Sufism: The invisible branch of Islam

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More than two weeks on from riots in Sydney’s CBD, Muslim community leaders and authorities are still working to prevent any repeat of incidents.

By SBS video-journalist Patrick Abboud

More than two weeks on from riots in Sydney's CBD, Muslim community leaders and authorities are still working to prevent any repeat of incidents.

But this week sees a counter response from an Islamic group calling its action an “alternative peaceful protest”.

Hundreds of people took to the streets of western Sydney 'Sufi-style' responding to what they feel is a growing worldwide anti-Muslim sentiment, in part fuelled by a recent anti-Islamic film.

“Our way of practising Islam is showing God and the Prophet how much we love them,” says Dr Nadir Obeid – a Sudanese Sufi community leader and one of the organisers of the event.

“This is the best way of answering the heightened response of something that has offended Muslims around the world”. Sufism is a branch of Islam that is often overlooked because of its more esoteric approach.

“We're not doing anything offensive. This is Australia and here it is a very good way of telling people if we are going to protest – let's protest this way,” says Dr Obeid.

The Sufi events are taking place in major thoroughfares of Auburn and Parramatta. In a display of ritualistic chanting the group congregates at the centre of these two western Sydney suburbs.

At the first event last night, several members of the local Auburn community joined the “protest”.

Some shopkeepers also closed their businesses to join the demonstration.

The event culminated in a traditional Sufi performance at the main public square of Auburn as part of the Sydney Sacred Music Festival.

DEMYSTIFYING SUFISM

Sufism is generally defined as the inner or more mystical dimension of Islam.

The spread of Sufism has been considered as a definitive factor in the spread of Islam globally.

There are estimated to be about 5,000 Sufis practicing in Australia from diverse cultural backgrounds.

The Australian Centre for Sufism and Irfanic Studies describes Sufism as an effective tool for inter-religious dialogue and a practice that fosters inter-cultural understanding.

Members of the two main sects of Islam - Sunni and Shi'a - may adopt elements of Sufism within their faith but there are some Salafi or Wahhabi Muslims that dismiss Sufism as a legitimate branch of the religion.

Professor Julia Day Howell from the Religion and Society Research Centre at the University Of Western Sydney has been studying Sufi groups for the past 20 years.

“All through the history of Islam some of the greatest Islamic scholars have been Sufis and this is something that urban sophisticates in the Muslim world are now recognising - that Sufism is an integral part of the proper tradition of Islam,” she says.

“Members of the Sufi orders in Australia will say that Sharia is important but they see deeper values behind the law and perhaps not be so black and white in its implementation”.

In a bid to demystify Sufism, Dr Obeid has been running workshops and talks across western Sydney within Muslim and non-Muslim communities for the past six months as part of a project titled Tariqua which means 'towards respect' in Arabic - the language of Islam.

Paula Abood is one of Australia's leading community cultural development practitioners and the project manger of Tariqua.

Describing the 'alternative protest' events this week, she said “this is an opportunity for different communities to come together in a meaningful way and exchange dialogue and understanding”.

“Tonight there were people from all over Sydney who came, residents came out of their apartments in Auburn, shoppers stopped shopping and came and participated. There was a real energy and that's the western Sydney way - embracing difference in positive ways,” she added.

Source SBS

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