Persecution of Sufis

Persecution of Sufis and Sufism has included destruction of Sufi shrines and mosques, suppression of orders, murder, and discrimination against adherents in a number of Muslim-majority countries. The Turkish Republican state banned all Sufi orders and abolished their institutions in 1925 after Sufis opposed the new secular order. The Iranian Islamic Republic has harassed Sufis, reportedly for their lack of support for the government doctrine of "governance of the jurist" (i.e., that the supreme Shiite jurist should be the nation's political leader).

In most other Muslim countries, attacks on Sufis and especially their shrines have come from adherents of puritanical schools of thought who believe that practices such as celebration of the birthdays of Sufi saints, and dhikr ("remembrance" of God) ceremonies are bid‘ah or impure innovation, and polytheistic (Shirk).[1][2][3]


Suppression of Sufism in the Islamic world has a long history and it has been motivated by both religious purposes and in later centuries, also political purposes. Though some Muslims see Sufism as a pious and pure expression of faith, its doctrines and practices have generally been rejected by orthodox Islam.

Ali Dede the Bosnian's book Three Hundred Sixty Sufi Questions

During the Safavid dynasty of Iran, "both the wandering dervishes of 'low' Sufism" and "the philosopher-ulama of 'high' Sufism came under relentless pressure" from powerful cleric Mohammad-Baqer Majlesi (d. 1110/1699). Majlesi—"one of the most powerful and influential" Twelver Shiʿi ulama "of all time"—was famous for (among other things), suppression of Sufism, which he and his followers believed paid insufficient attention to Shariah law. Prior to Majlesi's rise, Shia Islam and Sufism had been "closely linked".[4] Executions of notable Sufis date back to medieval times, including the executions of Hallaj and Ayn al-Quzat. Ibn Taymiyya wrote about what he called the metaphysical "deviations" of Sufism, and criticism of Sufism is attested in the writings of Ibn Jawzi.[5]

In 1843, the Senussi Sufi were forced to flee Mecca and Medina and head to Sudan and Libya.[6][7]

Sufism was seen as emotional and uncontrollable, reaching beyond reason to a state of ecstasy and Truth reached through practices of dancing and physical self-deprivation. It is regarded as a dissenting form of worship at odds with authoritarian power structures. This was in conflict with the trends of the 19th century and focus on the nation-state, which continued through the end of World War I. The drive for modernization that characterized this era favored a "rational" style of religion. Suppression of Sufism during this period was guided by political consideration rather than the objections of Islamic orthodoxy. Sufi leaders were influential and thus posed a threat, at least potentially, to the existence of the fledgling nation-states in the aftermath of the war. After the Sheikh Said rebellion, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, first President of the newly founded Republic of Turkey, banned the Sufi orders in 1925. Iranian reformer Ahmad Kasravi participated in burning Sufi literature.[5] Though Sufism has declined in the past century, it has enjoyed a resurgence in Turkey and artworks on Sufi themes may be found exhibited in the art galleries of Istanbul, such as the work Miracname by artist Erol Akyavas, which depicts time and the cosmos as symbols of the "miraculous journey".[8] In Iran, prominent figures in Iranian intellectual circles continue to be influenced by Sufi traditions including Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Shariati.[5]