Why is ISIS going after Sufi Muslims?

Members of ISIS dread Sufism because it offers a kinder and gentler face of Islam.

Antidote to extremism. Muslim members of an Egyptian Sufi order take part in a parade celebrating the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad in Cairo. (AP)


2017/12/03 Issue: 134 Page: 12


The Arab Weekly
Claude Salhani



Egypt witnessed its worst terrorist attack in modern history when a bomb exploded in a mosque in North Sinai and people were gunned down as they fled the destruction. More than 300 people were killed and many more wounded.

Why would the Islamic State (ISIS), suspected of being responsible for the killing, choose to attack fellow Muslims in such a horrific manner? While the mosque reportedly hosted a large Sufi con­gregation, Sufis are, for the most part, Sunni, just like members of ISIS claim to be. Though a Shia mi­nority joined the Sufi movement, the mosque in question was Sunni.

So what drives ISIS’s hatred of Sufism? What feeds ISIS’s hatred is fear, real or imagined, of the other.

I would also add “ignorance.” ISIS combines fear and ignorance of their presumed enemy with daily doses of propaganda that are intended to a) frighten and b) awaken a deep sense of belong­ing to a society that shares their same predicament. This results in hatred of the other because of the potential the enemy has in seeking to change their ways, aims and aspirations, threatening their very existence.

Fear is a formidable force used by those in power or those aspiring to reach power. In fact, humankind has deployed fear as a tactic for as long as it has formed clans to protect its sources of food, water, habitation and fire.

How can Sufism, known for its famed poets, writers and thinkers who preach love and tolerance, cope with such an opponent?

A Google search revealed at least 103 prominent Sufi poets in Arabia and Persia over the years. One of the most prominent figures was the poet, jurist, theologian and mystic known as Rumi (1207-73). His full name was Jalal ad-Din Muammad Balkhi. From his love of art and modernity to his concep­tion of a kind and merciful God, Rumi represents everything ISIS is not and everything its militants despise.

Rumi and other mystics passion­ately believed that the use of mu­sic, poetry and dance was a path to connect with God. They found that music helped devotees focus their whole beings on the divine. They participated in musical rituals with such intensity that their soul was both destroyed and resurrected, they believed. It was from these ideas that the practice of whirling dervishes developed.

Compare this with the savagery of ISIS, which bans music and administers severe punishment, including death sentences, to those caught enjoying music or dances.

Sufis believe that gaining knowl­edge helps the soul make repara­tions with God.

Sufism presents itself as the spirit of Islam. Its function is to purify the heart from lust, calami­ties of the tongue, anger, malice, jealousy, love of fame, greed, vanity, deception and other all-too-human attributes. At the same time, it aims to fill the heart with the lofty attributes of repentance, perseverance, gratefulness, hope, abstinence, trust, love, sincerity, truth and contemplation.

In other words, Sufis represent everything ISIS is not.

Members of ISIS dread Sufism because it offers a kinder and gentler face of Islam. The adher­ents of Sufism are what Islam was meant to be, a religion of peace and understanding. The very word “Islam” means “surrender” or “submission.”

Sufis are the true Muslims, not the ISIS savages who have terri­fied millions of Muslims by killing believers and non-believers alike and have set East-West relations back decades.


Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.


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