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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: September 2016



Of Sufism and Islamic unorthodoxy

The 'Alid nature of Sufism, and that of heterodoxy in Islam in general, has been studied in various disciplines of the Humanities. Its direct connection however, to the Shi'a tradition remains to be fully explored. Shi'a-Sufi studies is a relatively new sub-field, the study of which has been limited by a lack of primary sources. Any researcher of Shi'ism in history is hindered by the very nature of the religion, which for most of its existence either concealed itself and its real beliefs, or tempered its outward identity to make it more acceptable to the orthodox. Exceptions to the above of course are to be found whenever Shi'a denominations held the reins of state power. Similarly, researchers of Shi'a connections to Sufism, or of Sufi orders with Shi'a beliefs, are for the most part confronted by high levels of secrecy.

In short, research into Shi'a-Sufi relations in the medieval period is handicapped by concealment from the outset. But primary textual evidence can undermine the attempt to conceal. Clues are from time to time left as to what was really happening. For the most part, the real corpus of beliefs would be held secretly, transmitted orally and be expressed in forms other than the ordinary, to hide them from the majority of the believers. Indeed, some of the personalities in this book, when studied through textual evidence, would appear as good ‘orthodox’ Sufi Muslims, who lived their lives according to the predefined structure of their tariqat, i.e. order. A notable example of what can be done with these sources can be found in Amina Steinfels' book Knowledge before Action: Islamic Learning and Sufi Practice in the Life of Sayyid Jalal al-Din Bukhari Makhdum-I Jahaniyan (2012), where she reconstructs the life and times of Jahaniyan Jahangasht (d.1384) for the first time in modern scholarship. Steinfels' commendable work is based on textual evidence–Jahangasht's correspondence, relationships with his disciples and with the state, and material about his esoteric training as a Sufi. However Jahangasht, appears somewhat differently in this book as the evidence used to show his ‘real’ spiritual leanings here is mostly archaeological and metaphysical.