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Sufis & Corruption

From: "Nima Hazini" 
Subject: Re: Sufis & Corruption (long)
Date: Mon, 08 Feb 1999 21:55:38 PST

Unfortunately there is a 'dark side' not merely in the history of 
Turkish Sufism - albeit the Sufi orders under the Ottomans shared a much 
closer proximity to the Sublime Porte (viz. the court & government in 
Istanbul) than perhaps in other areas of the Islamic world. Persian 
Sufism has suffered its fair share in the past two hundred years, which 
is one reason why there are so many branches and sub-branches in the 
Nimatullahi order (i.e. Kowthar `Ali Shahi, Munawwar `Ali Shahi, Safi 
`Ali Shahi, Shamsu'l-`Urafa, Nazar `Ali Shahi, Munis `Ali Shahi, Nur 
`Ali Shahi, ad nauseum). While under Muhammad Shah Qajar (reigned 
1835-48) Sufism enjoyed relative peace - probably due to the fact that 
the immediate members of the royal family in toto were all initiates of 
either the Nimatullahi or Khaksar orders -, nonetheless the involvement 
of certain Sufis within the 'high-profiles' of Qajar government was 
responsible for one of the darker episodes of nineteenth century Iranian 
    With Hajji Mirza Aqasi (d.1849), Muhammad Shah's outstanding 
premier, Iran witnessed one of the worst famines in its history, not to 
mention one the most ruthless and corrupt administrations ever (Aqasi 
had two-thirds of his family appointed to governorships and high posts 
in civil service, to name a few). The premier, who apparently exercised 
keen spiritual influence on the impressionable Shah, was a shaykh of the 
Khaksar-Jalali order and at one time fought with Zayn'ul-Abidin Mast 
`Ali Shah Shirvani (d. late 1840s) for the qutb-ship (Mastery) of the 
Nimatullahi order after having run the Agha Khan and the entire Isma'ili 
community out of Iran over a dispute involving property-estates and the 
hand of one of the latters daughters.
    More recently the accession of Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh in 1953 to the 
qutb-ship of the Nimatullahi/Munawwar `Ali Shahi order seems to have 
been orchestrated by the late Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi's entourage and 
Iranian military officers. Nurbakhsh, a young 26 year old medical intern 
at Tehran university, had been close to Asadullah Alam (later to become 
Prime Minister and then Minister of Court). Since the Shah had recently 
ousted popular liberal premier Mohammad Mossadeq in a coup d'etat backed 
by the CIA, it was imperative that loyalists and royalists take control 
of as many facets of Iranian society as possible. The 
Nimatullahi/Munawwar `Ali Shahi order was one important key to the 
Shah's grand design. Since the last Master of the order, Dhu'l-Riyastayn 
Munis `Ali Shah Kirmanshahi (d.1953) had died without publicly 
appointing a successor, Alam and his allies carefully utilized a letter 
by Munis `Ali Shah extolling the humanitarian efforts of a young 
Nurbakhsh in setting up medical clinics in his home town of Kirman as 
documentary proof of the latters spiritual accession to the Master-ship 
of the order. This, notwithstanding the fact that there were six other 
claimants, one of whom (Shams'ul-`urafa Hujjat Balaghi) had the 
strongest claim - the details of which are too involved to get into here 
now. At the ceremony where the previous Master's last will-and-testament 
was to be read and the enigma of succession to be decided, all six 
claimants were apparently prevented by soldiers and Iranian military 
officers from entering the room where the ceremony was being held - and 
thus Nurbakhsh's succession was smoothly hand crafted by the demands of 
the dominant politics of the time.
    Leaving Iran and moving to the West: one of the most outstanding 
metaphysicians and Traditionalist thinkers of the current century, 
Frithjof Schuon (d. 1998), left in his wake a highly embarrasing, not to 
mention disappointing, legacy. Schuon, the author of such classics as 
_Understanding Islam_, _Transcendent Unity of Religions_ and _Stations 
of Wisdom_, and self-appointed Shaykh (i.e. Isa Nureddin al-Alawi) and 
master of the Tariqa Maryamiyya, towards the final years of his life, 
engaged in among the worst aberrant and spiritually cultic practices in 
the name of Sufism and esotericism. Without going into explicit details, 
some of these practices eventually led to a suicide of a younger 
individual in the group, charges of child-molestation and sexual 
aberrant and authoritarian behavior by the shaykh, which all led to a 
subsequent Grand Jury inquiry in Bloomington, Indiana in 1991, where the 
group resided until Schuon's death last year. It seems that for years, 
among the inner circle of the group, Schuon had made claims not only to 
having been the successor of the late Alegerian shaykh Ahmad al-Alawi 
(which he clearly was not) but also of being the Pole of the Age and, 
beyond that, of some kind of universal Avatar (contents of Schuon's 
unpublished autobiography are numerous in the claims he makes for 
himself and erotic visions of the Virgin Mary and Buddhas he says he 
witnessed, to but name a few). 
     The moral of all this is that for all its nobility and loftiness, 
Sufism (and any spiritual path for that matter) does indeed manifest a 
darker side at times; one which leaves the sincere spiritual seeker to 
painfully with a broken heart sort out the mess of the many seemingly 
insurmountable contradictions in the words and deeds of a particular 
guru they have loved and cherished - albeit that the breaking of the 
idol of the guru is perhaps the hardest but most importantly crucial 
step one can ever take on the Path. But all in all, the 'corruptions of 
Sufism' do not even begin to compare with the excesses of the 

    Ya Haqq, Nima 

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