Wednesday, July 19, 2006

ideology and temperament (the habashis)

A sufi response to political Islamism: Al-Ahbash of Lebanon by A. Nizar Hamzeh and R. Hrair Dekmejian is an interesting article, a bit on the old side (10 years) but I've been thinking about it again for various reasons.

Firstly, Lebanon is obviously in the news and so I've wondered to what extent the Habashis (more correctly known as Association of Islamic Charitable Projects) are still active and relevant to the situation over there.

Secondly, on a more personal note, about a year before I started practicing Islam, one of the individuals I had a lot of religious conversations with was this recently converted African-American in the AICP who worked in the local Afrocentric store. I really didn't have much of a notion of the various ideological currents among Muslims so at the time. I only had the sense that he was "orthodox". I also knew that somehow he was "Sufi" but I definitely had an overly romanticized notion of what that meant. Although I have to admit that he really struck me as a pretty deep and calm brother.

On the other hand, shortly after I became Muslim I ran into him and we talked a bit about Islam. It was nice to see him again but at the same time it was a bit disillusioning. Mainly because he was freely declaring takfir on all sorts of people from Seyd Qutb, Ibn Taymiyyah and Abdul-Wahab (who I'd hardly heard of at the time) to Warithdeen Muhammad (for allegedly saying that Allah has a nose) and Yusuf Ali (for writing in his translation of the Quran that "Allah is the light"). This brother made NO allowance for poetry or metaphor. Then my Hasbashi friend emphasized, to an extraordinary degree, the importance of wudu (He didn't say anything that was incorrect as far as I remember but I don't think he appreicated how he sounded to a new Muslim.) The other thing which was really weird about our conversation was that he also made a big deal about how the proper qibla is southeast. ("We are west of Mecca and north of Mecca so we should pray south and east"). Even at that point I understood something about geodesics and actually told him "but the world isn't flat" but I didn't want to be pushy so I let the matter drop. (And before we laugh too hard at his reasoning, I've read on multiple occasions that when Muslim immigrants first came to the US in large numbers, they also tended to pray southeast instead of northeast.)

To this day, I'm still not completely certain how much of his rigidity was a product of the typical convert's initial zeal (his temperament) and how much of it is representative of Habashis as a movement (his ideology). I have the sense that it was a little bit of both.

In retrospect, I think his sincere zeal for "orthodoxy" gave him an enviable sense of place and confidence. He would rattle off: "We are Ash'ari in aqida, Shafi in Fiqh and Rifai in Tariqa." Everything is in books. Every question has an answer. It is a stark contrast to my own path, tentatively and more slowly gaining an appreciation in turn for being Sunni, for the Hanafi madhab, and the Maturidi aqueeda. As far as tariqats go, at this point I've only had contact with Naqshbandis and Shadhilis but haven't really made a strong commitment to either.

The third reason why I think the Habashis are worth mentioning is because they are interesting in terms of su-shi issues. In spite of their apparent rigidness, they apparently take positions which could conceivably help bridge some of the disagreements between Sunnis and Shias. From the Hamzeh and Dekmejian article:
The complex structure of Shaykh Habashi's belief system blends elements of Sunni and Shi'i theology with Sufi spiritualism. The outcome of his doctrinal eclecticism is an ideology of Islamic moderation and toleration that emphasizes Islam's innate pluralism, along with opposition to political activism and the use of violence against the ruling order.

And the article goes on to explain how the Sunni Shaykh Habashi argues on behalf of the status of Ali, Fatima, Hassan and Hussayn and is critical of Mu'awiya as a transgressor.

Finally, something I wonder about, and would like to see more discussion on is what is going on with their nickname, "the Habashis" (the Ethiopians)? Are they really the dominant Islamic movement in Ethiopia? Or are there no other prominent movements coming out of that area which exist in the Muslim world? That's just weird when I stop and think about it.

If people have their own experiences with "the Habashis" I'd be happy to hear them.


Anonymous said...

Salaam 'Alaikum

I was told that they are called Habashis because their founding leader was from Ethiopia. Personally not a group I would be interested in following or listening to in the slightest, but that's coming from personal communication from people from Lebanon. -- Umm Zaid

DA said...

I heard an apocrpyphal but interesting story about M.R. Bawa Muhayadeen...Apparently in the early days of teaching in America, he did not teach prayer or fiqh or anything else identified with a certain mudhub. His followers eventually approached him and asked which they should follow. "Which would be easiest?" He asked them. "Hanafi" they said. "So be Hanafi" he replied and they went with that. He also is said to have written that the Aimmah of the twelvers were spiritual heirs of Muhammad (pbuh) even though he was Sunni. A lot of Muslims aren't big on the BMF, but I've been told (by multiple people) that the hippie-ish lovey dovey image has come from a very selective publishing of Bawa's work, and that there are tons of unpublished writings anyone can read if they go to the BMF's archives, that balance out the perspective somewhat.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

I've blogged about him a little here before. I actually think he still is pretty "hippie-ish" but that's not necessarily so bad. I think every Islamic group/movement/organization out there has there good poinbts and their bad points, their strengths and weaknesses. No one is perfect. It is best to just say "mashaAllah" for the good stuff and move on.

And yes, some people think that sunnis are supposed to be anti-imams. But that's not the point, the imams were still from the family of the prophet, and they were sahabas and tabiin etc.

DA said...

Right,I'm very big on the imams. I actually take a lot of inspiration in Husayn (ra), but this does not conflict (in my view) with respecting the rashidun and other Sahaba. I honestly think Shia views insult Ali as much as they do anyone else. Abu Bakr was an usurper....But Ali gave his daughter to him in marriage? Umar was a lying reprobate.....But Ali served as his chief council? They were responsable for Fatima's death....But Ali did nothing? To me, these views paint Ali as a coward and a fool. I could never be a Shia, I'll just stick to being a Sunni who loves the Ahul-l-Bayt :-)

Anonymous said...

I know this blog is 5 years old but I just want to inform you and other readers about the Habashis.I'll tell one thing about Habashis. DEVIANT! These people are making such ridiculous claims and attacking the righteous Salaf and there students. They heavily rely on there "Sheikh" and they ALL SOUND THE SAME. My brother follows these groups and we kept giving him Dawah but he doesn't listen and just wants to argue. I've met several people like him. I asked these people if they're Habashis? They asked me how I know? I said because you guys sound the same, preach the same without using your own intellect or evidence. And whatever evidence they bring, they corrupt the meaning of it. Such Qur'an and Sunnah.I advise all my brothers and sisters of Islam to be aware of these cults. If someone calls you a "wahabi" know that they're either Shias,Sufis or some other form of Innovators. Stick with the Sunnah and always ask for evidence!

Another thing the Habashis love to argue is that they ask where is Allah subhan wa'tala? If you say He's above the Heavens, they say you left the fold Islam. There's clear evidence in the Qur'an and in the Sunnah that it mentions where Allah subhan wa'tala is. They deny it.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

Asalam-alaikum, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I would say that all groups and individuals have their faults and limitations. But the Habashis in particular put so much emphasis on being Ashari and Shafi I wouldn't be so quick to just call them deviant. They are still basically orthodox Muslims. They may be more than a little eager to do takfir but then one should be careful not to fall into the same error. As for the issue of "where is Allah?" I would just recommend trying to read about the topic from multiple Sunni scholars.