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ISLAM: SUFISM

Ali, Abdullah Yusuf. The Meaning of the Holy Quran. 9th ed. Beltsville, Md.: Amana, 1998.

Abbas, Ali, ed. A Shiite Encyclopedia. Available on-line at: http:// www.al-Islam.org/encyclopedia/chapter7/3.html

Hussaini, Mohammed M. Islamic Dietary Concepts and Practice.

Chicago: Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America, 1993.

Welch, Andrew T. “Islam.” In A New Handbook of Living Reli-

gions, edited by John R. Hinnells, pp. 162–235. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1997.

Paul Fieldhouse

Holidays and Festivals

SUFISM

Sufis are members of a small Islamic sect that arose as a protest against the growing worldliness of Muslims after the time of the Prophet. Sufis strive to imitate the words and deeds of Muhammad, and traditionally adopt a life of poverty and abstinence. Although Sufism is firmly an- chored in orthodox Islamic doctrine, it emphasizes the inner pursuit of love, obedience, and devotion to God over concern with the outward law or sharia, and is of- ten associated with mysticism and esotericism. There are hundreds of Sufi orders that have developed within dif- ferent cultural contexts so that there is no one Sufi way.

Role of Food in the Sufi Tradition

Sufis are guided by the adab, written treatises that pre- scribe manners or norms of conduct modeled on the life of Muhammad, which includes the food sayings and prac- tices of the Prophet in minute detail. Muhammad praises the virtues of hospitality, generosity, and moderation, and food was and is clearly seen as a means of encouraging these virtues. As an integral part of the daily spiritual life of Sufis, food provides a way of sharing in the greatest of Divine blessings, of creating unity among people and of linking to all creation. Hospitality and eating together were highly commended by Muhammad and, since early times, Sufis have been associated with the serving of food to others. Communal kitchens and guest lodges for feed- ing the poor and travelers were features of early Sufi set- tlements, a tradition that continues in Sahas, or Sufi centers where massive concrete tables may serve up to one hundred diners at a sitting. At moulid festivals, feeding sta- tions are set up to offer food and drink to passers-by.

Food Symbolism and Rituals

There is extensive use of food imagery and metaphor in Sufi writings. Sugar and other sweet foods represent the sweetness of piety and community with God, while salt symbolizes purity and incorruptibility. Bread is regarded as sacred in Islam and is treated reverentially. Through the pronouncement of Bismallah during the bread-making process, the bread is imbued with spiritual power or baraka, which is shared by those who eat the bread. The transformation of the raw wheat to finished bread is used as an analogy for Sufi spiritual development.

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FOOD AND CULTURE

Sufis observe general Muslim holidays and festivals. Ashura has particular significance for Sufis and Shia. In addition, they celebrate numerous saints’ days, or moulids. Major moulid festivals attract hundreds of thousands of people and can last for two to three weeks. Sufi orders set up hospitality stations (khidamet) in public buildings, in tents, or simply on cloths spread on the ground. Drink and (usually) food are offered to passers-by, and must be accepted as the food contains the baraka of the saint be- ing honored and therefore confers spiritual blessing on the recipient. For the poor, these stations provide an ad- ditional opportunity for physical as well as spiritual nour- ishment.

Fasting and Feasting

Fasting is an essential feature of Sufism, especially dur- ing the forty-day retreat undertaken by initiates in many orders. Early Sufis placed great emphasis on asceticism in the pursuit of self-control and suppression of worldly desires. Eating was seen to be an important source of po- tential harm to the new initiate, and there are many Sufi stories of extreme restraint. Later, excessive fasting came to be viewed as unfavorably as excessive eating, for the message of the adab was one of moderation. Indeed, Muhammad even enjoined His followers to break a fast if invited to eat, for to refuse an invitation to share in God’s blessing was wrong.

Food and Social Circumstance: Prescriptions and Proscription

While the asceticism of early Sufism has largely disap- peared, gluttony is frowned upon and moderation is en- joined. Sufis follow Quranic injunctions regarding food and are usually fastidious about observing the prohibi- tion on pork consumption. While many Muslims do eat meat other than pork, Sufi teachings recommend that such meat be consumed only in small quantities. Some orders, both ancient and modern, have praised vegetari- anism as a more compassionate practice, and have viewed animal consumption as conducive to animalistic behav- ior.

See also Fasting and Abstinence: Islam; Iran; Islam: Shiite Islam; Islam: Sunni Islam; Middle East; Religion and Food.

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Sufi ritual observances (dhikr) are concerned with re- membrance of God through exaltation and praise. Singing, dancing, and drumming are commonly part of such rituals, as is sharing of food. For example, ashura is a dish that takes its name from the festival celebrated by all followers of Islam. During preparation of the ashura, Mevlevi Sufis stir the pot in a special way while pro- nouncing the name of God. Sharing the ashura then be- comes a way of spreading remembrance of God in the form of bodily nourishment. 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