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Could Sufi Islam Make A Comeback?


Sufi Islam—more mystical, more concerned with God’s love than God’s law, and much more tolerant toward other faiths and other varieties of Islam—has been on the retreat in much of the Islamic world. Saudi-funded Wahabi preachers and Islamist activists have put Sufism on the defensive and in some cases (as in Mali) have attacked and destroyed Sufi shrines.

But in places like Somalia, Sufism is apparently making a comeback:

Al-Shabab, a group of al-Qaida-linked militants that seeks to instill an ultra-conservative brand of Islam across Somalia, controlled Mogadishu from roughly 2007 to 2011. The group still dominates most of south-central Somalia but has seen its territory reduced after military pushes by African Union and Somali forces.

The Sufis in the capital now feel free to practice their faith. In central Somalia, after the graves of sheiks were desecrated and killings occurred, Sufis used weapons to kick militants out of some key towns. The conflict in that part of the Horn of Africa nation persists.

An outlier case? Maybe for now. But the pattern could repeat itself.

The currents of Islamism now sweeping so many countries have one thing in common: they lack the economic smarts and the political vision that can actually solve the problems of the people in places like Egypt, Syria and Tunisia. Just as Arab socialism once swept the region but then lost luster as its remedies failed to work, so the outlook for today’s Islamists is also dim. Morsi’s struggles in Egypt illustrate the point. And even where Islamists continue to hold on to power, the movements will become complacent, corrupt and hypocritical.

When and as Islamism loses its shine, Sufism may well make a comeback. That could be a very good thing.

[Whirling dervishes in Turkey, from the Wikimedia Commons]

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  • Luke Lea
  • Corlyss

    I’m a HUGE Rumi fan. It’s hard to believe he and jihadis subscribe to the same religion.

    • Grigalem

      Torquemada and Mother Teresa.

  • Lorenz Gude

    I certainly think that Islamism is not just politicized Islam it is Islam infected with a variant of the totalitarianism that broke out in the first half of the 20th century with fascism and communism. The Muslim Brotherhood, the founding organization of Islamism, was started in Egypt in the 30s directly inspired by those movements which looked, at the time, to be the wave of the future. But they both ultimately failed, I believe in part, because it is difficult to sustain the high level of fanaticism required to maintain ‘the rage’. I notice that Japan, the former Soviet Union, and China are in demographic decline. So is Iran – the first country where Islamism came to power.

    That said, I have had significant contact with Sufism and put it this way: when the Sufis I’ve known say that the only jihad you ever win is the one on the inside I take them at their word. They mean it; they are not just blowing smoke.

  • wigwag

    Conservative Judaism could make a comeback. So could the American Episcopal Church and maybe even the Presbyterians. If they can do it, so can the Sufis.

    I would advise against holding your breath though.

  • Zhulfiqar

    I think you should take a closer look at Sufi insurgent or outright terrorist organizations. The best example is probably JRTN in Iraq, but you can see examples in Chechnya, Pakistan etc. Indeed, Sufi orders led a number of insurgencies dating back at least to the 19th century.
    To make a long story short, Sufis aren’t teddybears.

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