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Sufis v. Salafis: Winning Friends and Interdicting Enemies in Islamic Africa – Dr. Timothy R. Furnish

April 11, 2013


Sufis v. Salafis: Winning Friends and Interdicting Enemies in Islamic  Africa

by Dr. Timothy R. Furnish

RIMA Policy Papers, Volume 1 (2013), Number 1 (April 2013)

The Islamic world is at war.  But while theatres such as Afghanistan-Pakistan, Syria and Yemen are well-known, another major zone of conflict is not.  This one is simultaneously transnational and intersocietal, cutting across almost the entirety of the ummah, or Muslim “community,”  yet also cutting down into individual countries, especially in Islamic Africa.  It is the struggle between the fundamentalistic Salafis and the tolerant Sufis going on right now in Egypt, Libya, Mali, Somalia, Nigeria, Sudan and Ethiopia.  The US would do well to help the latter, as the fate of truly moderate Islam hangs in the balance.  

This paper will explicate the differences, and conflicts, between Salafis and Sufis in the modern Islamic world in general, and in Africa in particular.  There are four major sections: an introduction to the issue and its manifestations; an overview of Sufism—its history, major groups, beliefs and locations; a similar synopsis of Salafism; and a conclusion that will examine possible avenues of exploitation for the US. 

  1. I.                    Introduction and Background

The Muslim world has been beset by sectarian conflict since shortly after the death of Islam’s founder, Muhammad, in 632 AD–clearly and unequivocally contra the Hadith rubrics which quote him forbidding such a conflict in the utterances “if two Muslims take out their swords to fight one another, then both of them shall be from the people of Hell fire,”[1] and “none of you should [even] point out toward his Muslim brother with a weapon….”[2]  These prophetic prohibitions soon fell by the wayside and for some 1400 years the Islamic history of violence has been, in no small measure, one of Muslim against Muslim; to name but the most notable:  the Riddah (“Apostasy”) Wars waged by the Arab tribes tried to “defect” from Islam after Muhammad’s death;  the fitan (“civil wars”) a few decades later when the fourth caliph, Ali, was rebelled against by the Umayyads of Damascus and, finally, killed by a sectarian from the ranks of the Khawarij;[3]  the wars a century later in which the Abbasid dynasty from Khurasan (eastern Iran/western Afghanistan) supplanted those same Umayyads; the 250 years of bloody conflict, both conventional and assassinations, between the Sunni Abbasid caliphs and the Sevener Shi`i Fatimids of North Africa and Egypt; the wars of conquest waged by the Sunni Ottoman Turks in the 16th-20th centuries against other Muslims in Egypt, the Middle East, North Africa and Yemen; the vicious conflicts between the Ottomans and the Twelver Shi`i Safavids in Persia/Iran during the 16th-18th centuries;  and the Iran-Iraq War, 1980-88.  “Muslims don’t fight other Muslims” is a piety, not a historical reality.

In the last three decades conflict in the Islamic world has been dominated by the sectarian kind, often within individual countries but also many times spilling across borders, due to the intrinsically transnational nature of many Islamic movements and ideologies.  The Sunni v. Twelver Shi`i struggle has perhaps dominated the headlines[4] and the analytical world, as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia [KSA] and the Islamic Republic of Iran [IRI] each disseminate globally their respective sectarian da`wat (“calls, propaganda agendas”) and posture for leadership of the ummah, as well as wage a cold intelligence and covert war against one another.  But while many other Muslim denominational mệlées could be adduced,[5] one of the most important today is that of Salafis v. Sufis.  Salafism will be fully explored in section III, below, and thus for now a succinct summary thereof will have to suffice.  The term derives from the Arabic verb salafa, “to be over, to be past” and in its verbal noun forms salaf and aslaf refers to the Islamic “predecessors” or “ancestors,”[6] specifically of Muhammad’s time—who are deemed examples to be followed by modern Muslims.  This mode of thought really first developed in the late 18th/early 19th century with an Arabian peninsula Muslim cleric, Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab (d. 1792), whose “Wahhabi” doctrines were adopted by the leadership of the Sa`ud tribe in central Arabia and, eventually, made the state ideology.   Salafis such as al-Wahhab demanded that Muslims refer to only the Qur’an and the Hadiths as sources of Muslim belief and practice, although they were divided on whether to do so via ijtihad, “independent reasoning,” or whether it was necessary to stick to taqlid, “imitation” of previous interpretive decisions. Salafism, then, as well as its Wahhabi subset and the South Asian variant known as Deobandism[7] (whence spring the Taliban and their ilk) is primarily a mode of Islamic thought that rejects Western (European-American) modes of thought and societal organization, in particular the two main ideas stemming from the 18th century Enlightenment: a secular (non-religious) state, and unbridled faith in science and technology to solve all humanity’s problems.[8]  Over against Western ideals the Salafis contrapose Shari`ah, “Islamic law,” as a panacea.  This “rejectionist” mode fully includes, today, groups such as the Taliban and Boko Haram and, to a certain extent, the al-Qa’idah network [AQN], Hizb al-Tahrir,[9] Tablighi Jama`at[10] and the entire IRI.[11] 

Sufis, on the other hand, are the mystics of Islam.  The term derives from, most likely, the woolen garments (suf) worn by the early practitioners. Their relevant historical development will be explored more at length in section II, below, but for now the important facets of this movement are as follows: it had developed by the late 8th century AD (although its adherents will claim Muhammad himself was a mystic); aimed at a mystical union of the individual Muslim believer with Allah, via intense and often lengthy prayer and ceremony, called dhikr (“remembrance” of the divine)—which is deemed more important than the Shari`ah; focuses on the esoteric or “hidden” meaning of the Qur’anic revelation, as opposed to the exoteric or “literal” one; is divided into hundreds of different turuq/tariqat (singular tariqah, “order”) across the Islamic world; and its shaykhs and saints, both the living and the dead, are believed to possess barakah (“blessing” or “charisma”).[12]  For all these reasons, Sufis have historically been at loggerheads with those Muslims, particularly Sunnis, who foreground the Shari`ah; and this acrimony was racheted up in particular at two major junctures: by the great Sunni cleric Taqi al-Din Ahmad b. Taymiyah, or Ibn Taymiyah (d. 1328), who detested Sufis in particular for their veneration of saints and shaykhs; and by the aforementioned Abd al-Wahhab, whose  beliefs were largely those of Ibn Taymiyah redux.              

Ironically, considering the bad blood between Salafis and Sufis in the early 21st century, it is a historical fact that from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries many Sufis exhibited the same rejectionist tendencies, and in fact Sufis manned and led some of the most violent jihads.[13]  This was because both trends were, in large measure, derived from a felt need for “moral reconstruction”[14] on solidly Islamic grounds, without recourse to instrusive and unsettling “infidel” (i.e., European Christian) patterns and ideologies.  But eventually, by the 20th century, Sufis and Salafis—for the most part—parted ways.  And note: Sufis and Salafis are not really separate sects of Islam—as is the case with Sunnis and Shi`is—but are, rather, movements within Islam that emphasize different aspects of that religion’s doctrines and practice. 

Thus, the Islamic world finds itself, today, plagued by “extremist”[15] Salafi attacks on Sufis—and the latter have begun to respond, sometimes in kind.  Sufi saints’ tombs have been desecrated and destroyed in Mali by the newly-powerful, Salafist  Ansar ud-Dine [Ansar al-Din]; the same thing happened in Libya recently, as Salafis literally bulldozed Sufi tomb-shrines;  in Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Egypt, some 20 Sufi zawiyas, or Sufi centers, have been destroyed since Mubarak was overthrown; more than a dozen Sufi shrines have been bombed by the Taliban in Pakistan in recent years; two Sufi shaykhs have been assassinated by suicide bombers in the Caucasus-region nation of Daghestan in the last year; and the Tehran regime in the IRI is waging a war on its own Sufi population.[16]  Let us examine these conflicts in more detail.

Mali is a large northwestern African nation of some 15 million people, 90% of whom are Muslims.[17] The country is currently torn by a de facto civil war, following a coup in April 2012 caused by a separatist movement of northern Tuaregs agitating for an independent nation of Azawad, and a Salafist group, the aforementioned Ansar ud-Dine [AD],[18] which wants a more strictly-Shari`a observant state in Mali.[19]

The Azawadians and their NMLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad), or MNLA in French, are primarily separatist/nationalist and, as such, anathema to Iyad Ag Ghali and the staunchly-Salafi AD.  In addition, the former are more Sufi-influenced and –disposed than the latter.  Furthermore, the situation is complicated by the varying tribal allegiances to each movement.   AD also appears to be cooperating with al-Qa`idah in the Islamic Maghrib [AQIM], going so far as to rule jointly with the latter in Timbuktu,[20] although there are also reports of pro-Sufi, anti-AD/AQIM protests and marches there.[21] Algeria is also possibly involved in stirring up these groups against one another, since the leadership of that country looks unfavorably on a Tuareg-Berber state that could siphon off support from Algeria’s population.[22]  Other factors to consider are the outflow of weapons and fighters following al-Qadhafi’s ouster in Libya,[23] as well as perhaps even climate change and quickening desertification in the Sahel.[24]  But whatever the reasons, AD and its Salafi sympathizers are increasing their induced strict Shari`ah compliance, to include “amputating limbs, whipping people in the streets and stoning to death a couple accused of adultery….”[25] They are even reported to be recruiting and deploying child soldiers,[26] and of course their war on the Sufis—whose existence in that part of Africa long predates Salafism’s—continues apace: last week, also, Salafists razed the tomb of Almirou Mahamane Assidiki, near Timbuktu, using shovels and pick-axes.[27]

            Large but thinly-populated Libya[28] was already the stage for Salafist and jihadist activity even before US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other embassy personnel were killed on September 11, 2012—a result of the ongoing failure of the post-Qadhafi government there to consolidate, get a handle on the various militias and, in general, to provide security.  Libya has a long history of political and military activity by Sufis, particularly the Sanusi order, and while during Mu`ammar al-Qadhafi’s rule (1969-2011) both Salafists and Sufis were suppressed,[29] internecine warfare between the two strands of Islam has resurfaced. That Salafis re-commenced activity in Libya even before al-Qadhafi’s overthrow and execution was obvious to anyone with eyes to see,[30] and in the past few months the Salafis and/or jihadists have thrown off their moderate masks and exhibited their anti-Sufi tendencies, in activities such as desecrating and destroying Sufi shrine-tombs—including the 400-year old one of Abd al-Salam al-Asmar in Zlitan, and the mosque-shrine-tomb complex of Abd Allah al-Sha`ab in downtown Tripoli.[31] Many Libyans suspect the arch-Salafi Katibah Ansar al-Shari`ah (“Battalion of the Defenders of Islamic Law”) [KAS] is behind both the attacks on the Sufi centers, and the killing of the US Ambassador and the other Americans in September 2012.[32]  And while KAS may have dispersed, or gone to ground, since those attacks[33] it remains a clear and present danger to Libyans in general, and to Sufis and Americans in particular.

            Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation whose 160 million people[34] are almost evenly divided between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south, is home to perhaps the most dangerous Salafi movement on the continent: Boko Haram [BH].[35] 

BH is even making inroads into neighboring Niger, and perhaps Chad,[36] propelled by the same factors that have helped AD in Mali. But while like Ansar al-Din and Katibah Ansar al-Shari`ah, Boko Haram is vehemently opposed to any and all Sufis, unlike them it has so far focused the vast majority of its attacks on Christians (perhaps because, comprising close to half of Nigeria’s huge population, they are seen as a greater threat than heretical Muslims).  In late September 2012 Nigerian Federal Government forces in Kano and Maiduguri killed a number of BH members in shootouts, and arrested dozens more, following BH bombings of churches and, curiously, cell phone towers.[37]

            On the opposite African coast from Nigeria, Somalia’s 10 million people are beginning to emerge from several decades of civil war and de facto anarchy with the help of Ethiopian, African Union and Kenyan forces—the latter of which, in early October 2012, occupied Kismayo[38]—at the behest of the US.  This is a far cry from just a few years ago, when the latest incarnation of violent and intolerant Salafism, al-Shabab, was in control of much of the country and advancing an austere, anti-Sufi agenda.  The Sufis of Somalia, led by the shaykhs of the Qadiriyah, Idrisiyah and Salihiyah orders, came together and created a Pan-Sufi political and, eventually, military organization called Ahl al-Sunnah wa-al-Jama`ah [ASJ], “Family of the Sunnah and Community.”[39] While the ASJ was not loathe to actually take up arms against al-Shabab, whose members razed Sufi tomb-shrines and practiced suicide bombings and beheadings of those Muslims deemed insufficiently Shari`ah-compliant, the movement would not be enjoying the success it has were it not for the fact that al-Shabab’s vision is anathema to many, if not most, in this predominantly-Sufi country.  However, while al-Shabab may be down,[40] it might not be knocked out but simply transmogrifying into a rural, rather than an urban, Salafi-Takfiri[41] movement[42] which prefers staging hit-and-run attacks rather than attempting to hold cities—and which will likely move some operations into Kenya.

            In Ethiopia, Africa’s second-largest nation in population (some 91 million, majority Christian but 1/3 Muslim),[43] the relationship between Salafis and Sufis is rather different from all the previously-examined cases, in that the Sufis of Ethiopia (assisted by the government) created an anti-Salafi organization prophylactically, rather than in response to Salafi attacks; furthermore, they did so by importing back into Ethiopia an offshoot of the Rifa`iyah and Qadiriyah orders, known as al-Ahbash (“the Ethiopians”), which merged with Jam`iyat al-Mashari` al-Khayriyah al-Islamiyah, or “Association of Islamic Charitable Projects”  in 1983 in Lebanon under the leadership of the Ethiopian shaykh,  Muhammad b. Abd Allah b. Yusuf al-Harari al-Shibi al-Abdari, also called “al-Habashi” (“the Ethiopian”).  AICP, or the Ahbash, as they are more popularly know, syncretistically blend Sunni, Shi`i and Sufi doctrines, and “present themselves as apostles of moderation—a desirable alternative to the Islamists’ doctrinal strictness and political militancy.”[44]  At least one US-based Ethiopian Muslim organization, the “First Hijrah Foundation,” is strongly opposed to Addis Ababa’s support for the Ahbash,[45] but no less a figure than former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi defended Ahbash’s tacit alliance with the Ethiopian government, prior to his death in August 2012.[46]  This deterrent deployment of a Sufi group to head off Salafi influence and encroachment might be a feasible path to be followed in other venues—as will be explored in IV, below.

            Egypt, the most populous Arab country with some 84 million (90% Muslim),[47] is currently ruled, post-“Arab Spring” and toppling of Mubarak, by an Islamist government dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood but with a large minority of Salafis.  The Sufis of Egypt—who have an ancient presence there and may number between 7-10 million[48]–are not (yet) experiencing the sort of persecution and pressure that has manifested in other North African states, but in June 2012 the Shakyk Zuwayed Mausoleum in North Sinai was completely destroyed in a third attack, which the Sufis blamed on Salafis.[49]  And some analysts believe that Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula is a new jihadist haven, posing a threat not just to Sufis but to Israel,[50] in the form of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (“Defenders of Jerusalem”), the members of which are both Sinai Bedouin and Egyptians from the Nile Delta region.

            Even in Sudan, which has had a large Sufi presence for centuries, there have been violent clashes between the Salafi Ansar al-Sunnah and Sufis, most notably on the occasion of the latter celebrating Muhammad’s birthday.[51] Despite the fact that Sudan has an Islamist government—the National Islamic Front, a more severe version of the Muslim Brotherhood, akin to Salafi, in fact—the Sufis have fought back against Ansar al-Sunnah, throwing stones and even burning their meeting tents.

            Out of Africa, two major salients of Salafi intransigence are South Asia and the Caucasus. In Pakistan, where 17%[52] of the 191 million population[53] identifies with a Sufi order, the South Asian version of Salafis—known as Deobandis—are often not just opposed to, but engaged in shootings and assassinations of, the main Sufi group, the Barelvis.[54]  And in the Muslim-majority Caucasus regions of Dagestan as well as Tatarstan, Sufi shaykhs are being attacked and assassinated because of their outspoken opposition to Salafism.[55]

            In order to understand Sufism well enough to assess which of its many variants might be suitable for working with as an “antidote” (or perhaps “vaccine”) for Salafism, it is necessary to examine in some detail the range of Sufi dissemination, organization and doctrines.  It is that to which we now turn.

  1. II.                  The Major Sufi Orders and Relevant Background

Sufism may be a relatively new aspect of Islam for military and intelligence analysts, but it has for centuries been a favorite topic of Western, especially European, scholars.[56] The extensive corpus of writing on Sufism and its myriad tariqat/turuq (“orders”) contains much on Sufi doctrines and mystical practices that is frankly superfluous to the purpose at hand.  Accordingly, this section will plumb more relevant information, such as which orders are located where and whether they have a history of jihadist violence, or are historically more prone to quietism and peaceful articulation of Islamic beliefs. In addition, since herein the target areas of Sufi-Salafi conflict are all African,[57] the Sufis of Mali, Nigeria, Libya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan will be the focus.  A final preliminary word on the differences between Sufi orders: they are not of the same magnitude as, say, those between different sects of Islam (Sunni and the various Shi`i subsects) or even between the four major interpretive schools of Sunni Islamic law (Hanafi, Hanbali, Shafi`i, Maliki).[58] But they are real, nonetheless, and while all Sufis do share certain basic mystical proclivities[59] there are discernible, and sometimes quite important, variations between orders which could very well impinge on whether any particular order and its members might oppose Salafis—and if so, to what degree.  So in discussing, much more so in approaching and working with, Sufis it is incumbent upon the interlocutor to know WHICH Sufis one is dealing with, and what their positions are on certain issues (which, yes, will often include their beliefs and doctrines—there is no way of getting around that inconvenient truth).  And that is possible only if one grasps at least the rough outlines of Sufi history.

Besides the aforementioned Sufi doctrinal and worship practice disputes with Salafis, Wahhabis and Deobandis,[60] the aspect of Sufi history most relevant to the issue at hand is that for almost half a millennium (the 16th through the early 20th century),  the main source of revolutionary resistance ideology in the Islamic world was Sufism.[61] And these mystical jihads were fought not just against encroaching Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish, British and French forces—but against Islamic rulers deemed insufficiently pious (“secular”) or even heretical; for example, in 19th century India the Naqshabandiyah Sufis fought not only against the British but against the Muslim Mughal Empire. The following map,[62] while hyperbolic and overly pro-Naqshbandi, gives some idea of this phenomenon:

The Naqshbandi-Mujaddadi order, originally of Tajikistan and quite popular in the Middle Ages among both the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks and later in the Indian subcontinent,[63] was perhaps the jihadist Sufi order par excellence in the Islamic heartlands—and not just in the past, either, as Naqshbandis took up arms against US forces during our post-Saddam occupation of Iraq.[64]  But in Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries, jihad was waged extensively by certain leaders and members of other Sufi orders: the Qadiriyah, Tijaniyah, Sanusiyah, Khatmiyah and Salihiyah, to name but the most prominent.[65]  Prominent in sub-Saharan western Africa  were jihadist leaders such as: al-Hajj Umar (d. 1864), a jihadist who deemed himself “charged with the duty to impose…perfection on the imperfect Islam of the Sudan”[66] and thus led the creation of a Sufi Jihad state in what is now Mali and Mauritania; Maba Diakhou (d. 1867),  who fomented his own jihad in Gambia; Shaykh Amadu Ba or Cheikhou (d. 1875), who preached and led jihad against the “infidel” French in Mali; and al-Hajj Muhammad al-Amin (d. 1887), leader of Islamic holy war against impious Muslims and the French in what is now Senegal and Mali.[67] All four of these men were members of the Tijaniyah order.  However, their “jihads…were intellectual as well as military movements….,”[68] aimed not just at military conquest but at revitalizing Islamic society by reviving the ostensibly “correct” doctrines and practices of the Islamic prophet’s time.

            Outside of west Africa, there were two major Sufi-led jihads in the early 20th century.  In what is now Libya, the Sanusi order based in the eastern (Cyrenaica) and southern (Fezzan) regions of that country fought a guerrilla war between 1923 and 1937 against the occupying Italians, led for many years by one Umar al-Mukhtar (d. 1931).[69] And in the east African Horn, a Salihi Sufi shaykh, Muhammad b. Abd Allah Hassan (d. 1920),  preached and led a jihad against the colonial occupiers (mainly British, but also Italian) from the late 1890s until his death.[70]

 Two other African Sufi jihadist leaders of the 19th century towered over all these others: Muhammad Ahmad (d. 1885) of Sudan, the self-styled Mahdi[71]—eschatological “rightly-guided one” who will create Islamic rule over the entire planet, according to Muslim beliefs—and Usman don Fodio (d. 1817) of what is now Nigeria, creator of the Sufi-based Sokoto Caliphate which encompassed modern day northern Nigeria and Cameroon.   Muhammad Ahmad was a Sammani Sufi who, by 1880-81, was convinced by dreams and visions that he himself was the Mahdi, whereupon he led not just a pan-Sufi but an apocalyptic jihad against the occupying Ottoman Egyptians and their allies the British, defeating them and establishing a jihad state that included most of modern Sudan and part of Ethiopia and that would last until 1898 (although “the Mahdi” died, probably of malaria, in 1885).  On the other side of the African continent, Shaykh don Fodio was a member of three Sufi orders—Qadiriyah, Khalwatiyah and Shadhaliyah—and led an ultimately successful Hausa[72] jihad against other Muslims and ethnolinguistic groups of that West African region, resulting in the creation of the Sokoto Caliphate.[73] Unlike Muhammad Ahmad, Shaykh don Fodio claimed not the Mahdiyah but rather merely the office of mujaddid (a“renewer” of Islam predicted in some Islamic hadiths to come every century)—this despite the fact that belief in such a renewer clearly had end-of-time overtones.[74] 

Thus between ~1850 and 1920, the African region encompassing the target countries of this study—Mali, Nigeria, Libya, Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan—witnessed at least eight major Sufi-led jihads, proving the vacuuity of the conventional wisdom which claims Sufism is inveterately peaceful and quietist.  (Note that while Egypt is the lone exception, it was intimately involved in the Sudanese Mahdism affair, not least because Muhammad Ahmad declared more than once his designs on Egypt and the Mahdists periodically raided north.[75]) Five of the eight—al-Hajj Umar, Maba Diakhou, al-Hajj Muhammad al-Amin, Shaykh Don Fodio and the Sudanese Mahdi—directed their ire in whole or in part against other Muslims.  So an Islamic African tradition of Sufis engaging in both literal and rhetorical combat against co-religionists has deep roots.  To this day many Africans in general, and Sufis in particular, are quite aware of this Sufi oppositional history.

No one knows how many Sufis, or Sufi orders, there are today in the Islamic world—although “millions” and “hundreds” are good ballpark estimates, respectively.  And no global map of Sufism and Sufi orders exists—unlike the Sunni v. Shi`i population concentrations, for example. However, some reasonable extrapolation can be made using the aforementioned Pew data,[76] which surveyed Muslims in 38 different countries as to whether they belong to a Sufi order.  The overall average for these 38 was 18.7%, which comes out to about 300 million Muslims who say they are Sufi in some fashion. This includes Egypt, where 9% of the population identifies as such.  But for the 15 sub-Saharan African countries surveyed, the Sufi numbers are much greater—some 35.6% of their populations say they “belong to a Sufi order,” ranging from a high of 92% in Senegal to a low of 8% in Mali.  Two other nations currently at issue, Nigeria and Ethiopia, register 37% and 18% Sufi, respectively—meaning about 56 million Nigerians[77] and 16 million Ethiopians[78] are Sufis.  Certainly, these numbers indicate that in Nigeria, Ethiopia and Egypt Sufis are, or should be, “a force we can do business with.”[79] Even Mali’s 1.2 million or so Sufis could prove a valuable counterweight to the likes of Ansar al-Din.  And while no quantitative data exists for Sufi numbers in Libya and Sudan, reliable qualitative information from historical sources clearly shows that Sufi orders have been hugely influential in both those countries, and could very well be again, especially considering that both the Libyan Sufis and the Sudanese ones were famed and loved for their wars against, respectively, Italian colonial occupiers and Ottoman/British ones—legacies and martial proclivities which could be deployed against Salafis (if they aren’t being so already).  

Mali’s Sufi orders include the Qadiriyah,[80] its offshoot the Mukhtariya,[81] and the Hamalliyah[82] branch of the famous Tijaniyah.[83] Even today, despite Mali’s aforementioned rather low percentage of actual Sufi population, “certain practices tied to Sufism, Sufi orders and their leaders, including the veneration of certain persons with reputations as saints and the use of the Islamic esoteric sciences…remain central to what it means to be Muslim for many Malian Muslims”[84]—as the newly-regnant Salafi/AQIM-affiliated Ansar al-Din is finding out there.  Mali is striking because traditional Sufism is taking on new forms there: on the one hand, leaders like Cheick (“Shaykh”) Soufi Bilal are syncretistically blending older Qadiri and Tijani forms and practices and using modern marketing to promote them;[85] even more novel, Sufis like Adama Yalcouye who “calls himself a Sufi” but “is not a member of any Sufi order”[86] preaches a “strict moral code of conduct” and “calls for the unity of all people—Muslims, Christians and other non-Muslims.”[87]  Both of these neo-Sufi leaders in Mali are avowedly apolitical,[88] but it is quite safe to assume that neither would be looked upon kindly by Salafis.

Nigeria likewise has long had a sizable Qadiri[89] and Tijani presence, as well as two major Tijani sub-orders: the Salgwa[90] and the even larger and more imporant Niassiyya.[91] Post-World War II the Qadiri and Tijani orders to a large extent transformed into mass movements, and “Sufi networks [became] conveyor belts of political activity, especially voter registration.”[92]  Also, a fused Tijani-Nasiri[93] network was created by Shaykh Ibrahim Salih of Maiguguiri (Borno) and came to extend across not just northern Nigeria but parts of Chad, Central African Republic, and eastward to the country of Sudan.  Nigeria’s Qadiriyah, from the 1980s, led the struggle against the anti-Sufi Yan Izala,[94] the first real Salafi threat to them there.  Sectarian strife in Nigeria has thus gone through three major phases: the aforementioned Sufi jihad of Shaykh Don Fodio; a subsequent period of Qadiri v. Tijani struggle that lasted until independence from Britain in 1960; and the modern period of Sufism v. Salafism that kicked off with Yan Izala’s emergence in the 1980s,[95]  in which the formerly-feuding Tijanis and Qadiris largely buried their differences in the face of the Salafi threat.  Sectarian disputes in Nigeria, post-Sokoto Caliphate and up to modern times, have often taken place in polemics about Islamic doctrines[96]—although these have sometimes led to violent literal clashes as epitomized today by the attacks of the neo-Salafi Boko Haram on allegedly-miscreant Muslims such as Sufis (when they are not blowing up Christian churches).

Libya is almost exclusively the province of the Sanusiyah,[97] and in fact when Libya was created as a separate nation after World War II the head of the order, Sayyid Muhammad Idris b. Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Sanusi (d. 1983), was made king, in large measure because of the order’s cachet stemming from its long battles against Italian occupation, 1923-37—and ruled until al-Qadhafi’s military coup in 1969.   The Sanusis were pan-Islamists and supporters, in general, of the Ottomans—although they did favor a non-Turkish, preferably Arab/Berber caliph (probably someone much like the head of the Sanusi order).  After he came to power in 1969 Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhdhafi [Qadhafi] repressed the Sanusis as well as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists in the name of his heterodox, self-indulgent “Green Book” and its quasi-socialist teachings. But shortly before his ouster and death in 2011, Libya’s dictator was espousing Sufism and in fact hosting pro-Sufi conferences (as he did in February 2011)—hoping thereby, most likely, to succor favor among Libya’s populace and undermine the growing Salafi/MB influence. However, as noted above, since Qadhafi’s overthrow Sufi sites in Libya have been attacked.

Somalia[98] has long been home to not just the ubiquitous Qadiris and the Idrisiyah[99] but also the Salihiyah[100] and the Ahmadiyah,[101] both of which by the late 19th/early 20th century overshadowed the older Qadiriyah there. The Salihiyah in particular, much like the Sanusis in Libya, are famous for fighting colonial (British and, to a lesser extent, Italian) occupation under the leadership of the so-called “Mad Mullah,” Muhammad Abdille Hassan (d. 1920)—although Hassan also detested the Qadiryah and even ordered the assassination of one of their leaders.[102] Ultimately, Muhammad Hassan’s “impact on the Somali was essentially political rather than religious”[103] quite likely because his teachings stemmed in large part from Wahhabi Salafism, which he imbibed on hajj in 1886: [104] besides opposing Christian (British and Italian) incursions, Hassan preached against tea, coffee and qat, as well as lax Islam; he also advocated “rebellion against instituted authority.”[105]   In these latter areas Hassan’s “Dervishes” are comparable to the Sudanese Mahdists and Don Fodio’s jihadists, as well as the Wahhabis.[106]

Several of the same Sufi orders are extant in Ethiopia as in Sudan:[107] the Tijaniyah, Mirghaniyah (or, sometimes, Khatmiyah in Sudan[108]), Sammaniyah,[109] Shadhiliyah[110] and Madjhubiyah.[111]  Sudan also has at least one order unique to it: the Isma’iliyah.[112] Strangely, Qadiris are present in Ethiopia but not in Sudan, however.  And, as mentioned previously, a 20th century-created order, the Ahbash[iyah], is also influential in Ethiopia.  Interestingly, and relevantly, after Muhammad Ahmad’s followers brought him to power in 1880s Sudan, he “began to lay emphasis on the ideas of the Salafiyya movement.  He abolished the madhhabs [interpretive schools of Islamic law] and called for a return to the origins (usul) of the faith, the Quran and the sunna, as the basis of the Islamic community.”[113] And the Sudanese Mahdi went even further; although himself an ardent Sufi, he ordered the dismantling of all Sufi orders in Sudan (and those parts of Ethiopia he ruled).[114] 

As for Egypt, the question is not really which orders exist there, as which ones do not—so intertwined is the history of Egypt with Islamic mystical orders.  The largest Arab nation is home (at a minimum) to the following orders:[115] Arusiyah, Azmiyah, Badawiyah, Baziyah, Habibiyah, Hamidiyah, Hanifiyah, Hasihmiyah, Idrisyah, Jawhariyah, Khalwatiyah[116] as well as its offshoot the Bakriyah,[117]Makiyah, Mawlawiyah’s “Whirling Dervishes,”[118] Muhammadiyah, Qadimiyah, Qawuqiyah, Rifa`iyah,[119] Sabtiyah, Shaibaniyah, Shadhiliyah, Sha`raniyah (or Sha`rawiyah), and Wafa`iyah-Shunbukiyah.   In modern Egypt[120] the most influential orders—at least as measured by such metrics as membership by professionals, perceived integrity and personal piety—are the Rifa`iyah, Badawiyah and Shadhaliyah. There are also regional variations, with different orders popular in, for example, Cairo and Alexandria.  “In all, the members of Sufi orders outnumber the members of Egyptian political parties. Some researchers estimate membership of Sufi orders at 10 million….”[121]  (This figure is higher than Pew’s aforementioned 9% Sufi population of Egypt, which would mean some 7.38 million—assuming a population of 80 million that is 90% Muslim.  It is considerably lower, however, than other estimates, which peg Egypt’s Sufis at 20% of the Muslims.[122])  Whatever the number of Sufis, it is certain that “Egypt’s Islamic religious establishment is strongly Sufi in character” and that, since Mubarak’s ouster, Sufis “identify with the [this] state-controlled religious establishment and are driven by a consuming fear of Salafis and Islamists in general.”[123]  In Egypt in recent decades “Sufism is appealing to many because it is tolerant, in a society in which religious loyalties are increasingly expressed as intolerance and even violence.”[124]

Who are these Salafis that oppose, and even strike fear into the hearts of, Islam’s Sufis?

  1. III.                Salafism: Relevant Historical Background

As noted earlier, one of the major bones of contention between Sufis and Salafis is

Qur’anic exegesis, or interpretation, and the degree to which Muslims can—if at all—utilize ta’wil, esoteric or non-literal readings of Qur’anic verses.[125]  Many, if not most (albeit not all) Salafis dislike this, and prefer instead following taqlid: “imitation” of previously-determined interpretations. Salafi clerics thus insist on reading the Islamic scriptures solely through a zahiri, “surface” or “literatlist” lens; many Sufis, on the other hand, allow and even encourage ascertaining the batini, “inward” or “esoteric” meaning.  (Sufis are joined in this by—rather ironically—Twelver Shi`is and many members of Islamic sects such as Alevis, Druze, and Isma’ilis, or Sevener Shi`is.)            

            This matters because Qur’anic interpretation directly affects how the violent passages of the Qur’an are understood and deployed.[126] For example, there are two passages in the Qur’an than enjoin beheading of unbelievers: Sura Muhammad [XLVII]:3ff, “when you encounter the unbelievers on the battlefield, strike off their heads;” and Sura al-Anfal [VIII]:12ff, “I [Allah] will strike dread into the hearts of the unbelievers.  Strike off their heads, then….” No Muslim cleric—Sunni or otherwise—has ever, to date, explicated those passages to mean anything other than what the text literally says.[127]   Likewise, the predominant Sunni (and Salafi) exegetical view is a literalist one of the Qur’anic ayas, “verses,” that promote violence against non-Muslims,[128] violence against women,[129] and afterlife rewards for dying as a shahid, “ martyr”[130]—primarily because mainstream Sunni Islam has never developed an exegetical paradigm which allows for allegorical, historical-critical, or any of the other myriad of hermeneutical—interpretive—approaches that have long been applied to the Bible by both Jews and Christians.[131]  Thus, a Sunni Muslim is unable, and a Salafi unwilling, to explain away the aforementioned beheading directives as only applicable in Muhammad’s time, or mandating only rhetorical decapitation. The only choices, according to Salafism, are either total, literalist acceptance of the Qur’an—or total rejection of it.[132]  By contrast, a Christian reading, for example, Luke 10:19—wherein Jesus grants the 72 Disciples power over snakes, scorpions and evil spirits—has a centuries-long tradition of non-literalist understanding of that text to call upon (although there are some few churches which still take it literally[133]).   Furthermore, apparently peaceful passages in the Qur’an are often deemed superseded by those parts allegedly revealed to Muhammad later in time, under the millennium-old doctrine of naskh, “abrogation.”[134]  Thus, in the paradigmatic example, Sura al-Tawbah [IX]:5, “when the sacred months have passed, kill…capture…besiege…ambush the polytheists[135] wherever you find them,” supplants chronologically-earlier verses revealed to Muhammad advising being friends with Christians, etc.   Both of these hermeneutical imperatives in Sunni Islam—taqlid and naskh—empower the Salafis in their dual quest to present themselves as “true” Muslims and to impose strict interpretations of shari`ah law.  The Salafis, in effect treat the Qur’an as a wooden legal document—whereas the Sufis deal with it more spiritually[136] and tend to see their opponents as representative of mere “power-seeking Islam.”[137]

            It should be noted that the politicization of Qur’anic exegesis is not a development of modern times,[138] but rather has existed since the text of Islam’s holy book was first redacted.[139]  The Sunni dynasty of the Umayyads cherry-picked certain texts, and practiced tendentious interpretation, to support their reign over against the shi`at Ali, “faction of Ali”—the early Shi`is.  The same was done by the Abbasid dynasty, which supplanted the Umayyads in the 8th c. AD, as well as the Sunni Ottomans vis-à-vis the Twelver Shi`i Safavids of Iran, 16th-18th centuries.   Likewise, Saddam Hussein and Ayatollah Khomeini practiced dueling exegesis—or at least their minions did—via competing fatwas over who was truly descended from Muhammad.  In fact, “Qur’anic exegesis has become point-scoring.  By quoting a well-known exegete, you can back up your politico-religious standpoint.”[140]  One major position held by a majority of both mainstream (Sunni and even Shi`i) and Salafi exegetes is the punishment for al-riddah, “apostasy” from Islam. Maliki, Shafi`i, Hanbali and Twelve Shi`i interpreters of Sura al-Ma’idah [V]:54[141] have long since deemed the punishment for converting out of Islam to be death—a position shared (sometimes gleefully, it seems) by Salafis and their ilk.  Only the Hanafis disagree, holding the position that “the punishment for apostasy can be delivered by God alone in the hereafter.”[142]  Likewise for the rather important issue of jihad: all the Sunni exegetical schools, as well as the Twelver Shi`i one, understand the relevant verses of the Qur’an as mandating jihad to be a fard kifayah, “communal duty,” that can be carried out by duly-appointed Muslim representatives (the caliphal army, for example); or a fard `ayn, “individual duty,” which is “incumbent upon every individual mature Muslim and…a sin if a Muslim does not take part in it.”[143]  Some Sufi orders are fond of reading the Qur’anic “sword” verses through the prism of a hadith (alleged utterance of Muhammad, outside the Qur’anic revelation) in which the founder of Islam differentiated between the “greater” jihad (struggle against one’s own sins) and the “lesser” one (holy war).   This idea still holds sway among some Sufis, despite having two strikes against it: its absence from any of the six authoritative hadith collections, and its ranking, even in the one where it does appear, as suspect in terms of historical legitimacy.[144] 

            One of the major opponents of the idea of “greater jihad” being personal Muslim striving for piety and purification, and a proponent rather that it means primarily taking up the sword against non-Muslims, was the influential Sunni cleric Taqi al-Din Ahmad b. Taymiyah (d. 1328 AD), or Ibn Taymiyah—the intellectual godfather of modern Salafism, as his views were taken up, recast and eventually disseminated by the aforementioned Ibn Abd al-Wahhab and the Saudi Wahhabis.[145]  While all Salafis are not Wahhabis, it is safe to say that all Wahhabis are Salafis.  As noted earlier (p.3), Salafism is the attempt to practice Islam in what is believed to be the same fashion as was done in Muhammad’s time by the Islamic “ancestors”—the Islamic version, if you will, of those fundamentalist Christians (usually Protestant) who belong to “Apostolic” or “Primitive” churches.  As such, it is not so much as modern innovation in Islam as a re-pietization movement that wishes to institute rather puritanical Islamic norms, binding on all Muslims (and, via imposition of the dhimmah system, on non-Muslims—particularly Jews and Christians—as well).   The early Islamic community, under Muhammad and then the first caliphs, was clearly a theocracy of sorts, in which very little, if any, distinction was made between religion and politics.[146]  A few centuries after Muhammad lived Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 855 AD), founder of the Hanbali school of interpretation and deemed perhaps the greatest Sunni theologian ever, who over against the Islamic rationalists[147] “denied that the Qur’an was created and affirmed the transcendent authority of the written word” for whom “the Caliph was merely the executor of the Islamic community,” subservient in matters of Islamic law to the scholars and clerics.[148]

Some four centuries later these proto-Salafi views would be re-articulated and disseminated by Ibn Taymiyah (who lived in Damascus, then Cairo: “his [Ibn Taymiyah’s] whole endeavor was designed to cleanse Islam of the dross accumulated during centuries of decline: in theology (toward a more literal…perception of the deity…as against pantheistic mystics); in matters of ritual (against pilgrimages….); as well as in legal affairs (stricter application of the Shari`a….This brought him into collision, above all, with the religious establishment—rationalistic theologians, lax judges, Sufis and dervishes….”[149] But while it is true that “[n]ever did Ibn Taymiyya challenge the legitimacy of any particular sultan,”[150] it is clearly the case that he considered as murtadun (“apostates”) those rulers who called themselves Muslim but failed to uphold shari`ah, contravened Islamic teachings on non-Muslims (by not enforcing the second-class citizenship for Jews and Muslims required under dhimmah rubrics) and, most of all, neglected jihad as holy war.[151]  Likewise, while “he never condemned Sufism in itself,” Ibn Taymiyah nonetheless portrayed Islamic mysticism as ipso facto beyond the pale because of what he saw as “inadmissible deviations in doctrine, ritual or morals.”[152]  Regarding Qur’anic interpretation, Ibn Taymiyah did in theory allow for ijtihad, or “independent judgement,”—but in practice his insistence on the “absolute supremacy” of the Qur’anic or Hadith text[153] meant that a literalist reading of those sources would be binding.  The role of the Islamic state, according to Ibn Taymiyah, is to follow such a reading in enforcing Islam because “without the coercive power…of the State, religion is in danger.”[154]  It is impossible to overestimate just how influential Ibn Taymiyah remains, almost 700 years after his death; in fact, he’s very likely one of the three most important thinkers in Islamic history (after Muhammad).[155] 

            Ibn Taymiyah’s major concepts—opposition to impious rulers; fusion of mosque and state; state enforcement of shari`ah; Qur’anic (and Hadith) literalism; anti-Sufism; and militant jihad—were influential but rarely state policy for the next four centuries.  That changed with the founder of Wahhabism, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab who, from central Arabia beginning in the mid-18th century, resurrected Ibn Taymiyah’s critique of the ummah, and “asserted that the overwhelming majority of Muslims…in the whole Muslim world, had fallen into state of religious ignorance”[156] which could only be rectified by a reassertion and recommitment to tawhid, the “unity” of Allah “as laid down in the Qur’an without interpretation.”[157]  Tawhid was vitiated by unislamic practices, which he deemed abda` (singular bid`a), “innovations,” such as almost anything done by the Sufis, as well as by Ottoman Turks (the rulers of Arabia at the time), like alchohol and hukkah tobacco smoking.  Eventually al-Wahhab gained the support of the ruler of Najd, Muhammad b. Sa`ud (d. 1765), and was put in charge of religious instruction there.  After al-Wahhab’s death, and into the 19th century, the Saudi state, and Saudi Wahhabi da`wah, “missionary,” activities increased—despite Ottoman opposition, sometimes military—and after World War I the newly-created, peninsular Saudi state made Wahhabism its official Islamic ideology.  Then Wahhabism “went global” after 1979 when, in the wake of the abortive Mahdist revolution that year of Juhayman al-Utaybi and Muhammad al-Qahtani, the Wahhabi clerical establishment demanded, and got, a state commitment to massive funding for, in effect, planetary Wahhabi da`wah.[158] 

            The biggest influences on modern non-jihadist Salafism are both 20th century Egyptian Islamic thinkers: the founder of al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin, the “Muslim Brotherhood [MB][159],” Hassan al-Banna (d. 1949); and the modern MB “martyr,” Sayyid Qutb (d. 1966).

            The former was an “inclusive Fundamentalist” who wanted to rehabilitate society from within by making it more Islamic and accepted the theoretical possibility of reconciling Islamic and Western political theory….His ideological offspring was Qutb, an “exclusive Fundamentalist,” who wished to overthrow society and create an Islamic state; he rejected the coexistence of Islam with Western ideas like multiparty democracy. Al-Banna was assassinated and Qutb was executed by the Egyptian government….[160]

            In essence, the modern Muslim Brotherhood—particularly in its current ruling form in Egypt—seems to adhere more closely to al-Banna’s idea that Islam and democracy are compatible, while the Salafis (in Egypt and elsewhere) are devotees of Qutb’s concept of hakimiyah, “rulership” or “dominion” of Allah alone—over against which Qutb, borrowing from Ibn Taymiyah, set jahiliyah—literally the pre-Islamic period of “ignorance” that Qutb now posited as regnant wherever Islamic law is not paramount.[161]   

                        Finally, jihadist Salafis have been greatly influenced by Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi,[162] born in the West Bank in 1959; while before him “Salafism had mostly been a quietist version of Islam whose adherents were subservient to their rulers, al-Maqdisi used the tools that Salafism offered him against those very same rulers. This way, he turned the seemingly obedient Salafi ideology upside-down and revolutionised it.”[163]  Usama bin Ladin, Anwar al-Awlaki and Ayman al-Zawahiri have really only fine-tuned this approach, most notably in their zeal for attacking the “far enemy” (mainly the “Crusader” US, the font of all the ummah’s problems) rather than the “near” one (faux Muslim rulers).[164] 

                        In sum, the differences between the Wahhabis, MB and Salafis are largely ones of degree, not kind.   In varying degrees, all three support Ibn Taymiyah’s agenda:

1)      Opposition to impious (insufficiently Muslim) rulers

2)      Islamic polities, leading eventually to a re-established caliphate.

3)      State enforcement of shari`ah

4)      Qur’anic (and Hadith) literalism

5)      Jihad as holy war as well as personal piety

6)      Distate for Sufism, often presented as a Wahhabi-esque obsession with tawhid.

Wahhabis tend to be seen as intimately tied to the Saudi regime, and thus corrupt—giving Wahhabism per se the cachet of a general Arab, and specifically tribal Saudi, movement for many (but certainly not all) non-Arab Muslims.  The transnational MB, while also Arab, nevertheless manifests a wider range of attitudes and is partly for that reason seen as more pluralistic and cosmopolitan:  striving for an Islamic brand of democracy (albeit with shari`ah overtones),  which shades into Salafism on the peaceful side of the spectrum while, on the other, remains clearly distinguishable from those Salafis who support (and engage in) militant jihad against non-Muslims and “apostate” Muslims (Sufi and otherwise), as well as call for implementation of harsher shari`ah punishments. (Thus, those commentators who describe the MB as “terrorist” clearly do not know what they’re talking about.) Salafis sometimes deride MB members for putting politics ahead of Islam; the latter return the favor by pointing out that a narrow focus on religion is naïve and ineffective.

            The Salafi situation in Africa is even more complicated.[165]  Despite a paucity of empirical data on numbers, Africa is rife with Islamist/Salafist organization; yet, at the same time, “probably an overwhelming majority of sub-Saharan Africans are still Sufis”[166]—many of whom, in colonial times, cooperated with colonial authorities, a point which Salafis make to their advantage in places like Nigeria.  In fact, West Africa in general and Nigeria and Mali in particular have been remarkably receptive to Wahhabi-Salafi da`wah,[167] disseminated by students returning from the hajj and/or from studying in KSA.[168]   Salafism is seen as something new, exciting and part of the larger Muslim world, in contradistinction to Sufism, which because of its long history in Africa is often deemed parochial and “old school”—albeit still worthy of respect.  A major strength of the Islamist Salafis is  their organizational ability, rivalling (or even surpassing) that of the African Sufi orders and—ironically—often modeled on Christian missionary organizations and which work independently (and are thus often opposed to the official state-sponsored organs, such as Nigeria’s Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, which are heavily-Sufi-staffed).[169]  Salafis are also often seen as very pious, unlike wealthy, polygamous Sufi shaykhs; and they are also often highly-educated laymen, again quite in contrast to the traditional Sufi clerics of sub-Saharan Africa.  And they feel no qualms about using Western-style mass media, another drawing card for them.  Salafi knowledge of Arabic also helps African Muslims tap into the wider Islamic world, even as it undercuts the Sufis’ influence and cachet. [170]  However, the support that some Salafis receive from KSA creates some doubts among African Muslims, because the Wahhabis are seen as too conservative, and the Kingdom’s ties to the US are also suspect.[171]  Likewise, the historical memory of Arab involvement in the slave trade sometimes tamps down pro-Salafi fervor and reminds many Africans, particularly in West and East Africa, that “Sufism counteracted [such] Arab dominance and racialism.”[172]  In response to the Salafi encroachment, indigenous Sufis started forming pan-Sufi organizations, like, in Nigeria, Usmanyiyah (composed of Qadiris and Tijani) and Fityan al-Islam (made up of Sufi youth from several orders). As a general rule in sub-Saharan, particularly West, Africa, the Salafis are seen as more modernizing, while the Sufis are deemed more conservative.[173]  Such “Purist Salafism in the Sahel and the Maghreb [sic] as a whole stems from the eastern Salafist movement, especially the movement of Imam Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab and its different branches, influenced by…Ibn Taymiyyah….It is still difficult to determine whether [this] Purist Salafism represents a marginal ‘backyard’ of extremism, or the primary branch of increasingly combatant organisations.  It is likewise difficult[174] to detach theologically based Salafist thought from the…justifications for Islamist militants’ attacks.”[175]

            Egypt, of course, is the modern wellspring of Salafi and MB thought and influence in Africa (and elsewhere)[176]  and, considering the high proportion of Sufi orders in that country, it should come as no surprise that Salafis and Sufis have clashed there—intellectually, rhetorically and, at times, even literally.  Even a century ago, the great and powerful Egyptian Islamic reformer Muhammad Abdud (d. 1905), who was for a time rector of al-Azhar (Sunni Islam’s highest institution of learning), criticized the Sufis and their pursuit of ilham, direct “inspiration” from Allah.[177]  Abduh was counter-attacked by some Sufi shaykhs for being a “Wahhabi,” although it was not until the eve of World War I that Wahhabism “became the most important challenge facing Sufism.”[178]  Between the world wars Abduh’s student Rashid Rida (d. 1935), although himself a Naqshbandi, was a formidable critic of Sufism in Egypt[179]—although he was careful to attack only what he called “false Sufism:” for example, the Tijani claim that some of their prayers, having been imparted to their founder in a dream, were more effective for salvation than the normal Muslim ones.  Rida famously and caustically observed, regarding Sufis, that “if you see a man flying, do not place any confidence in him until you know whether or not he obeys the Shari`ah.”[180]

After World War II King Faruq appointed a non-Sufi (and in fact a former student of Abduh’s) as chief shaykh of the Sufi orders in Egypt, and the king’s man, Ahmad al-Sawi, set about reforming Sufism in Egypt.[181]  The Council created to oversee this reform process was dominated by MB members, and in 1952 the head of the MB “Hasan Isma’il al-Hudaybi, declared that the Council  had presented proposals to the Ministry of the Interior concerning a general prohibition of the Sufi orders in Egypt,” which needless to say “brought about the most acute confrontation between the Sufis orders and the Brothers….”[182]  The mufti (chief religious authority) of Egypt “issued a fatwa in favor of the Sufi orders” and the Revolutionary Government—which deposed  King Faruq in 1953—dissolved this Council, right before banning the MB in 1954.[183]  Starting in 1955 the Revolutionary Government became “aware of the use that could be made of mystical Islam and of the administrative organization of the Sufi orders to combat the opposition inspired by the Brothers as well as to strengthen and widen its own base of support….”[184]—thus kicking off a period of official Revolutionary Government support for Sufism, in the form of funded conferences, Sufi publications, and public Sufi ceremonies, etc.[185]  This  regime support for mystical Islam continued through the ascendancy of the famous Arab Socialist leader Jamal Abd al-Nasir [Nasser] and continued under his successsor Anwar al-Sadat[186] (who was assassinated in 1981)—a “situation which contributed to the growing cleavage between mystical [Sufi] and anti-mystical [Salafi/MB] Islam in Egypt from the nineteen-seventies onwards.”[187]  However, under the rule of Hosni Mubarak (1981-2011), “the involvement of Sufi orders in political life was limited, as they were encouraged by their leaders to remain apolitical and non-confrontational toward the regime.”[188]  With Mubarak’s removal from power, that has changed (again) as Sufis, in reaction to the political power of MB and, in particular, Salafis, have re-entered the public square through entities such as the pan-Sufi Hizb al-Tahrir al-Misri, “Party of Egyptian Liberation.”HTM has even publicly denounced Salafis for their destruction of Sufi shrines in Egypt. The founder of HTM is the head of the Azmiya order in Egypt, Muhammad Ala al-Dine Abu al-Zayem, who “has often been critical of the stances of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist movements vis-à-vis other religious communities, including Christians and Muslim minorities.”  The current chair of HTM is a layman, Ibrahim Zahran, “an international expert on petroleum and natural gas” and “a strong opponent of Egyptian gas exports to Israel.”[189]  HTM was a resounding failure in the latest elections in Egypt, however, as the Freedom and Justice Party—a front for the MB—took 38% of the Majlis seats, while the allied al-Nour Party—that of the Salafis—took another 28%.  And of course the MB candidate, Muhammad Morsi, was elected President.  As long as the MB and the Salafis remain the dominant political ideology in Egypt, Salafism will appeal to many in Africa because of Egypt’s cachet on the continent.  But Egypt is also, as noted, a bastion of Sufism.

While in Egypt the battles between Salafism and Sufism are largely still rhetorical, in Mali there is a full-fledged civil war which, currently, Salafis were winning—at least in the northern and eastern 2/3 of the country—until the French intervened with some 4,000 soldiers in February, 2013, effectively halting the Salafi-al-Qa`idah advance.  Although France is now (April 2013) beginning to withdraw its forces,[190] Mali remains effectively partitioned between Salafists, led by Iyad ag Ghali’s Ansar al-Din,  and the provisional government of President Traore, who (for now) has the backing of the Malian military and the French in Bamako.   Ansar al-Din, along with the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa and AQIM,[191]  effectively hijacked the Tuareg nationalist-separatist National Movement for the Liberation of Azwad and has begun imposing strict Salafi strictures, including limb amputations for theft,[192]  on large swathes of Mali.[193] 

Also active in Mali are the following militant Salafist organizations: the Algerian-based GSPC (Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat); the “Masked Battalion;” the al-Furqan Squadron; and the Tariq b. Ziyad Battalion, “the most fundamentalist and radical.”[194] However, over against these militant Salafists stands there is another group called Ansar al-Din, which is decidedly non-Salafi and Sufi, headed by the respected cleric Shaykh Ousmane Madani Haidara[195]—who even has a Facebook page! 

            Nigeria of course is home to the über-Salafi Boko Haram [BH] movement, founded by Muhammad Yusuf, “an eccentric and conservative but non-violent imam, who demanded strict adherence to the Koran [sic], rejected Darwinian evolution and taught that the earth is flat.”[196]  He “built up a disciplined sect that provided free food, education and hope to its followers,” only to be attacked by the government—which some see as the reason for BH’s transmogrification into a jihadist group.  Yusuf himself was killed in 2009 and by the next year “[w]hat had started as a religious protest movement turned into a full-blown insurgency,” committed to the imposition of severe shari`ah.  And while there are those who insist that BH is mainly a product of economic inequality,[197] it’s undeniable that BH’s Salafi agenda and aspirations are nothing new in Nigeria—although its level of violence against Christians may be.  All the way back in 1978 a similar organization, Jama`at Izalat al-Bida’ wa-Iqamat al-Sunnah, “Society for the Eradication of Innovation and the Establishment of the Sunnah,” or Yan Izala, was created by the prominent cleric Abubakr Gumi (d. 1992).[198]  While not as extreme as BH—Yan Izala grudgingly approved Western-style education, for example—Yan Izala was puritanical and Qur’an-literalist.  Regarding the populace’s view of such movements, unlike in Mali, it seems that many Nigerian Muslims support the goals, if not the methods, of such Salafi groups—based on data from Pew:[199] 88% say it’s “good” that Islam plays a large role in politics; 48% hold a favorable view of AQ; 58% identify themselves as “fundamentalists,” over against “modernizers (only in Egypt was the percentage self-identifying as part of the former group larger); and regarding crime and punishment, 56% support stoning for adultery, 65% whipping and/or amputation for theft and 51% the death penalty for “apostasy” from Islam.  Thus, the alleged “extremism” of BH might be overblown—it may be that that group accurately reflects the views of a substantial number of Nigerian Muslims.  It seems that in Nigeria, since independence (1960), “Wahhabi [Salafi] influences [have] gradually diminished the power of Sufism,” in contradistinction to another West African nation, Senegal, where “the centrality of Sufism has apparently confined the influence of the Wahhabis to the margins.”[200]  Of course, Senegal’s population is 92% Sufi, while Nigeria’s is only 37%[201] (although, since Nigeria’s Muslim population is some 80 million, and Senegal’s is about 12 million, the real number of Nigerian Sufis is far higher).

            Salafism in Libya[202] has come out of the shadows since al-Qadhafi’s ouster.  The several Islamist groups in the country, both pre- and post-“Arab Spring,” are divided between Salafis willing to work within a democratic system and those who would rather fight than run and vote.  It’s fortunate that “the Salafi trend in Libya, despite being larger in size than the [Libyan] Muslim Brotherhood and the LIFG [Libyan Islamic Fighting Group],[203] suffers from a lack of leadership and organizational structure”[204]—quite unlike the Salafis in neighboring Egypt.[205]  Ansar al-Din does not seem to have existed until after the revolution, although it shares views and methods with militant Salafis in the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL), the Islamic Rally Movement (IRM) and The Martyrs (al-Shuhada’).[206]  Currently in Libya “much of the violence suggests a movement in search of a cause; failing to achieve local resonance, Libyan Salafis have expanded beyond their traditional turf of social issues and are now grasping at foreign causes they believe will excite Libyans’ emotions.”[207]   However, Salafis in Libya seem to have a hard time gaining traction in no small measure because of the long history of Sanusi Sufi influence there, as aforementioned.  And note that the Sanusis in Libya are also seen, quite accurately, as progenitors of Libyan nationalism, in fighting colonialist Italians, as well as supporters of orthodox Islam.  In fact, Sanusi and Wahhabi/Salafi doctrines share enough overlap such that the usual criticisms levied by the latter at the former hardly seem credible in Libya.  For example, Sanusis: adhere closely to the Qur’an alone as interpreted without recourse to the ijma’, “consensus” opinion, of scholars;  reject the more outlandish Sufi orders’ views about direct unity with Allah, opting instead for “spiritual identification with the Prophet Muhammad;” downplay the veneration of saints’ tombs as shrines; and disapprove of music, dancing, singing, tobacco and coffee. [208]  And both Wahhabis/Salafis and Sanusis have been quite political, even jihadist.  Therefore, the usual Salafi censure suspects have tended not to work when directed at Libya’s Sanusi Sufis.

            Salafism in the Horn of Africa—Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia—shares many similarities, albeit with country-specific aspects.[209]  The area’s closer proximity to both the MB center of Egypt, as well as the Wahhabi nexus in KSA, made it more easily penetrated by agents of each.  Sudan’s National Islamic Front is arguably closer, ideologically, to the MB than to the Salafis and, while its leader Hassan al-Turabi has sometime held high political office, Khartoum’s de facto alliance with the Twelver Shi`i Islamic Republic of Iran shows that Sudanese Sunni political Islamists are limited in power and influence.[210]  Also, well over half of Sudan’s people are affiliated with Sufi orders, while perhaps only 10% are involved with Salafism, so although Wahhabism was in Sudan by the 1930s at the latest (in the form of Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhammadiyah [ASM], which still has ties with Riyadh),[211] Sufism proved to be something of a vaccine against its spread.  In recent decades ASM has spun off two other Wahhabi-Salafi groups: Jama`at al-La Jam`ah [JLJ], the “Non-Group Group;” and Ansar al-Sunnah al-Islah [ASI].  The former is dedicated to being apolitical and the rather abstruse topic of eradicating spurious Hadith collections thereof.  The latter is a takfiri[212] organization that criticizes the NIF/MB.  There is also in Sudan a “moderate” Salafi party, the Islamic Centrist Party, which eschews political involvement and yet promoted democracy and women’s rights.  While this group derides the aforementioned as extremists, it itself is seen by many Sudanese as merely “diluted Salafism.”[213]  And over against all these groups there exists jihadist Salafism, largely the product of Usama Bin Ladin’s tenure in the country in the 1990s and the attendant influence of jihadists returning from Afghanistan.  This mode “combine[s] the doctrinal content and approach of Salafism and organisational models from Muslim Brotherhood organisations.”[214]  Jihadist Salafi clerics regularly issue fatwas calling for the death of Hassan al-Turabi, Shi`is, Sadiq al-Mahdi (great-grandson of the Sudanese Mahdi, and head of the Ummah Party) and Communists. 

            Next door to Sudan, MB ideas were first brought to Ethiopia by Shakyh Muhammad Qatiba in the 1940s; after having studied at al-Azhar for many years, he tried to reform some of the more excessive Sufi practices and although he is “today regarded as an icon for the Salafi movement…it would be incorrect to label him a Salafi,” not least because he “never sought to abolish Sufism as such.”[215]  Salafism-Wahhabism actually came to Ethiopia in the early 1960s, with the Saudi establishment of the Muslim World League and the bringing of Ethiopian Muslim students to matriculate at the Islamic University in Medina.  A former student, Shaykh Abubakr Muhammad, returned to Bale, Ethiopia in 1969 and made it his mission in life to “reform” Islam there along Wahhabi lines.[216]  In subsequent years, he has been joined by other like-minded Salafis—although these have not gone uncountered.   Perhaps the most outspoken opponent of Wahhabism and Salafism in Ethiopia is the aforementioned Sufi group al-Ahbash, and in return Salafis there have charged its members with being not just Sufis who practice shirk (“idolatry” or “polytheism”) but crypto-Shi`is (perhaps hoping to exploit the fact that al-Ahbash’s founder lived for many years in Lebanon, a predominantly Shi`i country).  The al-Ahbash are also accused of colluding with the United States. (Much of this debate is carried out on various Internet sites. )  Otherwise, the usual suspects of Salafi-Sufi polemics come into play: createdness/uncreateness of the Qur’an; the issue anthropomorphizing Allah; whether it’s acceptable to visit shrines and tombs; and whether Muslims in non-Muslim-ruled/majority countries should abide by the laws of the “infidels” (al-Ahbash say yes; Wahhabis-Salafis say no).[217]  “The confrontation between the Ahbash and the Wahhabiyya is arguably harsher than the clash between Muslims and non-Muslims. The Ahbash represents a moderate interpretation that developed in countries[218] where Muslims experienced lengthy dialogs with Christians. The Wahhabis developed their puritan concepts in the desert and recently have combined with branches of the Muslim Brothers to reemerge as leaders of transnational fundamentalism.”[219]   And finally, it is worthy of note that Salafi movements in Ethiopia (and Eritrea) are looked down upon as “step-brothers” by the MB and Salafi groups in places like Egypt, because they are operating in a majority-Christian context and so are perceived as having little chance of ever obtaining political power in the near- or mid-term.[220]

            Much like in Ethiopia, Wahhabi-Salafi ideology came to Somalia in the 1960s and 1970s thanks to returning Somalis funded by the MWL to study in Saudi Islamic universities.[221]  And although an undetermined, but anecdotally high, percentage of Somali’s Muslims are Sufi-affiliated, Salafism has made powerful inroads into that country—perhaps because of its two-decade-long failed state status, which has allowed the better organized (and funded) Salafists like al-Shabab to gain the upper hand politically and militarily.  

  1. IV.               Conclusion

The prominent American convert to Islam and Sufism, Stephen Süleyman Schwartz, contends  that “Sufism is…an indispensable element in any real solution to confrontation between Islam and the West,” and that while “Sufis will not serve as Western mercenaries…they can promote intellectual diversity, a renaissance of Islamic thought, and an Islam of liberty, along with genuine and transparent cooperation with Christians, Jews, and other believers.”[222]  Another very influential Sufi living in America, Shaykh Hisham Kabbani—head of the of the Islamic Supreme Council  of America and a shaykh of the Naqshbandi-Haqqani order—is ever more blunt: “it is very simple: the United States must reach out to non-Wahhabi Muslims if it wants to succeed in this battle.  It’s a no-lose proposition!”[223] Rather than working with Wahhabis and Salafis, “the US should ask the right people to find individuals who are moderate Muslim scholars and see their policy relevant suggestions.”[224]  The eminent scholar of Islam Bernard Lewis agrees, white cautioning that “Sufism is peaceful but it is not pacifist.”[225] 

Indeed, as the many examples of Sufi jihad delineated earlier in this paper demonstrate, “seemingly ‘peaceful’ Sufi shaykhs…have the potential to provided a religio-dogmatic legitimization for jihad under appropriate circumstances….”[226]  Thus, Sufism may very well prove a mode of Islam that the West in general, and the US in particular, can do business with in both the kinetic and non-kinetic realms; Schwartz is very likely correct that Sufis cannot be enlisted as mercenaries, but that is not to say they will not fight on their own behalf—and in fact they are already, as the example of the ASJ in Somalia clearly shows.

            Western policy makers heretofore have advanced the idea of helping Sufi orders over against Salafi-Wahhabi-“extremist” groups,[227]  but such advice is usually limited to the socioeconomic dimension (help fund the Sufis to “out-charity” the Salafis).   That avenue is useful, but a more effective approach would range from merely helping Sufis disseminate their Islamic ideology, on one end of the spectrum, to possibly funding and actively supporting them, on the other.  For example, the aforementioned Sufi Ahmad b. Idris (d. 1837) wrote extensive Arabic critiques of Wahhabism.[228]  Why not make sure this work is available to any `alim or imam who wants it, in Timbuktu, Mogadishu, Kano and Khartoum?  Likewise for a book by the aformentioned living Sufi, Kabbani.  His seven-volume Encyclopedia of Islamic Doctrine might be a bit much for a lesser-educated cleric in Mogadishu or Benghazi, but surely editors could be found to pare it down to one-volume size, or at least to put out pamphlets delineating the Shaykh’s “systematic doctrinal challenge based on Qur’an and Hadith that counteracts” the Salafis?[229] 

A number of Islamic countries already  promote Sufism as both an antidote to, and vaccine for, Salafism. In Morocco, the government supports Sufism by airing dhikrs, or Sufi “memory” services, and sponsoring public lectures on Islamic mysticism as well as Sufi music performances.[230]  Algeria does much of the same, encouraging Sufis to “help take care of orphans, teach the Koran [sic] and distribute charitable donations.”  And Sufism has a much longer history in Algeria than Salafism, which is seen by many as a foreign import.[231]  Mauritania, too,  sponsors forums for Sufi shaykhs to disseminate their views.[232]

How might such activities transfer to the target countries of this study? Regarding Egypt, what harm could there be in inviting, for example, Muhammad Ala’ al-Din Abu al-Zayem, the head of the Azmiyah order and the founder of the HTM (Sufi) party, to speak at a high-profile venue in the US, Britain or France?  It makes perfect sense, especially if his topic were something along the lines of a critique of the recent and risible call by the Salafi Murgan al-Guhari to destroy the Pyramids and Sphinx as “idols.”[233]  Or, in a more theatre-specific activity,  meetings could be arranged between Western military chaplains and, specifically, Sufi-adherent analog chaplains in the Egyptian (or any other) military—as was done recently between US Army chaplains and South Sudanese ones.[234]  And perhaps the State Department, US Agency for International Development or US Institute of Peace could find a way to at least rhetorically support the burgeoning Sufi-Coptic Christian alliance in Egypt (which is also being spearheaded by the Azmiyah order), as both groups have a common, vested interest in opposing Salafi attacks on their sites of worship.[235]

In Libya, the nationalist bona fides of the Sanusi Sufi order, as well as its Islamic orthodoxy—“even the Tawhid movement of Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab and his followers…never objected to the Sanusis’ ideology”[236]—make it a logical anti-Salafi vehicle in that country.   The Sanusis historical connections to the Ottomans, and thus to their heirs the Turks, also might make for another aspect of the counter-Salafi transnational front.  In fact, the Turks—the “mild Islamists” par excellence—have repeatedly expressed concern over attacks on Sufi shrines in Libya, thereby highlighting and reminding the Libyan government that that area of North Africa was once under the Turkish ambit.[237]   If NATO member Turkey cannot convince the new Libyan government of the advisability of heeding the Sanusis, perhaps Western military advisement and aid could be parceled out only to those areas and/or groups in Libya where these Sufis are extant and clearly involved in governance and security.  And British SAS or US Special Ops teams operating in the far south of Libya, in surveillance and pursuit of AQIM, might consider working with Sanusis from the oasis zawiyas in locales such as al-Jawf and al-Qatrun. 

A number of excellent ideas for enlisting Nigeria’s Sufis in the struggle against Salafism have already been laid out:[238] promoting improved economic conditions for all in the region; assisting the Qadiris and Tijanis by, concretely, setting up a permanent consulate in Kano, that would not only “serve as a constant reminder of the U.S. commitment to both the country and the region,” but “provide a focal point through which aid, development assistance, and military training could be channeled;”[239] funding Sufi educational programs; encouraging US colleges and universities to establish exchange programs.[240]  Also, “the U.S. military can…help by offering to reform Nigeria’s security sector”[241]—not just improving its efficiency but also its professionalism, thereby cutting down on the brutality which helps “drive northern Muslims into the open arms of radical Islamic groups.”[242]

Mali might be the country on this target list which has, currently, the most interesting and promising cadre of anti-Salafi Sufis.  In Bamako and southern Mali, many young people are enamored of “new” forms of Sufism,[243] even more so than of Salafism. And one of the most appealing “new” Sufis is Shaykh Cherif Ousmane Madani Haidara, head of the original Ansar al-Din (whence the Salafist group pilfered the name).  He is on record as saying “We don’t need their [Salafist Ansar al-Din’s] shari`a.  We have been Muslim here for centuries…here in Mali, we live with Christians, we live with Jews, we live with animists….”[244]  Open Western approval of, if not support for, Shaykh Haidara would be worth considering.  At the same time, Haidara’s admirable ecumenism is unlikely to dislodge the more militant Salafist Ansar al-Din of Iyad al-Ghali from his lair—which is why, prior to French intervention, the Obama Administration floated the idea of a consortium of West African nations sending troops to do so.[245]  However Mali, recall, has one of the lowest participation rates in Sufism in all of sub-Saharan Africa—so it may be more difficult here than elsewhere to take advantage of Islamic mysticism.  Perhaps one of the greatest rallying points for all anti-Salafists, Sufi or otherwise, in Mali is the great Arabic manuscript library in Timbuktu, which is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site.  Malians have already expressed alarm that Ansar al-Din members threatened to destroy any manuscripts which are not religious,[246] and any Western efforts to defend and preserve Mali’s cultural patrimony, as French forces tried to do,[247] would only win friends and influence non-Salafis there.

Sudan, unlike any of the other African countries treated herein, has a government that is on the official US State Department “state sponsors of terrorism” list—joining Iran, Syria and (curiously) Cuba.  Thus, the US options for open involvement there are rather more limited than in the other cases and the US aim might well be to degrade (if not destabilize) the regime, rather than  help it to moderate.  And unlike, for example, Jundullah in Iran, there is currently no religious-based organization that is hoping to bring down the government. That said, it is true that “one of the most significant results of the Islamist strategy towards Sufi orders [in Sudan] is the emergence of a new notion of jihad in Sufi circles….a willingness of the ‘people of remembrance’ to embrace the Islamist understanding of jihad….”[248]  Whether that means jihad against Islamists/Salafists, or against non-Muslims (such as the newly-minted Christian South Sudanese), is an open question.  But recall that the greatest political mass movement in Sudanese history—that of the Mahdi, Muhammad Ahmad—was one of charismatic Sufism writ large.  Even a much smaller politicized Sufi slice of the Sudanese population would prove a major problem for Khartoum and its Iranian allies.  One would think that the West could work with South Sudanese and/or Ethiopian elements in order to funnel support to those Sufis in Sudan who would be willing to stand up, criticize, and perhaps even take up arms against the ruling Salafis.  Umar al-Bashir’s government is currently experiencing an “Arab Spring”-driven crisis of confidence, which it is attempting to defuse by holding conferences to co-opt the reformers.[249] 

Somalia already has an active anti-Salafi Sufi organization, the much-referenced ASJ, which seems to be recapitulating in some ways the century-old success of Muhammad Hassan and his jihad—leveraging organizational strength and leaders’ authority over against al-Shabab’s jihadist Salafism.  Western powers at the very least indirectly supported ASJ, via the African Union mission in that country.  That should continue, and include insistence that as Somalia rises from the ranks of failed states the Sufis there have a place at the government table (as we should have done with the Sanusis in Libya).  Perhaps the al-Ahbash Sufi organization across the border in Ethiopia could be prevailed upon to assist their co-religionists in opposing (militant) Salafis, and in getting along with non-Muslims—especially those who come bearing foreign aid.  And al-Ahbash should be included in Addis Ababa’s calculations, because while Ethiopia might still be a majority-Christian country, it is just barely so—and that nation is flanked by Islamists in Sudan and Somalia, and within easy reach of Salafi-Wahhabi influence from the Arabian peninsula.

 Islamic Africa is probably the part of the ummah least amenable to Salafism and extremist Islamic ideologies, in part because of different historical and political factors but, also, owing in no small measure to the very real religious influence of the many Sufi orders extant there.  While Sufism is not a panacea for all the ills afflicting Islam, it is certainly much more than a placebo, often (but, admittedly, not always) promoting tolerance, non-violent jihad and respect for “the Other” (particularly the Christian kind—of whom there are many in Africa).  In this regard, let us hope mystical African Islam can burgeon not just on the continent, but increase its influence out of Africa. 


[3] Khawarij (singular khariji) means “those who went out, dissenters” and refers to radical and (obviously) militant egalitarians of the time who thought the most pious male Muslim should be caliph, regardless of family affiliation or even relationship to Muhammad (Ali was the Islamic prophet’s son-in-law and cousin). 

[4] For one recent example focusing on Sunnis v. Shi`is, see “The Prophet’s Curse: Islam’s Ancient Divide Fuels Middle East Conflicts,” Spiegelonline, September 6, 2012.

[5] To name but a few: Wahhabis v. Twelver Shi`is within KSA; Sunnis v. Twelver Shi`is in Lebanon; Alawis (pseudo-Shi`is) v. Sunnis in Syria; Deobandis v. Barelvis in Pakistan and India; Sunnis v. Ahmadis in Pakistan and Indonesia. 

[6] Literally al-salaf al-salih, “the pious ancestors.”

[7] Deobandism originated in the Islamic madrasah of Deoband (north of Delhi, India) in 1867 and, while perhaps influenced by Wahhabism, was largely a separate movement that espoused the same means and ends to an Islamic society—although being slightly less antagonistic toward Sufim, publicly claiming to be against “Sufi excesses,” not Sufism per se.  See Usha Sanyal, Ahmad Riza Khan Barelwi: in the Path of the Prophet (Oxford: One World, 2005), pp. 35-37.

[8] On this topic see my entry on “Islamic Fundamentalism,” in Brenda E. Brasher, ed., Encyclopedia of Fundamentalism (New York and London: Routledge, 2001), pp. 235-240.

[9] “Party of liberation,” a transnational Islamic group dedicated to resurrecting the caliphate (see my blog reporting on my trip to their American conference in greater Chicago this past June).

[10] TJ is the “Transmission” or “Dissemination Group,” the world’s largest Islamic one which, from its headquarters in India, seeks to re-pietize Muslims along mostly conservative Sunni lines; see my entry “Tablighi Jama`at” in the “World Almanac of Islamism.”  However, paradoxically, TJ ideology includes some Sufi-like practices.

[11] The other two modes, broadly speaking, of Islamic responses to Western intellectual, military and political dominance over the last several centuries have been emulation of the West  (as exemplified by the Turkish republic, 1922-2002 but now such “Westernizers” have fallen into disfavor) and reformism  or  modernism  (trying to integrate Islamic and Western concepts, begun by the Egyptian intellectual Muhammad Abduh [d. 1905] and typified today by the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Turkish Gülen movement). 

[12] On Sufism’s development in the pre-modern era, see Marshall G.S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam. Conscience and History in a World Civilization.  Volume I: The Classical Age of Islam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), pp. 392-409 and Hodgson, Volume 2: The Expansion of Islam in the Middle Periods (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), pp. 201-254.

[13] As per my book Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, their Jihads and Osama bin Laden (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2005), pp. 42-58 and Mervyn Hiskett, The Development of Islam in West Africa (London: Longman, 1984), pp. 227ff.

[14] See James L. Gelvin, The Modern Middle East: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 124-131.

[15] “Extremist” or “VEO” (“Violent Extremist Organization”), as well as “radical,” are not very useful terms in the counter-terrorist analytical lexicon.   What about the Salafist or jihadist agenda is “extremist?”  Its employment of violence?  Muhammad himself led armies in battle and ordered the killing of opponents, and the Qur’an is rife with suras enjoining violence.  Salafis, jihadists and other such Muslims are perhaps better described by the now-passé term “[Islamic] fundamentalist,” or even as “Qur’anic literalists”—since they are constrained by the letter of the text, as opposed to Sufis (and other Muslims, such as the Sevener Shi`is or Ahmadis) who are permitted to allegoricize or otherwise alternatively interpret certain passages.  

[16] Overview from Richard Schiffman, “Sufis under Attack,” Project Syndicate, September 23, 2012.

[18] From the Arabic Ansar al-Din, or “Defenders of Faith.”

[19]Islamists Impose Sharia [sic] in Mali’s Timbuktu,” Associated Press [AP], April 4, 2012.

[20] See Andy Morgan, “Stand-off in Northern Mali,” al-Jazeera, June 11, 2012.

[21] Jemal Oumar, “Timbuktu Rejects al-Qaeda [sic],” Magharebia, April 27, 2012.

[22] Michael Gurfinkel, “Meet Azawad, Africa’s Newest Country,” PJM, April 12, 2012.

[23] Scott Stewart, “Mali Besieged by Fighters Fleeing Libya,” STRATFOR, February 2, 2012.

[24]Strife in the Sahel: A Perfect Desert Storm,” The Economist, March 17, 2012.

[25]Mali Islamist Becoming More Repressive,” AP, September 25, 2012.

[27]Islamists Smash Sufi Saint’s Tomb in Northern Mali,” Reuters, September 29, 2012.

[28] Its 5.6 million people mostly living along the Mediterranean coast and in a few oasis towns, See

[29] Although al-Qadhafi would periodically suffers bouts of tolerance for Sufism, as he did in 1997 and again in early 2011 (before the “Arab Spring” erupted) when he allowed large Sufi conferences to be held in Libya; “Second Sufi Conference Opens in Libya,” The Tripoli Post, February 15, 2011.

[30] Back in June, 2011 I attended a conference in the DC area on just this topic, “Countering VEOs in North Africa.”  The paper I presented was entitled “Libyans, Sufis and Turks: Back to the Future?,” in which I recommended enlisting the Sanusi Sufis in the transitional government precisely because of their past legitimacy, both anti-colonial and anti-Salafi.

[31] Taha Zargoun, “Fighters Bulldoze Sufi Mosque in Central Tripoli,” Reuters, August 25, 2012; Linda Gradstein, “Sectarian Tensions Rock Libya,” The Jerusalem Post, August 31, 2012.

[32] This according to Sharron Ward, “The Battle of the Shrines,” Foreign Policy, September 12, 2012.

[33] Borzou Daragahi, “Libyan Armed Islamists Driven Underground,”, October 3, 2012.

[35] See Bader Hassan Shafei, “Islamists in Nigeria…from Sufism to Boko Haram,”, August 17, 2011; and “Boko Haram: Symptom or Problem?,” Investigative Project on Terrorism, February 23, 2012.

[36] Sudarsan Ragavan, “Niger Struggles Against Islamist Militants,” The Washington Post, August 16, 2012.

[37] Alex Thurston, “Major Crackdown on Boko Haram in Yobe and Adamawa States,” SahelBlog, September 25, 2012.

[38] Tom Odula, “Somalia: Kenyan Army Says It Now Controls Kismayo,” AP, October 2, 2012.

[39] Haggai Erlich, Islam and Christianity in the Horn of Africa: Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2010), pp. 164ff.

[40] See Tristan McConnell, “Somalia: Life after Al Shabaab [sic],” Somaliland Informer, June 19, 2012; Adnan Hussein, “Somalis Look to Future without al-Shabaab’s [sic] Takfiri Ideology,” SabahiOnline, September 28, 2012.

[41] Takfiri means “charge of unbelief,” or, in a sense, “excommunication,” from the same Arabic root whence comes kaffar, “unbeliever.”  Takfir wa-al-Hijra was the 1960s-70s violent offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, lionized by many jihadist Salafis. 

[42] Mike Pflanz, “Analysis: al-Shabab Will Already Be Planning its Next Move,” The Telegraph, September 28, 2012.

[44] A. Nizar Hamzeh and R. Hrair Dekmeijian, “A Sufi Response to Political Islamism: al-Ahbash of Lebanon,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, 28 (1996), 217-229 (accessed online).

[46]Ethiopia: PM Meles on Ahbash, Salafi, Wahabi [sic] Controversy,” Danielberhane’s Blog, May 2, 2012.

[48] Depending on whether one trusts Noha El-Hennawy, “Egypt’s Sufi-dominated Party Aims to Counterbalance Salafism in Politics,” al-Masry al-Youm, May 9, 2011, wherein the figure is said to be “more than 10 million;” or “The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity,” The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, August 9, 2012, which has polling data indicating that 9% (or about 7 ½ million) of Egyptians are Sufis.

[49]Sufi Mausoleum Attacked for Third Time in North Sinai,” al-Masry  al-Youm, June 14, 2012.

[50] David Barnett, “Israeli Intelligence: Sinai is the ‘Home of an Independent Jihadist Network,” The Long War Journal, October 3, 2012.

[54] See Arif Jamal, “Sufi Militants Struggle with Deobandi Jihadists in Pakistan,” Jamestown Terrorism Monitor, Vol. 9, Issue 8 (February 24, 2011).  An analysis, or even explanation, of Deobandis v. Barelvis is beyond the writ and scope of this paper, but if so interested see Ira M. Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 725ff; and Usha Sanyal, Ahmad Riza Khan Barelwi: In the Path of the Prophet (Oxford: Oneworld, 2005). 

[55]Russia and Islam: The End of Peaceful Coexistence?,” The Economist, September 1st, 2012; and Dan Peleschuk, “Sheikh Murdered Over Religious Split Say Analysts,” RIA Novosti, August 30, 2012.

[56] Largely because of European Christian (first Catholic, then later Protestant) interest in studying Arabs, Arabic and Islam for apologetic and, eventually, missionary purposes—and hoping to leverage the fact that Sufis venerate Jesus more than does any faction within Islam.  On this topic see Bernard Lewis, Islam and the West (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), especially chapter 7, “Other People’s History.” The best general sources on Sufism include: Tor Andrae, In the Garden of Myrtles: Studies in Early Islamic Mysticism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987 [1947]); A.J. Arberry, Sufism (London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1950); Julian Baldick, Mystical Islam: An Introduction to Sufism (NY: New York University Press, 1989); Louis Massignon, “Tasawwuf,” Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam [SEI]; Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975); R.A. Nicholson, Studies in Islamic Mysticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1921); J. Spencer Trimingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998 [1971]); Jamil M. Abun-Nasr, Muslim Communities of Grace: The Sufi Brotherhoods in Islamic Religious Life (London: Hurst & Company, 2007); Hodsgon, Volume 2, chapter IV, “The Sufism of the Tariqah Orders, c. 945-1273;”and the website “Sufis, Sufism, Sufi Orders” maintained by Alan Godlas, PhD [yes, that really is his name] at the University of Georgia.

[57] The aforementioned references to Pakistan and the Caucasus thus having been provided primarily for additional illustrative purposes, rather than any attempt to expand the scope of this study.

[58] On which see N.J. Coulson, A History of Islamic Law (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1964).

[59] See pp. 2,3, above.

[60] At the risk of oversimplification, I will from here on out simply reference Salafis over against Sufis, and the reader may assume that that category largely includes Wahhabis and Deobandis, as well. 

[61] And sometimes these Sufis jihadist tendencies overlapped with Shi`i ones; see Hodgson, The Venture of Islam, volume 2, pp. 493-500.

[63] See Trimingham, Sufi Orders, pp. 62-64, 92ff; Abun-Nasr, Muslim Communities of Grace, pp. 117-119.

[64] On this topic see my book chapter “The Modern Impact of Mahdism and the Case of Iraq,” in Joseph Morrison Skelly, ed., Political Islam from Muhammad to Ahmadinejad: Defenders, Detractors, and Definitions (Santa Barbara: ABC CLIO, 2010), pp. 182-192; and “Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia” [“The Army of the Men of the Naqshbandiyah Order”], Stanford Univerity’s “Mapping Militant Organizations” site. This site’s information must be taken with a grain of salt, however; for example, in its entry on “Ahlu  Sunna wal Jama” [more properly “Ahl al-Sunna wa-al-Jama`ah”], the Somali Pan-Sufi organization opposed to al-Shabab, the name is translated “Companions of the Prophet.” That is incorrect.  ASJ should be translated “The Family of the Sunna [Practice of Muhammad] and of Islam/Islamic Community.”  Such an elementary error calls into question the reliability of Stanford’s work in this area.

[65] On this topic see Hiskett, “Sufism in West Africa from the 9/1th century to c. AD 1900,” pp. 245-260; B.G. Martin, Muslim Brotherhoods in Nineteenth-Century Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976). 

[66] Hiskett, “Jihads and Revolutions during the Early Colonial Period,” p. 227. “Sudan” here refers not to the eastern African nation-state of that name but to what the Arabs called Bilad al-Sudan, literally “land of the blacks”—the region stretching west-to-east across the continent that falls between the Sahara and the equatorial jungle regions.

[67] On these see Hiskett,  pp. 227-243.

[68] Ibid., p. 242.

[69] al-Mukhtar was not the head of the order; that was Sayyid Idris (later the first and only king of Liyba), who was in exile in British Egypt.  See Jamil M. Abun-Nasr, A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 316-323, 398-402.

[70] Basic info on this man and his jihad comes from the entry “Muhammad b. `Abd Allah Hassan,” in the Encyclopedia of Islam, New Edition.

[71] The literature on Muhammad Ahmad is extensive, but the basic source is P.M. Holt, The Mahdist State in the Sudan, 1881-1898: A Study of its Origins, Development and Overthrow (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958). Other good sources include Holt’s entry “al-Mahdiyya” in the Encyclopedia of Islam, New Edition [EI²]; Muhammad Sa`id al-Qaddal, al-Imam al-Mahdi: Muhammad Ahmad b. `Abd Allah, 1844-1885 (Beirut: Dar al-Jil, 1992); and John O. Voll, “The Sudanese Mahdi: Frontier Fundamentalist,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 10 (1979), pp. 149-166.

[72] The largest ethnic group of what is now northern Nigeria.

[73] On don Fodio see Martin, pp. 13-35; Hiskett, The Sword of Truth: the Life and Times of Shehu Usuman Dan Fodio (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973).

[74] See Ellan Landau-Tasseron, “The ‘Cyclical Reform’: A Study of the Mujaddid Tradition,” Studia Islamica, No. 70 (1989), pp. 79-117 and p. 113, in particular, for the link between the Mahdi and the mujaddid.

[75] Egypt itself did also suffer from violent Sufi Mahdism at the end of the 18th/early 19th century.  After Napoleon led French troops into Ottoman-ruled Egypt in 1798, one of the main opposition militas, albeit short-lived, was led by one Ahmad al-Mahdi.  See Paul Strathern, Napoleon in Egypt: The “Greatest Glory” (London: Jonathon Cape, 2007), pp. 383ff.

[76] Pew, “The World Muslims,” specifically “Sufi affiliation.”

[77] Or perhaps fewer, since it is unclear whether Pew polled all 160 million Nigerians on this question, or only the 80 million who are Muslim. If the latter, then the Sufis there number around 28 million, but are more concentrated in the Islamic north.

[78] If, again, depending on whether the entire population of Ethiopia (91 million) was polled, or simply the 31 million who are Muslim. If the latter, then there would be around 5 ½ million Sufis there.

[79] To paraphrase the late Margaret Thatcher’s famous prescient quip about Mikhail Gorbachev.

[80] Sufi orders are almost always named after their (sometimes alleged) founder—and so, for example, in this case the founder was Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (d. 1166 AD), a Persian who came to prominence in Baghdad as a Hanbali scholar and Sufi shaykh but whose order spread across much of the Muslim world. See Abun-Nasr, Muslim Communities,  pp. 86ff.

[81] Founded by Sidi al-Mukhtar al-Kunti (d. 1811) of the Western Saharan region. Ibid., pp. 163ff.

[82] Created by Ahmad Hamahullah b. Muhammad al-Tishiti (d. 1943), originally of Mauritania.  Ibid., pp. 225ff.

[83] Whose founder was Abu al-Abbas Ahmad b. Muhammad b. al-Mukhtar al-Tijani (d. 1815), from southern Algeria.  See Trimingham, pp. 107ff.

[84] According to Benjamin F. Soares, “Saint and Sufi in Contemporary Mali,” chapter five of Martin Van Bruinessen and Julia Day Howell, eds., Sufism and the ‘Modern’ in Islam (London: I.B. Tauris, 2007), pp. 76-91; specific quote is from p. 76.

[85] Ibid., pp. 81ff.

[86] Ibid., pp. 87ff.

[87] Ibid., p. 88.

[88] Ibid., p. 91.

[89] A note on terminology: Sufi orders (and Sufis) are often described with an adjective deriving from the order’s name/founder—thus “Qadiri.”  Alternatively, sometimes a noun form—reserved exclusively for the order itself—is employed, such as “Qadiriyah.”  One Sufi of the Qadiriyah order is thus a Qadiri.  This regime applies to all the other orders, mutatis mutandis.

[90] Founded by Mudi Salga in the 20th century, and was quite popular among Hausa traders.  Abun-Nasr, p. 228.

[91] And founded by Ibrahim Niyass (d. 1975), originally of Senegal, who came to Kano after World War II and received the obedience of many Nigerian Tijanis.

[92] Roman Loimeier, “Sufis and Politics in Sub-Saharan Africa,” in Paul L. Heck, ed., Sufism and Politics: The Power of Spirituality (Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2007), pp. 59-101; specific quote is from p. 75.

[93] The Nasiriyah order was founded in the late 17th century by Muhammad b. Nasir al-Dar`I (d. 1674) in southern Morocco. See Trimingham, p. 88 and Abun-Nasr, Muslim Communities, p. 197.

[94] Loimeier, “Sufis and Politics,” pp. 78-81. 

[95] See Salisu Bala, “Sufism, Sects and Intra-Muslim Conflicts in Nigeria, 1804-1979,” Comparative Islamic Studies, Vol. 2, No, 1 (2006), pp. 79-95.

[96] As described by Muhammad S. Umar, “Sufism and its Opponents in Nigeria: The Doctrinal and Intellectual Aspects,” in Frederick De Jong & Bernd Radtke, eds., Islamic Mysticism Contested: Thirteen Centuries of Controversies and Polemics (Leiden: Brill, 1999), pp. 357-385.

[97] Created in Mecca by Muhammad b. Ali al-Sanusi (d. 1859) of western Algeria who, in Fez, joined three different orders (Nasiriyah, Tabbyiyah and Darqawiyah) and, after going on the hajj to Mecca, studied with the famous Sufi master Ahmad b. Idris (d. 1837),  and was designated by him as his khalifa, “deputy,” (not literally political caliph) in the Muhammadiyah order.  A dispute over this with Muhammad b. Uthman al-Mirghani (d. 1853) led al-Mirghani to move to Sudan and start his own order, the Mirghaniyah, while al-Sanusi settled in Cyrenaica (eastern Libya) and started the Sanusiyah. See Abun-Nasr, Muslim Communities, pp. 158ff.  Other sources on Sufism in Libya include: Mahmud Ahmad Ghazi, “Emergence of the Sanusiyyah Movement: A Historical Perspective,” Islamic Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Autumn 1983), pp. 21-43; Michael LeGall, “The Ottoman Government and the Sanusiyya: A Reappraisal,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Feb. 1989), pp. 91-106; and Jam`at Mahmud al-Zariqi, Mubahith fi al-Tassawuf wa-al-Turuq al-Sufiyah fi Libya [Studies in Sufism and the Sufi Orders in Libya] (Tripoli, Libya: Jam`iyah al-Da`wah al-Islamiyah al-`Almiyah, 2010).

[98] On Sufism and jihadism in Somalia see I.M. Lewis, Saints and Somalis: Popular Islam in a Clan-based Society (Lawrenceville, NJ: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1998), pp. 11-14, 59-62; I.M. Lewis, “Sufism in Somaliland: A Study in Tribal Islam,” in Lloyd Ridgeon, ed., Sufism: Critican Concepts in Islamic Studies. Volume IV: Modern Sufism (London: Routledge, 2008), pp. 305-323; E.R. Turton, “The Impact of Mohammad Abdille Hassan [sic] in the East Africa Protectorate,” Journal of African History, Vol. 10, No. 4 (1969), pp. 641-657; and `Abdi Sheikh-`Abdi, Divine Madness: Mohammed `Abdulle Hassan (1856-1920) (London: Zed Books, 1993). 

[99] Another Sufi order line tracing its origins to the aforementioned Ahmad b. Idris, this time through his great-grandson Muhammad b. Ali (d. 1923).   See R.S. O’Fahey, Enigmatic Saint: Ahmad Ibn Idris and the Idrisi Tradition (London: Hurst & Company, 1990). 

[100] Formed by Muhammad b. Salih in Mecca in 1887 and brought to Somalia by Muhammad Guled (d. 1918).  Trimingham, p. 121.

[101] Its founding was attributed to the aforementioned Ahmad b. Idris, but there is scholarly dispute on the matter. Abun-Nasr, Muslim Communities, p. 209.  Do not confuse the Ahmadiyah Sufi order with the entirely separate Islamic sect of the Ahmadis, which exists in India, Pakistan and Indonesia and was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (d. 1908), who claimed to be both the returned Jesus and the Islamic eschatological Mahdi, the “rightly-guided one” who will make the entire world Muslim before The End of Time, rolled into one.

[102] “Muhammad b. `Abd Allah Hassan,” EI²

[103] Turton, p. 649

[104] See Sheikh-`Abdi, pp. 47ff.

[105] Ibid., pp. 58-9.

[106] Ibid., p. 195.

[107] On Sudanese Sufism see Ali Salih Karrar, The Sufi Brotherhoods in the Sudan (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1992), especially pp. 14-19, 151-167. 

[108] Because of the town where it was first ensconced

[109] Founded by Muhammad b. Abd al-Karim al-Sammani (d. 1775).  Trimingham, p. 77.

[110] The eponymous (and thus possibly mythical) founder was said to have been Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili (d. 1258), originally from the Maghrib, who lived in Cairo.  See Abun-Nasr, Muslim Communities,  pp. 96ff.

[111] Whose founder was Hamad b. Muhammad al-Majdhub (d. 1776), originally a Shadhili, and which became quite extensive particularly in northern Sudan, near Egypt.  Abun-Nasr, Muslim Communities, p. 175.

[112] Stemming from the mystical activity of Isma’il b. Abdallah (d. 1863) in Kordofan province of eastern Sudan.  Trimingham, p. 118.  As with the Ahamdiyah, do not confuse the Isma’iliyah with an entirely different Islamic sect—in this case, the Sevener Shi`is, also known as “Isma’ilis.”

[113] Karrar, p. 166.

[114] R. Sean O’Fahey, “Sufism in Suspense: The Sudanese Mahdis and the Sufis,” in De Jong & Radtke, pp. 267-282.

[115] See Trimingham, “Appendix G: Madyani and Shadhili Groups in Egypt and Syria,” pp. 278-9 and Appendix F, “Rifa`i Ta’ifas in the Arab World,” pp. 280-1.

[116] Created, it is said, by Umar al-Khalwati (d. 1397) of Persia.  Khalwa is an Arabic term for “retreat” or, almost, “monasticism.” Abun-Nasr, Muslim Communities, pp. 119ff.  This order was brought to Egypt by the Ottoman Turks following their conquest in 1517.

[117] Founded by Mustafa Kamal al-Din al-Bakri (d. 1749) in the Ottoman Empire.  Abun-Nasr, Muslim Communities,  pp. 132ff.

[118] Famous in the Ottoman Empire and now Turkey as the Melevis, this order was started by Jalal al-Din Rumi (d. 1273) and is known for whirling around while praying to achieve an ecstatic state. Abun-Nasr, Muslim Communities, pp. 124ff.

[119] Again founded, allegedly, by one Ahmad b. Ali al-Rifa`I (d. 1182), originally from the Iraqi area near Basra.  Rifa`is are the “snake handlers” of Sufism, because their shaykhs—and, sometimes, devotees—are said to have the power to “tame and ride lions, walk barefoot on hot coals, and eat snakes without suffering harm” (Abun-Nasr, Muslim Communities, pp. 122ff).  See also Trimingham, pp. 37ff.

[120] On this topic of Sufism in modern Egypt see the recent article by Al-Sayyed Hossein, “Sufi Orders: A Vital Part of Egyptian Society,” October 9, 2012..

[121] Ibid.

[122] As, for example, Jonathon Brown, “Salafis and Sufis in Egypt,” “Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,” December 2011.

[123] Ibid., p. 12.

[124] Valerie J. Hoffman, Sufism, Mystics and Saints in Modern Egypt (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1995), p. 375.

[125] On this topic see Arvind Sharma, “The Wahhabi and Sufi Approaches to the Qur’an in Relation to the Modern World,” The Bulletin of Christian Institutes of Islamic Studies, Vol. 5 (1982), pp. 62-65; Christopher Wise, “Qur’anic Hermeneutics, Sufism and Le Devoir de violence: Yambo Ouologuem as Marabout Novelist,” in Christopher Wise, ed., Yambo Ouologuem: Postcolonial Writer, Islamic Militant (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999), pp. 175-195; Hussein Abdul-Raof, Schools of Qur’anic Exegesis: Genesis and Development (London: Routledge, 2010), especially chapter 3, “The Politics of Exegesis,” pp. 55-83.

[126] Yes, the other monotheistic religions—Judaism and Christianity–have a history of violence, not just Islam.  But in Judaism the Scriptural (Old Testament for Christians) mandates for such are limited in scope (the “Promised Land”) and time (when the Hebrews were taking possession thereof)—not global and still applicable.  And in Christianity, Jesus clearly eschews violence in His name—His followers’ failure to follow such teachings notwithstanding. The former idea is spelled out in Reuven Firestone’s paper presented at the “Re-thinking Jihad” conference, Edinburgh, Scotland, September 2009, “Divine Authority and Territorial Entitlement in Judaism and Islam” (at which I was present); the latter in Raymond Ibrahim, “Are Judaism and Christianity as Violent as Islam?,” Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2009, pp. 3-12.

[127] See my article specifically on this topic, “Beheading in the Name of Islam,” Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2005, pp. 51-57.  For the wider currents behind why Qur’anic literalism won out in Islamic intellectual circles, see the brilliant book by Robert Reilly, The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2010).

[128] By one count there are some 164 Qur’anic passages promoting violence against non-Muslims—at least when read literally.

[129] Sura al-Nisa [IV]:34, “as for those women from whom you fear disobedience and rebellion—admonish them, refuse to share their beds, beat them [feminine plural]….”  These verses have for 1400 years been interpreted literally:’an_4:34)

[131] See, for example, the (Egyptian) Coptic Orthodox Church’s statement on “The Allegorical Interpretation of the Scriptures,” or the vastly more influential Roman Catholic document “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church,” Pontifical Biblical Commission, 1993.

[132] Sharma, p. 63.

[133] See Nichola Menzie, “Snake-handling Christians: Faith, Prophecy and Obedience,” “The Christian Post,” June 5, 2012.  I might add that when I was in high school in Kentucky the father of a friend, a “snake-handler” minister, died from taking this passage literally.

[134] On this topic see the entry “Naskh,” EI²; David Bukay, “Peace or Jihad? Abrogation in Islam,” Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2007, pp. 3-11.  For a good lay discussion, see “When Atheists and Secularists Quote Scripture,” “Hot Air,” Sep. 18, 2006.

[135] al-Mushrikin, literally “polytheists,” but which also applies to Christians in strict Islamic tradition because they are said to believe in three deities (the Trinity).

[136] Sharma, p. 63.

[137] Wise, “Qur’anic Hermeneutics…,” pp. 191-92.

[138] As Abdul-Rouf points out, pp. 55ff.

[139] Traditionally, said to have occurred under the third caliph, Uthman, in the early 650s. 

[140] Abdul-Rouf, p. 62.

[142] Abdul Rouf, p. 79.

[143] Ibid., pp. 82-3.

[144] See Douglas Streusand, “What Does Jihad Mean?,”  Middle East Quarterly, September 1997, pp. 9-17. The six canonical Sunni collections are those of al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Da’ud, Ibn Majah, al-Tirmidhi (all 9th c. AD) and al-Nasa’i (early 10th c.).  The Twelver Shi`a add four other collections, which include the alleged sayings not just of Muhammad but of Ali and the other 11 Imams.   Muhammad’s purported statement that jihad al-nafs, “self-jihad,” is greater than jihad against non-believers comes from an obscure, 12th c. source and, while seized upon by Sufis and Western scholars, carries little weight among non-Sufis in the Islamic world itself.

[145] The literature on Salafism and Wahhabism is voluminous, but at a minimum one should consult: Sheikh M. Safiullan, “Wahhabism: A Conceptual Relationship between Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab and Taqiyy [sic] al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya,” Hamdard Islamicus,  Vol. X, No. 1 (Spring 1987), pp. 67-83;  John O. Voll, “Fundamentalism in the Sunni Arab World,” in Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, eds., Fundamentalisms Observed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), pp. 345-402 and “Wahhabism and Mahdism: Alternative Styles of Islamis Renewals,” Arab Studies Quarterly, Vol. IV, No.  1 & 2 (1982), pp. 110-126; M.S. Zaharaddin, “Wahhabism and its Influence Outside, Arabia,” Islamic Quarterly, Vol. XXIII (1979), pp. 146-157; “Ibn Taymiyya,” EI²; “Ibn Abd al-Wahhab,” EI²; Emmanuel Sivan, Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985); Johannes J.G. Jansen, The Dual Nature of Islamic Fundamentalism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997); Jon Armajani, Modern Islamist Movements: History, Religion, and Politics (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012); Daniel Lav, Radical Islam and the Revival of Medieval Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012); Shmuel Bar, “Jihad Ideology in Light of Contemporary Fatwas,” Research Monographs on the Muslim World. Series No. 1, Paper No. 1 (Hudson Institute), August 2006.

[146] Of course, this can also be said of contemporaneous Christian polities, such as the Christian Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire or the Carolingian Empire of Charlemagne in Europe.  However, as Bernard Lewis sagely points out, Christianity had a tradition—going back to Jesus’ differentiation of “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s (Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25)—of separation of church and state (which would not be fully realized until the 18th c.) that was totally lacking in Islam.  See The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror (New York: Random House, 2004), pp. 5ff; and What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 96ff. 

[147] The Mu`tazilah school. 

[148] On Hanbal and the Hanbalis see Ira Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 124-5, 166-7

[149] Sivan, p. 95.

[150] Ibid.

[151] See Sivan, pp. 96ff; “Ibn Taymiyya,” EI².

[152] “Ibn Taymiyya,” EI².

[153] Ibid.

[154] Ibid.

[155] The others are, ironically, the eclectic, Sufi-friendly  al-Ghazali (d. 1111 AD) and the full-blown Sufi mystic Ibn al-`Arabi (d. 1240 AD).

[156] “Wahhabiyya,” EI².

[157] Ibid.

[158] See Yaroslav Trofimov, The Siege of Mecca: The Forgotten Uprising in Islam’s Holiest Shrine and the Birth of Al Qaeda ( New York: Doubleday, 2007), pp. 242ff.

[159] On which see the entry “Muslim Brotherhood” in the World Almanac of Islamism.

[160] Timothy Furnish, “Islamic Fundamentalism,” Encyclopedia of Fundamentalism (New York: Routlege, 2001), pp 235-240.

[161] See Lav, pp. 53ff.

[162] See Orhan Elmaz, “Jihadi-Salafist Creed: Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi’s Imperatives of Faith,” in Rüdiger Lohlker, ed., New Approaches to the Analysis of Jihadism (Vienna: Vienna University Press, 2012), pp. 15-36.

[164] See Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “Declaring War on the ‘Far Enemy’,” Aug. 9, 2011.

[165] Perhaps the best academic source on this topic is the dated, but still valuable, chapter by David Westerlund, “Reaction and Action: Accounting for the Rise of Islamism,” in Eva Evers Rosander and David Westerlund, eds., African Islam and Islam in Africa: Encounters between Sufis and Islamists (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1998), pp. 308-333.

[166] Ibid., p. 310.  This is even higher than the figure of slightly over 1/3, as noted earlier in this paper—drawing upon Pew data.

[167] On this topic see Mohamed Salem Ould Mohamed, “Purist Salafism in the Sahel and its Jihadist Position,” al-Jazeera Center for Studies, July 17, 2012.

[168] Westerlund, pp. 311-12.

[169] Ibid., pp. 317-320.

[170] Ibid., pp. 322ff.  Westerlund wrote this before the advent of Twitter and Facebook, but one might safely speculate—knowing the MB and even Taliban familiarity with social media—that this point is even more trenchant here in the second decade of  the 21st century than it was in the last decade of the 20th.

[171] Ibid., pp. 326-37. 

[172] Ibid., pp. 328-9.

[173] Ibid., pp. 329-330.

[174] Impossible, one might well argue.

[175] Mohamed, “Purist Salafism.”

[176] On Salafism v. Sufism in Egypt, see Frederick DeJong, “Opposition to Sufism in Twentieth-Century Egypt (1900-1970): A Preliminary Survey,” in DeJong and Radtke, pp. 310-323; Albert Hourani, “Sufism and Modern Islam: Rashid Rida,” in Lloyd Ridgone, ed., Sufism: Critical Concepts in Islamic Studies. Volume IV: Modern Sufism (London: Routledge, 2008), pp. 81-92; “Dogma and Purity v Worldly Politics: Egypt’s Salafists,” The Economist, Oct. 20, 2012; “Egypt’s Constitution: An Endless Debate Over Religion’s Role,” The Economist, Oct. 6, 2012. 

[177] DeJong, “Opposition to Sufism,” p. 313.

[178] Ibid., pp. 314-15.

[179] See Hourani.

[180] Hourani, p. 87.

[181] Ibid., pp. 317-18.

[182] Ibid., p. 319.

[183] Ibid.

[184] Ibid., p. 320.

[185] Ibid., pp. 320-1.

[186] Ibid., pp. 322-3.

[187] Ibid., p. 323.

[188]Egyptian Tahrir Party,” Jadaliyya, December 13, 2011.

[189] Ibid. (for the previous several quotes).

[191] See “Mali and al-Qaeda: Can the Jihadists Be Stopped?,” The Economist, Nov. 10, 2012.

[192]Islamists Conduct Amputations in Mali,” Associated Press [AP], September 10, 2012.

[194]Mohamed, “Purist Salafism.”

[196] “Nigeria’s Crisis: A Threat to the Entire Country,” The Economist, September 29, 2012.

[197] Such as, ironically, the Anglican bishop of Kaduna, Josiah Idow-Fearon, who says that “Boko Haram is a resistance movement against misrule rather than a purely Islamic group.”  Ibid.

[198] See Roman Loimier, “Islamic Reform and Political Change: The Example of Abubakr Gumi and the Yan Izala Movement of Northern Nigeria,” in Rosander and Westerlund, African Islam and Islam in Africa, pp. 286-307; Patrick Ryan, “Islam and Politics in West Africa: Minority and Majority Models,” in Andew Rippin, ed., World Islam: Critical Concepts. Volume III (New York: Routledge, 2008), pp. 242-257; and Bala, “Sufism, Sects and Intra-Muslim Conflicts,” pp. 85ff.

[199] Pew Research Group, Muslim Public Study, December 2010.

[200] According to Irit Back, “From the Colony to the Post-Colony: Sufis and Wahhabists in Senegal and Nigeria,” Canadian Journal of African Studies, Vol. 42, No. 2-3 (2008), pp. 423-445. 

[201] See the Sufi adherence chart, from Pew,  above.

[202] See Talip Küçűkcan, “Some Reflections on the Wahhabiya and the Sanusiya Movements: A Comparative Approach,” Islamic Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 4 (1993), pp. 237-251; Omar Ashour, “Libyan Islamists Unpacked: Rise, Transformation and Future,” Brookings Doha Cener, Policy Briefing, May 2012; and Frederic Wehrey, “The Wrath of Libya’s Salafis,” Sada (Carnegic Endowment for International Peace, Sep. 12, 2012. 

[203] Which was founded in 1990 to combat al-Qadhafi’s “heretical” reign and thus was severaly repressed. 

[204] Ashour, p. 3.

[205] Although the attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Stevens in September 2012 may indicate that an effective leadership has developed.

[206] Ibid., Appendix.

[207] Wehrey.

[208] Küçükcan, pp. 248-251.

[209] See Angel Rabasa, Radical Islam in East Africa (RAND, 2009); Stig Jale Hansen and Atle Mesøy, The Muslim Brotherhood in the Wider Horn of Africa (Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research, December 2009); Jamal al-Sharif, “Salafis in Sudan: Non-Interference or Confrontation?,” al-Jazeera Center for Studies, July 3, 2012; Osman Shinger, “Rising Salafism Triggers Upsurge of Violence in Sudan,” The Niles, May 26, 2012; “Profile: Sudan’s Islamist Leader [Hassan al-Turabi],” BBC News, Jan. 15, 2009; Terje Østebø, “Religious Change and Islam: The Emergence of the Salafi Movement in Bale, Ethiopia,” in Svein Ege, et al., eds.,  Proceedings of the 16th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (Trondheim, 2009), pp. 463-476); Mustafa Kabha and Haggai Erlich, “al-Ahbash and Wahhabiyya: Interpretations of Islam,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Nov. 2006), pp. 519-538; Michael Shank, “Understanding Political Islam in Somalia,” Contemporary Islam, No. 1 (2007), pp. 89-103; and Ken Menkhaus, “Political Islam in Somalia,”  Middle East Policy, Vol. 9. No. 1 (March 2002), pp. 109-123.

[210] Rabasa, p. 47.

[211] Al-Sharif.

[212] Fond of accusing other Muslims of being kafirs, or “unbelievers,” that is.

[213] Al-Sharif.

[214] Ibid.

[215] Østebø, pp. 465-66.

[216] Ibid., pp. 468-69.

[217] Kabha and Erlich, pp. 550ff.

[218] Lebanon and Ethiopia.

[219] Kabha and Erlich, p. 535.

[220] Hansen and Mesøy, pp. 71-2.

[221] Haggai Erlich, Islam and Christianity in the Horn of Africa: Somalia, Ethiopia Sudan (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2010), p. 152.

[222] The Other Islam: Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony (New York: Doubleday, 2008), pp. 238, 236-7.  On Schwartz and his organization the website of his Center for Islamic Pluralism.

[223] Remarks made at “Understanding Sufism and its Potential Role in US Policy,” Nixon Center Conference Report, March 2004, p. 20. 

[224] Ibid., p. 22.

[225] Ibid.

[226] Roman Loimier, “Sufis and Politics in Sub-Saharan Africa,” in Paul L. Heck, ed., Sufism and Politics: The Power of Spirituality (Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2007), pp. 59-101 (specific quotation is from p. 92). 

[227] Rabasa, p. 77.

[228] Translated into English, with the Arabic text extant, by Bernd Radtke, John O’Kane, Knut S. Vikør and R.S. O’Fahey, The Exoteric Ahmad Ibn Idris: A Sufi’s Critique of the Madhahib [Schools of Law] and the Wahhabis.  Four Arabic Texts with Translation and Commentary (Leiden: Brill, 2000).  

[229] Ron Geaves, “Learning the Lessons from the Neo-Revivalist and Wahhabi Movements: The Counterattack of New Sufi Movements in the UK,” in Jamal Malik and John Hinnells, eds., Sufism in the West (London: Routlege, 2006), pp. 144-159.

[230] Hassan al-Ashraf, “Morocco Fights Islamist Extremism with Sufism,”, Sep. 26, 2010.

[231] Lamine Chikhi, “Algeria Sponsors Sufism to Fight Extremism,” IOL News, July 9, 2009.

[232] Mohamed Yahya Abdel Wedoud, “Sufi Conference Promotes Religious Moderation,”, Sep. 24, 2010.

[233] “A Bad Weeks for Salafists,” The Economist, Nov. 13, 2012.

[234] Brianne Warner, “AFRICOM Connects with South Sudanese Military Chaplains,”, April 20, 2012.

[235] See “Egypt: Sufi-Coptic Alliance to Counter Hardline Islamists,”, July 23, 2012; and for background, Hoffman, chapter 11, “Coptic Christianity and Popular Islam in Egypt: Elements of a Common Spirituality,” in Sufism, Mystics and Saints in Modern Egypt, pp. 328ff.

[236] Mahmud Ahmad Ghazi, “Emergence of the Sanusiyyah Movement: A Historical Perspective,” Islamic Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Autumn 1983), pp. 21-43; specific quote is from p. 39.

[238] Jonathon N.C. Hill, “Sufism in Northern Nigeria: Force for Counter-Radicalization?,” Strategic Studies Institute, May, 2010.

[239] Ibid., p. 44.

[240] Ibid., p. 45.

[241] Ibid., p. 49. 

[242] Ibid.

[243] See Benjamin F. Soares, “’Rasta’ Sufis and Muslim Youth Culture in Mali,” in Linda Herrera and Asef Bayat, eds., Being Young and Muslim: New Cultural Politics in the Global South and North (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 241-257.

[244] Peterson, “Mali: Confronting ‘Talibanization’….”

[246] Jemal Oumar, “Extremists Threaten Timbuktu Patrimony,”, April 20, 2012.

[248] Rüdiger Seesemann, “Between Sufism and Islamism: The Tijaniyya and Islamist Rule in the Sudan,” in Paul L. Heck, ed., pp. 23-57 (specific quote is from p. 47).   One wonders how well-versed in Sudanese history Mr. Heck is, if the thinks that Sufi jihad is a new phenomeon, borrowed from Islamists.

[249]Sudan Religious Groups Meet Under Arab Spring Pressure,”, Nov. 16, 2012.

  1. No Muslim cleric—Sunni or otherwise—has ever, to date, explicated those passages to mean anything other than what the text literally says……Please check Shia or Sufi interpretation. As a start look at Quran translation by Yusuf Ali

    Also look at some live examples of relations with other communities,2933,127755,00.html

  2. Yusuf Ali’s notes and translations are misleading bordering on deceptive. And your links, sir (or madame? I really dislike when people are not brave enough to actually use their names–since you know mine) do not deal with the beheading passages in the Qur’an at all; as I carefully explicated and examined the commentators (such as al-Zamakhshari), every major Sunni cleric that has bothered to comment on these passages say they mean to behead the unbeliever. Please, show me a SPECIFIC cleric’s statement otherwise and I’ll apologize.

  3. Niaz Ali permalink

    Please see Ayatollah Sistani’s fatwas here. I am a Shia, to quote Hazrat Ali…a person is either your brother in faith or equal in creation. This is the context.

    We are the Shia, true Islam. Friend of Christians, Jews, Hindus and everyone even if we totally disagree on beliefs. We have been slaughtered for 1400 years. Yes I ascribe to the Twelver doctrine. And before you come back to me, the Iranian doctrine of guardianship has not been supported by a majority of Shia scholars.

    The Salafi and Sunni doctrines have misinterpreted Islam. Please correct to say no Sunni cleric has…..those passages…it is wrong to link all Mislims esp the Shia’s with this terrible misinterpretation.

    A small description of the Karbala tragedy might also help you readers understand a bit more.

    With prayers and salutations.

    God bless us all and forgive us for our sins


  4. Mr. Ali: your position, while I acknowledge and respect it, is more a pious than historical one. It’s hard to say that “Salafi and Sunni doctrines have misinterpreted Islam” when 1) Sunnis are a majority of Muslims, and 2) Muhammad himself waged jihad (which was NOT always “defensive,” either).

  5. Tayyab Iftikhar permalink

    Muhammad(S.A.W) DID Defensive jihad in Battle field as well as preemptive attack when necessary

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