Comparative Islamic Studies, Vol 1, No 1 (2005)

Tradition, Innovation, and Authentication: Replicating the "Ahl as-Sunna wa Jamaat" in Britain

Ron Geaves
Issued Date: 4 Feb 2007


The article will argue that the normative definition referring to Sunni Muslims, “Ahl as-Sunna wa Jamaat” has become highly contested since used as a strategy for legitimization by South Asian Sufi tariqas. Critiquing arguments that link scripturalist reform movements within Islam to urbanization, the author demonstrates that contemporary Sufi resistance to the reformers in Britain has welded together both rural ‘folk’ practice and ‘high’ Sufism into a potentially politically mobilized union. Rather than a separation of ulama and saints as proposed by Gellner, the South Asian Muslims met the Reform critique with a powerful and erudite opposition consisting of both pirs and maulvis which defended their cultic beliefs and practices as normative. The article concludes that the British experience demonstrates not so much the demise of traditional Sufism in the face of Wahhabi or Salafi scripturalism, but rather that the former are learning the lessons of the revivalists and creating innovative ways that authenticate tradition in the new urban environments of the West.

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DOI: 10.1558/cis.v1i1.1

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