Sufism and Political Islam: a viable replacement? (1)
After 9/11 incidents, a global discourse on ‘moderate Islam’ or Sufism has been promoted by many US think tanks to counter-balance the extreme interpretations accused of triggering the establishment of Al Qa’eda, a master to later Jihadist insurgencies. The call was warmly hosted by UAE politicians who have adopted long-standing policies to promote a ‘Sunni-Sufi-Ashari’ Islamism as opposed to the Saudi sponsored ideology – accused of providing safe-haven to 15 of the 19 Al-Qaeda hijackers. Meanwhile, the UAE had to take its part in the ‘War against Terrorism’ because two of its nationals were involved in the attack. To avail itself of similar accusation, H.H. Sheikh Bin Zayed decisively pursued a long-term policy to support scholastic Sufism that promotes apolitical, authority-friendly, non-violent Sufi discourse to counterfeit Jihadism, at first, and political Islamism- the Muslim Brotherhood- after 2011. The conception of Sufism as contradictory to political mobilization, while gaining more grounds among youth circles as a ‘safe’ religious practice, justifies blood-fisted regimes and deforms a long history of Sufism as means to defend Muslim territories and people’s rights, maintain law and order, or run religious affairs and guide state authorities. This calls a need to first, examine the varied historical manifestations and roles played by Sufi orders and Ulema, covered in part (1), and presenting a critical reading of ‘modern Sufism’ promoted and established as contradictory to socio-political mobilization and human rights and freedoms, in part (2). It concludes with recommendations for political Islam to retrieve its legitimacy constituencies and reintroduce a revival of Sufi conceptions and narratives as a platform for political change.
Is Sufism an apolitical Islam?
In history and discourse, the view of domesticate Sufism is disputable in a range of cases where Sufi orders have followed varied stances and tactics toward colonialism, sectarian/tribal conflict, and anti-regime uprisings in the late 19th century and in today’s war-tormented Iraq.
In his article “Sufism and Colonialism”, Knut S. Vikor argues that Sufis, like Muslims in general, reacted in different ways to the advent of European forces that took control over Muslim lands. Most orders utilized force in the defense of Muslim-hood, political affiliation to the Ottoman Empire, or local human, financial, and material resources. A generalized rule about Sufism as docile or rebellious (violent), as French sources would categorize, is as misleading as an envision of absolutely non-violent Sufism in Western and regional foreign policies. Vikor examines several example of Sufism vis-à-vis colonial authorities. Both the Qadiriyya’s resistance to French occupation in western and central Algeria between 1832 and 1847 and their established political structures were initiated on basis of tribal and spiritual legitimacy of the father of amir al-mu’minin Adb al-Qadir who led Jihad as the ‘commander of the faithful’. His case is comparable to another pacifist order, the Tijaniyya, that took hold of ‘Ain Madi’ oasis and was classified ‘friendly’ to French troop in Morocco and Algeria.
The Tijanis chose to stay away from political strife unlike ‘fulani jihads’ directed against local Muslim rulers and pagan kingdoms in West Africa, whose ‘jihad fi sabil Allah’ enabled their domination of political life in Muslim West Africa under leadership of al-Hajj Umar, who trained his students scholarly and militarily by mid-1850’s. When the French advanced to Hajj Umar’s territory he asked his supporters to withdraw from the enemy’s territory to Segu before the French eliminated his state in 1890 putting end to the old jihadist Sufi-political experience. Umar was a renowned scholar, a Tijani leader, a politician, and was recognized as leader of the Tijaniyya in southern Sahara. His model loosely relates to the Sanusiyya’s Sufi-inspired jihad in today’s Chad and Libya that started as a society-oriented brotherhood to maintain peace between tribal entities that otherwise shared a history of bloody rivalry. Vikor argues that the order developed its resistance towards the Cyrenaica war because the French falsely defined them as ‘dissident’ which later triggered Bedouin tribes’ support of the order against the ‘infidels’, the Italians, who invaded Tripolitania and Cyrenaica in 1911. The order provided cohesion and structure to the war especially after Italy had joined the Entente in the World War leading the Ottoman-German alliance to support the Sanusi order with weapons and material support before their defeat in 1916 by the British forces and replacement of the order’s leadership with a ‘friendly’ figure, Muhammad Idris, son of the former leader al-Mahdi. Idris maintained peace accords with the order and its tribal backing until 1922, when Mussolini assumed power and reclaimed effective take-over of Tripolitania. Eventually, tribal leaders and the Sanusis’ lodges united under ‘Umar al-Mukhtar’, a native of Cyrenaica, to defend the city. Umar al-Mukhtar was a Sufi, not a political/tribal, leader, and hence the order was effectively transformed into a ‘war machine’ which the Italians has targeted for nine years of intense fighting before al-Mukhtar was caught in 1931. Another example is the Rashidiya order, known as Dandarawiyya in Egypt, led by Abdilleh Hassan who preached social reform and fought against the British and the Italian arrivals unifying the Sudanese clans into a full-scale jihad in four years (1895-1899) and played on the colonial divisions in setting up a short-lived state that came to end by his death in 1920.
Examining these four cases, a determinant line between Sufism and peaceful domesticate socio-political entities can hardly stand to evidence. Sufism has given different reactions to colonial offenses. Adb al-Qadir led an anti-colonial political struggle using Sufi legitimacy but did not prescribe a spiritual identity of his state; the Sanusis were pushed into a Jihad thrust by circumstances, Vikor argues, just as the otherwise fully quietist Tijanis, led by Al-Hajj Umar, fought non-conforming Muslim and pagan rulers instead of colonial forces and Abdilleh’s sufi-political and social reform project materialized in a small state disowned by his own order and depended on his personal traditional authority which lacked long-standing political project. In all instances, Sufism was involved in political-military contention as a ‘reaction’ that, winning or not, garnered massive support in wars against invaders and in defense of Muslim identity, political independence, and people rights or sectarian interests.
The pattern is anew to even earlier Sufism that took part in expeditionary campaigns on Byzantine frontiers and stopped military assaults on Muslim main-lands. All ranks of Sufi scholars joined the Umayyads Caliphate’a (661-750) expedition on the Byzantine Frontiers. In ‘Sifatu Safwa’, Ibn al-Jawzi narrates about Sufi imams and leaders who stationed in cities and frontiers, joined the warriors in battles, and watched mountain passes and castle tops. Examples include Abdallah ibn al-Mubarak (d 181 AH/797 CE) whose military successes included many sojourns on the frontiers and combat of well-known enemy worriers all while authoring ‘the Book of Jihad’ which probably stands oldest to many subsequent works. Biographical notices of al-Mubarak highlight his personal self-control, which developed into ‘Book of ascetism ‘Zuhd’ gaining wide circulation in Muslim Andalusia. His example comes second to Ibrahim Ibn Adham )d.161 AH/777 CE)  who mobilized Sufi scholar/ascetics and developed the idea of martyrdom being the best way to constitute the Muslim community out of the striving of individual believers and their search for personal salvation. Ibn al-Adham’s legacy materialized in describing his community as ‘Devotees of tough practice’ whose activities included “extreme fasting, ingesting dust or clay, and rigorous insisting on working for a living (kasb)”. Hence, its evident that scholar Sufis did join wars on the Muslim frontiers starting from the eighth century.
In the third Hijri millennium, hundreds of Sufi volunteers were involved in the mobilization for Jihad, urging rulers to take preemptive expeditions, stationing their ‘zawaya’ and educating their students in coastal frontiers and mountain passageways, and launching rhetorical tirades against enemies to energize Muslim soldiers. Following earlier samples, history reports about Hatem al-Asam (d. 237 AH/851 AD) who died in his station on a mountain passageway protecting Muslim mainland; Yazid al-Bistami (d. 261 AH/848 AD) known as ‘Sultan of Sufists’, who posted himself at either a mosque or a military station for forty years; Abu Hamza al-Sufi (d. 269 AH/882 AD) whom Imam al-Junaid had praised for “join(ing) expeditions with his Sufi cloth”; Al-Sary al-Saqaty (d. 253 AH/867 AD), to whom most Sufi orders refer, and his nephew Imam Al Junaid (d.297AH/910 AD), a well-known Sufi scholar and ‘ the Imam of his time’ as Ibn al-Atheer describes; both joined Jihad expeditions and defended Muslim territories.
These are few examples of famous Sufi Ulema who joined and led warfare against the Byzantine forces, others stationed their mosques and homes on coastal and mountain frontiers spending their day-time in prayers and their night in watching over. Examples in Tarsous include: Abu Abdullah al-Nabbaji (d.225 AH/840 AD), Abu al-Abbas al-Tabari, and Zuhair ibn Shuba al-Marzawy (d. 285 AH/898 AD). Moreover, some Sufis joined fleet warfare, e.g., Ali al-Razy al-Mazbouh (d.245 AH/ 859 AD). By the end of this millennium, Sufi orders had matured with organized curricula and engagement methods, systems, and collective traditions. For example, ‘futuwwa’, or soldier-hood was an established practice of societal protection and Jihad against invaders. It was preached and developed as means to bringing justice, protecting social cohesion, maintaining order, and combating assaults. ‘Fetyan al-Thughour’ (in English, protectors of frontiers) was a widespread label of Sufi orders stationing their zawaya and homes to practice Dhikr and Jihad and train and educate students’ hearts, the greater Jihad, while exalting their physical competencies.
In the fourth and fifth Hijri millennials, Sufism continued to mobilize for jihad and socio-political rights through many leaders: Ibn Marzouq al-Saqery (d 330 AH/942 AD) and Ibrahim Ibn Ali al-Soury (d.471 AH/ 1078 AD). Others continued to station in coasts and build mosques, homes, and cemeteries on sands. Examples in Egypt include shrines of Seidy Jaber, Seidy Bishr, Seidy Ali al-Shateby, Seidy al-Ajamy, Abi al-Fath al-Wasety in Egypt and, in Sham, Arslan al-Demashky (d. 541AH/1146 AD) well-known as ‘Imam of Sufis and Sheikh of Jihadists” who exchanged correspondence with al-Malek al-Adel Nour ad-Din Mahmoud (d. 569 AH /1174 AD). Imam Al-Sha’rani (d. 973 AH/ 1565 AD) summarized the Jihad aspect of Sufism as an oath to “honor the soldiers and guards with money and food, looking after their children, and to ask Allah martyrdom in his way..”, while Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi (d. A637 AH/1240 AD) described “Futuwwa” as “the maqam (level) of strength; whoever lacks strength won’t reach this level”.
Likewise, equestrian and spiritual aspects of futuwwa were promoted during the Abbasid dynasty under Sheikh Abdul Jabbar ibn Younes al-Baghdady (d. 583 AH/1187 AD) and during the Crusade Wars. King Nour ad-Din Mahmoud, strengthened his political and military position by supporting Sufi Jihadis and their zawayas; himself was of great respect to Sufi ulema, holding Mawlid ceremonies and renovating shrines of great Muslim scholars, e.g., Abi Suleyman al-Darani (d. 205 AH/820 AD) and Imam A’zam Abu Hanifa al-Nu’man (d. 149 AH/767 AD).
By the end of Fatimide Egypt, An-Nasir Salah ad-Din or Saladin al-Ayyubi (d. 589 AH /1193 AD, also a Sufi warrior and son of King Najm al-Din Ayyubi (d.568 AH/1173 AD), established many khanqah (zawyas) and Sufi houses in Egypt and Damascus to promote spiritual and military training, assigning them several endowments which increased his popularity and reputation as a Sufi scholar, just ruler, and benefactor. During the Ayyubid state, Muhyiddin Ibn `Arabi led Muslim armies against the Third Crusade campaign and preached jihad to the Muslim masses. In ‘Mawaqe’ al-Nujoom’ Ibn Arabi says: ‘O son, be informed that when Allah wants to exalt a worshipper, he puts him close to his enemy to encourage his worshipper on fighting, when he is done with his closer enemy (his own self) he turns to fight the further ones..”. Also, Taghri Bardi, a well-known Muslim historian, described Imam Abu al-Hasan al-Shazili (d. 656 AH/ 1258 AD) as “the knowledgeable imam and fighter in Thoghour (frontiers)” His student, Imam Al-Ezz ibn Abd al-Salam (d. 660 AH/ 1262 AD) a Shazili Sufi scholar, was described by Ibn Daqiq al-Eid as ‘Sultan of Scholars’ who led rebellion against Al Malek Al Ashraf al-Saleh Ismail, then the ruler of Damascus, who seceded Jerusalem, Tabariya and Asqalan to the Crusaders and allowed their troops to buy armaments from Muslim merchants as part of his political rivalry with Egypt’s Sultan Najm al-Din al-Ayyubi. Al-Ezz led popular anger, issued fatwa banning the sale of arms, stopped his prayers to al-Malek al-Saleh, and was reported saying “..to yourself and in Islam, you have committed a sin that is only equitable to shirk”. In response al-Saleh deposed Al Ezz and put him on house arrest causing the later to migrate to Egypt, where the last Ayyubid King Najm al-Din welcomed his arrival and appointed him Head of Egypt’s Judiciary authority.
As in Damascus, al-Ezz mobilized and communicated popular demands against Mamluk lords and princes who levied extensive taxes and issued unjust orders for personal gains. Al-Ezz judged that their buying, selling, and marriages are illegal because they remain ‘slaves’ according to Sharia rules. The imam stood firmly against resentment that eventually led Mamluk princes and lords being sold and bought in the market and the collected money was disbursed to poor and vulnerable Muslims. He was ever since called the ‘seller of the Mamluks”. Also, he was well-known for receiving the Sufi ‘Hirka’ from Imam al-Shihab al-Suhrawardy (d.587 AH /1191 AD), attending Zhikr and performing Sama dance in circles. As a Sufi Imam, political leader, and Grand Judge of Egypt, al-Ezz was also a man of war. In the fifth Crusade campaign, he joined al-Imam al-Shazili, Majd ad-Din al-Qushairy, Mohyi al-Din ibn Suraqa and al-Majd al-Akhmimy in the Mansoura Battle (647 AH/1249 AD) under the Ayyubid Sultan al-Kamil against the French Crusaders who arrived under the legate papal, Cardinal Pelagius. In the same battle the Sufi Sheikh Ahmad al-Badawy and his first caliphate Sheikh Marzouq urged the youth for jihad and trained them to free Muslim hostages.
Al Ezz proved his warrior Sufism once again in Ayn Jalut Battle (1260 AD) in which he fought under the Mamluk king al-Muzaffar Saif ul-Din Qutuz against Mongol forces who seized “Beisan” and posed serious threats to the newly settled King only two years after the fall of Baghdad in 1258 AD. In a meeting with King Qutuz, scholars, lords and princes, Al-Ezz issued a fatwa restricting the imposition of taxation to fund ‘Jihad’. He argued that “you may take money from people to support Jihad only after the King and his lords pay whatever they have- money, jewelry, and gold- after their wealth becomes equal to that of commoners and when they own only arms and boarding (horses). If, after all, more money is needed, then taxation is permissable.” His fatwa was applied; Qutuz and his lords put their wealth in this war and won over the Mongol whose army retreated to Iran and Mesopotamia leaving Egypt safe and secure in the Mamluk hands. Following his example, Imam al-Desouki (d. 695 AH/ 1296 AD) used to criticize the later Sultan al-Ashraf Ibn Qlawoon for injustices asking him to attend to his house and discuss people’s demands. He was quoted: ‘whoever wants to see me must come to my door.’
In Ottoman Egypt, al-Jabarty reported the courage and heroism of Sheykh Ahmad al-Dardir (d. 1204 AH/1790 AD), heir of Sheikh Ali al-Saidi in the Maliki Jurisprudence school in Al Azhar Mosque. According to Jabarti, in year 1200AH/1786 AD, one of Murad Bek Sanjaks, then ruler of Egypt, assaulted the house of a meat merchant, stole his belongings, and offended his women. The other day, al-Jabarty continues, commoners and neighbors went to Sheikh al-Dardir and asked to avenge them and return stolen property. The later gathered the populace from Al Azhar and surrounding neighborhoods, arranged a backlash on the house of the attacker, issued a fatwa that people either retrieve the victim’s property or die as martyrs. When Mamluk lords felt the severity of anger, Selim Aga and Mohamed Kataghda al-Jalfy negotiated with al-Dardir in al-Ghouriyya neighborhood and promised to return all stolen property.In this era, Sufis formed right groups on behalf of their own and the broader community, leveling their protest to violence against offending princes to realize justice and put limit to taxation authority. Some Sufi Ulema joined the ruling class as well benefiting from vigorous Ottoman support to Sufism and on grounds that mamluks are, by definition, sons of non-Muslim parents. This gave way to the Sufi authority being institutionalized through hereditary processes within particular clans leading to selection of “Naqib al-Ashraf” (the grand Sufi authority). Omar Makram (d. 1822 AD) while playing decisive role with Sheikh Mohamed al-Sadat (of the Wafa’I tariqa) and Sheikh al-Bakry in installing Murad and Ibrahim Beks in authority, led popular dissent and defended safety and property rights of commoners. Hence, in Ottoman Egypt, Sufi ulema enjoyed symbolic and effective force: leading marches, suspending collective religious traditions, preaching resistance in Jum’a prayers, leading armed resistance against offenders, closing markets and banning all economic/commercial transactions, blocking roads, and paralyzing the public life, always in support of people’s rights.
During the French occupation of Egypt, Sheikh al-Sadat led Cairo’s first revolution (1798 AD) while Makram led the second popular revolt in Cairo (1800 AD) leading to his expulsion to Palestine. In few years, the Ottomans restored authority and again, Makram helped positing Mohamed Ali as the Ottoman ‘vali’ in Egypt before discovering he had assisted an authoritarian dictator and, thus, turning to opposition. Eventually, Makram was deposed of Sufi leadership, Mohamed Ali assigned the position to the quietist family of al-Sadat and contributed to defaming Makram in the Ottoman ruling circles. Another example is Ahmad Orabi (1841-1911 AD) who led the popular revolution against the English colonials and was a well-known Sufi scholar whose grandfather enjoyed family ties to the Sayyid Ahmad al-Rifa’y al-Sa’idy. In the Egyptian army, Orabi’s spiritual authority was affirmed by continuous reference to Quran and prophetic traditions besides his Sufi bonding with two well-known sheikhs, whom Orabi has appointed in the revolution steering board- the Shazili Hasan al-Adawy, a Sufi preacher and scholar, and Mohamed Aleish (d 1882) who died in prison for supporting Orabi’s popular revolt.
Thereof, history proves that Sufism has always been a space for political mobilization, expeditionary and preventive jihad, defense of people’s right to opposition and assertion of rulers’ duties. It has always formed a constitutive part of political Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood constitutive curricula puts great effort into spiritual and ethical education of enrolled members. In earlier times of its evolution, the community reflected a continual line of dialectic involvement in socio-political issues that focus on justice and pursuit of socio-economic and political rights as central to self-purification and essence of Sufism. Meanwhile, the scholarly focus of asceticism as a trigger to the establishment of ordered/organized Sufism has contributed to a mis-understanding of Sufism as a quietist pro-authority phenomenon, thus describing only one manifestation of orders and a later phase of its development in post-colonial Arab countries. Of course, the role of asceticism, materialism, politics, warfare, and Shariah is debatable in each of the above cases, some Sufi groups do conform to the UAE sponsored model, but this remains one side, even a later stage, of Sufism. Heck approaches this point, saying: “There are so many sides to Sufism that it is difficult to get a handle on it all. For example, although focused on otherworldly sanctity, Sufism has had important socio-political dimensions. The saints of Islam have been both counselors and challengers of sultans, at times extending their blessing to legitimate rule and at other times asserting their spiritual authority over the temporal powers of the day.”
This, however, does not mean Sufism is an unclassifiable, holistic, even ambiguous, phenomenon. Gibb and Bowen give some guidance by sorting Sufi orders, leaders, and communities into three types: (1) Sunni orders of Sufi scholars (Ulema): promoted historically by Kings Nour al-Din and Saladin, (2) Jihadi Sufis on coastal and mountain frontiers forming (zawayas): who followed spiritual and military education to defend Muslim territories, and (3) Ecstatic Sufis: in local communities who focused on societal/ethical and collective performative Sufism. Rather, this part has focused on Sufis’ multi-faceted roles and platforms in society and throughout history as means to prove that ‘modern Sufism’ in its current form represents a departure from a long historical pattern of struggle for socio-political change. The second part of this paper deals with power shifts between Sufi orders and post-colonial state authorities in Egypt, draws upon narratives and observations of the growing youth market supporting and adopting ‘modern Sufism’, and examines the prospect of revived mobilization platforms drawing upon Sufism essential strife for justice and rights.
 In general, Sufism is defined as the “esoteric dimension of Islamic faith, the spiritual path to mystical union with God.” The paper drives focus beyond the individualized ‘experience’ of Sufism as alternative to spirituality-driven social and political mobilization aiming at change. It counterfeits with historical evidence the promoted contradiction between Sufism, on one side, and ‘Jihad’, political resistance/opposition, defense of rights, and the strive for justice and political and civil freedoms- mainly independence and protection of civil rights to property and human life, on the other.
 S. Vikor, Knut (2017), ‘Sufism and Colonialism’, Cambridge University Library, Downloaded from https:/www.cambridge.org/core. Cornell University Library, p.215, accessed from: https:/www.cambridge.org/core/terms. https://doi.org/10.1017/CCO9781139087599.013
 Ibid, pp:216-7.
 Ibid, p.218.
 Ibid, p. 222.
 Bonner, Michael (2006) Jihad in Islamic History, Doctrines and Practice Princeton University Press and Oxford, UK, p.119.
 Ibn al-Jawzi, Jamal al-Din Abi al-Faraj (republished 2012), Dar al-Kitab al-Arabi, Beirut, Lebanon, P.768.
 Ibid 774.
 In ‘Al Bidayah wal Nihaya’ his death is reported on year 162 AH.
 Bonner, ibid, P. 121, 134.
 Bonner, ibid.
 Find more in Al-Khatib, As’ad, “Al-Botoula wal-Feda’ I’nd as-Sufiyya” (Heroism and Redemption in the Sufists’ Life), N.d. Dar al-Taqwa, Fifth edition, Damascus, Syria, p. 63-7.
 Al-Khatib, ibid, p.70
 Cited in al-Khatib, ibid, p.71.
 Al-Maqreezy, (date) “Al Khutat al-Maqriziyya” volume 2 p. 427 speaking on Sufists’ Zawaya and their role in provision of spiritual and military education, cited in al-Khatib, p.83.
 Al-Khatib p. 76.
 AlKhatib p.85.
 Both cited in Al Khatib, Ibid. p.80.
 Ibid, P.89-90
 Ibid, p. 90-117.
 Radi, Ismail, “Sowar Men Jihad al-Sufiyya” (Samples of Sufists’ Jihad), Al Junaid Center for Sufist Studies, accessed on 28/01/2019 via: http://www.aljounaid.ma/article.aspx?c=5625
 P.96 cited in al-Khateeb p.120.
 In al-Khatib p.124.
 Maher, volume 2 p.280
 Maher, Suad “Masajed Misr .. p.255, 277.
 Maher. Volume 2 p. 280.
 Maher, volume 2 p.313 and al-Khatib p.126.
 Maher, volume 3 p. 23-24.
 Maher, volume 2 p. 308.
 Maher volume 5 p.289.
Also, see more on the role of Sufi scholars in Memluk and Ottoman Egypt in Winter, Michel (2001) “The Egyptian Society under the Ottoman Rule” translated by Ibrahim Mohamed Ibrahim, The Egyptian Public Institute for Books, pp 205-280.
On the mentioned instance and those relevant to jurisdiction, taxation, and fulfillment of justice against rulers read more in: Keshk, Mohamed Galal, 1971, “Wa Dakhalat al-Khayl al-Azhar” (And Horses Stepped into Al Azhar Mosque”, Al Zahra’ Lel E’lam al-Arabi (Al Zahra’ for Arab Publication), third edition P.102-105.
 Winter, ibid, pp 287-8.
 Keshk, ibid, P.77.
 Al-Khatib, ibid, p.194.
 Winter, ibid, p. 296.
 Ibid, 297.
 Al-Khatib 193-4
 Heck, P. (2007) “Sufism – What is it exactly?”, Religion Compass, vol. 1 no.1, p. 150 cited in Muedini, Fait (2015) “Sufism and Anti-colonial Violent Resistance Movements: The Qadiriyya and Sanussi Orders in Algeria and Libya” Open Theology vol.1 p.136
 A. R. Gibb, Hamilton and Bowen, Harold (1957), “Islamic Society and the West. A Study of the Impact of Western Civilization on Moslem Culture in the Near East” translated by Ahmed Aybas, republished by Dar al-Kutub al-Wataniyya, UAE, vol. 2 p.264.