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Muslim Chaplains in North America  

Harvey Stark

As a relatively new profession, the North American Muslim chaplaincy (NAMC) has seen significant growth since the mid 1970s the hiring of the first paid Muslim chaplains in the United States approximately twenty-five years ago. There are three observable waves of chaplains to consider as the NAMC has developed: the first wave with the hiring of the first paid prison chaplain; the second with the founding of the Islamic Chaplaincy Program at the Hartford Seminary; and the third which began shortly thereafter as chaplains develop an Islamic approach to pastoral care, create networks, and cultivate a public persona. The Muslim women and men who serve as chaplains in secular North American institutions such as prisons, the military, educational institutions, hospitals, and community centers, among others, have made it their goal to serve Muslims and non-Muslims in these North American institutions. From humble beginnings, this profession grew out of the desire to provide needed services and care to Muslims in these institutions and has evolved into a uniquely North American profession suited to the needs of all religious communities served by these institutions. North American Muslim chaplains represent an Islamic American voice, one that speaks to American cultural and legal norms. To varying degrees, these chaplains have challenged and embraced North American traditions, such as pluralism, interfaith relations, freedom of religion, and non-establishment. In addition, as they move into the third decade of the profession, chaplains have been moving into leadership roles within American communities. These roles have created an alternate form related to, but significantly different from, the role of the imam. This provides a space for a distinctly North American engagement with the Islamic tradition. It has also opened new spaces for women’s leadership within the North American Muslim community, adjusting and reaffirming traditional practice. These chaplains perform their profession, and their “ministry of presence,” in ways closely connected to institutional, regional, and personal contexts. Because of this multitude of sites, identifying points of connection, when desired, can be difficult. As such, there is no monolithic approach to the chaplaincy or how chaplains envision their Muslim identities. This diversity, which extends to a diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, and branch of Islam, is not without its challenges.


Mysticism in Sufi Islam  

David Cook

Sufism is the major expression of mysticism in Islam. While Sufism developed out of the fusion of Qur’anic ascetic tendencies and the vast fund of Christian (and other) mystical sayings present throughout the classical world, by approximately the 10th century it had become a uniquely Islamic feature. Major writers such as al-Ghazali and Ibn al-ʿArabi took this heritage and molded it both into a normative tradition for Islam as a whole (by wedding it to the Prophet Muhammad’s life experience) and, in the case of Ibn al-ʿArabi, into completely new spiritual paths. These interpretations of mysticism were critical in the vast conversion to Islam that happened during the period 1000–1800. Although other factors were involved as well, including trading by Muslims and the Islamic educational system, this conversion happened largely at the hands of the Sufis, especially holy men and healers, and thus the Muslim world is still largely Sufi or Sufi-influenced. Starting in the 19th century, however, and culminating in the mid-20th century, large numbers of Muslims abandoned Sufism, accusing it of being fundamentally anti-Islamic and even polytheistic. Today although Sufis still constitute the bulk of world Muslims, and they are visible throughout the non-Muslim world as well, their belief system is under attack as never before.


Sufism in the Modern World  

Marcia Hermansen

Sufism, the mystical expression of the Islamic tradition, has been for centuries a major cultural, social, political, and, of course, religious influence in diverse Muslim cultures. With modernity Sufism has been subjected to increased criticism, and in some cases repression and violent hostility, on the part of certain Muslim opponents. From another direction, secularizing reformers such as President Kemal Atatürk (d. 1937) of Turkey view Sufism as a repository of decadent behaviors and superstitions that are incompatible with modern values and rationality. It is also noteworthy that, in response to internal and external reactions to violent extremism especially post-9/11, political leaders in Muslim majority countries such as Morocco and Pakistan have attempted to promote Sufism as a potentially moderating and peaceful influence and therefore encouraged it in their societies. This approach has also been promoted by Western political interests that present Sufism as a moderating counter to violent extremism. These latter examples highlight the importance of the modern nation-state as it engages with Sufism and its institutions, especially in the postcolonial period. Pre-modern forms of Sufism emphasized pledging allegiance (bay‘a) to a spiritual master and affiliating with a Sufi order (Arabic: ṭarīqa, pl. ṭuruq). Being part of a Sufi order was thus a communal, as well as a personal, commitment, and the hierarchy and sense of belonging they entailed led the orders to play an important social, and in some cases, political role. With modernity, esoteric elements of Sufi thought, as well as traditional folk practices of making vows and faith healing, along with earlier social forms of clientage and patronage, have become less relevant in increasingly urban environments. Some scholars of Sufism have therefore characterized the modern era as a time of decline and degeneration in Sufi social and political influence, as well as in Sufi intellectual production and literary and artistic creativity. However, expectations that Sufism is on the wane are challenged by observations of how Sufis have adapted to changing circumstances in modernity, both in Muslim-majority societies and in the West. For example, some scholars document a Sufi renewal involving the rise of charismatic teachers and practices and the reach of new global networks. Sufi teachings are promoted through Internet sites and social media, while today’s Sufi teachers may draw on 20th century Western psychological frameworks to explain the spiritual and therapeutic impact of Sufi practices on individuals. Meanwhile Sufi ideas are disseminated to broader publics through music videos, conferences, and other cultural events, such that Sufism in these new configurations continues to inspire significant, if more diffuse, loyalties, both locally and globally. In an age of networking and social mobility, flows of individuals and ideas have created new transnational spheres for the influence and impact of Sufism. At the same time local conditions vary considerably in shaping its diverse contemporary expressions and adaptations.