Friday, July 29, 2011

Sources for the Alawiyya of Mostaghanem

Two  unusual sources for the Alawiyya of Mostaghanem in the 1960s, and--especially--for what sent two different Westerners there: one is Robert Irwin, Memoirs of a Dervish (London, Profile Books, 2011, previously mentioned here), and the other is Esther Freud, Hideous Kinky (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1992, and later editions). I had not realized that Freud's Sufis were from the Alawiyya until I read Irwin, who says they were, and is not contradicted by Freud.

Both books are memoirs, Irwin's based on diaries kept at the time, Freud's based on childood memories--it was Freud's mother who decided to go to Motaghanem, not the two young daughters she took with her. Freud's book probably has more literary merit, while Irwin's has more Sufism, and has literary merit too.

Irwin and his friends discovered Sufism through the Traditionalists. A friend of Irwin's, in fact, read Schuon at twelve and converted to Islam at fifteen. But none of them became Traditionalists, and the Traditionalists merely cross the pages of Irwin's book from time to time, sometimes to be condemned (as "pernicious rubbish," for example). For those interested in Traditionalism, the value of Irwin's book is that it gives an independent picture of what the Mostaghanem zawiya was like for a young Westerner on a spiritual quest, though Irwin of course arrived there some thirty years after Schuon, and was evidently a very different sort of young man, as well as belonging to a different age.

Both books are, from a Traditionalist perspective, highly irreverent, and psychological rather than doctrinal.

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