Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Shia, the Sufis…and Schadenfreude | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The Sufis have no right to launch a satellite channel to broadcast their ideas, doctrine and practices. This is the manner in which many people who are sympathetic towards Sufism understood my previous article [Saudis to Fund Sufi Channel published 28/04/2010], including Malouk al-Sheikh from Jeddah. In my article I made reference to the announcement made by Sheikh Alaa Abul-Azayem, the head of the Sufi Azayemiya order in Egypt that this Sufi channel will be funded by Gulf and Saudi businessmen, however I did not say that it was forbidden for anybody to launch a satellite channel to broadcast their beliefs. It would not be rational, logical, or in anybody’s capability to censor satellite channels. In any case, the article is available to readers and they can refer back to my previous article if they wish.

The most that I can do is urge all Islamic satellite channels – regardless of their ideological affiliation, whether they are Salafist, Shia, or Sufi – to be aware that they are just like the planets in that they are under constant scrutiny. The smart Islamic channels are those that control how they are marketed, and attempt to bring an international dimension to their programming. This requires a form of self-censorship or “filtering” with the channel only broadcasting subjects and issues that befit rather than embarrass Islam.

By this, I do not mean only including traditional sectarian and ideological issues accepted by followers of different Islamic schools of thought, for this would be impossible. Rather what I mean is to filter out certain provocative details that some Muslims may not accept. Take for example the Shia practice of “tatbir” which is the practice of using a sword or chains to cause bleeding to one’s forehead in solidarity with the deaths of the grandson of the Prophet [pbuh] al-Hussein Bin Ali and his family, may God bless them. Some Shia channels did the right thing by refraining from showing bloody images of this holy day. This is a smart move because such frightening images serve only to give a negative impression to followers of other Islamic schools of thought, while simultaneously sending the wrong message about Islam to followers of other religions and creating a sense of schadenfreude amongst them. This is something that I noticed when western channels broadcast images of Shia men and boys cutting their foreheads with knives and swords, causing their bodies to be bathed in blood. This is not just my opinion, as some Shia scholars and intellectuals have also advised that scenes such as this should not be broadcast.

The same thing applies to any new Sufi channel that intends to broadcast Sufi rituals and practices. It is difficult to imagine, for example, a live broadcast from the Al-Hussein mosque in Cairo showing Sufi worshippers praying by swaying and chanting until they faint. It would also be inconceivable for this satellite channel to conduct interviews with people who prayed to and sought the intervention of Sayeda Zeinab, the Prophet’s granddaughter, and who claimed that she responded to these prayers by curing one’s sickness or increasing their wealth. The problem here is not only that such phenomenon contradicts the teachings of Islam, but also that they have become “unconvincing” even among the followers of these sects, and especially amongst the young who have a confused understanding of Islam as a whole.

I remember that when I lived in Britain there was a mosque that was devoted to a Sufi order that originates in the Indian subcontinent, and every Friday the Imam would stand up and ask the worshippers to stand as a sign of respect for the Prophet [pbuh] who he claimed would appear [in spirit] before them for a few seconds before leaving! Many youth found such talk “unconvincing” and they stopped visiting mosques or were forced to worship at a different mosque as a result of this. However after this some wise people at this mosque realized that there is no need for such “odd” rituals that are not practiced in the majority of mosques around the world. This is precisely what I want those who are establishing this Sufi channel to understand, in which case this Sufi channel will be an important addition in bringing Sufism back to the blessed early days of Islam [Salaf or the first three generations of Muslims] when a Sufi’s only aim was to purify his soul. At this time, Sufism kept away from strange mystical and unconvincing practices that would later come to dominate this sect, in which case this channel would be like a Salafist “Sufi” channel.