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**Special? Voices of dissent
Quakers have connections with Islamic Sufism. In 1647 Gervase Bennett first used the word “Quaker”, referring to “ a sect of women from beyond the sea, residing in Southwark, who swell, shiver and shake, for in all this fit Mohamet's Holy Ghost hath been conversing with them. Then they begin to preach what hath been delivered to them by the Spirit.” He then applied this word to George Fox and his followers because they also trembled when inspired during the Derby Hearings of 1651 (Braithwaite). There is curious synchronicity here. This sect would suggest a Sufi group of women living and preaching in exile. Women preachers, like Rabia, were common amongst Sufis (Ibn Arabi “The mystics of Andalusia”). Women preachers were also common amongst Quakers (Elizabeth Hooton/Mary Fisher).

The parallels do not end here. The word “Sufi” in reference to Islamic mystics is an outsider word coined in 1821 by a German scholar. The Sufis call themselves “Wali”, an Arabic word that coincidently translates as Friends or “Near-ones”. This word is used in the Quran referring to those inner companions who knew God by experience rather than doctrine. Friends is the insider word for Quakers too!

This distrust of doctrine and book learning is strong in Fox and Sufism who both

favoured oral transmission. As such their received writings often seem raw and unsophisticated with the animated but idiosyncratic style of the spoken word, making their message experiential and immediate. Besides both Fox and the early Sufis were living in historical periods that gave ordinary people access to learning. The Bible was now in the vernacular and available for individual interpretation, not dependent on priestly intervention. Medieval Islam was a flowering of learning and translation (Toledo/Baghdad) where Greek and Eastern writings, censored in Christian Europe, were openly accessible. All Muslims were expected to read the Quran themselves even if otherwise illiterate.

So we find Fox dismissing what he calls “notional religion…for the letter killeth but the Spirit giveth Life”. Ibn Arabi prefers Direct Vision to “ discursive reasoning”, and Hafiz says, “the real Satan is the scholastic Sophist-for he is the opposite of Truth.” This attitude exposed both Fox and Sufis to charges of Pantheism and Blasphemy. The concept of Indwelling Spirit threatened men of doctrine who reacted with the Gainsborough blasphemy charge of Fox and the execution of Hallij in 922AD.

The practice and organisation of Sufis and Quakers are similar. Sufis meet in ordinary houses on any day for “sama” which is “the remembrance of God”, much as Quakers attend Meeting Houses for silence or contemplation. Both Sheiks and Elders are recognised by the community they serve. They are not part of a priestly hierarchy. Marriage is a simple civil ceremony not held in a mosque, where all present are not officiates but witnesses, much like a Quaker marriage. In Islam the unity of the religious experience, what we might call “the sense of the meeting”, presides over any organisational structure or majority viewpoint, which is why voting is regarded with suspicion in both traditions. Rule by numerical majority has no weight in Islam, sadly something Western Democracies fail to realise!

Quaker and Sufi lifestyles aspire to be simple and authentic. Fox's advice to “be as a stranger unto all”(1643), and Penn's assertion that “true godliness doesn't turn people out of the world, but enables them to live better in it” (1682), reflect the Sufi maxim “be in the world but not of it”, and Dhu'l Nun, (860AD), who said “he is enlightened whose speech and behaviour accord, who repudiates the ordinary connections of the world.” Both traditions were practical, eschewing monastic life, valuing the family and work. Fox was a shoemaker, Ghazzali was a Spinner; manual trades.

The Revealed Theology of Sufis and Quakers is based on the experience of Inner Light. Quakers were first called “Children of Light” in 1648 with an emphasis on a “covenant of light in the hearts of men and women “(1657). Central to Sufis is the Light Verse in the Quran (24:35),”God is Light; the likeness of his light is neither of the East nor of the West, would shine even if no fire touched it; Light upon Light.”

Both traditions see the Organ of the Heart as the vital organ of the soul through which the Light shines as Love. “Love reveals a knowledge schools have never known”, says Rumi.Ibn Arabi says the Heart /Qualb (also meaning “to turn upside down”) is the seat of Real Knowledge, so Sufism is called the Creed of Love (Idries Shah). Fox agrees, “the lord dwelt, not in temples made with hands, but in men's hearts”(1646).

This Light/Heart imagery connects to that of Opening and Unveiling. Attar says “the Creator displays as the Opener.” This sense of Opening may well lead back to the Ceremony of the Opening of the Mouth found on Egyptian pyramid texts, where the airways are freed to open up the way to spirit. Whatever,”The Opening of Unveiling through God” (Futuh al-Mukashafa) is listed as a Sufi technical term by Qashani (d.1330). Ibn Arabi speaks of “Gods self-disclosure, the unveiling of the heart”, and Sheikh Mauji of the Azamia Sufis (Persia) unites all this imagery when he says:

“There is a certain sensation which is true fervour and associated with Love. This stems from ancient origins and is necessary to Mankind. It comes from illumination. After a period of abstinence or detachment this force, which is a form of Opening, comes about. This is the nutrient which is not food.”(Durud)

Likewise Fox often refers to his “openings”. “I did discern what it was that did veil me, and what it was that did open me…. Wonderful depths were opened unto me-wisdom that opens up all things and I came to know the hidden unity in the Eternal Being.”, he says. He talks about the “pure openings of Light “in 1646 (Epistles) and, just before death he says, “ Now I am fully clear. We who regard the inside of the world, we look at the heart.” These Openings informed his life's work.

Given this research it seems appropriate that a Quaker, George Keith, first translated the Sufi tale that became Robinson Crusoe, Ibn Tufail's “Story of Haibin Yaqzan” (Alive, son of Awake) in 1674. This story about a man stranded on a desert island is the journey of the soul in the world, and clearly Keith perceived this subtext.

There is a commonality with all Mysticisms (Underhill “Mysticism”), but the links between Sufis and Quakers also seem quite specific. It is not a question of derivation. We just have a lot in common with these people who lived so far away in place and time. We appear to have more freedom but we still live with forces of conditioning and conformity that threaten to restrict us, “that veiling that begins in the cradle and ends in the grave” (Idries Shah). Sufis and Quakers have a single voice: the Voice of Dissent. That voice is valuable. As the religious debate around us narrows and polarises, this time we are important in our dissent because we recognise that assent!


“Friends, meet together and know one another in that which is eternal, which

was before the world was. Be Patterns” (Fox / Red Book)

“There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human Mind, which in

different places and ages hath had different names. It is, however, pure

and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of

religion, nor excluded from any, where the heart stands in perfect

sincerity. In whomsoever this takes root and grows, of what nation soever

they become brethren.” (Woolman / Writings)

“There is a potentiality in the Mind of man that can become activated.

Without it there is no development. Everyone has it. It is something

connected with Eternity. All souls carry the picture of this outline-the

matter of its description has neither beginning nor end”. (Attar)

Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jew and Sikh

Brothers in a secret sense-yet who knows it?

Oh Companions of the Cave!

All is He, my Friend, is He! (Chisti Sufi song)

Janet Hyland


 


This week's .pdf
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John Courtneidge, Hertford and Hitchin MM
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Evil and the god of all creation
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Survival – Duality into Unity
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The letter killeth but the spirit giveth life
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Understanding young Muslims
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Silence and other similarities
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Open House weekend
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Share the silence
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Getting to grips with wickedness
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Helping young people to deal with the past
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Communities Resisting Violence in Colombia
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Comment
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The cost of abstinence
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Quakers in Criminal Justice
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Facing down the Obama-crunch
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