The following are some words written in response to the quote attributed to Guenon:
"... In Lusanne, the ritual observances have been reduced to a strict minimum ... It seems that I was entirely correct when I said that soon enough it will no longer be a tariqa but a vague universalist order ..."
When Frithjof Schuon (Shaykh Isa) brought the Alawiyyah to Guenonian study circles in Europe and assumed a position of leadership and initiatic guidance, first as muqaddam and later as shaykh, he and his disciples were faced with a series of challenges including among other things the formulation and administration of the community in the absence of extensive exposure to, training within and oversight from Mostaghanem, the clarification of a universalist identity within the context of an Islamic practice, and learning how to adapt the traditionally very strict interpretations of shari'ah prevalent in tasawwuf within a modernist (and sometimes hostile) ambiance and western culture. Concerning the last problem, I believe that (in the beginning of his career, at least) he maintained a thoroughly respectful consideration of the rights and necessity of the Shari'ah. He wrote, for example that "man must have the corresponding mentality, in order to be able to use any spiritual means at all ... Islamic law [...] creates and maintains precisely that attitude of soul and spirit without which the benefit of a higher means of grace is impossible." (5/14/44)
Considering his influences retrospectively, he stated, "What I received in Mostaganem, by way of teachings, was the legal minimum of the sharî‘ah." (3/16/88) In fact, the shari'ite instructions that he provided to fuqara throughout his lifetime are substantially identical, if somewhat less descriptive, than those provided in the text of Al-Murshid al-Mu'in used by Shaykh Ahmad al-Alawi and Shaykh Mawlay al-Arabi ad-Darqawi, consisting of the fard actions of the five pillars according to Maliki fiqh. As stated by Shaykh Ad-Darqawi, "We think that obligatory things are enough for him when they are accompanied by what we mentioned. That will enrich him greatly. A lot of actions will not be enough for him if he does not have that which we mentioned."
My impression from his early instructions and considerations was that the aim was not to create a justification for transgressing the law but rather to provide guidelines for fuqara that would enable them to fulfill their ritual obligations within all situations while additionally taking into consideration limitations arising from the non-Muslim heredity of his European disciples. Some of the explanations from his correspondence include the following:
"In Judaism the sharî’ah is indivisible and absolute; Jewish esoterism makes of this indivisibility and absoluteness a precondition, and it allows for no compromise. Either one submits to the couple of hundred prescriptions, or one is no longer a Jew; as a result, the majority of today’s Jews no longer belong to orthodox Judaism. The Islamic sharî’ah in contrast is characterized by its flexibility: it takes into account a legal minimum—what is indispensable, fardh—and to claim that this is not all of Islam is an erroneous opinion, it is Pharisaism. Of course—and this is something that my opponents consider to be a valid objection—a born Muslim living in Dâr-al-Islam will hardly be satisfied with the legal minimum, for he has little reason for this: he has been raised in Islam and masters its forms with ease, and in fact has learned hardly anything other than those forms; in addition, he is backed by the rhythms of the entire social life." (10/15/53)
"As for ourselves, I will say that it would be quite abnormal ... that men finding themselves objectively and subjectively in our situation be Moslems in exactly the same way as Moslem born people, including esoterists; this is what explains in part that it is normal for the sharî‘ah to be reduced, among us, to a strict minimum, notwithstanding justifications that result, on the one hand from a hostile ambience, and on the other hand from the graces of the Divine Name." (1/28/56)
"... the properly religious side of Islam—or the formal aspect—is something that encompasses the whole individual; now it is impossible to conceal something that encompasses us totally. We must therefore reduce the sharî‘ah to its simplest expression, even in conditions where such a simplification is not called for exoterically. I am basing myself here on the argument of dâr al-harb, not on that of the haqîqah. One must choose: if one does not want to simplify the sharî‘ah, then one must become a missionary. An essence can be concealed, but not a form. Another point to be made in this vein of ideas is that the sharî‘ah is much harder in the conditions of our life than it is in the East; things that are simple in themselves can become complicated. Now the general tendency of the sharî‘ah is to avoid complications." (4/4/56)
What may have aroused the consideration of the more conservative of his Muslim followers with respect to the implementation of the Shari'a was probably not the referenced legal minimum, which is not uncommon, but rather the allowance of further simplifications that went beyond the obligatory proscriptions. As far as I can tell, this primarily concerned concessions permitted in extenuating circumstances including to reduce the number of rakat, to pray them inwardly, and in extreme situations, to recite the Fatihah only. It seems fairly clear from his explanation that he allowed this as an exceptionally necessary concession without making it a general rule pertaining to all circumstances. In his words,
"Difficulty, in a dogmatic doctrine, begins only with the restrictions of moral and social opportunism and the “pharisaism” resulting from it. By “pharisaism” I mean a formalism that, in given circumstances, is opposed to the nature of things and becomes thereby “unreal”; moreover this is what allows one to speak of “formalism”. The accumulation of prayers that have not been performed on time is of the same order, except when it is impossible to replace them, at their respective times, by inner prayer, or even simply by a single Fâtihah, recited mentally and with a perfect concentration; I take responsibility for this alleviation, by virtue of the compensatory power of the invocation envisaged in its universal nature, but also, jointly, by reason of the abnormal circumstances in which we live. In my personal experience, to imagine ritual gestures that one does not perform is something artificial and “unreasonable”, but every one is free to do as they wish, for if I authorize simplifications, I do not however forbid the difficulties that the sharî‘ah or the sunnah may entail, that is obvious. In case a prayer is forgotten, it goes without saying that one must make it up in good and due form, even if one reduces it to two raka‘at. Something which is not allowed – be it said in passing - is to postpone the midday prayer till the evening in order to be able to recite the Shahâdah –or another dhikr—at noon, for the temporal limits of prayers are an essential element of Islam; one may delay a prayer because of dhikr, but not skip a whole time period of prayer." (1/28/56)
While he does not make any particular reference to it, I have always believed that these simplifications, under appropriate conditions, are entirely consistent with the latitude contained within the Quran and Sunnah in such examples as the salat al-safar and the salat al-khawf. According to The Study Quran commenting upon 2:239, "One can be fearful when in battle or under persecution. Commentators mention that in cases of fear, such as during open warfare, one can pray while riding or walking, whether it is in the direction of the qiblah (facing the Kaʿbah) or not. One can, rather than bow and prostrate, nod and lightly move one’s head in a manner corresponding to the motions of the prayer; according to some, one can shorten one’s prayers down to one cycle of prayer, rather than two, three, or four (IK)."
The situation concerning the status of the Shari'a is complicated by the shift in self-identity arising from a metaphysical perspective (a subject for separate examination), but as concerns the notion that the Maryamiyyah is somehow a vague universalist organization that is still perpetuated today, I believe that this is largely the result of misunderstandings arising from lack of adequate information.
Greetings of Peace. This blog contains selections from my correspondence and other sources on a variety of subjects related to religion, philosophy, and spirituality. I hope that they may be of benefit to the interested reader. Concerning the title of the blog, read this entry.