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Rozehnal, Robert

Robert Rozehnal. Islamic Sufism Unbound. Politics and Piety in Twenty-First Century Pakistan

Compte-rendu réalisé par Mauro Valdinoci
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Robert Rozehnal. Islamic Sufism Unbound. Politics and Piety in Twenty-First Century Pakistan. New York and Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, 275 p., biblio., index.

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1The literature on South Asian Sufism has paid marginal attention to how Sufism is taught, practiced and imagined in the postcolonial era. This book dwells on this topic. Adopting an interdisciplinary approach based on the methods of anthropology and Islamic studies, the author examines a living Sufi tradition. He traces the identity politics and ritual practices of a particular branch of the Čištiyya Ṣābiriyya silsila, which is active in contemporary Pakistan and Malaysia. Drawing on textual and ethnographic research, he shows how members of this order communicate and experience their Muslim identity and which practical strategies they adopt in order to adapt Sufism to modernity.

2The introduction discusses key theoretical and methodological questions referring, among others, to the works of Dipesh Chakrabarty, Arjun Appadurai, Talal Asad, James Clifford and George Marcus. The first chapter, “Sufism and the politics of Islamic identity”, deals with an accident in 2001 at the shrine of Bābā Farīd Ganj-yi šakar in Pakpattan, when more than a hundred people were killed in a mob stampede. The responses of state authorities, shrine caretakers and disciples to the accident are reported. The second chapter, “Muslim, mystic and modern: Three twentieth-century Sufi masters”, contains the biographies of the order’s last three leaders. Manuscripts and oral histories are used to show how sainthood is viewed by contemporary Čištī Ṣābirī Sufis, and it is concluded that the hagiographic accounts conform to the traditional model of Indo-Muslim sainthood. The third chapter, “Imagining Sufism: The publication of Chishti Sabiri identity”, analyzes how a distinct Sufi identity is presented in writings by the masters of the order. This identity is based on a šari‘a-minded and socially engaged Sufism, firmly rooted in southern Asian traditions but open to change. The order’s Sufi masters consider Sufism to be both the essence of Islamic orthodoxy and the ideal source for a Pakistani national identity. The author discusses this involvement in society and politics, and the use of the mass media by the Čištī Ṣābirī Sufis studied. The fourth chapter, “Teaching Sufism: Networks of community and discipleship”, explores how religious and esoteric knowledge is transmitted in this Sufi order. Interviews and personal oral histories shed light on disciples’ backgrounds, experiences of initiation and interactions with their spiritual guides. The ultimate aim of this spiritual training is to totally transform the self. The author also argues that the disciples complement and integrate their master’s teachings with texts and the collective wisdom of their peers. The fifth chapter, “Experiencing Sufism: The discipline of ritual practice”, details the order’s main rituals, such as dream interpretation, prayer, recollection of God (ḏikr), contemplation (murāqaba), annual commemorations of saints (‘urs) and musical assemblies (samā‘).These ritual practices play a key role in transforming the self. According to the author, ceremonies cement the Sufi identity and connect the current generation to its predecessors. Spiritual practices are not static and immutable however; they have been reformulated to accommodate social and historical changes.

3This detailed, nuanced description of a living Sufi order is successful, a firsthand account of rituals and spiritual practices with abundant quotations from primary sources. The authors discussion of the development of a Sufi order in a modern and globalized context brilliantly takes into account the historical, social and political implications of a Sufi identity without neglecting its doctrinal and spiritual aspects.

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Mauro Valdinoci. Rozehnal, Robert, « Robert Rozehnal. Islamic Sufism Unbound. Politics and Piety in Twenty-First Century Pakistan », Abstracta Iranica [En ligne], Volume 32-33 | 2013, document 281, mis en ligne le 01 juillet 2016, consulté le 24 juin 2018. URL :

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