May kindness, love and insight light your way.
Thanks for getting in touch, and for your thoughts regarding this topic.
I'm not actually sure if you and I mean the same thing by the terms ‘New Age’ – or ‘neo-conservative’, for that matter – but, either way, what I call abominable and egregious is the process of distortion that turns a ‘real’ (whatever it might be) into a utility/myth/commodity for modern usage.
According to such a process of distortion (French thinker Roland Barthes might call it a ‘regression’) an ancient/medieval hymn, for example, gets transformed into a song on a meditation CD; and, as much as I’m positively not a religious person, I can’t accept this deformation as anything other than that. That is not to say that I want, in this case, esoteric mystical traditions (and texts) to be ‘owned’ by the orthodox practitioners of these traditions (say, the Sufi orders in the Islamic world); but I don’t want them to be deprived of their (historical) reality, exploited, commercialised and turned into commodities either.
So I would be totally in favour of the study, reinvention, translation and adaptation of, for example, poems of Rumi for (preferably secular) artistic, intellectual, philosophical and academic purposes; but I find their conversion into tools of contemporary spiritualism unpalatable. I would not, at any rate, say that any Western enthusiast of Sufi poetry is either a New Ageist or an Orientalist/neo-conservative (and I don’t think that’s what my article claims either); but there are similarities between a New Ageist’s and an Orientalist’s view of ‘Eastern mysticism’ as a quaint, antiquated and hence easily exploitable ‘third world’ ‘exotic’ curiosity. At any rate, on the basis of your comments, I gather that your understanding of Sufism goes beyond what I would term ‘New Ageism’; and you don’t strike me as a neo-con either.
Byrnes’ response to ‘Confused About Sufi Poetry?’:
I read your article
on Sufi Poetry. Very interesting thanks. I was wondering if you could
help with some research I’m doing on Qawwali Singing. I’m researching
Quawwali for both personal and academic reasons. I’m a music student at
NMIT in Melbourne and I'm currently doing research for an essay on Qawwali
and I'm a singer/ songwriter with a personal interest in devotional singing.
Some of my own musical creations explore and are influenced by devotional
singing. Do you know anyone who practices Qawwali? Or any other kind of
Sufi devotional music? It would be wonderful to interview someone who
knows about or is involved in this tradition. In particular I’m interested
in cultural aspects around Qawwali and would like to find out why it has
been traditionally dominated by men. I have found some information on
Abida Parveen, a female Qawwali singer, and I’m very interested in finding
more about the gender issues within this tradition.
If you could help
in anyway it would be much appreciated.
Thanks for getting in touch. To the best of my understanding Qawwali music – as per the work of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – is mostly in Urdu, and more playful and less solemn than, say, the more ascetical, sparse musical arrangements in Sema ceremonies of Turkish and Kurdish ‘whirling’ dervishes. Having said that, the ‘ghazal’ form of lyric – something like the English ode – is used in almost all traditions of Sufi music. As I’m a writer, my knowledge about this (and other genres of Sufi singing) is very much limited to their poetry, so all I can say with any confidence is that the ghazal is of courtly origins, that before its adaptation by medieval Persian Sufi poets (such as Attar, Rumi and Hafez) it was almost solely used for entertaining an aristocratic male audience, and that its tropes (e.g. images of the wine-bringer, the wine, the nightingale and the rose, etc) had sexual/erotic connotations before they were employed by the Sufis to signify esoteric/mystical concepts.
This perhaps links in with your question about gender. There has certainly been no shortage of female poets using the ghazal form in contemporary/modern Iranian poetry e.g. Simin Behbahani, Parveen E’tesami, etc. But, again, I couldn’t tell you about the (gender) politics of the performance of Sufi poetry/rituals as I’m not a musicologist/anthropologist. I do know of female whirling dervishes – and my own grandmother joined a Sufi order in Iran mid last century – but one would assume (and only assume) that there are some differences between men’s and women’s participations. As for contemporary practitioners of Qawwali and other forms of contemporary Islamic devotional music, there are of course tons of them in Asia, Middle East and Africa. There are also Sufi orders in the West, and some (as I understand it) in Australia. There is apparently a Mevlevi Order of Australia and also a list of Western Orders.
I hope this has been of help. Best wishes,
Andrew J. Routledge’s response to ‘Confused About Sufi Poetry?’:
I was most interested
in your essay and the way you referred to the role of Sufis in challenging
the regimes they lived under. Perhaps the most famous of these was Omar
El Kayyam. He incorporated his personal conduct into his ‘protest’ in
so much as he actively drank wine and consorted with affluent women in
his native Iran in addition to the verse that he wrote.
Andrew J. Routledge
© Ali Alizadeh, Andrew J. Routledge, Rachael Byrnes, Raymond Kaiser, 2006.