It's Springtime for Sufis

Below the snowline violet crocuses and wild strawberries are bursting through the turf of Kosovo’s alpine meadows. Under the tree line opportunist hellebores and purple primroses are reaching for the sun before an all-enveloping tree canopy obscures light to the woodland floor. Snow is slowly melting on the mountaintops, feeding streams to the valleys below – where the rich biodiversity of above is equally reflected in Sufi rituals in the plains below.

There are more than sixty active Tekkes of seven Tarikats (Sufi lineages) in Kosovo: the Kaderi, Rufai, Saadi, Shazeli, Nakshibendi, Sinani and Halveti with an eighth, the Melemi Tarikat, waiting in the shadows. Each Sufi Tarikat occupies it’s own niche, but relates to the same family – Sunni Islam – not as a severed limb, but as a Sufi branch – one with choice, a way in and a way out, without hidden surprises.

Natural symbolism enriches their lexicon:

“We are Muslims and like other Muslims, we are in the same sea. Others swim, we prefer to dive.”
In prayer they talk of submitting the ‘animal soul’ in prostration. Special dates in the Sufi calendar align with lunar cycles, but their eclectic expression of essential spiritual nature is as diverse as the flora & fauna on the slopes of the Sharri Mountains.
The world’s media pays special attention to the Rufai Tarikat because of their dramatic warrior-echoing-past-piercing ceremonies during the first day of spring, Norwuz. But flashing media bulbs would do well not to cast shadows of ignorance over the whole genus.

One of the Prizren Tekke
All Sufis seem to gather in circles, sharing wisdom, swaying and swirling like the slow motion opening of a flower’s sepals. But careful observation will reveal nuance in each petal, a slightly different pattern in the spiral paths luring each spiritual seeker to the nectar. Balkan tinged tradition passed from father to son, the footsteps of previous teachers, and the personality of individual Sheikhs colors each Tarikat in uniquely subtle shades.

The Sufi journey is one of taming vice and cultivating virtue.

Indeed the development of personality, through experience, to the point of self-actualisation (Ali), is the Sufi way. At least for our temporal journey on this earth:

“Matter dies, the spirit keeps going,” says Sheikh Abidin Shehu.

“Jesus didn’t die.”

“We don’t exist, but are a reflection of god, only he exists…”

Concepts of heaven, and hell, and judgment, are described in similar Sufi terms as in Christianity. And how poignant for such reflections is a visit to Shejh Adrihysejh Shehu in Prizren. His mother has just passed away in Croatia, but he has no visa to visit, to bury her.

“What can I do?”

“God gives life and takes it.”

“Something that is not born is not dying, only life exists, God is simply retrieving.”

In the deep mood of metaphor Sufism inspires; I might add: “Without the cycle of seasons, there can be no spring.” 

Spin on, Sufi spring, spin on.

Originally published for Interfaith Kosovo.


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