Sufi urbanism – Rumi and Marx against the idiocy of rural life…

One of the starting points of my interest in the possible linkages between Sufism and commercial culture was Sultan Veled’s couplet on how the soul becomes ‘a city, a market, a shop‘. Sufism is a thoroughly urban, cosmopolitan phenomenon – The notion that Sufism is a mere expression of rural “folk” Islam is a myth, as Martin van Bruinessen (2008) points out. The role of urbanity in the development of Anatolian Sufism (and possibly the role of Sufism in the development of Turkish urbanity) has been emphasised by Hülya Küçük in her paper on Sufi influences in Konya. Celaleddin Rumi seems to have anticipated Marx’s aversion against what he called, in the Communist Manifesto, the ‘idiocy of rural life’ – though evidently without the Orientalist twist that Marx puts on it:

‘“We are like a pair of compasses: One foot on the Religion of Islam, / the other is wandering around the seventy-two nations.” – This couplet shows that, Rūmī was not afraid of contact with other cultures. In fact the later couplet made him, in the words of a monk mourning his death, a “sun” everyone needs or “bread” that no one can live without. This couplet also demonstrates empathy, a necessary element for urban living and for globalization. In fact, all Sufi orders teach their adherents to have empathy, for empathy enhances solidarity among members. Here it should be reminded that Rūmī always favored urban life and likened rural life to “living in a grave” When he says: “Do not go to the country: the country makes a fool man, it makes the intellect void of light and splendour. O chosen one! Hear the Prophet saying: “To dwell in the country is the grave of the intellect.” If any one stay in the country a single day and evening, his intellect will not be fully restored in a month.”’ (Küçük 2007: 249)

What links Sufism to commercial culture, urban civilisation and globalisation is the creative imagination that sees the world as full of opportunities. Like the empathy seen as a core element of the commercial culture by Adam Smith (Sznaider 2000: 15)  this is not just a skill that helps the city dweller to find their way with people, to trade with them so as to secure their own existence, but also engenders an ethos of tolerant solidarity that can be the starting point of a critique of at least aspects of that same commercial culture.

Bruinessen, Martin van (2008): ‘Sufism, “Popular” Islam and the Encounter with Modernity’, in: Khalid Masud/Armando Salvatore/Martin van Bruinessen (eds): Islam and Modernity: Key Issues and Debates, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp.125-57

Küçük, Hülya (2007): ‘Dervishes Make a City: The Sufi Culture in Konya’, in: Critque: Critical Middle Eastern Studies, Vol.16, No.3, pp.241-53

Sznaider, Natan (2000): The Compassionate Temperament, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield

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  1. ghosts of capitalism past, present and yet to come: the plan | metax‎‎ý

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