1. Introduction. Sufism in a Changing Modern World.
The religious group I am presenting here today is the Sufi order of Moroccan origin Qadiriyya al-Budshishiyya.
This paper is based on my PhD research on this order in Europe. Although the majority of examples and cases I will recount here today are from Spanish members of the order, very similar accounts are present in major cities in France, Belgium and the UK, where the order is also to be found.
The global spread of Islamic mystical groups or Sufism is not a recent phenomenon. Almost from its beginnings as a spiritual manifestation of Islam more than a thousand years ago Muslim mystics have travelled the routes Islam opened through military expansion and trade, into the most distant lands of the globe, from central to south Asia and Indonesia, from the near east to north Africa, Iran, and to east, west and southern Africa. Since the 19th century, mystical Islam is also to be found in Europe.
However, Sufism in the West has begun to be a significant religious phenomenon only since the 60s and 70s, the number of religious groups or orders having considerably increased from that time.
Today, some of these religious organizations have accommodated to the various modern settings they exist, to a certain extent breaking away from the wider religious tradition they use to belong in the past. Thus, despite the vast plurality of religiosities existing among and within Sufi orders in Europe, some similarities allow them to be grouped together with other forms of non-Islamic New European Religiosities. Many of these 'breakaway' Sufi orders, however, continue with most of the practices characteristics of pre-modern Sufism.
Nevertheless, we can identify in those groups charismatic leadership, an ideal of deep inner transformation to be achieved through ritual practices, and social networks based on mutual reliance rather than on institutional regulation. European Sufi orders today seem to be attractive to non-Muslims and Muslims alike; people that enthusiastically turn to Sufism seeking for a deeper spiritual development and, ultimately a new identity.
In relation to wider Islamic discourses, Sufi groups are sometimes seen by other Muslims with suspicion as at odds with established Islamic religiosities, particularly regarding to certain aspects of their ritual and belief. It is fair to suggest that such demands had multiplied with the increasing importance of reformist trends in Islamic thought, clashes over doctrinal differences being common between Salafi and Wahhabi-oriented groups and members of Sufi orders in many parts of the Muslim world.
After 9/11, several governments around the world, including those in the West, have backed schemes to promote Sufism as a way to counterbalance the growth of political oriented groups. This is also an important reason that helps us to understand why more recently, there has been a fast spread of Sufism in Europe.
2. The Budshishiyya. General Concepts.
For the members of the Budshishiyya, the order is a path which entails a process of constant spiritual self-improvement. The first step is to take an oath, ‘the pact’ (bayat), a symbolic allegiance by means of putting the aspirant under the total obedience of the spiritual leader. It also requires to the follower to replace his or her original name by a Muslim name. In France, Spain and Belgium, where the larger Muslim communities in society come from North Africa, Moroccan names are the ones generally chosen by people. By contrast, in the UK, South Asian Muslim names are far more frequent. The symbolic path they enter purports to be a whole-embracing discipline aimed towards the progressive purification of the follower’s soul, whose day-to-day progress is monitored not by the master but by local secondary authorities.
The order in terms of authority can be defined with a pyramidal diagram. On the top of the pyramid there is the master. Following him, there are the Khulafa, deputies –all of them members of the sheikh’s family. Following them, there are the secondary authorities, one Moqadem (male) and Moqadema (female) for every setting; And following them, the fuqara (men) and faqiraat (women), ordinary members of the order for every location.
As I have recently mentioned, spiritual progress is monitored not by the master but by those Moqadems and Moqademas, who exercise the closer supervision over the groups. Moqadems and Moqademas supervise followers’ daily ritual practises and routines’, knowing what is going on in followers’ lives. Besides, the master’s word in crucial issues is usually final. He is accorded tremendous decision-making power over several aspects of fuqara's lives. In certain cases, the master can be given the power to regulate, although just giving advice is far more frequent, matters of profession, finances, friendship, family relations and marriage.
It is worth to mention, that those norms have, after all, different degrees of impact on members. Some ascribe enthusiastically to all of them, while others frequently break the rules. The norm, therefore, is advisory rather than compulsory and going against it does not imply any further consequence. In any case, while most of the members negotiate and accommodate certain aspects of those impositions, most of such rules are carefully respected and carried out.
The master is a charismatic leader, who is believed to be a saint. Recent studies have shown that in medieval Sufism the shaykh did not entailed similar attributes than those of Christian sanctity, but 20th century western scholarly studies on Sufism misunderstood the Islamic notion of salih, transposing into reformed orders, such as the Budshishiyya a very particular understanding of sainthood. As a result, what we found in the Budshishiyya today is that, the shaykh is believed to be a saint, and labeled as saint by at least some of the members of the order. Probably, due to the fact that a quite significant proportion of Budshishiyya’s followers have had at some point an academic approach to Sufism, the scholarly perspective have definitely influenced the ways In which actual religiosities within the order are informed.
The shaykh of the Budshishiyya is Sidi Hamza Qadiri al-Budshishiyya. His authority is legitimized in the eyes of the followers by the concept of silsila, an Arabic term, literally means “chain”, used in the terminology of Sufism to refer to a continuous genealogical chain of spiritual descent, which is believed to connect the shaykh with a person regarded as the order's founder and back to the Prophet. Sidi Hamza is nowadays a prominent charismatic leader. It is believed to have inherited Baraka a sacred blessing sent by God. Generally speaking, Sufi sheikhs are believed to transmit some traces of their divine potential to ordinary people. That means that the sheikh embodies Godly presence and his body is believed to project divine sanctity. So powerful is for the followers this embodiment that the very act to watch him, to be in his presence is an immersion into some of his magical aura.
A member of the order recited me once a Hadith, that clearly states Budshishiyya’s point to this regard: ‘Men of God, Saints, when seen, God is evoked’
Baraka is believed to be a beneficent force, of divine origin, which causes superabundance in the physical sphere legitimizing the wealth of Sidi Hamza and his family; Wealth, constantly nourished by the incomes provided by followers of all types. In traditional orders, the sheikh’s power is understood in terms of symbolic capital which he may turn into material capital, to be redistributed among the followers. In the modern Budshishiyya, redistribution is accepted to be in a spiritual level, not entailing to any extent wealth’s reallocation.
3. Budshishiyya’s’ followers plurality
When I began this research my first assumption was that differences between members would appear as a result of the different contexts where the European Budshishiyya has taken root. However, what I have found is that geography is only partially relevant.
Instead, one can identify diverse kinds of people joining the order, most of them to be found in every European budshishi enclave. Accordingly I would suggest a sociological typology divided into four ideal types. As they are not fixed categories, diversity within the Budshishiyya would make us place some individuals in more than one category simultaneously, whereas others may have entered the order as people of one type and became with time more similar to those of another type. However, as ideal as those categories might be, they will serve us as a hermeneutical tool, that could be used to forecast what kinds of religiosities, and responses to certain issues different followers would be likely to display.
Twenty years ago, the order was re-planted into France following two different separate and independent channels. As a result of this process, the two first ‘types of followers’ emerged.
The first type are Moroccan labor migrants most of them from the northeast part of the country. They firstly settled down in the suburbs of Paris and other major French cities, but, as migration processes persisted, similar groups are also present in most Spanish and Belgian cities. Moroccan and non-Moroccan groups rarely meet. When doing research meant I had to choose, since gaining access to Moroccan groups would automatically imply loosing most of my chances to engage with non-Moroccans and vice versa.
With scarce contact with Moroccan groups, another group emerged, a group of French people ideologically committed –though to different extents – to Traditionalism/ Perennialism. Perennialism is an ideology, defined for being critical of modernity. They advocate for the ‘return of a ‘primordial tradition’, a supposed universal and everlasting wisdom of divine origin, transmitted from the very beginning of humankind and constantly reestablished with the appearance of every new ‘world religion’.
Traditionalists enter the Budshishiyya aiming to restore such tradition in 20th century western societies, a movement, reasonably significant amongst the various anti-modern movements in western European thought.
The European Budshishiyya is just one of the many expressions to be found in Perennialism today, and arguably, this ideological trend was decisive in the establishment of the order in Europe, and continues to definitely contribute to inflate its ranks –being far more common in continental Europe than in the UK.
The Traditionalist approach did initially not paid much attention to the experiential aspect, reason why, one might suggest these are members more likely than others to contest certain aspects of Budshishiyya’s authority and religious legitimacy.
An example that illustrates that could be the anger of one member when was told not to use musical instruments in ritual sessions.
Some other objections are related to views that not necessarily see the Budshishiyya as The all-encompassing or unique path, many others defend. Some tension arise when punctually, a member suggests a will to attend other orders ritual sessions, or to put himself or herself under the disposal of another spiritual master –not necessarily Muslim.
Traditionalism has also had a relevant impact among western-educated Moroccan middle and upper classes. One of the former leaders of the order in Europe, Faouzi Skali is a good example of that. Born in Fez, he has got his PhD in anthropology in Paris and has today published several scholarly works on Sufism.
He was the director of the Fez festival of sacred world music and belongs to the advisor committee of the UN ‘dialogue among civilizations’. He is indeed very active in promoting an image of the Budshishiyya as spiritual path aiming to foster love and peace on a global level.
His perspective on religion, one might suggest, is having a large impact in some Moroccan middle and upper classes who having never practiced Islam before, find in the Budshishiyya a more appealing way of living religion.
The third type outnumbers all other groups and is made up of people I have here called ‘mystics’. They have a more individualistic orientation and enter the order with the pursuit of achieving communion and conscious awareness of the spiritual truth, or Allah. Ritual sessions (dhikr) and individual praying (salat) are seen as open accesses to the divine reality, by all members, but those of these subgroup place special stress on the inner realization achieved to continued religious practice. For them, the only authentic form of worship is one that leads to a realization of the ‘Truth’, and that is mystical experience. The practice, they argue, polishes the heart and orients the follower towards God. For that reason they gather together with far more assiduity than others and generally speaking see themselves as more committed members. These are the ones that more strictly follow the religious and personal commands given by the saint and Moqadems alike. Not only them, but almost everyone in the Budshishiyya distinguish between a, an inward and personal experience of the sacred (spirituality or mysticism) which is considered to be authentic and b, simple allegiance Islam as an organized religion, which is seen as superficial and superfluous.
The last type is that of European born-Muslims. They are all what sociologists generally call ‘reverts’, people raised as Muslims but with non previous religious convincement. Generally speaking, they turn towards Sufism in the early years of adulthood. In France, Spain and Belgium they are mainly from Moroccan background whereas in the UK their background is mainly south-Asian. This fact consequently results in some differences in understanding between the two subgroups.
Some Moroccans tend to explain their allegiance to the Budshishiyya as means to recover ‘an authentic’ cultural legacy. In one of the member’s own words
‘to be part of this order is to fulfill our mission to transmit the real Moroccan values into next generations, to transmit them what Islam is really about a message of profound respect and love for all human beings’. In most cases, I have found, their parents were not Budshishis, not even Sufis. Parents, one member argued, that ‘because they were scared of the west, became promoters of the strictest Islam, strictness hard to be found neither among those Moroccan relatives that had never migrated nor among other parents in her Parisian context.
Muslims with Pakistani background, by contrast put much less the stress on Moroccan identity, and stress instead, the Islamic character of Sufism as well as its universalism.
The Budshishiyya is closely related to migration processes. Interestingly, there is not only migration from Muslim countries, but also second generation with non-Muslim origins.
This is by far, a much less significant phenomenon, but it is worth to comment the presence of members whose parents where from places with predominant catholic populations such as Reunion, or Ghana. One of these members expressed: ‘when I entered the Budshishiyya was the first time I felt like home’. Are your parents Muslims? I asked. No, it is not about Islam; it is simply that I had never felt as comfortable to be myself as I am here’.
So this gives you an idea of the plurality of followers of the Sheikh Sidi Hamza. Their various ways to accommodate and/or to respond to certain issues sometimes coincide while others greatly differ.
In conclusion, I have tried here to present an account of the considerable diversity between the various peoples in the European Budshishiyya. I tried to show how this Sufi order is indeed constituted very diversely, and how different kinds of people accommodate but also contest various common assumptions about Islam in Europe and to the agenda of the global religious organization to which they belong.