Fisibilillah: Labor as Learning on the Sufi Path
“So her Lord (Allah) accepted her with goodly acceptance. He made her grow in a good manner and put her under the care of Zakariya (Zachariya). Every time he entered Al-Mihrab [the prayer chamber] to (visit) her, he found her supplied with sustenance. He said: “O Maryam (Mary)! From where have you got this?” She said, “This is from Allah.” Verily, Allah provides sustenance to whom He wills, without limit.”(Qur’an 3:37; translation via Sahih International)
2. An Economy of Giving in the Black Muslim Atlantic
“The prayer economy is, in effect, an economy of religious practice in which people give gifts to certain religious leaders on a large scale in exchange for prayers and blessings. I argue that certain processes of commodification—the exchange of blessings and prayers for commodities, the proliferation of personal and impersonal Islamic religious commodities—have proliferated and intensified around such religious leaders in the postcolonial period. Such processes of commodification have helped to transform the relations between religious leaders and followers. In fact, they have facilitated the personalization of religious authority in certain Muslim religious leaders with reputations as saints, to whom many ordinary and elite persons have turned for [succor]. That is, religious authority has come to be centered on a few individuals rather than institutions like the Sufi orders with which they have historically been associated”.
3. Fisibilillah: Giving for the Sake of God
4. Labor as Pious Formation and Embodied Knowing in Moncks Corner
4.1. Itinerant Labor as Spiritual Strategy
4.2. Umm Aisha Helps Birth the Moncks Corner Zawiyah
… through food, female converts articulate their relationship to a number of ideological domains including race, class, gender, nation, and Islam. As a signifying practice associated with issues of race, authenticity, and group membership including citizenship; food preparation and exchange are vital communicative processes. Women who are generous with food and who understand the dietary requirements of the community, have extensive social networks and are credited with having a greater understanding of the faith. It is through food that women gain membership into various overlapping social networks, and it is through these social networks that women developed organized systems of exchange. Without these exchange networks, many of the women would not have sufficient income to pay rent … The quality and preparation of food is about faith, ideology, community, and securing resources. Embodied in the production and eating of food is the performance of an agency owned not so much by individuals, but by a community intent on authorizing new social configurations.
“… I had prayed for a Muslim husband and I met [Shaykh Faye] … I know that his job was to propagate Islam and I felt that, I knew I had a good job and I had finances and I felt like, you know, when I met him I said ‘I can do that, I can assist him in propagating Islam’ … so that’s where I started off as far as the idea of being married to a Muslim man …8
“1. By the truth of the secret of the opening chapter of the Book (Qur’an), give us all of our desires without any torment […] 4. Give us the blessings of the noble descendants of the Prophetﷺ as well as their helpers (Al-Ansar), openly & in secret […] 7. Grant us the sun of Irfan (intimate knowledge) & let the full moon of Your Nur (light) be our (inner) proof […] 19. Grant us, in secret, the ease that comes with the subservience of Jinn & men […] 31. Eliminate the harm of witchcraft, secretly & openly, from all places around us […] 35. Make a way for us to Al-Mustafaﷺ, openly & in secret, O Custodian […] 40. Remove the veils from our eyes & grant us the honor of being capable of providing comprehensive explanations. 41. Let our beloved ones & brethren testify for us, Ya Rabbana, in secret, with clear evidence. 42. Answer our prayers, O Owner! O Pure One! By the power of “Kun” (be) & “Yakun” (it is), O Bestower of benefit to the souls! […] 53. Grant us, O Possessor of power, to give things form, the gift of the ability to transform & change things from one to another […] 55. Remove the veils of every sirr (secret) for us, Ya Rabbi, by the secret of the innermost secret […] 58. Always be there for us extending Your helping hand, in secret & in the open, O Grantor of aid […] 66. Cover our faults for us, Ya Rabbana, & grant us gifts from the unseen […]”10
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
- Alpers, Edward A. 2000. Recollecting Africa: Diasporic Memory in the Indian Ocean World. African Studies Review 43: 83–99. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Appadurai, Arjun, ed. 1988. The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Google Scholar]
- Carrier, James. 1991. Gifts, Commodities, and Social Relations: A Maussian View of Exchange. In Sociological Forum. Amsterdam: Kluwer Academic Publishers-Plenum Publishers, vol. 6. [Google Scholar]
- Clarke, Kamari. M. 2004. Mapping Yorùbá Networks: Power and Agency in the Making of Transnational Communities. Durham: Duke University Press. [Google Scholar]
- Cohen, R., and N. Van Hear. 2008. Global Diasporas: An Introduction. Abingdon upon Thames: Routledge. [Google Scholar]
- Cruise O’Brien, Donal B., and Christian Coulon. 1988. Charisma and Brotherhood in African Islam. Available online: https://www.africabib.org/rec.php?RID=046746986 (accessed on 16 November 2020).
- Curtis, Edward. E. 2006. Black Muslim Religion in the Nation of Islam, 1960–1975. Chapel Hill: Univ of North Carolina Press. [Google Scholar]
- Eisenlohr, Patrick. 2006. Little India: Diaspora, Time, and Ethnolinguistic Belonging in Hindu Mauritius. Berkeley: Univ of California Press. [Google Scholar]
- Garbin, D. 2013. The Visibility and Invisibility of Migrant Faith in the City: Diaspora Religion and the Politics of Emplacement of Afro-Christian Churches. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 39: 677–696. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Griffith, R. M., and B. D. Savage. 2006. Women and Religion in the African diaspora: Knowledge, Power, and Performance. Baltimore: JHU Press. [Google Scholar]
- Hill, Joseph. 2010. ‘All Women Are Guides’: Sufi Leadership and Womanhood among Taalibe Baay in Senegal. Journal of Religion in Africa 40: 375–412. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Hill, Joseph. 2018. Wrapping Authority: Women Islamic Leaders in a Sufi Movement in Dakar, Senegal. Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press. [Google Scholar]
- Ho, Enseng. 2006. The Graves of Tarim: Genealogy and Mobility Across the Indian Ocean. Berkeley: Univ of California Press. [Google Scholar]
- Holsey, Bayo. 2004. Transatlantic Dreaming: Slavery, Tourism, and Diasporic Encounters. Homecomings: Unsettling Paths of Return, 166–82. [Google Scholar]
- Humphrey, Caroline, and Stephen Hugh Jones, eds. 1992. Barter, Exchange and Value: An Anthropological Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Google Scholar]
- Jouili, Jeanette. 2015. Pious Practice and Secular Constraints: Women in the Islamic Revival in Europe. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press. [Google Scholar]
- Kane, Ousmane. 2011. The Homeland is the Arena: Religion, Transnationalism, and the Integration of Senegalese Immigrants in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [Google Scholar]
- Last, Murray. 1988. Charisma and Medicine in Northern Nigeria. Available online: https://www.africabib.org/s/rec.php?RID=05820640X (accessed on 16 November 2020).
- Lovejoy, Paul E. 1997. The African Diaspora: Revisionist Interpretations of Ethnicity, Culture and Religion under Slavery. Boston: Northeastern University. [Google Scholar]
- Mahmood, Saba. 2011. Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject. Princeton: Princeton University Press. [Google Scholar]
- Marsden, Magnus. 2009. A Tour Not So Grand: Mobile Muslims in Northern Pakistan. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 15: S57–S75. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Matory, J. Lorand. 2005. Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism, and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé. Princeton: Princeton University Press. [Google Scholar]
- Mauss, Marcel. 1954. The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Society. London: Cohen & West. [Google Scholar]
- McCloud, Aminah Beverly. 1995. African American Islam. Abingdon upon Thames: Routledge. [Google Scholar]
- Rouse, Carolyn, and Janet Hoskins. 2004. “Purity, Soul Food, and Sunni Islam: Explorations at the Intersection of Consumption and Resistance.”. Cultural Anthropology 19: 226–49. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Soares, Benjamin F. 2005. Islam and the Prayer Economy: History and Authority in a Malian Town. Available online: https://www.africabib.org/s/rec.php?RID=274766914 (accessed on 16 November 2020).
- Vaughan, Rupert D. 1992. Al-Asrar fi Nahj al-Islam: Muslims and secret sciences in West Africa circa 1100 to 1880. Doctoral dissertation, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA. [Google Scholar]
- Ware, Rudolph T., III. 2014. The Walking Qur’an: Islamic Education. Embodied Knowledge, and History in West Africa. Chapel Hill: UNC Press. [Google Scholar]
- Weber, Max. 1968. On Charisma and Institution Building. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [Google Scholar]
- Yamba, C. Bawa. 1995. Permanent Pilgrims. London: Edinburgh University Press for the International African Institute. [Google Scholar]
As in other Sufi traditions, Shaykh Faye has named his community the “fuqara”, which not only connotes dependency on God, it also functions to mark those who similarly identity as spiritual companions regardless of their location. Conceptually, the name “fuqara” is sourced from the Qur’an and is used by Shaykh Arona Faye to express an utter and complete dependence on God. For example, the Qur’an states “… If they are poor, God will provide for them from His bounty: God’s bounty is infinite and He is all knowing” (Qur’an 24:32). Shaykh Faye has taken its singular form as a name (“Al-Faqir”) to recognize his own dependency in relation to God and has named his students/followers in a similar fashion to signify their respective dependence.
Zawiyah is an Arabic word that can be translated as “corner” or “nook”; its connotation is that of a place of refuge—a location where Sufi disciples assemble and focus on spiritual growth and religious education in community with other Sufis. In other Islamic contexts, they can be referred to as khanqahs or dahiras. In South Carolina, the zawiyah of Moncks Corner is the mosque, and in Dakar, it was a large house occupied by local family members, students and guests.
Literature on Sufism and works by notable Sufi masters are replete with references to alchemy. For example, see “The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan: The Alchemy of Happiness” or Waley’s “Sufism: Alchemy of the Heart”. In fact, Shaykha Maryam Kabeer Faye, devoted student of Shaykh Arona Faye, has penned a memoir of her own spiritual journey that is entitled “Journey Through Ten Thousand Veils: The Alchemy of Transformation on the Sufi Path”.
Donal Cruise O’Brien also notes “racial confrontation” to be a considerable factor in the allure of charismatic leadership and the emergence of the tariqa as a local configuration of popular Islam in Africa, particularly among those who were made vulnerable within racial hierarchies created by colonial intrusions (whether European or Arab). While the Muridiyya of Senegal and the Hamallists of Sudan emerged from within a French colonial context, the Qadiriyya of Tanganyika distinguished itself from the Swahili and the coastal Arabs. See “Charisma and Brotherhood in African Islam” (Cruise O’Brien and Coulon 1988, p. 21). This notion provides an interesting point in considering the discourses of self-determination and cooperative economics among African-American Muslims in a West African Tariqa (Mustafawi), all housed in a mosque situated in an environment profoundly impacted by histories of racial confrontation and disinheritance. At the same time, the process of financing the mosque without seeking to rely on South Asian or Middle-Eastern financiers also provides interesting commentary on contentions between Muslim communities in the United States.
Interview, Shaykh Arona Faye, 28 November 2016.
During my most recent trip to Senegal, I learned that the brown and blue grand boubou that Shaykh Arona Faye gifted to me was quite similar to the one he wore during his son’s, Hassan, wedding to Rukayah Nurridin the previous year.
Interview, Abdur-Rasheed W., 13 December 2014. The nature of the item will not be named here in order to keep the confidence and integrity of the item intact. There was not an explicit request to keep it private, but my commitment to scholarly integrity necessitates that the item and its process not be revealed so openly.
Interview, Aisha Faye, 17 November 2014.
In a dissertation that historicizes the presence of “secret sciences” amongst Muslims in West Africa, Rupert Vaughn argues that the role of talismans and amulets are aspects of a broader tradition of engagement with Qur’anic scripture that highlights the perception of its spiritual power. “The talisman may be viewed as the slate upon which may be found expressions of the various forms of esoteric approach. Amulets provide a means by which good fortune, beneficence and protection may be garnered to the individual by means of siphoning, using and controlling [magical forces]” (Vaughan 1992, p. 45). Vaughn situates such emphasis on the use of amulets among the Mande who called amulets “sebenev” which meant “writing” in their language. This shows an association between scripture, or the act of writing scripture, and the physical product that results from the crafting of protective talismans. Further, he adds that “[t]he various forms of divination, magic and practices of an esoteric nature were all merely gateways through which an appreciation of al-asrar [secrets] could be gained” (Vaughan 1992, p. 46).
Gueye Haydara, Shaykh Mustafa. Excerpts from “The Cloak of Protection & Soldiers of Divine Care”. Translated and printed in the USA by Shaykh Arona Faye al-Faqir. Zawiyyah of Moncks Corner. August 2014.
The opening page of the printed qasida of Shaykh Mustafa Gueye displays the opening chapter of the Qur’an (Al-Fatihah) and is followed by the Mustafawi prayer that praises the Prophet Muhammad (as-Salaat-ul Samawiyyah). Below these two items is a brief explanation of the entire ballad: “This qasidah was written by Shaykh Muhammad Mustafa Gueye Haydar, who was the son of Shaykh Sahib Gueye, may Allah Ta´ala be pleased with both of them. With this qasidah he [beseeches] Allah (swt) to draw toward him all forms of goodness. He titled it “The Cloak of Protection & the Soldiers of Divine Care.” He said that it would be exactly as [its] title suggests, in the open & in secret, for those who recite it morning & evening for the sake of Allah (swt) and with the intention of attracting all goodness and blessings repelling harm.”
Publisher’s Note: MDPI stays neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
© 2020 by the author. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Carter, Y. Fisibilillah: Labor as Learning on the Sufi Path. Religions 2021, 12, 3. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12010003
Carter Y. Fisibilillah: Labor as Learning on the Sufi Path. Religions. 2021; 12(1):3. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12010003Chicago/Turabian Style
Carter, Youssef. 2021. "Fisibilillah: Labor as Learning on the Sufi Path" Religions 12, no. 1: 3. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12010003