Saturday, 8 January 2011

The "Peaceful Tableau" of Sufism?

"Does all that mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim.” ~ The peaceful Sufi, Ayatollah Khomeini


This article at the NY Times presents Sufism as a totally moderate, peaceful form of Islam that is being persecuted by "hard-liners".

The piece describes this idyllic picture:

In Pakistan’s heartland, holy men with bells tied to their feet close their eyes and sway to the music. Nearby, rose petals are tossed on tombstones. Free food is distributed to devotees.

This peaceful tableau is part of Sufism, Pakistan’s most popular brand of Islam, which attracts millions of worshipers at about a dozen major festivals throughout the year. Each day, thousands visit shrines dedicated to Sufi saints.

Unfortunately, the authors leave a few things out. While it is certainly true that many orthodox Muslims regard Sufis - who make up only a small percentage of the world's Muslims - as heretics and persecute them accordingly, it is also true that Sufism has never been particularly separable from what is often termed "radical Islam". For starters, despite Sufism apparently being "Pakistan's most popular brand of Islam", there is widespread support among Muslims in the country for harsh blasphemy laws, and a Pew poll in 2009 found "broad support for harsh [sharia-based] punishments: 78% favor death for those who leave Islam; 80% favor whippings and cutting off hands for crimes like theft and robbery; and 83% favor stoning adulterers."

Sufism is more "mystical" than other forms of Islam, but there is nothing intrinsic to it that denies the violence and intolerance that is a hallmark of orthodox Islam. The greatest Sufi of all time, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d.1111), was an avid proponent of the same offensive, expansionist jihad favoured by the majority of orthodox Islamic jurists of his era:

“One must go on jihad (i.e. warlike razzias or raids) at least once a year...one may use catapults against them [non-Muslims] when they are in a fortress, even if among them are women and children. One may set fire to them and/or drown them...If a person of the ahl al-kitab [People of the Book, that is Jews and Christians] is enslaved, his marriage is automatically revoked...One may cut down their trees...One must destroy their useless books. Jihadists may take as booty whatever they decide...they may steal as much food as they need...”

He also promoted the oppressive subjugation of non-Muslims as dhimmis under Islamic rule:

“The dhimmi is obliged not to mention Allah or his Apostle...Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians must pay the poll tax...on offering up the jizya, the dhimmi must hang his head while the official takes hold of his head and hits the dhimmi on the protuberant bone beneath his ear...They are not permitted to ostentatiously exhibit their wine or church bells...their houses may not be higher than the Muslim's, no matter how low that is. The dhimmi may not ride an elegant horse or mule; he may ride a donkey only if the saddle is of wood. He may not walk on the good part of the road. The dhimmis have to wear an identifying patch on their clothing, even women, and even in the public baths...dhimmis must hold their tongue.”

Sufi clerics such as Sirhindi (d.1624) were influential in fomenting and leading vicious, fanatical jihad campaigns in India that resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of Hindus. In the modern day, many influential Muslim leaders who are deemed by most people to be profoundly "radical", including Hasan al-Banna and the Ayatollah Khomeini, also had a great interest in Sufism. In modern times, a Sufi jihadi squadron was formed in Iraq in 2005, and the 2004 Beslan massacre, in which over 300 schoolchildren were murdered by Islamic jihadists in Russia, was orchestrated by a Naqshbandi Sufi, Shamil Basayev.

In short, aside from the beautiful tableau of men with bells tied to their feet, Sufi Islam is not much different from mainstream Islam in any way that should comfort non-Muslims who don't want to be slaughtered like cattle for their mere unbelief.

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