Die Before Dying: Activism and Passivity in Sufi Ethics

  • S Kugle Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World Leiden University


This article explores Sufi notions of the death of self-will. Sufis are often accused of advocating an ethic of passivity when they speak of giving the self over to an authoritative shaykh or spiritual master. However, some Sufis turn the image of giving over the self to death before one's actual death to more activist ends. This article will examine the lives and writings of two such reformist Sufis, Ahmad Zarruq (died 1493) and ‘Ali Muttaqi (died 1567), to show how their concept of the death of self-will propelled them on paths of intellectual vigour, political engagement, and individual initiative. The essay offers two original translations of these Sufi master's epistles on the death of self-will. Its conclusion offers a theoretical reflection on Sufi concepts of agency, its different possible relations to spiritual authority, and how these different models enable or limit engagement in political or social movements.

Journal for Islamic Studies Vol. 26 2006: pp. 113-155

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