Sufism: A Theoretical Intervention in Global International Relations
Edited by Deepshikha Shahi
Rowman & Littlefield, 2020

An enchanting guide which broadly succeeds at bringing collectively an eclectic group of subjects in a single quantity, which covers lofty theoretical grounds akin to a brand new ontological, epistemological and methodological method for IR, in addition to extra empirically grounded research of Sufism in follow in Syria, Turkey, the USA, and extra. The melding of those two poles is testomony to the robust route by editor Deepshikha Shahi, in back and front ending the guide with clear focus and sense of objective.

Broadly talking the guide teases on the promise of ‘Sufi IR’, which is a body of theorising which avoids the pitfalls of some publish/decolonial idea. Most thrilling is the best way during which, it’s argued, Sufi IR doesn’t unwittingly restate Eurocentric classes, akin to a selected idea for a selected individuals (versus a common Eurocentric idea for all peoples), or a spinoff of pre-established common (Eurocentric) thought solely linguistically differentiated as belonging to this or that tradition. Shahi tries to maneuver the dialog away from such binaries, stating: “[it] does not have to be always about ‘universal vs. provincial’ (or Western versus non-Western); it could also be about ‘universal along with provincial’ (or Western along with non-Western)” (p.6). The distinction between common and explicit is sort of central to the theme of the guide, making an attempt to hyperlink the ‘many worlds’ of humanity’s lived experiences to ‘one world’, which unites us as a species (p.210). As such, the guide speaks to the issue, if perceived as such, whereby a lot postcolonial idea can readily critique IR’s Eurocentric universalism, however solely sheepishly, if in any respect, forwards a special or corrected ontological and epistemological place. Sufi IR does simply that, utilizing the idea of “oneness of reality/wahdat al-wujud” (p.47) to border an epistemological monism – an entire and its components defined in reference to at least one actuality. Monism is contrasted to epistemological dualism which is indicative of the self-discipline of IR (and the broader social sciences) at massive, separating ideas into binaries to be contested over: historical past or philosophy; chronology or covariance; language or idea; tradition or financial system; single or plural (p.202). The bridge between plurality and oneness, because it seems, is the guts. Shahi explains that “the rational faculty of mind is skilled in discerning the plurality of human experiences, the emotional faculty of heart is skilled in spotting singularity across the plurality of human experiences” (p.14). The argument is actually contentious, but additionally completely fascinating.

Theoretical contributions

The guide is cut up into 4 components; Part 1 is deeply theoretical, Parts 2 and three are extra empirically knowledgeable, and Part 4 features because the guide’s conclusion. In Part 1, we begin with Ali Balci’s chapter on a Sufi re-reading of the knowledge-power nexus. The chapter exhibits how al-Ghazali and Ibn al-Arabi relate to the development of energy/information within the Foucauldian sense. This is just not an unproblematic comparability to up to date poststructuralist thought, nonetheless, and care is taken to indicate that whereas there may be similarity, there are vital variations (p.35). The latter sections relate on to the undertaking of Global IR and appear the richest with chance. The chapter is provocative and exhibits convincingly that that is fertile floor for additional research. Ending Part 1 is Shahi’s chapter on Rumi and Global International Relations. It is daring in its claims, arguing {that a} Sufi method, as learn by means of Rumi on this occasion, makes ontology inconsequential, methodology eclectic, and epistemology monistic (collapsing distinctions like positivist/post-positivist and so on) (p.51). However, the chapter is advanced and extremely abstracted when in comparison with most of the different contributions, making it a tough, if rewarding learn.  

Non-Western Sufism in follow

Part 2 brings empirical insights from non-Western worlds (Syria, Turkey, Sudan and Arab historical past), whereas Part 3 does the identical from Western worlds (Europe and the USA). I’ll sort out these sections collectively. Fait Muedini’s chapter on the idea of ‘Oneness of Reality’ pertains to the flexibility for social science to amalgamate the numerous differentiated experiences of humanity right into a ‘oneness’, or singular means of figuring out the world (p.69). The chapter gives an attention-grabbing description of how such an idea might be present in a mess of non secular traditions the world over, however its relation to IR, Global or in any other case, is speculative at greatest. Such hypothesis, 4 chapters into the guide, appears misplaced. Another traditionally knowledgeable chapter is Giuseppe Cecere’s contribution on the boundaries of the idea of ‘Oneness of Reality’. This chapter is a welcome contextualisation of Sufi masters of their historic intervals, compared to textual evaluation of their work which may obfuscate the primacy of divine revelation within the understanding of monism. Rather, for Cecere, Sufism creates a special sort of dualism, “between subjective-human-inspiration and objective-divine-revelation” (p.118). It is actually a compelling chapter, however is extra a research of Sufi follow and idea, and fewer an try and relate this to IR. As such, regardless of potential, the chapter requires some work from an IR readership to bridge the hole. Then once more, such bridging might nicely must be a methodological dedication of Global IR, and we have to develop an understanding of the mental histories of various cultures, the identical means we count on completely different cultures to have an understanding of European mental historical past.

Moving onto the country-specific chapters, Omar Imady’s chapter on Sufism in Syria gives a wonderful grounding of what have been, till now, fairly summary concepts. Imady relates Sufi concepts to Islamist uprisings in Syria within the 80s and 90s, shifting from the micro of Syria to the macro of Global IR. It is much less a dialog about IR as a self-discipline, and extra an exploration of the intersection (and limits) of thought and follow. In the Syrian case, the chapter argues that Sufism’s skill to breakdown “identitarian gaps” (p.95) by means of the idea of oneness, had been a contributing issue to Grand Mufti Kaftaru’s battle decision efforts within the time interval studied. Far extra important of Sufi praxis is Ayşe Çavdar’s chapter on Sufi orders in Turkey, which warns in opposition to universalising or abstracting Sufi philosophy from follow, fairly in opposition to the overall thrust of the amount thus far. The follow of Sufi orders in Turkey highlights the exclusionary mechanisms which might be concerned, calling into query the inclusiveness of Sufism as an abstraction; “Sufi tariqas [orders]… do not refrain from settling inside the communitarian borders and obtaining power from them” [sic] (p.135). As information kinds that stem from the European Enlightenment (liberalism) are additionally being re-evaluated by putting them of their historic context (slavery), it’s admirable that such work can be current right here, stopping the embrace of utopian desires within the object of Sufi IR.

This brings me to the ultimate chapter on non-Western Sufi experiences, but additionally essentially the most problematic chapter of the amount. Focusing on the lifetime of the Sudanese author and politician Mahmud Muhammad Taha, the creator Meir Hatina gives an introduction to the life and work of this compelling Sufi mental, however the utility to a) the Arab-Israeli battle and b) IR on the whole is missing. First and foremost is the best way during which Taha’s troubling assumptions about ‘the Arabs’ versus a benign Israel will not be critically engaged with. When the chapter claims that “[i]n fact, [for Taha] Israel functioned as a mirror for the Arabs, highlighting their faults, and therefore it was necessary to reach out for a peace with it” (p.154), it appears to me to be reinforcing an Orientalist dualism between inherently ‘backwards/illiberal’ Arabs and ‘civilised/liberal’ Israel. Addressing this facet of Taha’s writing may nicely be illuminating, a lot because the chapter on Turkey was. Most unusual, nonetheless, is the tangential means during which Sufism is mobilised. Taha appears, on this studying, extra an analogue for liberalism quite than Sufism, and if there’s a dialogue available in regards to the relationship between liberalism and Sufism, it isn’t discovered right here.

Western Sufism in follow

Beginning the part on Sufism within the West, Elena Furlanetto and Shahi’s chapter on the US discourse on Sufism can be a considerably disappointing chapter. Full of suppositions and assumed linkages between Sufism and US civic faith or the heritage of that civil faith, the chapter doesn’t, to my thoughts, learn as notably convincing. The chapter depends on perceived similarities in verse quite than extra concrete examples of journey writing or translations, that are talked about, however not explored in the identical means as verse is. Moreover, the US Enlightenment runs alongside the extermination and expropriation of native peoples, however this colonialism is just not historicised, however quite the ‘(neo)colonialism’ is when Sufism is appropriated, indifferent from its Islamic roots. Heavy with speak of ‘compatibility’ and ‘multifaith/multiculturalism’ (p.173), the chapter doesn’t interact with the notion of US multiculturalism as itself a racist assemble linked to structural inequality (for a extra polemical introduction to this concept see: Philips, 2004; for an educational introduction see: Cornell & Murphy, 2002). The closing chapter on this part on the European discourse on Sufism, sees R. James Ferguson present a improbable appraisal of Sufism in Europe, its heritage, up to date place and future prospects. The chapter attracts nicely on Sufi rules to narrate them to up to date political processes, notably European integration. Moreover, Sufism’s function in interfaith dialogue and needs by European governments to ‘use’ it to enhance societal cohesion is brilliantly problematised; in a single case, British Sufism is sponsored by the state solely to see authorities distance itself from the factor it has created, “to avoid divisive responses from Muslim communities” (p.186). In one other case, Russian appropriation of a Chechen Sufi order “had little to do with the inclusive, tolerant, and mystical Sufi attributes”, however quite “remained chained to the Russian government’s interests” (p.187). The examples present nicely the issue with state appropriation of ‘Western friendly’ or ‘apolitical’ Islam.

Tying all of it collectively

Finally, Shahi takes us again to the summary questions of heart-mind distinctions, trying to sq. the circle between information of the thoughts, which identifies distinction, and information of the guts, which recognises similarities. The chapter takes a stunning psychological flip, trying to indicate how hierarchy in worldwide relations, and the resultant ache and struggling that the robust can inflict on the weak, and vice versa, results in “repetitive backlashes of the same pain-experience” (p.222). It is once more contentious, however participating. What confuses issues is that this argument was not alluded to in earlier chapters and so serves as an ‘add on’, after the chapter makes an attempt to conclude with abstract and synthesis of the previous contributions. It is just not an unwelcome learn, however extra maybe may have been performed to ‘conclude’ extra forcefully and produce collectively the disparate threads completely different chapters have woven – considering particularly in regards to the theory-praxis distinction that most of the chapters make. As it’s, such issues are talked about briefly, which leaves one with the distinct (and questionable) impression that Sufi IR actually is a utopian concept which could resolve any variety of crises.

Overall, the guide has some compelling chapters, a few of which will definitely be of curiosity to IR students grappling with the self-discipline’s Eurocentric heritage. As Shahi relates of the Helveti-Jerrahi Sufi order within the USA, “[a]nyone that walks in the door is welcome” (p.172), however be sure to carry your spirituality to interact with the provocations inside this quantity – not one thing I imagined ever saying about an IR textual content!


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