I tried to explain to him that the group leader is a dervish of Shaykh Nazim (and of his US representative Shaykh Hashim) Kabbani, and that that tariqat doesn't interest me. He admitted, not surprisingly, that he didn't know what that meant.
This inspired me to search around online to see if I could find some more evidence to corroborate my intuition that something may be not quite right with that tariqat. (I don't want to have my opinions shaped merely by my revulsion at the bizarre appearance of the people who are generally regarded as prominent shaykhs within that tariqat.)
I found some interesting documents, including an evidently well-researched monograph by someone who evidently has legitimate knowledge of Sufism in the region from which Nazim claims to have received his teaching and authorization.
This search brought together several threads that I have noticed over the last 15 years, but which I had never quite put together in such a way before.
I remembered that I had a Sufi friend from Atlanta whose wife had a magazine that contained a photo of Hashim Kabbani posing alongside G. W. Bush. I thought that was kind of bizarre, and it made me uncomfortable at the time. Yesterday I found a couple of short articles online, authored by Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who has linked Hisham Kabbani to neocons in the States and to New Labor in the UK. During and after his work as ambassador, he was (and still is) sharply critical of US and UK tolerance of Uzbekistan's extreme human rights abuses, some of which are outlined here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_Uzbekistan Even though some concerns have been expressed officially by the US State Department, it appears that abuses continue to be overlooked or tolerated because Uzbekistan has been a conviently located staging ground for US and UK military operations in Afghanistan.
Although Nazim is the grandshaykh of the Kabbani sect in Turkish Cyprus, Hashim seems to be its most ambitious and public spokesman in the US and UK. He is the head of ISCA in the US http://www.islamicsupremecouncil.org/ and possibly also of SMC in the UK http://sufimuslim.homestead.com/ (whose website is a few years out of date). On the surface of it, Sufism is being portrayed as a peaceful, moderate, anti-Islamist, anti-extremist, anti-"Wahabbi" (a term that has been criticized for overly broad usage by Hisham), etc. However, the numerous photo ops and/or mentions involving Bush, Cheney, Blair, Prince Charles, members of the Canadian Parliament, the King of Jordan, and Karimov (dictatorial president of Uzbekistan) suggest that this is a tariqat that is trying to legitimize itself through political associations, while at the same time exaggerated the number of dervishes involved. The organizations with which Hisham is associated tend to be regarded as political fronts by the majority of Muslims in the US and UK, and by polticially aware non-conservative non-Muslims.
On top of that, there have been some spectacular internal disputes in the States, including a public denunciation by Adnan Kabbani (brother of Hisham, who appears to be a complete nutjob himself), another denunciation by another Turkish Cypriot shaykh (the late Abdul Kerim Al-Kibrisi) who claims to be authorized by Nizam and who has been accused of recruiting students in the New York area to his "cult" headquarters in New York state, and finally a denunciation by Hisham of a shaykh, "Maulana" Zainulabedin Kazmi, who was actually a guest of the leader of the Atlanta NAJ circle once when I was there. I still remember thinking that he had weird vibes and that he was crazy. He talked about things like how Sufis travel to the moon. I thought it was bizarre. I also thought it was weird that his American wife and daughter were so fawning. They also practically pushed "gifts" on us, like illegally reproduced copies of an outdated version of the Alim software, cheap "robes," and photos of Zainulabedin and Nazim. After that evening, one of the dervishes mentioned the impostor claim, and I believe he sent a link to the circle members. Perhaps the circle leader was embarrassed. We didn't really it discuss it after that. It appears that Zainulabedin continues to make the rounds of Unity churches, etc.
The bottom line is, I'm wondering what it is with Westerners, and with Muslim immigrants living in the West, when it comes to Sufism. There just seems to be a problem with credulity. Maybe the immigrants are looking for ways to assimilate without letting go of Islam completely, but some of them seem to be almost as credulous as Westerners who have little to no background in Islam.
In trying to be fair and realistic at the same time, I have noted that people who are engineers by profession tend to be drawn to mystical organizations (Hindu as well as Sufi). While this gives a veneer of intellectual respectability to where they're coming from, some of them seem to be politically and culturally quite naive. Granted, maybe some of them have limited social skills as well. Both of the South Asians who are involved in the Sufi meetup group are IT people. The leader did mention, at the last meeting I attended, that he came from a mixed Catholic-Muslim family and that he therefore grew up in a pluralistic, tolerant atmosphere. Upon getting older, he was surprised to find that this was not the case for many other people. I also know that he became introduced to the Kabbani sect while he was a graduate student in Michigan (where they are evidently quite active). It's nice to have some perspecctive, but he evidently doesn't know how to bring other people into a discussion of similar background issues. There never seems to be "time" for that. He's a nice guy, I think he may be a bit naive, and I think his perspective is a bit limited. It's just not worth the time to drive out there, and to feel obligated to hang out with these people (in order to recite along with a CD).
I did feel that it was a little rude of me not to RSVP to the meetup reminders for the last month or so, so I went to Meetup and tried to remove myself from the group. I couldn't figure out how to remove myself from that specific group, so I just closed my Meetup account altogether. Maybe it's cleaner just to disappear and to return to my work.
It appears as if there is a process going on, through which I am feeling challenged to wean myself of my habitual reliance on anti-rational "escapes" from the tensions and frustrations of my life situation. Along the way, I'm finding that there is some revitalization and renewed inspiration to be found in being open to critical appraisals of situations. It takes some practice and some discipline in order to do that, but it may be worth the investment of time and energy to keep up the effort.