New Age Sufism finds fertile ground in Egypt

Meditation practices inspired from Sufism are gaining popularity in the Egyptian capital Cairo as people are looking for alternatives to rigid religious practices, writes Egyptian journalist Dalia Chams on the French website Orient XXI (January 9). This is a recent phenomenon, acknowledges 46-year-old Sonia Hassan, an American Egyptian-born meditation teacher who was trained at the US-based University of Spiritual Healing & Sufism and claims to have been the first to have associated Sufism with Zen meditation in Egypt in the years after the 2011 Egyptian revolution. She uses the Islamic names of God as mantras and starts meditation with the first verses of the Quran, but also applies yoga respiration methods. Chams remarks that New Age Sufism is not a new phenomenon. Groups derived from the Sufi Order in the West, founded in 1914 by musician and spiritual teacher Inayat Khan (1882-1927), have found their place in the New Age milieu in the West, while emancipating themselves from a purely Islamic reference as they spread to non-Muslim countries. Non-Muslim foreigners also attend meditation practices in Cairo, but for Muslims the fact of using the names of Allah instead of Sanskrit mantras allows them to connect to something already familiar. Chams observes that not a few participants have already experimented with various spiritual or therapeutic practices.

This trend is part of a modern revival of interest in Sufism, evidenced by the phenomenal success of a book by Turkish novelist Elif Shafak, The Forty Rules of Love, that was translated into Arabic in 2013 and is reported to have sold ten million copies in Egypt. According to Chams, all this is paving the way to developments not unlike those of the 1960s in the US. People who are urban, modern, Westernized to some extent, not secular but neither satisfied with standard offers on the Muslim religious market, are becoming open to psychologists, therapists and spiritual coaches. Online social networks are also helping such ideas to spread. Moreover, one should remember that the New Age, urban nature of this phenomenon also benefits from the popular image of the more widespread traditional Sufism, with some 80 traditional Sufi brotherhoods in Egypt and likely numbering up to 9 million faithful.

(Orient XXI,; University of Spiritual Healing & Sufism,; Elif Shafak,