The Sufi Scholars of Mali

I discovered this video in an article on the scholars of Mali in the Huffington Post  It is about the rich tradition of scholarship in Timbuktu, Mali and the threat that comes from the Ansine and Al-Qaeda groups. As the author of the article, Rudolph Ware, notes, “Unfortunately, the “radical Islam” of groups like Ansar Dine and al-Qaida have spilled far too much blood and ink in Northern Mali and beyond. Armed with deadly weapons, a false doctrine of jihad, and a perverse sense of martyrdom they have committed countless acts of violence. While the Western imagination is captivated by fear of ‘radical Islam’ its victims — in Timbuktu as elsewhere — are almost invariably Muslims.”

The photographs in the following video were taken in 2007 in the region of Timbuktu, Mali, a landlocked country in West Africa. At that time, Mali was one of Africa’s most stable democracies. Timbuktu had regained its ancient fame as a center of Islamic scholarship.

Political chaos has now over-taken the north and south of Mali. Timbuktu is under Shariah law, controlled by rebel groups connected to al-Qaeda. Not only are thousands of ancient manuscripts and holy sites under threat, but an ancient scholarly culture….

The objective of this video and its corresponding website is to provide cultural context to the current conflict in the north of Mali, with a focus on Timbuktu. To do so, it uses a photographic series that presents an in-depth view of Timbuktu’s tradition of Islamic scholarship, an ancient form of learning influenced by Sufism and characterized by tolerance, plurality, and a deep joy in and respect for learning.

This video calls for religious freedom and cultural self-determination for the people of Timbuktu, Mali.

Please share widely

Text and photography by Alexandra Huddleston

Recording and sound editing by Brian Stillman

Introductory music: “Hibernal”
Stock audio provided by Ian Hubball/


A Poem of Sufi Love from Maryam

Sometimes I write about poetry here and sometimes I write poetry myself. Today I read the following poem on the tasawwuf blog of my sister on the path, Maryam It is beautiful and with its words it captures the impossibility of capturing the Ineffable, yet we can whisper the Names of the One and the soul can hear those words of love whispered from the silence of love, breath joining breath. Please go and visit Maryam’s site for more poems and thoughts on the Sufi path. Thank you Maryam.
This one sings the most beautiful love songs.
This one lost his voice; but he writes them.
This one weeps while he recites.
This one can’t speak a word,
so he just weeps.
The sky seems to be listening,
some stars sparkle quicker than others;
I don’t close my eyes. I just watch
The wonder of the sound of voices.
Silent voices, in the dark,
whispering countless names.
I breath in, breath out,
with a name forever in my tongue,
my lips,
my throat.
I breath Your name,
exhale Your name,
in, out,
and the effect it has on my dreams
reminds me of those songs I hear,
the weeping that conforts the heart,
and the silent voices in the dark.
I don’t get tired of saying it.
I only get surprised.
Because once more letters, numbers, sounds,
dance a perfect dance,
saying, like a secret,
that life is death, that death is life,
that mixture is balance,
that Love comes through untouchable matter.
The one who sings has retreated himself.
And the one who weeps is tired.
The one who whispers is confused now.
As for me,
I am asleep.
And your name is my breath.


The Secret Heart

Image via Wikipedia

I recently put this in my Facebook notes and then thought that readers here might also enjoy it. Just a few thoughts on the experience of the dissolution of the nafs (ego matrix) that is the aim of the Sufi path.

The soul dwells amidst the utmost silence of total awe and the secret heart expands in space, knowing itself, knowing the Beloved. All is abandoned. Entirely. In savage nakedness veils are torn and slip noiselessly back into the created universe. Light pierces this being and excises every remaining trace of space and time. Stars, galaxies, universes are but sparkling jewels set in the dark mystery of the Unmanifest.

‘I was a hidden Treasure and desired to be known; therefore I created that I might be known’ (Hadith Qudsi)

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From the Fusus al-Hikam of Ibn ‘Arabi

La mosquée tombeau d'Ibn Arabi
Image by Ghaylam via Flickr

It is He who is revealed in every face, sought in every sign, gazed upon by every eye, worshipped in every object of worship, and pursued in the unseen and the visible. Not a single one of His creatures can fail to find Him in its primordial and original nature.

Ibn ‘Arabi, Fusus al-Hikam

The photo on the right is of the mosque which contains the tomb of Ibn ‘Arabi.

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Sufi: Expressions of the Mystic Quest

Through the Sufi themes of the descending arc of Creation, the foundation of the human soul, and its return through the ascending arc of the Quest, Laleh Bakhtiar brings to light the spiritual reality that underlies the forms and rhythms of the Islamic tradition. Her introduction is suitable for both novice and experienced readers.

"Through the Sufi themes of the descending arc of Creation, the foundation of the human soul, and its return through the ascending arc of the Quest, Laleh Bakhtiar brings to light the spiritual reality that underlies the forms and rhythms of the Islamic tradition. Her introduction is suitable for both novice and experienced readers."

I remember when I first began reading the work of Laleh Bakhtiar many years ago and how I immediately felt that connection to the author that happens when the author is writing from her own experience and practice. As the Qur’an maintains that all things are the signs of God then all of creation is a book to be read. Then we have a third ‘book’ of signs, and that is ourselves. As we read in that well known hadith that is central to the Sufi path, know yourself and you will know your Lord. This allows us to read all of creation in the way of the path and in this book, Laleh Bakhtiar looks at the forms and the rhythms of the Sufi path in their relation to the arc of descent that brought us from our primordial creation to our present lives, and the arc of ascent, which is the journey of return to our origins in God. This is the great quest of every lover who seeks union with the Beloved and Laleh Bakhtiar takes the reader through the Islamic Sufi tradition and its reflection in the architecture, poetry, music, dreams, and geometry of the Muslim world.

This is a wonderful introduction to the core concepts of Sufism and also a great pleasure for the seasoned traveller, for learning never ceases. Sufi: Expressions of the Mystic Quest is well worth reading and digesting.