Thursday, June 12, 2008

Balkan Rifa'i Videos, and the changing meaning of the word "tarikat" in post-1980's Turkey

Here's another one-- notice the hand motions (especially of the guy in the white shirt and jeans) that are similar to those in some of the Alevi semahs. The line here between a devran (a kind of dhikr that is standing, known in most Arabic countries as a hadra) and semah (the Alevi dances) is a little blurred-- though clearly this is dhikr and not semah. In fact, in contemporary times, I think many Alevis would actually be appalled by this. For much of contemporary Turkey, the very word tarikat (tariqa) suggests fundamentalist, an Islamic state, and even outright brutality toward the Alevi (even if the Bektashis are, in fact, a tarikat). Part of the issue here is one of the largest tarikats in Turkey is the Naqshbandi who, at least in Turkey, are hyper-Sunni, very shari'a- oriented, and quite political. The leaders of the so-called "fundamentalist" parties have actually been rather conservative Sufis-- Naqshbandis. By the 1980's in the Turkish media, this led to something of a redefining of the meaning of tarikat into almost any kind of Muslim organization-- especially extremist ones. As but one rather bizarre example demonstrates, a group like Hezbullah is commonly referred to as a tarikat in Turkish. Yet, in any other Muslim country, involvement with a tariqa
might put one one the fringes of even being Muslim in the eyes of a large part of the population (with a few exceptions, in places like Senegal and Morocco where majorities share a Sufi orientation). As the Turkish media developed the association between the word "tariqa" and fundamentalism, an odd association even began to develop in the eyes of the secularist population between fundamentalism and dhikr-- an association that would make no sense in any other part of the country. In the largest masjid in the city where I live, the imam literally fired his muezzin and asked him not to return even for prayers because he attended a mawlid that included dhikr... now that's actual Islamic fundamentalism. It's interesting to me that a friend from Turkey said, in a discussion regarding the Naqshbandi, "They are a tarikat! They do dhikr! What in the world does that have to do with Sufism? Nothing! That's fundamentalism!" That statement, which many in Turkey today would agree with (because to them the Mevlevi are NOT are tariqa, but al-Qaeda is from their point of view) would make no sense in any other country, nor would it have made sense to their great-grandparents. Anywhere else, or 50 years ago in Turkey, people would see a continuum with Bektashis on the far liberal end and, Naqshbandis on the conservative end in terms of Islamic practice, and most orders somewhere in between the two. Rifa'is and Qadiris, depending on the branch, occupying all of the places on that axis too. Then you would also have another axis in which there are orders who do extreme practices like eating glass, swallowing hot coals, piercing with skewers and the like. Again, the Rifa'i and Qadiri are famous for this (but in many branches of these orders those practices are outright forbidden), while in other tariqas, such as Bektashi, Mevlevi, and Jerrahi, those practices have never been a part of the tradition at all.

The Rifa'i are quite often referred to as a Sunni tariqa, and that's true in the sense of typically being followers of Hanifi or Shafi'i fiqh, but as some of the other videos from this source demonstrate, some branches of Rifa'iyya are intensely Ehli Beyt-oriented (Ahl-ul Bayt, the family of the Prophets, s.a.w.s) as to certainly fringe on Shi'ism. I suspect that this is primarily influence from the Alevi and Bektashi traditions in Turkey. Sherif Baba's Rifa'i Marufi Order is very much along those lines, to the point of self-defining as "tarikat Alevi". See my post-- "Interview with Sherif Baba" for more about that. In Rifa'i Marufi, the lines between dhikr and semah are actually clearer, though dhikr is done with men and women in the same circle (which is found in no Sunni dhikr tradition I know of) and apparently has been the practice of this branch since the 18th Century. Nevertheless, as discussed in the interview, semah did occasionally occur in Rifa'i Marufi (though taught by an Alevi/Bektashi).

Anyway, back to Rifa'is in the Balkans-- but do notice the hand-motions that suggest the kirklar semahi. Look at the guy in the white shirt and jeans.

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