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Islamic Culture, Sufi Traditions and the Discovery of the Inner Law
by Rene Wadlow
2015-03-15 11:14:19
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The luminous point, by Love it is made more lasting, more burning, more glowing”   - Muhammad Iqbal

Since 1979, the exile of the Westernized Shah of Iran, the proclamation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the relation between Islam, the structure of government law, and the relation of the Arab-Muslim world to Europe and North America have become subjects of concern in the West.  The media, political figures, scholars as well as the general public have been preoccupied with issues related to Islam and political- social issues.  Concepts such as jihad (struggle), shari'a (Islamic-based law), dhimmi ('protected minorities'), fatwa (religious ruling or authorized statement), Shi'ite, Sunni, infidels, Islamophobia and Judeophobia have entered public discourse.

There had been earlier periods when many of these same issues had concerned international relations specialists and diplomats, especially the 1960s struggle between Saudi Arabia and Gamal Abdel Nasser's Egypt for wider influence and also control of Yemen. Some of the same issues were of concern during the 1980-1988 war between Iraq and Iran, but there was relatively little interest at the level of the “general public”.

Now, with the “Arab Spring”, the Internet postings of the Islamic State (ISIS and ISIL), of attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, of people living in Western Europe joining ISIS forces, these issues have become part of the political and social discourse of Western Europe.  Moreover, the active participation of Kurdish militias in the Syria-Iraq-ISIS conflict has provoked concern among the fairly large Kurdish communities living in Western Europe.

islam01_400The attention on the links between Islam and political-legal issues has been largely focused on the wider Arab world. Events and struggles for power in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as the role of Muslims in India with its “Hinduizing” government in power are reminders that Islam is not only an Arab issue. Nevertheless, the intellectual and spiritual traditions of Iran and the Central Asian republics of the former USSR have been largely neglected.  The nuclear issues and Israeli fears have been the focus of attention on Iran. The growing 'Islamization' of Turkey, human rights, and Turkish policy toward the Kurds and the ISIS-Syria-Iraq-Kurds struggles have been the focus of Western attention on Turkey.

However Central Asia and Turkey have been the richest grounds for Islamic thought and may play a significant role in the future.  All Islamic thought of philosophical value in the last two centuries has come from the areas of what is today Iran, Pakistan, and the Central Asian Republics of the former USSR. There have been no Arab thinkers except those building on Central Asian traditions.  The most striking example is that of Sayyid Jamal ad-Din -”al Afghani”  (1) Al-Afghani is the intellectual-spiritual father of Husam al-Bamma, Egyptian founder of the multi-national Muslim Brotherhood. (2)  Both al-Afghani and al-Bamma were members of French Masonic lodges, and the Muslim Brotherhood must be seen as the intersection of Islam and French Freemasonry, with the Mason's providing most of the organizational philosophy and techniques of action.

The strongest currents of a creative renewal of Islamic thought comes from the Sufi movements of Central Asia, influenced by currents from Pakistan and Iran but free from the narrow intellectual and social frameworks imposed by the governments of Pakistan and Iran.  Until recently, Sufi thought has operated in a “chain” of master-disciple transmission of doctrine and practices.  However, there have been fewer and fewer “masters” − their tombs have been more honored than their ideas. The “chains” of transmission have become intellectual “chains”, keeping people in what became sectarian brotherhoods. (3).

The possibility of renewal within Central Asia and thus expansion into the Arab intellectual world is what we can call “the discovery of the inner law.”  Each individual has within himself a possibility of knowing the inner law.  The shari'a − which some want to impose on society − is only the “outer law”. The outer law may be momentarily necessary because not enough people have evolved their spiritual development to live by the inner law.  However, the shari'a will progressively disappear.  The repressive aspects of the shari'a which some like the Afghan-Pakistan Taliban and the ISIS want to impose is of no value for the spiritual development of the person.  Spiritual development can only come through meditation and the discovery of the inner law.



1. See Nikki Keddie Sayyid Jamal ad-Din 'al-Afghani'  (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972)

2. See Alison Pargeton The Muslim Brotherhood: The Burden of Tradition (London: Saqi Books, 2010)

3. For an interesting study of Sufi brotherhoods on the Afghan-Pakistan frontier see Kenneth Lizzio Embattled Saints. My Year with the Sufis of Afghanistan  (Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 2014)


René Wadlow, president and a U.N. representative (Geneva) of the Association of World Citizens and editor of Transnational Perspectives.

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Emanuel Paparella2015-03-15 14:17:13
The epithet on Kant's tomb is quite eloquent on this issue: the awe of the starry sky above me and the moral law within me.

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