Tasawwuf ‘Ustraliya: Prolegomena to a History of Sufism in Australia

This article originally appeared in the Australian Journal of Islamic Studies, Vol. 3 (2018). A PDF of the article can be found here: cookaustraliansufism2018

The history of Sufism in Australia has, to date, receivedminimal scholarly attention. This article highlights that Sufism is evident inmany of the major intersections between Islam and Australia, thus deservinggreater attention. Unlike today, when all major Sufi orders (turuq) have a presence in Australia andare readily contactable, early Australian Sufism was not as apparent and itsexistence and legacy are scattered across disparate sources and documents.Examining the presence of Sufism among the Makassans, the cameleers, and 19th andearly 20th century newspaper reports indicates more evidence of Australia’sSufi heritage than has heretofore been examined. Collating these sources anddocuments, as this article aims to show, is only one of the challenges faced inreporting this element of Australian history. These challenges are notinsurmountable and some tentative solutions can be proposed to forearm thosewho will detail the history of Sufism in Australia.

Sufism among the Makassans

One of the earliest, investigated and sustained engagementsof Muslims with Australia occurred between the Makassan fishermen of Indonesiaand the Indigenous peoples of northern Australia. Evidence of these forays intoAustralian waters indicates “Macassarfishermen from the southern Celebes sailed on a regular basis to NorthernAustralia in search of trepang (beche demer)from as early as the sixteenth century.”[1] Makassan visits“left profound imprints on the cultures and languages of the far north shores.”[2]These visits occurred with some consistency over a prolonged period, as Ganterstates “Macassan trepang fishers have made annual visits to north-east ArnhemLand for at least 150 years, spending from December to April on the northAustralia coastline, until South Australian customs effectively outlawed theirvisits in 1906.”[3] Itis unsurprising that, as a result of this, cultural exchange occurred, withRussell noting, “some Makassans interacted culturally with the Aboriginalresidents in feasts, ceremonies and liaisons, and a mixed language evolved insome places.”[4]Similarly, Ganter identified that “Aborigines creatively adapted aspects ofIslam.”[5]To better understand the history of Islam in Australia it is useful to examinewhat type of Islam was being introduced into northern Australia.  

To understand thetype of Islam being brought to northern Australia by the Makassans, it isimportant to examine the prevalent and popular trends involved in the spreadand development of Islam in Indonesia. Mattulada acknowledged “Islam asa religion was accepted and embraced by the local kingdoms of South Sulawesiearly in the 17th century.”[6]It is widely accepted that key to the spread of Islam in Indonesia was Sufism,as Zulkifli stated “most scholars studying the history of the spread of Islamin Indonesia agree that Sufis played a major role in the Islamisation of theIndonesian archipelago.”[7]The influence that Sufism played on the uptake of Islam in Indonesia is seen bysome to have a continuing influence. Ridhwan maintains “as in other archipelagoareas in the early development of Islam in South Sulawesi, the most prominentfeature of the implementation of Islamic teachings is the pattern of Sufismeven up to now.”[8]Given the period during which Islam spread through Indonesia, and the earliestestimates of the arrival of Makassans in Australia, it is possible IndigenousAustralians were witness to these religious developments through the visitingfishermen. These were not theonly, or earliest, encounters with Muslims on Australian shores, as McIntoshindicates the Yolngu also engaged a “group of Asian seafarers known asthe Bayini (or Baiini, the pre-Macassans) who were followers of Allah.”[9]It is plausible to say these early and sustained engagements of Muslims withAustralia were either directly connected with, or at least influenced by,Sufism. 

Examining the cultural exchanges, at least from thoseretained by Indigenous Australians, can give insight into what, if any, lastingimpact Sufism had on Australia as a result of this contact. The culturalexchange that has been documented between the Makassan fishermen and IndigenousAustralians indicates there are “some unmistakable allusions to ‘Allah’ in thefolklore of north-east Arnhem Land” and “before British colonization the Yolnguwere engaging with Muslim life-worlds at a much deeper level than has beenpresumed.”[10]Ganter documents some of the linguistic influences on the Indigenous peoplesthat are evident in “a mourning ritual which Yolngu say they ‘share withMacassans’”.[11]Ganters states “in this ceremony the words ‘Oooo-a-hal-la’, and ‘A-ha-la’, areexclaimed, and which contains appeals to the god in the heavens. These weretranscribed as: ‘si-li-la-mo-ha-mo, ha-mo-sil-li-li’, and ‘ra-bin-a-lala-ha-ma-hama’ and ending with ‘Se-ri ma-kas-si’ (terima kasih means thank youin Bahasa).”[12]While McIntosh emphasises the Yolngu never embraced Islam as a faith and“incorporated elements of what they observed from their Indonesian visitorsinto their own cosmology,”[13]it is interesting to consider if these phrases refer to the common honorificgiven to the Prophet Muhammad or elements of prayer the Indigenous Australiansheard from the Makassans. Given Ganter records “Se-ri ma-kas-si” as equating toterima kasih, there is a similardegree of phonetic similarity between “si-li-la-mo-ha-mo” and sallallahu alai Muhammad (peace be uponMuhammad) and “ra-bin-a-la la-ha-ma-hama” and rabbana lakal hamd (Our Lord, to You be all praise). Ganter givesweight to this view in stating “there is a remnantvocabulary in Yolngu rituals that is derived from Muslim prayer, and it haslong been observed that their most important religious ceremonies are stronglyinflected with Macassan influences”[14] and “Muslim prayer references still survive in somesecret/sacred incantations on the northern Australian shores, alluding to ‘Allah’”.[15]Given these influences, it will be important for those studying the life-worldof the Yolngu to be aware of Islamic cosmology and the nuances of Sufism. Thiswill provide a position from which to better understand the depth of thesecross-cultural engagements and determine what, if any, elements of Sufismtravelled with the Makassans to Australian shores.

Sufism among the Cameleers

Another early, documented, and sustained engagement ofMuslims with Australia occurred with the arrival of the cameleers. “The Afghan camel drivers brought toAustralia between 1860 and 1910 who werethe earliest of the many ethnic groupsthat have come to constitute a Muslim presence in today’s Australia,”[16] and made importantcontributions to Australia as a nation and Australian Islam. Noting that “mostdrivers hailed from different provinces of what later became Pakistan(Baluchistan, Punjab, the Sindh, the North West Frontier Province) and theprotectorate Kingdom of Afghanistan,”[17]it is important to be aware these are all areas that have rich heritages ofSufism. However, to date, there has been little, in-depth analysis of thecultural nuances between the differing cultural origins of the cameleers.

It has been acknowledged that differing cultural nuances wasnot a strength of nineteenth and early twentieth centuries CaucasianAustralians. Deen recognised the cameleers “maintained their identities throughtheir languages, dialects and customs including the different ways theyfashioned their beards and moustaches and tied their turbans,” pertinentlyadding “such nuances, however, went unnoticed by Caucasian Australians whonaïvely added insult to injury by interspersing the usual ham-fisteddescriptors.”[18]The lack of awareness shown by Caucasian Australians during the 19th and early 20thcenturies means there are, at best, limited records of the diversity ofreligious practices. A study of the diversified cameleer religious practiceswould provide definite insight into specific Sufic practices. Deeper study of cameleerphotos would, through an analysis of different turban tying styles, highlightthe provinces from which individuals hailed. A study of turbans among the cameleerswould also identify specifically Sufi styled turbans, indicating a highlikelihood of affiliation with a Sufi order.

Another study that would indicate a high likelihood of Sufiaffiliation is that of the type of prayer beads used. The type of beads, theirnumber and grouping is often indicative of the Sufi order to which anindividual belongs. Even the existence of prayer beads among the cameleers istelling of their Islamic practice as there are some branches of Islam that seethe use of such items as innovation, whereas they are an essential tool commonto most Sufi orders. For example, Jones and Kenny document “religious bookletsand prayer beads used by Sallay Mahomet,” who “played a leading role inestablishing a permanent mosque in Alice Springs.”[19]While items such as these are used generally among some Muslims, they are ofspecific importance in Sufic praxis, particularly items such as the collectionof salutations on the Prophet Muhammad. This is far from conclusive evidencethat Sallay Mahomet had a connection with Sufism while in Australia, though theexistence of such items may yield further evidence of the history of Sufism inAustralia and warrants investigation.

The study of Australia’s cameleer heritage presents somechallenges. It must be acknowledged “little remains of the heritage ofAustralia’s Muslim cameleers” and “theirs is a fragmentary history of an erathat has almost slipped from view, but which has been critically important inAustralia’s national story,”[20]even though there has been a resurgence in interest in Australia’s cameleerheritage. The limitation regarding available records is further constrained bythe view that “in many ways the cameleers were treated as being of secondaryimportance to the camels, thus the records of camel importations are often moredetailed than those that pertain to the Muslim handlers who made it allpossible.”[21]Nevertheless, revisiting the remaining documents may provide crucial evidence ofthe existence and practice of Sufism among the cameleers. Immigration documentsmay provide insight into cameleers that came from provinces with strong Sufiheritages or individuals with genealogical ties to a Sufi ancestry.

One document that has been revisited is a book that was inthe cameleer made mosque in Broken Hill. This book was “mistakenly identified in a history text as a copy of theKoran,” but “is actually a ‘Puthi,’ a type of songbook that would once havebeen performed in rural Bengal.”[22] This document, a “122 year old book of Bengali poetry,” was identified by Samia Khatun. Khatun states

this rare 500-page volumewas printed in Calcutta in 1895, and its presence suggested that there was oncea sizeable community of Bengali speakers in this middle-of-nowhere place,because these poems are meant to be sung and performed for an audience.[23]

The existence of this book isimportant for the history of Sufism in Australia because it is an example of aBengali variant of devotional poetry from a genre of recited poetry books that“have been popular in Sufi devotional song across the globe.”[24] It is likely this bookwould be among the Sufi ode of praise (qasida)genre. Its existence is indicative of the importance of revisiting survivingdocuments for a deeper understanding of the history of Sufism in Australia.[25] Another important pointthis book raises is, aside from immigration and business records kept inEnglish, there are other languages that will be encountered in examiningrecords relevant to the history of Sufism in Australia.

Sufism within the Media

Another method for understanding the existence and impact ofSufism in Australia can be seen in its portrayal in the media. No detailedengagements with Sufi beliefs or practices, or reports of specific Sufis orSufi orders, were evident in early Australian newspapers through the researchconducted for this article. However, of importance for the topic is the mannerin which Sufism has been consistently referred to in these Australian mediareports. Glancing at Australia’s numerous newspapers, it becomes evident thatbarely a decade has passed since the 1820s where “dervish” has not beenmentioned. Similarly, since the 1860s, barely has a decade passed where “Sufi”or “Sufism” has not been mentioned. Revisiting these newspaper reports can giveinsight into how Sufism was understood by the literate public of the period.With an understanding of Sufi practice, newspaper reports on groups that havestrong Sufi heritages may also, inadvertently, give glimpses of Sufi practicewithin Australia.

Common among early references to dervishes inAustralian newspapers is their use in similes. Examples of this includelikening some dancers to “a stray sect of jumping dervishes,”[26]“it seemed to me that mountains, and towns, and rivers were whirling around melike dervishes”[27]and “in an instant he was twirling round the yard like a dervish in anenthusiasm.”[28]Sedgwick states “by 1869 the word ‘dervish’ had become so well-known inEnglish that it could be included without a gloss in a passage in a textbookfor learning German.”[29]This early use within Australian newspapers follows European trends of theperiod and “reflected the frequent appearances of dervishes in literature andpainting, generally as stock characters performing functions that had little orno connection with Sufism.”[30]Sedgwick highlights it is important to note “to what extent they would haveunderstood that a dervish was a Sufi would depend on which book they read, andhow carefully they read it.”[31]Early European references to dervishes did not reference them in a derogatorymanner or as a caricature of the Middle East, as Zarcone notes,

the first travelogues published by Westerners whovisited the Ottoman Empire gave a notable place to the dervishes, andespecially to those who used to perform amazing unexpected rituals and asceticpractices, as expressed by those who have been surprised by them. [32]

Zarcone asserts, for the European audience, “dervish” is “themost common word to designate the Muslim mystic or Sufi in the Ottoman Empire.”[33]Zarcone continues, stating “the figure of the dervish is emblematic of theMuslim East, and it is frequently considered as embodying not only mysticismbut also religious fanaticism or ‘oriental despotism’.”[34]The extent to which this correlates to Australian audiences within the 19th andearly 20th centuries requires further investigation.

There is evidence to suggest something of Sufismwas understood, as it was, in more than one instance, used as equivalence. An1833 newspaper article explains the Quakers “in their ceremonials they muchresemble the howling dervishes of the Moslems, whom they far surpass infanaticism.”[35]In 1865, an article states “the utter denial and renunciation of everythingalmost but the Spirit and its visitations which make the sort of ChristianSufism of the Quaker.”[36]Similarly, other religious movements were explained in terms of Sufism, as a1903 newspaper reports “Babism is essentially one of the innumerable schools ofSufism.”[37]Irrespective of their accuracy, these passages indicate, during the period,there was a greater degree of familiarity with Sufism than these otherreligious movements. This shows there was at least some understanding of Sufismamong the literate public of Australia during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Even the regular references to Sufism in Australiannewspapers does not suggest it was understood or the depictions are accurate.Zarcone makes an interesting point referring to visual representations ofdervishes in Europe, admitting “some of these visual representations of thedervishes must be regarded as ethnographic sources,” while also acknowledging“some other visual sources are, on the contrary, unreliable ‘orientalist’compositions.”[38] Asimilar point could be made with regard to the references to dervishes in 19th andearly 20th century Australian newspapers. Just as with photomontages, where“the aim was for example to gather in one photograph the whole of the symbolicparaphernalia borne by a dervish, to please the eyes of the European public,”[39]distinguishing between the dervish trope and authentic reports requiresintimate knowledge of Sufi practice. Commenting on the visual representationsof Sufis and dervishes, Zarcone notes “the appearance of Orthodox Sufi orderswas not amazing for artists or for their public”[40]and this may go some way towards accounting for limited references to Sufis inAustralia as a lack of controversy leaves limited points of interest to report.

One interesting newspaper article from 1877 is worthhighlighting for the seemingly unremarkable manner it incorporates key elementsof Sufism. It states:

Schamyl,however, was but the most distinguished of the Murids who, having embraced anew religious system known as Sufism, fought with the spirit of religiousfanaticism against Russia, and devoted themselves to death, if necessary, indefence of a faith which is believed to give them direct communication withGod, and to place in their keeping the destiny of their brethren in theMohammedan faith.[41]

There are several key points to this passage that can be drawn out withan awareness of Sufi practice. It uses the term murid, meaning student, which is foreign to English and used as atechnical term within Sufism. It highlights the adherents of Sufism as being“devoted” to the “defence of faith.” It also places Sufism within the fold of“the Mohammedan faith,” the antiquated method of referring to Islam. More couldbe made of this passage, though it is sufficient to show a close reading ofearly newspaper articles elicits an, at least implicit, awareness of keyelements of Sufism. The degree to which these elements were understood by theliterate portion of the Australian public would take us too far afield from thepurpose of the current article. 

From about 1915, andfor a substantial portion of the 20th century, there was a shift in the mannerin which Sufism was mentioned in Australian newspapers. This can, in largepart, be seen as a response to the introduction of Inayat Khan (d. 1927) intoNorth America and Europe. An Australian newspaper reported in 1915 that “InayatKhan has come to the western world to expound the tenets of the Sufi system of philosophy”and subtly intrudes his brand of philosophy as “Sufism is based on the broadprinciple of the universal brotherhood of man,”[42] emphasising the “universal” principles atthe expense of a de-Islamised practice. It is unclear if the interest at the timewas in Sufism generally or Inayat Khan’s philosophy specifically. This changein reporting is evident in Australia in 1933 with Friedrich von Frankenberg (d.1950) establishing his appointment as “representative of the Sufi movement, andauthorised to confer upon approved candidates the first degree of initiation inthe Sufi Order in Australia.”[43] A 1934 report stated Frankenberg was “akeen follower of Sufism,”[44] and, after him, his successor FrancisBrabazon (d. 1984) is reported in 1950 as being one who “promulgated andadministered Sufism in Australia.”[45] The reports of associates of Inayat Khan’smovement represent some of the earliest specific and explicit references to aparticular form of Sufism in Australia by Australian newspapers. 

The dialoguesurrounding the early newspaper reports on Inayat Khan’s movement in Australiapresents it as being the start of Sufism in Australia. This has been maintainedin recent scholarship in assertions such as “while the cultures of theseearly arrivals possess a strong Sufi heritage, Sufism was formally introducedto Australia in 1927 through non-Muslim representation”[46]and “for over 50 years this was virtually the only Sufi order in the West andthe only group readily available to Westerners.”[47] These views areproblematic in that, while admitting prior cultural connections to Sufism, theydismiss the possibility of Sufism in Australia without investigation. Currentcommentators on Inayat Khan’s movement take it as the beginning point of Sufismin Australia. This is evident in claims such as “the existing literature on theSufi Movement has marked the beginning point of a history of Sufism inAustralia”[48]and “this provides insight into the intricacies of Sufi practice in Australia.”[49]Such claims are problematic as they do not consider the gamut of Sufi practicewithin Australia. This overlooks all other expressions of Sufism aside from onegroup.

Greater scholarly nuance is needed for the discussion ofInayat Khan’s movement than has been taken to date. Phrases such as “mostAustralian Sufis,”[50]when this is intended to refer to those connected with the group associatedwith Inayat Khan, undermines the identity and acknowledged existence of othergroups and individuals associated with the practice of Sufism within Australia.While the focus of Genn’s work is Inayat Khan, the lack of explicit definitionsof terms used in a technical sense, such as “Sufi Movement” or “WesternSufism,” diminishes other Sufi movements and expressions of Sufism inAustralia. Genn is not alone in overlooking the plurality of Sufi expression.Kerkhove describes the movement as “Australia’s first Sufi group.”[51]Focusing on one group, and its history within Australia, that usesuniversalising terminology, at best, lacks nuance and, at worst, overrides andmarginalises the wider historical context and diversified expression of Sufismwithin Australia. This is further emphasised through the lack ofacknowledgement of other forms of Sufism within Australia, especially thosepredating the Sufi movement connected to Inayat Khan in the 1930s. As this articleshows, Sufism in Australia has a longer history than has been assumed and isnot limited to one movement or person.

The attempt,historically and contemporarily, to establish and maintain a monologueregarding the history of Australian Sufism feeds into a larger debate regardingthe nature of Sufism. The establishment of the Sufi movement of Inayat Khaninto Australia in the 1930s introduced a decontextualised practice, latercalled “Universal Sufism.” The tenets of Universal Sufism, as expressed by a1933 Australian newspaper, are that “Sufism is a very ancient method oftraining offered to all those who are in search of truth” and “it is not areligion nor intellectual philosophy and still less a sect.”[52] The somewhat reactionary response to thisby traditionally oriented proponents of Sufism was to coin the tautologicalterm “Islamic Sufism.” This reply aimed to highlight an Islamic frameworkunderpinning Sufi praxis and thought, though at the expense of implicitlyacknowledging a non-Islamic Sufism.[53] The publication of reviews inAustralian newspapers in 1934 of Sirdar Ikbal Ali Shah’s Islamic Sufism can be seen as a response to the development andspread of Universal Sufism.[54]It is interesting to note, prior to the introduction of Universal Sufism intoAustralia, Australian newspapers often explained Sufism as being intrinsicallyconnected to Islam. One instance of this can be found in a 1929 article focused on a New Zealandwoman who held “threads of a mystic Mohammedan belief from the Orient,known as Sufism.”[55]The nature of Sufi praxis and thought continues to be debated with regard toits relationship to Islam. The sources quoted here indicate this debate playedout within early 20th century Australia. However, the degree to which it wasdebated and if there were any local contributions require furtherinvestigation.    

Some challenges to studying early australian Sufism

The challenges of investigating the history of Sufism inAustralia are many. Johns and Saeed state “one would expect Sufi orders to playa role in Islamic education in Australia, but it is difficult to find detailedinformation about them”[56] and the scarcity ofavailable information on manifestations of Sufism in Australia is validhistorically more so than contemporarily.[57] One reason for this isbecause “the Sufi heritage is an ‘inner’ or ‘hidden’ dimension of Islam,its members and their specific practices are often indistinguishable from thegeneral Muslim community, at least to the non-Muslim observer”[58] and, as a result of this, “Sufis havegenerally experienced a degree of anonymity in Australia, a tendency that makesa traditional narrative history of Sufism in Australia a somewhat challengingtask.”[59]As Deen has noted with regard to external markers, if differences in beards,moustaches and turbans went unnoticed,[60]this has been more so with regard to noticing differences in religious practice.One attempt to examine the nuances of lifestyle and practice was made byStevens and applied to the Adelaide herbalist Mohamet Allum (d. 1964). Stevensstates “from the evidence of Mohamet Allum’s background and life’s work inAustralia, he appears to have been at least orientated towards Sufism.”[61]While Stevens’ assessment is not conclusive and requires further study, it showsan attempt to use the documentation of practice in a nuanced manner tounderstand the underpinning motivation in order to pierce the traditionalhiddenness of Sufi affiliation.

Uncovering Sufism from its traditional hiddenness requires athorough understanding of Sufi orthopraxy. This is important becausedocumentation of Sufi praxis within Australia, particularly during the 19th andearly 20th centuries, is not come clearly labelled or understood. One possibleexample of this is in a 1902 newspaper report on the conditions within Afghancamps. The newspaper report documented, aside from a generally unhygieniclocation “owing to the camels which are kept about,” a “new terror in the shapeof corroborrees or what ever [sic]the Afghans call their ear splitting evening concerts,” which are distinguishedby “the howls and wails of the men with bandage pants who work themselves up intoa voice far exceeding concert pitch.”[62]It is possible this is one of the earliest, if not the first, documentedrecording of a Sufi congregational gathering (halqa) in Australia. More evidence would be required tosubstantiate this claim, though it is consistent with some forms of suchpractice and is an apt description of such a gathering from a witness withlittle to no knowledge of such practices. Thus, a close reading of historical documentswith an in-depth awareness of Sufi praxis may yield further evidence pertainingto the history of Sufism in Australia. 

A close reading of historical documents with a focus on Sufipractice and expression will necessitate a rereading of primary sources.Stevens asserts “only one Afghan in Australia is documented to have a claim toSufism,” citing “one ‘Soofi [sic]Abdul Karam’ [who] worked with camels in north of WA.”[63]If correct, this is explicit evidence for documenting the history of Sufism inAustralia. However, there is disagreement regarding the contents of thesedocuments. Library staff “didn’t have any success” searching for “Sufism, Sufisand Dervishes” in the catalogue and of the document in question stated,

I found a reference on our catalogue to the record thatyou cited – ACC 262A. It is a collection of records related to Afghan Tradersin Australia between [189-] – 1915. I had a look through these papers and theyreally just relate to the camel business such as camel licences, billsassociated with the business etc. There are approximately forty pieces ofvaried documentation in this collection.[64]

An explicit reference to a practitioner of Sufism among the cameleerswould be a key piece of evidence for exploring and documenting the history ofSufism in Australia. The conflicting views open two possibilities. If thelibrarian is correct, Stevens’ view can be dismissed. This would be verifiablethrough re-examining the source documents. If Stevens is correct, there-examination of these source documents would necessitate a re-reading ofprimary documents of the cameleers with a focus on, and knowledge of, Sufism.If Stevens is correct, there is a further challenge around accessing thedocuments of the cameleers, as these are dispersed along their travel routesand libraries across Australia. Either way, this requires further investigationand highlights the importance of reassessing the dispersed primary documents toobtain a fuller understanding.

Another point from which insight into Sufism in Australia canbe gleaned is the use of titles among early Australian Muslims. It isdocumented in research on early Australian Muslims that the use of the title“Haji” is indicative of a Muslim who has performed the pilgrimage to Mecca.Reports on this title are evident in an 1894 newspaper report on Haji MullaMehrban (d. 1897), who led moves to construct Adelaide Mosque. This newspaperarticle acknowledged “he has made the ‘hajj’, or pilgrimage to Mecca, whichgives him the right to his first title.”[65]Similarly, a 1913 newspaper article stated “the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca is agreat event in the life of the devout Mahometan, as until he has visited thatsacred spot he cannot tack on to his name the title ‘haji’.”[66]While further examples could be used, these quotes sufficiently identify therewas an awareness of “Haji” being a title. However, there are instances in listsof cameleers where the title “Haji” has been conflated as a first name.[67]Similarly, the use of “Syed,” as a title indicative of an individual “who is adescendent of the Holy Prophet,”[68]has been used as a first name.[69]If more common titles such as these can be conflated as first names, thenother, lesser known, titles could easily be passed over without sufficientinvestigation. For instance, individuals such as Peer Dost, Peer Mahomed, andSheik Mahomet[70]could easily be overlooked without an understanding of titles used within Islamgenerally and Sufism in particular. Shaykh is “from the Arabic for ‘elder’”and, within Sufism, “the term refers especially to individuals entrusted withthe critical aspect of spiritual guidance … or with leadership of an order.”[71] Pir is “thePersian equivalent” of Shaykh.[72] Transliterationpractices have changed over time and this can account for the shift from Peerto Pir and Sheik to Shaykh. While it is possible these terms are names, as withthe conflation with Haji and Seyed, it is more likely they are titles. Even ifit is accepted that these terms refer to titles, it still is not definitiveproof these individuals had specific connections to Sufism, as they may havebeen used as terms of respect. However, given the importance such titles takeon within Sufism, it provides another area from which to explore evidence ofthe history of Sufism in Australia.


The history of Sufism in Australia is not readily evident.However, as this article shows, there are multiple areas from which thishistory can be gleaned. These areas include the major intersections betweenIslam and Australia. In glancing at the available materials on Makassanengagements with Indigenous Australians, Australia’s cameleer records, and 19thand early 20th century newspaper reports, it becomes apparent there issignificant evidence from which to study Australia’s Sufi heritage. Thediversity of knowledges required for explicating this strand of Australianhistory makes it a challenging, but not insurmountable, task. To achieve this,disparate sources and documents will need to be examined, and in some casesre-examined, in light of an acute and nuanced understanding of Sufi orthopraxy.The intention of this article has been to highlight it is an area ofsignificance that deserves greater scholarly attention than it has received todate. It is hoped this article provides some of the preliminary steps requiredfor a deeper study into the history of Sufism in Australia so its contributionsto the development of Australia generally and Australian Islam specifically canbe understood. 


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[1]        AnthonyH. Johns and Abdullah Saeed, “Muslims in Australia: The Building of a Community,”in Muslim Minorities in the West,eds. Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad and Jane I. Smith (Walnut Creek: Altamira Press,2002), 197.

[2]        Regina Ganter, “Muslim Australia: The DeepHistories of Contact,” Journal ofAustralian Studies 32 (2008): 482.

[3]        Regina Ganter, “Remembering Muslim Histories of Australia,” The La Trobe Journal 89 (2012): 55.

[4]        Denise Russell, “Aboriginal-MakassanInteractions in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries in Northern Australiaand Contemporary Sea Rights Claims,” AustralianAboriginal Studies 1 (2004): 5.

[5]        Ganter, “Muslim Australia,” 482.

[6]        Mattulada, “South Sulawesi, Its Ethnicity and Way of Life,” Southeast Asian Studies 20 (1982): 11.

[7]        Zulkifli, “Sufism in Java: The Role ofthe Pesantren in the Maintenance of Sufism in Java” (Master’s diss., Australian National University, 1994): 10.

[8]        Ridhwan, “Development of Tasawuf in South Sulawesi,” QudusInternational Journal of Islamic Studies 5 (2017): 36-37.

[9]        Ian S. McIntosh, Between Two Worlds (Indianapolis: Dog Ear Publishing, 2015), 101.

[10]       Regina Ganter, “Yolngu Conversations with Faith: The Outward Signs ofConversion to Christianity and Islam,” AustralianStudies Journal 30 (2016): 10.

[11]       Ganter, “Remembering Muslim Histories,” 57.

[12]       Ibid.

[13]       Ibid, 58.

[14]       Ibid, 57.

[15]       Ganter, “Muslim Australia,” 483.

[16]       Johns and Saeed, “Muslims in Australia,” 197.

[17]       Hanifa Deen, “Excavating the Past: Australian Muslims,” The La Trobe Journal 89 (2012): 64.

[18]       Ibid.

[19]       Philip Jones and Anna Kenny, Australia’s Muslim Cameleers (Adelaide:Wakefield Press, 2007), 131.

[20]       Ibid, 15.

[21]       Rebecca Parkes, “Traces of the Cameleers: Landscape Archaeology andLandscape Perception,” AustralasianHistorical Archaeology 27 (2009): 88.

[22]       Emma Sleath,“Rare Bengali Manuscript Found in Broken Hill Mosque,” ABC Broken Hill, July 21, 2009, accessed September 30, 2018, http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2009/07/21/2631847.htm.

[23]       MadhusreeGhosh, “A Bengali Songbook is Helping Rewrite Local History in the AustralianOutback,” Hindustan Times, November26, 2017, accessed September 30, 2018, https://www.hindustantimes.com/

[24]       John Renard, Historical Dictionary of Sufism (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield,2016), 238.

[25]       Samia Khatun, Australianama: The South Asian Odyssey in Australia (London: CHurst and Co Publishers, forthcoming) details her work on this puthi. It has not been consulted as itwas forthcoming at the time of this research.

[26]       “Miscellanies,” The SydneyGazzette and New South Wales Advertiser, July 27, 1833, 3.

[27]       “Miscellaneous Extracts,” SouthAustralian, February 14, 1843, 4.

[28]       “Hoaxing in Dublin,” The SydneyMonitor and Commercial Advertiser, April 15, 1839, 2.

[29]       Mark Sedgwick, Western Sufism:From the Abbasids to the New Age(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 114.

[30]       Ibid.

[31]       Ibid, 128.

[32]       Thierry Zarcone, “Western Visual Representations of Dervishes from the 14thCentury to Early 20th,” Kyoto Bulletin ofIslamic Area Studies 6 (2013): 43.

[33]       Ibid.

[34]       Ibid.

[35]       “Miscellanea,” Launceston Advertiser, January 24, 1833, 445.

[36]       “‘A Friend’ in Rome,” Freeman’sJournal, February 8, 1865, 81.

[37]       “The Babis in Russia,” MorningBulletin, October 9, 1903, 3.

[38]       Zarcone, “Western Visual Representations,” 58.

[39]       Ibid, 50.

[40]       Ibid, 48.

[41]       “Locale of the War,” Age, May21, 1877, 3. This article was reprinted in the South Bourke and Mornington Journal, May 23, 1877, 4.

[42]       “Music and the Stage,” Advertiser,August 7, 1915, 6.

[43]       “Representative of Sufi Order,” CamdenNews, October 26, 1933, 6.

[44]       “Sufism’s Leader,” Sun, June10, 1934, 7.

[45]       “Sufis has no use for £100,000,” TheDaily Telegraph, October 22, 1950, 10.

[46]       Milad Milani, Adam Possamai, and FirdausWajdi, “Branding of Spiritual Authority and Nationalism in Transnational Sufism,”in Religions, Nations, andTransnationalism in Multiple Modernities, eds. Patrick Michel, AdamPossamai, and Bryan S. Turner (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 207.

[47]       CeliaAnne Genn, “The Development of a Modern Western Sufism,” in Sufism and the “Modern” in Islam, eds.Martin von Bruinessen and Julia Day Howell (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2007), 257.

[48]       Milani, Possamai, and Wajdi, “Branding ofSpiritual Authority,” 207.

[49]       Celia Anne Genn, “Exploration and Analysisof the Origins, Nature and Development of the Sufi Movement in Australia” (PhDdiss., University of Queensland, 2004), iv.

[50]       Ibid, 134.

[51]       Ray Kerkhove, Francis Brabazon Collection: Significance Assessment Report (Woombye:Avatar’s Abode, 2008), 3.

[52]       “Representative of Sufi Order,” 6.

[53]       For a further deliberation of thetautological aspects of “Islamic Sufism” and the decontextualised nature of“Universal Sufism,” see Abu Bakr Sirajuddin Cook, Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah, Muslim Sufi Saint and Gift of Heaven (Newcastleupon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017): 13–33.

[54]       “Publications Received,” Age,January 20, 1934, 4; “The World of Books,” TheMercury, April 20, 1934, 3.

[55]       “NZ Woman Who Masqueraded as Man Confesses on Death Bed,” Daily Telegraph, May 6, 1929, 4.

[56]       Johns and Saeed, “Muslims in Australia,” 206.

[57]       Contemporary studies of Sufism withspecific reference to Australia include: Milad Milani and Adam Possamai, “TheNimatullahiya and the Naqshbandiya Sufi Orders on the Internet: TheCyber-construction of Tradition and the McDonaldisation of Spirituality,” Journal for the Academic Study of Religion26 (2013); Milad Milani and Adam Possamai, “Sufism, Spirituality andConsumerism: The Case Study of the Nimatullahiya and Naqshbandiya Sufi Ordersin Australia,” Contemporary Islam 10(2015).

[58]       Milani, Possamai, and Wajdi, “Branding ofSpiritual Authority,” 206.

[59]       Ibid, 206–207.

[60]       Deen, “Excavating the Past,” 64.

[61]       Christine Stevens, Tin Mosques & Ghantowns (Alice Springs: Paul Fitzsimons, 2002),198.

[62]       Ian Murray, Phil Bianchi, MariaBloomfield, and Peter Bridge, “The AfghanProblem” and their Camels (Carlisle: Hesperian Press, 2008), 107.

[63]       Stevens, Tin Mosques, 198.

[64]       Pena Atanasoff (Client Services Librarianat State Library of Western Australia), email to author, July 26, 2018.

[65]       “The Haji Mulla,” South AustralianChronicle, September 1, 1894, 6.

[66]       “Pilgrims to Mecca. Making a Haji,” The Sun, October 28, 1913, 5.

[67]       Jones and Kenny, Australia’s Muslim Cameleers, 175.

[68]       Mohamed Hasan Musakhan, ed., History of Islamism in Australia from 1863 –1932 (Adelaide: Mahomet Allum, 1932), 36–37.

[69]       Jones and Kenny, Australia’s Muslim Cameleers, 187.

[70]       Roberta J. Drewery, Treks, Camps, & Camels: Afghan Cameleers, their Contribution toAustralia (Rockhampton: R. J. Bolton, 2008), 94–96.

[71]       Renard, Historical Dictionary of Sufism, 283.

[72]       Ibid.