Guru Bawa and the formation of a transnational Sufi family

Frank J. Korom

- completed -

Bawa Muhaiyaddeen was a non-literate Tamil-speaking Sufi saint from Sri Lanka, whose originally enigmatic career began in Jaffna in the late 1940s. After making a name for himself by performing miracles, healing people and performing numerous exorcisms, he was ‘discovered’ by liberal Muslim intellectuals in Colombo who convinced him to move to the capital city. While in residence there, he began correspondence through an interpreter and scribe with a woman in the United States who heard about him through a Sri Lankan student studying in her university town. She eventually raised funds to bring him to the United States to guide her and other fellow seekers. He arrived in Philadelphia in 1971 and spent the remaining years of his life moving back and forth from the United States to Sri Lanka. After his death in 1986, he was buried on a plot of land purchased by his American followers to serve as a cemetery. A shrine was built over his gravesite, and the place has now become a location of pilgrimage for his admirers from around the world. Frank’s study contextualizes the origin and development of the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship using multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork and oral history dated, conducted, and compiled over more than a decade and a half of research. The results of the study will be published by DeGruyter in its “Religion and Society” series.

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