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The Fire of Love: A Sufi Path in Islam

In Asia, Being a World Citizen, Cultural Bridges, Middle East & North Africa, Solidarity, Spirituality, The Search for Peace on November 28, 2021 at 5:45 PM

By René Wadlow

Enough of phrases and conceits and metaphors!

I want burning, burning, become familiar with

that burning! Light up a fire of love in thy soul,

Burn all thought and expressions away.

Jalal al-Din Rumi

Sufism — mysticism in the Islamic world — has flourished chiefly in Arab countries and in Persia, and later in what is now India and Pakistan. In Persia and the Indian Sub-continent, Sufism built upon earlier pre-Islamic traditions of mystic thought. As Walter Stace noted in his Teachings of the Mystics, “The natural drift toward pantheism which is a general feature of mysticism in the West — where the theologians and ecclesiastical authorities try to suppress it and brand it as heresy — is even more pronounced in Sufism than in Christianity — although Muslim orthodoxy disapproves of it quite as emphatically as Christian orthodoxy does. Indeed, the Islamic disapproval may be stronger than the Christian, owing to its more rigid monotheism. After all, no Christian mystic was ever martyred for his pantheistic utterances, whereas this did happen in Baghdad” to Al Hallaj in 922.

Sufism is not one homogeneous body of thought or a well-defined set of doctrines and practices. There is considerable internal diversity. However, central to Sufi practice is the role of the spiritual teacher (pir or sheikh) who is believed to have received esoteric wisdom from his own master forming a chain. The role of the teacher has always been to guide the disciple in ways of meditation or other mystical practices often related to breathing so he would acquire spiritual insight through inner experience.

Jalal al-Din Rumi

These chains can be considered separate spiritual orders. Often the tomb of a Sufi leader becomes a shrine and a pilgrimage site. In Pakistan recently, there have been armed attacks on popular Sufi shrines carried out by more legalistic Muslim groups.

Spirituality, in the Sufi tradition, cannot be set apart from life itself, and spiritual development can only be realized through living life to the fullest expression of our potential, using all of our human faculties with the ideal of becoming a more complete human being.

In Europe and the USA, one of the best known of the Sufi ‘chains’ is that of an Indian teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan, of the Chishti Sufi Order, named after the Indian town where it had its headquarters who came to the West in 1910 to create a Sufi movement in North America and Europe. He set his headquarters in Geneva, an international city because of the League of Nations. He married Ora Baker, a cousin of Mary Baker Eddy, founder of The Christian Science Monitor. His son Vilayat Inayat Khan succeeded him. In 2000, the grandson Zia Inayat Khan assumed leadership of what has become the Sufi Order International.

In the West, the Islamic base of the teaching is rarely stressed though it is not denied. Most of the members do not come from traditional Muslim families. Here in France where I have had some contacts, most members are not from North Africa which makes up the bulk of the Islamic population but are rather Europeans who are looking for meditation techniques and who could have chosen Tibetan Buddhism had a different opportunity presented itself.

Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

Pir Vilayat has written on the aims of his work: “I am trying to develop an updated spirituality for our times. I believe that to develop our own being to the highest potential we need to discover our ideal and allow an inborn strength, a conviction in ourselves, to give us the courage toward developing this ideal. This requires both knowing our life purpose and mastery or discipline over ourselves in terms of body, mind, and emotions. With an attitude of joy and enthusiasm, we do not suppress but instead control and direct impulses toward the fulfillment of our goals.”

There is a good deal of emphasis placed on “opening the heart” and love as love is considered an attribute of God. Pir Vilayat wrote “When the light of love has been lit, the heart becomes transparent, so that the intelligence of the soul can see through it; but until the heart is kindled by the flame of love, the intelligence, which is constantly yearning to experience life on the surface, is groping in the dark.”

Philip Gowins has written a useful introduction which outlines exercises linked both to breathing and to creative visualization in meditation. The subtitle of the book is “A Field Guide to the Spiritual Path” (1). However, the emphasis is on the need for a teacher as writings are only of limited help and in working alone one may misjudge one’s own progress on the path.

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Note

1) Philip Gowins. Practical Sufism: A Guide to the Spiritual Path (Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 2010, 219 pp.)

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Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

A Korean War Peace Treaty Proposal

In Asia, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Korean Peninsula, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on November 19, 2021 at 8:59 PM

By René Wadlow

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) warmly welcomes the statement to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on September 21, 2021 by President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea. “Today, I once again urge the community of nations to mobilize its strengths for the end-of-war declaration on the Korean Peninsula. When the parties involved in the Korean War stand together and proclaim an end to the war, I believe we can make irreversible progress in denuclearization and usher in an era to complete peace.”

On March 14, 2013, the AWC had sent a message to the then UN Secretary-General, Ban ki-moon, urging a UN-sponsored Korean-sponsored Korean Peace Settlement Conference now that all the States which participated in the 1950-1953 Korean War were UN member states. The 60th anniversary of the 1953 Armistice would be an appropriate occasion.

Such a Korean Peace Settlement Conference could build a framework for a broader, comprehensive approach to Northeast Asia security. The AWC stressed the need for strong diplomatic measures by concerned States such as China, Russia, the USA, and Japan. The World Citizens highlighted that in the past, there had been a series of dangerous but ultimately resolvable crisis concerning the two Korean States. However, there are always dangers of miscalculations and unnecessary escalation of threats.

The AWC noted in its message that there had been a number of Track II, nongovernmental efforts, on Korean issues and that the voices of civil society are legitimate and should be heard.

Today, the conditions for such a Korean Peace Settlement Conference seem more favorable than in 2013. The opportunities should be actively explored.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Women as Peacemakers

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Human Rights, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, Women's Rights, World Law on October 31, 2021 at 5:25 PM

By René Wadlow

Seeing with eyes that are gender aware, women tend to make connections between the oppression that is the ostensible cause of conflict (ethnic or national oppression) in the light of another cross-cutting one : that of gender regime. Feminist work tends to represent war as a continuum of violence from the bedroom to the battlefield, traversing our bodies and our sense of self. We glimpse this more readily because as women we have seen that ‘the home’ itself is not the haven it is cracked up to be. Why, if it is a refuge, do so many women have to escape it to ‘refuges’? And we recognize, with Virginia Woolf, that ‘the public and private worlds are inseparably connected: that the tyrannies and servilities of one are the tyrannies and servilities of the other.


Cynthia Cockburn, Negotiating Gender and National Identities

October 31 is the anniversary of the United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 1325 which calls for full and equal participation of women in conflict prevention, peace processes, and peacebuilding, thus creating opportunities for women to become fully involved in governance and leadership. This historic Security Council Resolution 1325 of October 31, 2000 provides a mandate to incorporate gender perspectives in all areas of peace support. Its adoption is part of a process within the UN system through its World Conferences on Women in Mexico City (1975), in Copenhagen (1980), in Nairobi (1985), in Beijing (1995), and at a special session of the UN General Assembly to study progress five years after Beijing (2000).

Since 2000, there have been no radical changes as a result of Resolution 1325, but the goal has been articulated and accepted. Now women must learn to take hold of and generate political power if they are to gain an equal role in peace-making. They must be willing to try new avenues and new approaches as symbolized by the actions of Lysistrata.

Lysistrata, immortalized by Aristophanes, mobilized women on both sides of the Athenian-Spartan War for a sexual strike in order to force men to end hostilities and avert mutual annihilation. In this, Lysistrata and her co-strikers were forerunners of the American humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow who proposed a hierarchy of needs: water, food, shelter, and sexual relations being the foundation (see Abraham Maslow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature). Maslow is important for conflict resolution work because he stresses dealing directly with identifiable needs in ways that are clearly understood by all parties and with which they are willing to deal at the same time.

Addressing each person’s underlying needs means that one moves toward solutions that acknowledge and value those needs rather than denying them. To probe below the surface requires redirecting the energy towards asking ‘what are your real needs here? What interests need to be serviced in this situation?’ The answers to such questions significantly alter the agenda and provide a real point of entry into the negotiation process.

It is always difficult to find a point of entry into a conflict. An entry point is a subject on which people are willing to discuss because they sense the importance of the subject and all sides feel that ‘the time is ripe’ to deal with the issue. The art of conflict resolution is highly dependent on the ability to get to the right depth of understanding and intervention into the conflict. All conflicts have many layers. If one starts off too deeply, one can get bogged down in philosophical discussions about the meaning of life. However, one can also get thrown off track by focusing on too superficial an issue on which there is relatively quick agreement. When such relatively quick agreement is followed by blockage on more essential questions, there can be a feeling of betrayal.

Since Lysistrata, women, individually and in groups, have played a critical role in the struggle for justice and peace in all societies. However, when real negotiations begin, women are often relegated to the sidelines. However, a gender perspective on peace, disarmament, and conflict resolution entails a conscious and open process of examining how women and men participate in and are affected by conflict differently. It requires ensuring that the perspectives, experiences and needs of both women and men are addressed and met in peacebuilding activities. Today, conflicts reach everywhere. How do these conflicts affect people in the society — women and men, girls and boys, the elderly and the young, the rich and poor, the urban and the rural?

There has been a growing awareness that women and children are not just victims of violent conflict and wars − ‘collateral damage’ − but they are chosen targets. Conflicts such as those in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and the Democratic Republic of Congo have served to bring the issue of rape and other sexual atrocities as deliberate tools of war to the forefront of international attention. Such violations must be properly documented, the perpetrators brought to justice, and victims provided with criminal and civil redress.

I would stress three elements which seem to me to be the ‘gender’ contribution to conflict transformation efforts:

1) The first is in the domain of analysis, the contribution of the knowledge of gender relations as indicators of power. Uncovering gender differences in a given society will lead to an understanding of power relations in general in that society, and to the illumination of contradictions and injustices inherent in those relations.

2) The second contribution is to make us more fully aware of the role of women in specific conflict situations. Women should not only be seen as victims of war: they are often significantly involved in taking initiatives to promote peace. Some writers have stressed that there is an essential link between women, motherhood, and nonviolence, arguing that those engaged in mothering work have distinct motives for rejecting war which run in tandem with their ability to resolve conflicts non-violently. Others reject this position of a gender bias toward peace and stress rather that the same continuum of non-violence to violence is found among women as among men. In practice, it is never all women nor all men who are involved in peacemaking efforts. Sometimes, it is only a few, especially at the start of peacemaking efforts. The basic question is how best to use the talents, energies, and networks of both women and men for efforts at conflict resolution.

3) The third contribution of a gender approach with its emphasis on the social construction of roles is to draw our attention to a detailed analysis of the socialization process in a given society. Transforming gender relations requires an understanding of the socialization process of boys and girls, of the constraints and motivations which create gender relations. Thus, there is a need to look at patterns of socialization, potential incitements to violence in childhood training patterns, and socially-approved ways of dealing with violence.

The Association of World Citizens has stressed that it is important to have women directly involved in peace-making processes. The strategies women have adapted to get to the negotiating table are testimony to their ingenuity, patience, and determination. Solidarity and organization are crucial elements. The path may yet be long, but the direction is set.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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