Sufis, As-hab as-Suffah, our times...
It is interesting to note that some say the word "Sufi" has its origin in the phrase "Ashab as-Suffah" (people of the platform of the Prophet's mosque) - and that many of these early seekers of knowledge, and followers of the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him and his family) were homeless.
In the "west," especially the United States - "Sufism" is by and large an upper middle-class phenomena. The myriad of tariqas in the US are filled with either mostly Whites and/or upper-middle class immigrant professionals (or, they are students well on their way to becoming part of that class). There are a few exceptions that can be pointed to, I’m sure… But these are exceptions.
The US Sufi Shaykhs themselves come from similar backgrounds, and their circle of friends, family, and acquaintances are often from this same class. This is not to say they don’t have anything to offer, they certainly do, many have a very deep understanding of some aspects of Islam. But there is a disconnect when “Sufism” separates itself from Islam’s strong emphasis on social justice, struggles against oppression, and providing a space for the most marginalized.
This is in stark contrast to Muslim majority countries, where the dargas are filled with very poor people, drug addicts, homeless, sick, and mentally ill. The larger, and more well known shrines are a place of refuge for some of the most marginalized individuals of society. But it appears that this is also changing, as “Sufism” becomes a fashion statement, and the upper and so-called “educated” classes of those societies also join the proliferating tariqas. And so, if this fad does not fade soon, we may well see dargas becoming gentrified, and "cleansing" may take on a whole new meaning: the mentally ill, the sick, the homeless will be sent off somewhere miles away - so as not to disturb the slick of the liberal rich.
Not surprising, since the upper classes of most Muslim majority countries owe their loyalty to the “west.” And , it is a part of US policy (as outlined in the infamous Rand Report) now to promote “Sufism” as an alternative “good Islam.” Supporters of the neo-cons, and the Bush regime can now even join their very own Muslims for Bush sufi group.
In the US, masajd that do work (however flawed) with, say, substance abusers, those homeless, and against inner-city violence, are primarily African-American, and located within some of the most severely impacted communities. As an imam of one such masjid said at a recent talk: that fluffy nice moderate/liberal/progressive version of “Islam” floating around has little or nothing to offer to those of us who are facing harsh realities of watching our sisters and brothers succumb to violence, drugs, and severe health problems such as HIV and environmentally caused cancer. Few, if any, of these new age Rumi lovers will step outside of their zones of comfort to face, and act in solidarity with communities that have experienced the worst of rampant Capitalism and corporate globalization.
Cultivating taqwa is not some abstract exercise, being Allah conscious means being conscious of what is around, and within us, and taking concrete steps towards changing our condition. And if “Sufism” is all about journeying towards Allah, then we might also consider this hadith of Imam Ali (AS) attributed in the Nahjul Balagha:
Go towards Allah as oppressed and do not go towards Him as oppressors.
And then there is that little business of the Abu Dharr mall... but thats another story for another time...