Sufis in Germany

In Step with Everyday Life

The Naqshbandi community of faith in Germany's Eifel Mountains preaches neither a one-sided orthodox creed, nor a cloistered spiritual existence. Thilo Guschas paid them a visit

​​Thirty people are sitting together in a hall. The men in a big circle, the women in a corner separated from the rest by a curtain. German Sufis, followers of the Naqshbandi Haqqani order, are celebrating a "dhikr," a service.

They sing together, and then listen to a monologue by Hassan Dyck, the spiritual leader of the "Ottoman Inn," the headquarters of the order, located in the secluded village of Kall-Sötenich in the Eifel Mountains.

Dyck is talking on the theme of "water." His words seem like a stream of consciousness: "Water is holy, here in the Eifel Mountains it is clean, but modern civilization wastes it – typical ..." Those attending try to draw hidden messages from Dyck's sermon.

Growing closer to God

German Naqshbandi Sufis (photo: Ikhlas Abbis)
The objectionable Ottoman folk dress is a specialty of German Sufis

​​Sufism is the mystical branch of Islam. A Sufi tries to penetrate his inner self in order to overcome any weaknesses and grow closer to God. Support is provided by religious teachers like Hassan Dyck. There are no hard and fast formulas; each believer must find his own path.

Sufism has been a mass movement in the Islamic world since the 12th century, for example in Morocco and Egypt. Large, transnational orders have grown up in the course of time. The Naqshbandi Haqqani order is one of them, with members in Turkey, Syria, the USA and Germany.

One can spot German Naqshbandi Sufis by their clothing. The women wear flowing robes, the men, a turban and long beard. Some one hundred families belonging to the order live in the area of the "Ottoman Inn," in settlements and small villages. An insular, esoteric lifestyle – is that what Sufism is all about?

Sufism is concrete and pragmatic

Not at all, says one of those attending the service. Sufism is concrete and pragmatic: "The first rule in the order is that you have to marry. And then children will perhaps come along soon and you look for a job that will feed the family. It's the opposite of withdrawal from society: it's not a search for truth in a cloistered existence, but rather in everyday life."

"Marriage and raising children, these are not rules of our order!" counters Hassan Dyck. Apparently, there are no strict rules of conduct, at least none that can be represented in a united front.

And what is the Ottoman dress all about, the turbans and beards? The Ottoman Empire is the shining ideal for the order.

Glorification of the old Ottoman reign

"If the West had not abolished the Ottoman Caliphate, these strange terrorist outgrowths we are suffering from today would never have come about! After all, the last Sultan was a Caliph of the Prophet," Dyk says.

Hassan Dyck with children of the Sufi community (photo: Ikhlas Abbis)
In Sufi Islam, there are no hard and fast orders - each believer must find his own path

​​The Ottoman Empire and today's terrorism – unconventional views that seldom penetrate beyond the order to reach the ears of the outside world.

But for outsiders, the nostalgic clothing style alone breeds mistrust. "Oh, you mean those people who dress so funny," says the butcher who operates her store a few hundred feet from the "Ottoman Inn," wrinkling her nose.

A poster is hanging on the door of the "Inn": "Open House. dhikr with rock music!" An attempt to defuse prejudices. Not so long ago, just after 9/11, the "Inn" was raided by the police and searched. The reason was a suspicion of terrorism, which proved to be unfounded.

Reverting to traditionalism

The objectionable Ottoman folk dress is a specialty of German Sufis. Even Sufis in today's Turkey would find it strange. In the opinion of Islamic scholar Ludwig Schlessmann, this penchant for old-fashioned clothing can be attributed to the fact that an Oriental religious practice is being transferred to European everyday life:

"The German Sufi movement has always had to distinguish itself from other esoteric groups, by reverting to traditionalism, to orthodoxy, but on the other hand it has also had to make compromises to adapt to the way of life here."

The Naqshbandi adherents are urged to pursue occupations that are "close to the earth," such as farming or crafts. But the order is prepared to compromise. A successful IT expert doesn't have to move out of the big city only to be forced to live on welfare, for example, if he is simply not suited for a more "earth-bound" career.

Another example is technological advances. They are seldom deemed harmful – and the order readily takes advantage of them. The elaborately designed website of the "Ottoman Inn" includes a newsletter and podcasts.

Orthodoxy against willingness to compromise – which will win out? Schlessmann thinks this is difficult to predict. There is a strong, historically entrenched dynamic to the order, which has already been in existence since the 1970s:

"There are more and more people who have belonged to the order for a long time, started families, had children. There are always new issues to be faced in how to raise the children in the faith and these then shape the way the order is lived, in some cases making it stronger."

Thilo Guschas

© Qantara.de 2007

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor-Gaida

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