Nur Ashki Jerrahi Order/Sufi Prison Project (2005)

This profile was last updated in 2005

The Nur Ashki Jerrahi Order is a group that branched off from the Halveti-Jerrahi SufiSufism is often called “the heart of Islam,” as its emphasis on the inner life enlivens and supplements the outward practices of ritual and legal obligation. It is not a sect of Islam, but rather a stream of interpretation stressing the interior path,... Order in 1995 in order to honor formally shaykhsThe Arabic term “shaykh” literally means a gray-haired old man. The Persian term “pir” means “elder, master.” Both terms have become titles of respect for a leader with great authority or religious piety. In the context of Sufi orders, the sha... Muzaffer Ashki al-Jerrahi and Nur al Jerrahi and to base itself more strictly on their teachings. In Portland, very little interest in the Nur Ashki Jerrahi order existed until the Sufi Prison Project began in the late 1990s, and to date almost all of the order’s activities revolve around this project.

The man who began the Sufi Prison Project is a former inmate of the Oregon correctional facilities who has kept ties with some of his fellow prisoners to this day. After his release in 1991, he found spiritual guidance lacking in the local prison system. After his own conversion to IslamIslam in Arabic literally means “submitting” or “submission.” One who submits or surrenders his or her will to God is called a Muslim. While the whole of God’s creation is described as being inherently Muslim, human beings must choose whether to... during his incarceration, he became interested in SufismSufism is often called “the heart of Islam,” as its emphasis on the inner life enlivens and supplements the outward practices of ritual and legal obligation. It is not a sect of Islam, but rather a stream of interpretation stressing the interior path,.... He joined a Sufi order in 1992 and went through the process necessary to have the Department of Corrections approve “Sufism” as a religion that could be taught and practiced in the prisons (see “Handbook” at http://egov.oregon.gov/DOC/TRANSTransgender is a term that refers to a range of unconventional relationships to gender. Transgender people do not identify with the sex and gender roles they were assigned at birth, and they may feel that their psychological gender and physical bodies are.../religious_services/rs_handbook02.shtml#SUFISM). Thus began the Sufi Prison Project. [Editor’s note 2016: This website is not currently available.]

In 1999, this man discovered that a shaykha (a female shaykhThe Arabic term “shaykh” literally means a gray-haired old man. The Persian term “pir” means “elder, master.” Both terms have become titles of respect for a leader with great authority or religious piety. In the context of Sufi orders, the sha...) for the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Order had performed an initiation into the order for an inmate in Washington State from her home in New York. This long distance initiation, described as a spiritual transmission, was a way for new members to join the order without the actual presence of a shaykh or shaykha. Immediately, the man in charge of the Sufi Prison Project contacted the shaykha with a list of more than fifteen person, all of whom were initiated into the order long-distance.

The two prisons with an interest in Sufism were Oregon State Penitentiary and Eastern Oregon Correctional Institute. Since this first initiation, interest in Sufism has grown steadily in the two prisons. About twenty men attend the meetings, which occur once or twice a month for about two hours at a time. Generally during these meetings the men perform wird, a supplication to GodGod is a term used to refer to the Divine, the Supreme being, Transcendent deity, or Ultimate reality., and chant prayersPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not. specific to the Nur Ashki Jerrahi order. Once a year the shaykha from New York comes to see the activities of the Sufi Prison Project, to meet with inmates, and perform initiations as needed.

None of the inmates who attend the Sufi meetings are required to be Muslim. In fact, many of them associate themselves with a number of different faiths. However, they are quasi-Islamic in the sense that they acknowledge Sufism as a mystical tradition within Islam and hold that ProphetA prophet is one who communicates a divine message or vision, sometimes calling people to repentance or awakening, sometimes predicting future events. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all look to Hebrew prophets, including Abraham and Moses. Muslims believe ... MuhammadThe Prophet Muhammad, known as “the Seal of the Prophets,” was born in the city of Makkah on the Arabian peninsula in 570 C.E. At 40, he began to receive a series of revelations from God through the angel Gabriel. His small group of followers met with... is a messengerCalled “Rasul” in Arabic, the messenger is a special type of prophet commissioned to lead a community and often entrusted with a major revelation from God. Moses, Jesus and Muhammad are examples of messengers in Islam. Other prophets (called nabi) int... of GodThe term god with a small “g” is used to refer to a deity or class of deities whose power is understood to be circumscribed or localized rather than universal, or to refer to a plurality of deities. to whom the QuranThe word Qur’an literally means “recitation.” Revealed orally to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel, he recited it to his followers. These recitations collected in written form are arranged in 114 surahs, generally from longest to shortest. Muslims consi... was revealed. Some of the prisoners have taken shahada (Muslim declaration of faith), but it is uncommon to find prisoners who adhere only to Islamic practices and principles. Outside of the prisons, the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Order has also attracted a few followers. Ex-convicts, as well as family members of inmates, occasionally have attended dhikrDhikr means “remembering” and refers to the Sufi form of devotional worship which usually involves rhythmic chanting of the names of God or litanies, sometimes accompanied by poetry, dance, drums or a reed flute. (“remembrance”) ceremonies led by the coordinator of the Project. Since the shaykha’s visit to Portland from New York in summer of 2004, the group, which currently has around ten members outside of the prison system, is making a more concerted effort to hold weekly dhikr ceremonies outside of prisons.

—Miranda Meadow, Student at Reed College, under the direction of Dr. Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, Pluralism Project Affiliate