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Sufism in Western Europe

In the medieval period, there existed various Sufi orders in Spain and Sicily, which left a deep imprint on the Jewish and Christian mystical traditions. Like the various other Islamic influences, these were also eliminated after the 16th century AD, with Sufi strains in Albania and other regions of the Balkan having no connection to the western Europe. The study of Sufi literature in western Europe began in the 18th century AD and expanded in the 19th, a movement that has continued its expansion to this very day. However, the first instance of actual adherence to Sufi methods occurred in the first decade of the 20th century, when a small number of influential thinkers in Europe joined the Shadhiliyyah Sufi order. This was followed by the introduction into western Europe of other Sufi orders, such as the Chishtiyyah, and, later, Qadiriyyah and Naqshbandiyyah and, recently, some Iranian orders such as Ni`mat Allahiyyah. It is noteworthy that the traditional school of thought attributed to Rene Guenon, who spent the last years of his life in Egypt under his Muslim name of `Abd al-Wahid Yahya and who was buried there, has its roots in Shadhili teachings, and the greatest defenders of traditional Islam in the west, i.e. Fritjuf Schuon, Titus Burkhart and Martin Lings, also belong to this spiritual strain. Recent years have witnessed the conversion of considerable numbers of authors, thinkers and artists to Islam via the Sufi route. There is also mounting interest in Sufi thought, especially that which has its roots in the ideas of Ibn al-`Arabi and Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi, which continues to spread in the form of ever-increasing translations. In the past few years, the volume of original writings produced on Ibn al-`Arabi as well as the translations of his works in French language has been astonishing. There has been established an Ibn al-`Arabi society in Britain which in addition to the publication of a journal devoted to the ideas of the Muslim mystic holds annual conferences about his works and thought in Europe and the USA. 

The special attention given to Sufi artistic works has also served as a means of acquaintance with Islamic teachings and the Islamic religion itself. In addition to the ever-expanding translations of works of poetry in Persian and Arabic into various European languages – in 1997, the translations of the poems of Mawlana sold more copies in the USA than any other poet, including Shakespeare – there has been increased interest in mystical music of Iranian, Arabic, Turkish and Indian origin, an example of which is the popularity of the Mawlawiyyah sama` among western artistic circles. All these developments, both intellectual and artistic, have direct roots in Islam and are of great significance in terms of providing an understating of this divine religion, a factor that is as applicable in the case of the USA as it is in that of Europe.

* source: Nasr , Seied Hossein "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.582 - 583

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