Book Review: ‘Beyond Dogma’ by Jawid Mojaddedi
Jawid Mojaddedi is a lecturer at Rutgers University whose speciality is Rumi. He is the author of a new translation of the Masnavi written in rhyming couplets, as per the original Persian. (You can find my reviews of the two published volumes on this blog). In his new work Mojaddedi explores early Sufi theology around wilaya or friendship with God that influenced Rumi and his work, as such this book has very little to do with Mawlana himself, but is rather about those who came before him and influenced him.
The book deals with wilaya based on four topics: The status of the friend of God in relation to Prophethood, the friend of God and miracles, the friend of God and Shariah, the friend of God and divine communication. Through each topic Mojaddedi discusses the different opinions on these matters found in early Sufi texts, such as those written by Hakim al-Tirmidhi, Ali Hujwiri (aka Data Gang Baksh for the Sub-Continentals), al-Sarraj, al-Qushayri, and a few others. What comes across in the work, is that much like his poetry, Rumi’s theology is open to interpretation. Maybe it’s due to the fact that our main window into the mind of Rumi is through his poetry, and understanding poetry is not an exact science, it is open to different understandings and interpretations based on the mind reflecting on them. So in much of the book, the discussion is really focused on what Mojaddedi himself thinks would have been Rumi’s understanding of the topic at hand. For example in the chapter on Shariah, Mojaddedi holds that for people like Rumi the Shariah, or the juristical rulings of Islam, were secondary when it came to ‘experiencing’ God. But at the same time he offers different interpretations from other Rumi experts on this subject matter, for example Annemarie Schimmel holds that for Sufis like Rumi, the path to God lay in adherence to the Shariah, rather than considering it something as secondary. Both of these slightly divergent opinions having come from the same sample of poetry from Rumi that is quoted in the book.
As someone who is quite conservative (read narrow-minded by the cynical), I found the length of some of the discussion not really that necessary. Whether friends of God can achieve a higher rank than the Prophets for me is a no brainer. Mojaddedi’s main source of discussion comes from the story of Moses and Khidr, i.e. Khidr being a friend of God and Moses being a Prophet, but Khidr seemingly holding knowledge of a higher rank. Mojaddedi offers the main points of discussion but then carries it on for longer than necessary, from what I recall he leaves out discussing the opinion of whether the friends of God from the nation of Muhammad (ﷺ) can be of a higher rank than Prophets who came before him, it would seem this is tied into the general discussion as a whole. For someone who comes from my Islamic background, a friend of God after Muhammad (ﷺ) can never achieve a rank higher than him, because if we look at it from the context of Khidr himself, all the Prophets were taught something by Khidr, but Khidr was taught by Muhammad (ﷺ), showing the true rank of the Prophet (ﷺ) above all the Prophets before him.
Mojaddedi’s third volume of the translation of The Masnavi comes out in 2013 insha’Allah. I earnestly look forward to it.