Religions and spiritual movements are complicated things, and accurate descriptions of them are bound to be contradictory. Sufism, like Islam, is both mystical and practical, embracing and exclusionary, pacific and assertive, ascetic and sensual, free form and discipline bound. Such oppositions aren’t a problem. They generate the unifying friction that makes culture tick.
But complexity also makes us nervous. We have an itch to neaten it up, flatten it out. So we do. The West tends to see all Islam as fundamentalist, bellicose and puritanical, and Sufism as a sexy, proto-New Agey, un-Islamic departure. At the same time a fundamentalist Muslim minority rejects Sufism, with its world-touring dervishes, tippler poets and pop stars, as a Western-pandering perversion of Islamic tradition.
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