News out of Cyprus indicate that one of the most prominent Sufi leaders of the past century, Shaykh Nazim, has passed away at age 92.
Muhammad Nazim Adil al-Qubrusi al-Haqqani, known simply as Shaykh Nazim, was part of the resurgence of Islamic mysticism (Sufism) in the 20th century. He spent decades organizing Sufi activities and initiating people into his Naqshbandi Sufi order.
Shaykh Nazim was a charismatic presence, to his followers nothing shy of the “Pole of Saints.” His followers recount tales of his miraculous presence, and the Baraka (grace/ “Force”) that surrounded him.
Historically, it can be said that Shaykh Nazim played an important role in spreading Sufi teachings in the West. The Ramadan gatherings in the Peckham Mosque in London (which I attended back in the 1990s) were an important part of Sufi revival.
Shaykh Nazim became one of the most ardent critics of Wahhabism. In fact, I picked up an Arabic copy of the Sawa’iq al-ilahiya fi radd ‘ala ‘l-wahhabiyya (“Divine Lightning Bolts in the Refutation of the Wahhabi Doctrine) in Shaykh Nazim’s gatherings. Shaykh Nazim’s son-in-law and deputy, Shaykh Hisham, who represents him in the United States, famously warned against Wahhabi presence in America.
To some of his critics, Shaykh Nazim’s teachings took on an alarming messianic tone, starting in the 1980s. Furthermore, some critics objected to organizing his followers based on ethnic lines, and occasional anti-Shi’i tirades. Shaykh Nazim’s fondness for Prince Charles has been well-documented. Lesser known though no less significant has been his appreciation and support for George Bush and Tony Blair in the “War on Terror.”
To be transparent about my own relationship with Shaykh Nazim: It was in the early 1990s that reading his “Mercy Oceans” volumes helped transform my understanding of Sufism from one primarily rooted in ancient Persian and Arabic texts to one that also has a contemporary manifestation. His dhikr and Qur’an recitations became a powerful part of my own spiritual life. And many of my own friends continue to be active members of the Naqshbandi community.
In time, my own discomfort with the anti-Shi’ism perspectives and messianic predictions led me to pursue a spiritual community elsewhere. But at the time of his passing, it is perhaps appropriate to pause and honor someone whose life and teachings overlapped with the majority of this past century, and who has helped elevate Sufism to a powerful and popular contemporary manifestation.
To honor him, here are a few links:
Cat Stevens visiting Shaykh Nazim and singing Tala’a al-badru ‘alayna.
Habib Ali al-Jifri meeting Shaykh Nazim.
Shaykh Nazim reciting al-Rahman.
Shaykh Nazim reciting al-Asr.
Shaykh Nazim reciting al-Fatiha.
As it is said in the Islamic tradition, may God receive him into the highest abode of Heaven, into God’s own supreme pleasure (Ridwan). May God sanctify him, forgive him any errors, and illuminate his heart.
Inna lilah wa inna ilayhi raji’un.