Present and Potential Impact of the Spiritual Tradition of Islam on Contemporary Muslims: From Ghazali to Gülen

Abstract

Western analysts of trends in the contemporary Islamic world often overestimate the impact of contemporary Sufi orders and/or underestimate the impact of the spiritual tradition of Islam. Among the elements of the spiritual tradition conducive to religious pluralism is the ‘mirror’ concept: every human is seen as a mirror of God in three aspects: reflecting the attributes and names of God as His work of art, reflection through dependence on God, and reflection through actions God commands or commends. Since only the last aspect is voluntary, every human, regardless of creed, is a mirror of God in at least the first two aspects. This is a potent argument for peaceful coexistence in religious diversity. The perspective of the spiritual tradition is emphatically inclusive and compassionate and naturally lends itself to non-violence, going beyond mere tolerance to hospitality and friendship. There are important impediments that prevent this perspective from having a greater impact: (1) the literalist opposition to flexible interpretation of concepts from the Qur’an and the Prophetic tradition, and the wide definition of innovation or heresy (‘bid`a‘); (2) deviations of some Sufiorders and subsequent criticisms by orthodox Muslims; and (3) the impact of the politicisation of religion by some groups and political moves by certain Sufiorders.

by Dr. Ali Ünsal