Current Sufism In Israel. The Way Of Abraham – A Bridge Between Religions

Shelley Elkayam – Ills.: Joseph Sassoon Semah

Current Sufism in Israel El Tarika El Ibrahimiyyah – The Way of Abraham – A Bridge between Middle East Religions

I wish to thank the University of Goettingen for inviting me to lecture at the Intercultural Theology program on the Current Sufism in Israel and on Sephardic Ultra-Orthodoxy in Israel.
I will begin by introducing my subject with some historical background. Then, I would like to make a reference to the specific audience sitting here right now because it is a very special audience. On the one hand, it  is German; on the other, it is an international audience. So we have to consider how do we speak to such a local yet global group.
At that point, I will present the thesis of this lecture.

So, let us now discuss the issue of the Sephardic Jews. Who are they?
The reason why one knows so little about the Sephardic or Oriental Jews is also a matter of scientific concern for those of us who study Intercultural Theology. Thus, let us have a quick look at a long and serious matter such as The Stage of History.

Yes, stage as in Stage Theater, with the very writers who write the script and the very actors who play the protagonists and the very hegemonic audience who wish to see themselves on stage, or else the very far exotic other. Then we shall move forward to have an idea about the intellectual assets of the ISRAEL Sufi way and perhaps if time allows, we shall read during our workshop some of the devotional texts studied by the Israel Sufi Way, such as El-Ghazali. So hopefully you should have some taste regarding the intercultural Theology that is bridging between religions in the Middle East today, and we shall conclude with that today.

In the Jewish State of Israel, Sufi activity had been almost eliminated by the disruption of the War in 1948, partly revived after the renewal of contacts between Palestinians in Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza “in the wake of 1967 Arab Israeli War” and suppressed in the Second Intifada, also known as the Oslo War and the Al- Aqsa Intifada (2000 to 2005). This Intifada raged between the 20th and the 21st century.

In this lecture I focus on Sufism in Israel as manifested by The Israeli Sufi Way. The Israeli Sufi Way is known as The Sufi Way of Abraham. In Hebrew – One of Israel’s two national languages, it sounds Derekh Avraham (אברהם דרך). In Arabic, the other national language, it sounds Al-Tariqah Ibrahimiyyah or Ibrahimiyyah-Al (א-טַּרִיקַה אל-אִבְּרַאהִימִיַּה) / الإبراهميّة  الطّريقة ).

The members of the Israeli Sufi Way come from various circles: Academy, conservative and orthodox Rabbinic institutes and leadership of other Sufi brotherhoods of Israel: Qadiriyyah, Shadhiliyyah-Yashrutiyyah and Naqshbandiyyah.

Ibrahimiyyah defines itself (2014) publicly as an inter-religious movement encouraging dialogue between Jews, Christians and Muslims. This inter-religious character is a “post-Sufi” strategy as well as a spiritual response to the particular modern European challenges of the State of Israel, tackling the Israeli East-West debate.
The Sufi leadership of the 3 Muslim brotherhoods responded to the challenge of the peculiar circumstances in which they live in the Middle East, by joining the Ibrahimiyyah and establishing it as the Israeli Sufi Way of Abraham.

This Israeli Sufi brotherhood was created during the 1990s right at the end of the twentieth century. Public activity gathered momentum during the first decade of the twenty first century, with a double mission of both peace between Jews and Muslims, and spiritual search for Medieval Jewish Sufi roots. Special attention is given to 16th century Safed (in the Land of Israel) and of Egypt and North Africa and since the Sufi festival in 2010 also to Indian Jewish Sufism of perhaps 12 century.

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Ammiel Alcalay – After Jews And Arabs. Remaking Levantine Culture

Ammiel Alcalay – Ills.: Joseph Sassoon Semah

By exposing the rich and diverse textual and cultural legacy of this time and space, Alcalay reassesses the exclusion of Semitic culture in Europe from the perspective of contemporary Arabic culture and opposing images of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  This book will compel a revision of Jewish studies by placing contemporary Israeli culture within its Middle Eastern context and the terms of colonial, postcolonial, and multicultural discourse.

The modern myth of the Jew as pariah, outsider and wanderer has, iron- ically enough, been translated into the postmodern myth of the Jew as “other,” an other that collapses into the equation: writing = Jew = Book. By what sleight of hand? Metaphor? Metaphysics? Such an exclusive ad- dress (whether it is an open or a closed book) ultimately obscures the necessity of mapping out a space in which the Jew was native, not a stranger but an absolute inhabitant of time and place. The urgency of reiterating not only the memory but the possibility of such a world can be felt most acutely now, upon the present scene, where the political context of “the people of the Book” has undergone a radical transformation while the terms used to record and interpret their history and culture have not only remained static but even regressed into a kind of fixed, iconic solidity.

Writing and reading—interpretation—no matter where, have a lot to do with the unearthing, the grasp, the mastery of and giving over to both presences and absences: reading as recovery and relapse; the ink of writing as lifeblood, animator, nourishment—the book as fertile ground nurtured by ink. But the “furrow,” the “fold” that may be both “history” and the “Jew,” runs the risk of diffusion, dispersion, and, finally, inertia. Like anything that looms large in a people’s memory, this field can become muddy, and these furrows turn to drainage ditches that empty out into a stillborn swamp, final resting place for what is allowed to go un- questioned, uninterpreted, and unrelated to social fact or present circum- stance. Paradoxically, the movement of memory too often reappears in the form of inert, unyielding images: resilient and indelible, their clarity is blinding. In his Commentary on the Mishnah, also known as The Eight Chapters, Maimonides wrote:

One action may resemble another action, so that the two actions are thought to be identical even though they are not. For example, consider three dark places: the sun shines upon one of them, and it is illumined; the moon rises over the second place, and it is illumined; a lamp is lit in the third place, and it is illumined. Light is found in each one of them, but the reason for the first light and its cause is the sun, the cause of the second is the moon, and the cause of the third is fire. . . . There is no notion common to all of them except through equivocation. Grasp this notion, for it is extraordinarily marvelous.

History, with its rigid paradigms of order, comes to shore up the insecure ramparts of a failing memory. Untangling the strands of the past—or submitting to their confusing but exhilarating intricacy— cannot simply be an act of recognition, of fitting events into fixed patterns, ofjust seeing the light. It must begin, rather, by apprehending the sources of light and the present objects they shade or illuminate, and follow with an active, incessant engagement in the process of naming and renaming, covering and uncovering, consuming and producing new relations, investigating hierarchies of power and effect: distilling light into sun, moon, and fire. Just as maps interpret and redefine terrain in the im- age of their makers, readings can yield both past and prospective orders: in the Crimean port of Theodosia, not far (in mind) “from Smyrna and Baghdad,” Osip Mandelstam wrote of a “bookish earth” and dreamt of a place that, within the inherited wisdom of its people, embodied an allegiance to words. Sentenced to internal exile, Mandelstam placed the form of his vision and the memory of his biblical ancestry in a Mediterranean world in which Spain and, even more specifically, Andalusia was central: sowing dormant seeds, he unearthed his own genealogy.

Published by the University of Minnesota Press, 1992. ISBN 978-0-8166-2155-2

The complete book (PDF):

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Ella Shohat – Dislocated Identities: Reflections Of An Arab-Jew

Ella Shohat – Ills.: Joseph Sassoon Semah

When issues of racial and colonial discourse are discussed in the United States, people of Middle Eastern and North African origin are often excluded. This piece is written with the intent of opening up the multicultural debate, going beyond the U.S. census’s simplistic categorization of Middle Eastern peoples as “whites.” Provoked by the Gulf War, my personal narrative questions the Eurocentric opposition of Arab and Jew, particularly the denial of Arab-Jewish (Sephardic) voices both in the Middle Eastern and American contexts.

I am an Arab-Jew. Or, more specifically, an Iraqi Israeli woman living, writing and teaching in the United States. Most members of my family were both and raised in Baghdad, and now live in Iraq, Israel, the United States, England, and Holland. When my grandmother first encountered Israeli society in the ‘50s, she was convinced that the people who looked and ate so differently—the European-Jews—were actually European-Christians. Jewishness for her generation was inextricably associated with Middle Easterness. My grandmother, who still lives in Israel and still communicates largely in Arabic, had to be taught to speak of “us” as Jews and “them” as Arabs. For Middle Easterners, the operating distinction has always been “Muslim,” “Jew” and “Christian,” not Arab versus Jew. The assumption was that “Arabness” referred to a common shared culture and language, albeit with religious differences.

The complete essay:

Originally published in Movement Research 5 (Fall 1991/Winter 1992), p. 8

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The Art Of Cooking – T’beet – Iraqi Slow-Cooked Chicken And Rice

This seemingly simple dish is a classic staple of the Iraqi Shabbat lunch! Normally prepared a day in advance and left in the oven overnight.

In this recipe, I will like to stay true to the original flavor of the dish and make sure that your kitchen will smell like an Iraqi Saturday morning.

The flavors are soft and comforting, which together with the juicy chicken and sticky rice –  is a dish that cannot fail!
Trust me, this is the dish that I always ate on the day of my arrival at the home of my grandmother in Israel; I would eat this dish next to all the other colorful and more exciting dishes, and yet even though it does not stand out, it connects all the other dishes together.

1 whole chicken
Minced beef for the stuffing, make sure it has some fat in it!
1 large onion
1 can of tomatoes
Chicken stock

Stuffing the chicken:
First mix in a bowl the minced meat in a 50/50 ratio with washed rice.
Add into it the following spices, 1 teaspoon Kardemon, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, half a teaspoon cloves, 1 teaspoon salt.
Do not over mix it, and make sure that the minced meat and the rice are loose, then place the mixture inside the chicken cavity, and tie the legs in front of the opening to block it.

Cooking the T’beet:
Cut the onion into small pieces and put them into a big non-stick pot, (The non-stick pot is very important, because we would like the bottom of the pot to caramelize), then add some oil and fry on a low heat until translucent. When the onion is ready add the canned tomatoes and make sure they are softened up.
At this point, if you wish you can add some dried bay leaves or dried chili pepper, to give a bit more depth to the flavor, but this extra addition is optional.
Now add the whole chicken into the pot and fry it on all sides until the entire skin of the chicken is golden brown.
When the skin is brown and crispy add a liter of chicken stock and let it simmer on very low heat for 1 to 2 hours with the lid on.

The longer one simmers the chicken, one should remember to check if there is enough liquid in the pot, add water accordingly.

So, 15 minutes before you are ready to eat, add into the pot the 1 and a half cup of washed rice and make sure the rice is covered by the stock and put the lid back on.
Then, when the rice has absorbed all the liquid, the dish is done – there will be some crispy dark parts at the bottom, this is supposed to be the best part of the rice!
It is a very comforting dish and it works well as a lunch or dinner!
It is nice to eat it with some salad or some other Iraqi dishes, for example, Kubbah!
Remember to eat the T’beet surrounded by your family, and friends! Beteavon.

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Lost Homelands, Imaginary Returns – The Exilic Literature Of Iranian And Iraqi Jews

Ella Shohat – Ills.: Joseph Sassoon Semah

When I first contemplated my participation in the “Moments of Silence” conference, I wondered to what extent the question of the Arab Jew /Middle Eastern Jew merits a discussion in the context of the Iran- Iraq War. After all, the war took place in an era when the majority of Jews had already departed from both countries, and it would seem of little relevance to their displaced lives. Yet, apart from the war’s direct impact on the lives of some Jews, a number of texts have engaged the war, addressing it from within the authors’ exilic geographies where the war was hardly visible. And, precisely because these texts were written in contexts of official silencing of the Iran-Iraq War, their engagement of the war is quite striking. For displaced authors in the United States, France, and Israel, the Iran-Iraq War became a kind of a return vehicle to lost homelands, allowing them to vicariously be part of the events of a simultaneously intimate and distant geography. Thus, despite their physical absence from Iraq and Iran, authors such as Nissim Rejwan, Sami Michael, Shimon Ballas, and Roya Hakakian actively participate in the multilingual spaces of Iranian and Iraqi exilic literature. Here I will focus on the textual role of war in the representation of multi-faceted identities, themselves shaped by the historical aftermath of wars, encapsulated in memoirs and novels about Iraq and Iran, and written in languages that document new stops and passages in the authors’ itineraries of belonging.

What does it mean, in other words, to write about Iran not in Farsi but in French, especially when the narrative unfolds largely in Iran and not in France? What is the significance of writing a Jewish Iranian memoir, set in Tehran, not in Farsi but in English? What are the implications of writing a novel about Iraq, not in Arabic, but in Hebrew, in relation to events that do not involve Iraqi Jews in Israel but rather take place in Iraq, events spanning the decades after most Jews had already departed en masse? How should we understand the representation of religious/ethnic minorities within the intersecting geographies of Iraq and Iran when the writing is exercised outside of the Iran-Iraq War geography in languages other than Arabic and Farsi? By conveying a sense of fragmentation and dislocation, the linguistic medium itself becomes both metonym and metaphor for a highly fraught relation to national and regional belonging. This chapter, then, concerns the tension, dissonance, and discord embedded in the deployment of a non-national language (Hebrew) and a non-regional language (English or French) to address events and the interlocutions about them that would normally unfold in Farsi and Arabic, but where French, English, and Hebrew stand in, as it were, for those languages. More broadly, the chapter also concerns the submerged connections between Jew and Muslim in and outside of the Middle East, as well as the cross-border “looking relations” between the spaces of the Middle East. Writing under the dystopic sign of war and violent dislocation, this exilic literature performs an exercise in ethnic, religious, and political relationality, pointing to a textual desire pregnant with historical potentialities.

The Linguistic Inscription of Exile
The linguistic medium itself, in these texts, reflexively highlights violent dislocations from the war zone. For the native speakers of Farsi and Arabic the writing in English, French, or Hebrew is itself a mode of exile, this time linguistic. At the same time if English (in the case of Roya Hakakian and Nissim Rejwan), French (Marjane Satrapi), and Hebrew (Sami Michael and Shimon Ballas) have also become their new symbolic home idioms. In these instances, the reader has to imagine the Farsi in and through the English and the French, or the Arabic in and through the Hebrew. Written in the new homeland, in an “alien” language, these memoirs and novels cannot fully escape the intertextual layers bequeathed by the old homeland language, whether through terms for cuisine, clothing, or state laws specifically associated with Iran and Iraq. The new home language, in such instances, becomes a disembodied vehicle where the lexicon of the old home is no longer fluently translated into the language of the new home—as though the linguistic “cover” is lifted. In this sense, the dislocated memoir or novel always-already involves a tension between the diegetic world of the text and the language of an “other” world that mediates the diegetic world.
Such exilic memoirs and novels are embedded in a structural paradox that reflexively evokes the author’s displacement in the wake of war. The dissonance, however, becomes accentuated when the “cover language” belongs to an “enemy country,” i.e., Israel/Hebrew, or United States/English. The untranslated Farsi or Arabic appears in the linguistic zone of English or Hebrew to relate not merely an exilic narrative, but a meta-narrative of exilic literature caught in-between warring geographies.

Figure 2.1. The recusatio in Persepolis. Image courtesy of Marjane Satrapi, The Complete Persepolis (Pantheon, 2007), p. 142.

Roya Hakakian’s Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis both tell a coming-of-age story set during the period of the Iranian Revolution, partially against the backdrop of the Iran-Iraq War. Written by an Iranian of Muslim background (Satrapi) and by an Iranian of Jewish background (Hakakian), both memoirs are simultaneously marked by traumatic memories as well as by longing for the departed city—Tehran. Although the Jewish theme forms a minor element in Persepolis, Satrapi’s graphic memoir does stage a meaningful moment for the Muslim protagonist in relation to her Jewish friend, Neda Baba-Levy. More specifically, it treats a moment during the Iran-Iraq War when Iraqi scud missiles are raining down on Tehran, and where neighborhood houses are reduced to rubble, including the house of the Baba-Levy family. While forming only a very brief reference in the film adaptation, the chapter in the memoir, entitled “The Shabbat,” occupies a significant place in the narrative. Marjane goes out to shop and hears a falling bomb. She runs back home and sees that the houses at the end of her street are severely damaged. When her mother emerges from their home, Marjane realizes that while her own house is not damaged, Neda’s is. At that moment, Marjane hopes that Neda is not home, but soon she remembers that it is the Shabbat. As her mother pulls Marjane away from the wreckage, she notices Neda’s turquoise bracelet. Throughout her graphic novel, Satrapi does display “graphic” images, showing, for example, the torture of her beloved uncle by the Shah’s agents and then by the Islamicist revolutionaries who later execute him. Here, however, the Neda incident triggers a refusal to show what is being expressed in words. After the destruction, Satrapi writes: “I saw a turquoise bracelet. It was Neda’s. Her aunt had given it to her for her fourteenth birthday. The bracelet was still attached to . . . I do not know what..” The image illustrates the hand of little Marjane covering her mouth. In the next panel, she covers her eyes, but there is no caption. The following final panel has a black image with the caption: “No scream in the world could have relieved my suffering and my anger.”[i]

Of special interest here is precisely the refusal to show, a device referred to in the field of rhetoric as recusatio, i.e., the refusal to speak or mention something while still hinting at it in such a way as to call up the image of exactly what is being denied. In Persepolis it also constitutes the refusal to show something iconically, in a medium—the graphic memoir—essentially premised, by its very definition, on images as well as words. Marjane recognizes the bracelet, but nothing reminiscent of her friend’s hand, while her own hand serves to hide her mouth, muffling a possible scream. In intertextual terms, this image recalls an iconic painting in art history, Edvard Munch’s The Scream.
While the expressionistic painting has the face of a woman taken over by a large screaming mouth, here, Persepolis has the mouth covered; it is a moment of silencing the scream. Satrapi represses—not only visually but also verbally—the words that might provide the context for the image, i.e., what Roland Barthes calls the “anchorage” or the linguistic message or caption that disciplines and channels and the polysemy or “many-meaningedness” of the image.[ii] In this case, the caption also reflects a recusatio, in that no scream could express what she is seeing and feeling. As a result, there is a double silence, the verbal silence and the visual silence implied by the hand on the mouth, and then by the hands on the eyes culminating in the black frame image. The final black panel conveys Marjane’s subjective point of view of not seeing, blinded as it were by the horrifying spectacle of war.

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The World Today With Tariq Ali – Jewish Arabs And Cultural Cleansing

This week Tariq speaks to New York University scholar Ella Shohat about the history of Jewish people in the Middle East and North Africa, using her Baghdadi heritage as a starting point. Ella tackles the dominant, Western narrative on Jewishness, asserting that Jewish history, culture and opinion aren’t monolithic. Arab Jews, in particular, face the dichotomy of being considered both of the East and of the West – or, as Edward Said described it, being both Oriental and Orientalist.

Music in this video

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Song – Shostakovich : String Quartet No.9 in E flat major Op.117 : III Allegretto
Artist – Brodsky Quartet
Album – Shostakovich : String Quartet No.9 in E flat major Op.117 : III Allegretto

Licensed to YouTube by WMG (on behalf of Teldec Classics International), and 5 Music Rights Societies
Song – Desert Life
Artist – Terry Devine-King
Album – ANW1181 – Editor’s Series – Middle East 3
Licensed to YouTube by Audio Network (on behalf of Audio Network plc); Audio Network (music publishing), and 6 Music Rights Societies

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