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Visionaries of Silence

Visionaries of Silence: The Reformist Sufi Order of the Demirdashiya al-Khalwatiya in Cairo

Earle H. Waugh
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Visionaries of Silence
    Book Description:

    Founded in the sixteenth century, the Demirdashiya Sufi order in Cairo has played an influential role in Egypt’s public life, and through a line of family sheikhs has channeled the impulses of its Sufi origins into different types of reform. Practicing a visionary form of piety, the Demirdashiya—once legendary for its wealth and secrecy—continues to influence a small but important segment of contemporary Cairo’s inhabitants. In this fascinating study, scholar Earle Waugh highlights the Demirdashiya’s sophisticated and complex relationship with both politics and Islamic culture. As part of his research, Waugh attended the order’s liturgies—the dhikrs (remembrance) and khalwa (retreat)—normally closed to outsiders. During an annual khalwa, the adept silently meditates for three days in his own cell. More than giving up human discourse, the mandated silence is a reordering of sensitivities to the divine, and a path to insight into the many ways that God conveys Himself to humans. Examining the role of the Demirdashiya in Egypt’s history as well as its visionary piety, Visionaries of Silence explores the dialectic between reform and vision in a stable Sufi order. It also probes how these competing ideals were incorporated into the physical world of the zawiya, mosque, and living quarters, and the extension of its influence in Europe through its most famous daughter, Qut al-Qulub, noted visionary author and mother of the order’s current sheikh.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-392-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    The Sufi tradition, the mystical wing of Islam, is one of the richest and most elaborate in the religious world, and its study has attracted fine minds, both in the east and in the west. Equally complex are the social and communal forms the movement takes. However, despite the existence of a western fascination with Sufism and many competent studies on the history of mystical ideas, we have few analyses on individual orders (sing.tariqa, pl.turuq), like Vincent Crepazano’s on the Hamdasha,¹ to give us insights into the inner workings of an order or to lay out the most...

  5. 1 Historical and Religious Background of the Demirdashiya
    (pp. 9-39)

    It is helpful to see the Sufi way as encompassing three major driving interests: action, love, and knowledge.¹ There has been a dynamic relationship between these three elements throughout Islamic history, creating a metaphysical tapestry of considerable sophistication. Yet the movement has not been isolated from the larger cultural milieu of Islam, whose contribution adds to the Sufi complexion. Furthermore, it has been shaped by elements that have become incorporated into the Sufi modus operandi, such as influences from the philosophical and social milieu.² The rise of the Khalwatiya seems to reflect the institutionalization of personal withdrawal and the ascendancy...

  6. 2 The Khalwatiya and Social and Political Institutions
    (pp. 40-55)

    The Khalwatiya first came to Egypt on the authority of the Mamluk amirs and their power; without their connections to the authorities, it is doubtful that they could have made such an impact so quickly. The Demirdashiyazawiyaand its wealth came from the largesse of Sultan Qaitbay, who donated a country estate to Shams al-Din Demirdash in appreciation for his spiritual and temporal assistance. On one level, thezawiyawas an extension of the sultan’s authority into the rural environment through the benevolent assistance of the shaikh. But the relationship between shaikh and central government was not always so...

  7. 3 Reform through the Liturgical and Religious Life of the Tariqa
    (pp. 56-93)

    It was Duncan Black McDonald who signaled the importance of ritual life as a means of distinguishing between various orders. He had compared the rituals of the Demirdashiya to those of a far bigger order, the Shadhiliya:

    Among the latter may be mentioned the rites of the “khalwet’ees,” and the “Shazilees,” two great classes, each of which has its shaikh. The chief difference between these is that each has a particular form of prayer to repeat every morning, and that the former distinguish themselves by occasional seclusion; whence their appellation of khalwet’ees. The prayer of this class is repeated before...

  8. 4 A Demirdash Reformist Writer: Qut al-Qulub in Cairo and Europe
    (pp. 94-122)

    I was born at the foot of a minaret and of all the things I was able to see, its finger pointed me resolutely to heaven; of those things I was able to hear, it was the name of Allah, launched five times a day in the call of the muezzin, that penetrated my soul. Much later, when I observed the death of my Father it was towards the heavens that he glanced the last time, and it was the name of Allah that he pronounced with his last breath.

    It is to him that I dedicate this book, to...

  9. 5 Constructing a Place for Silence: Architecture and the Khalwatiya Sense of Religious Space
    (pp. 123-152)

    Religious buildings can be controversial. Recent studies have moved the analysis of religious building and built culture away from architectural details or religious ideology to the way that the concrete and the physical express broader cultural perceptions. For example, David Morgan has written an introductory text on what he calls ‘the gaze,’ which is “the visual network that constitutes a social act of ‘looking.’”¹ He argues that seeing something as religious is an activity that brings together the image, viewer, and the act of viewing (and analysis) itself. Within the last few years, the journalMaterial Religionhas been inaugurated...

  10. 6 Amid the Storm: The Return of Shaikh Ahmad al-Demirdash and the Reformist Evolution
    (pp. 153-164)

    Following the death of his brother in 2000, Ahmad assumed full control of the order as shaikh. It will be helpful to summarize some of the activity since then, for it demonstrates how tenacious the theosophical vision can be, as well as how dramatic the conservative tendencies within the order have been. Much of this data is based on many conversations with the shaikh and his associates.

    Qut, the mother of the Demirdash boys, supervised each aspect of Ahmad’s education. He did not attend a traditionalkuttabschool; instead, his mother placed her children, including Shaikh Ahmad, in a Catholic...

  11. Glossary
    (pp. 165-170)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 171-180)
  13. Appendix 1: Demirdash Mosque Vicinity Map
    (pp. 181-181)
  14. Appendix 2: Lower Floor Plan
    (pp. 182-183)
  15. Appendix 3: Upper Floor Plan
    (pp. 184-185)
  16. Appendix 4: The Ninety-Nine Names of God
    (pp. 186-189)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 190-195)
  18. Index
    (pp. 196-206)