Sufism is often described as ‘the mystical branch of Islam’. Giving some more attention to this underexposed spiritual side, it is often proposed, could help us to ease certain contemporary societal tensions. One finger then points toward the rigorous religious aggression of fundamentalism as ‘the problem’, while another points toward the soft beauty of mysticism as ‘the solution’.
Yet, no matter how well-intended the contemporary focus on Sufism might often be, in the end, it repeatedly portrays a lack of comprehension when it comes to Islamic mysticism. The typical descriptions are full of mistakes, and the conclusions they lead to need much nuance.
Those misunderstandings do not simply stem from innocent ignorance. They are misunderstandings with more profound origins and implications. They’re closely tied to enormous blind spots in the contemporary view of religion and deeply entwined with pressing political issues. In fact, the way we deal with mysticism in general and with Sufism in particular actually kindles many contemporary conflicts.
This book thus seeks to add the necessary nuances, correct the misunderstandings and unveil the contemporary ‘politics of mysticism’. It seeks to clarify how the growing interest in what is called ‘Sufism’ is connected to both the contemporary demonization of Islam and the modern destruction of profound spirituality in the East as well as the West.
Halal Monk: A Christian on a Journey Through Islam
To acquaint himself with the soul of Islam J.Y. Atlas had openhearted conversations with influential Muslim scholars and artists. From Jakarta to New York and from London to Lahore, this Christian theologian met with imams and Sufis, academics and feminists, punkers and poets. The result is a book full of novel insights that will help us to transcend today’s cultural and religious impasses.
Attempts of interfaith dialogue often stay away from the more difficult issues and remain somewhat superficial. With his ‘Halal Monk’ journey, Atlas wanted to go further. He wanted to get to the root of our current tensions. This book collects his most fascinating dialogues at the intersection of culture, society and religion. In between those conversations, some extra light is shed on key concepts of the Islamic tradition and their relevance for today’s debates.
Topics as diverse as quranic exegesis, islamic mysticism and islamic feminism are all treated in a nuanced manner. Difficult subjects like islamic fundamentalism and jihad, aren’t circumvented but placed within their context and clarified. Aspects of the islamic faith like sharia and ijtihad are explained and juxtaposed with the Christian tradition.
Praise for Halal Monk
“We need many more books like this one. The reader emerges from this study with a real and fresh grasp of a tradition that is in movement, in dialogue with itself and so in transition.” – Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury.
“The interviews and reflections in this book offer sensitive, clear and extremely interesting insights into Islam and Islamic thought. The opportunity to ‘listen in’ on the author’s conversations is a distinct privilege.” – Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International.
“The book could not have been written any better by a Muslim – but then it is important that it was written by an upright, self-critical Christian. I will make the book a must-read for my students, both religious and non-religious.” – Shaykh Bashir Ahmad Dultz, founding president and shaykh of the German Muslim League.
“Profound understanding among Muslims and Christians is critical for civil health of the 21st century, and this book points in a promising direction.” – Rev. William E. Swing, Founder of URI and Former Episcopal Bisshop of California.
Breath: The Inner Essence of Meditation and Prayer
This little gem beautifully elucidates the flow of our mind, heart and soul during meditation and prayer. It explains how we can guide our inner being to moments of spiritual contemplation.
In a concise and poetic language, Jonas Yunus Atlas clarifies the core aspects of meditation and prayer. He does not discuss their outer forms or technical sides, but reveals their mental forms and deeper spirit. And, while doing so, also rephrases our relationship with the divine.
Many meditation books focus on bodily exercises and physical postures that are needed to open distinct energy channels. The verses in this book, however, describe the different ‘spiritual postures’ that open the ‘channels of the soul’ between ourselves and God.