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]


Examples of people presumably executed for their Sufi views and practices include: Abbasid mystic Mansur Al-Hallaj in 922, Ayn al-Quzat Hamadani in 1131, ishraqi philosopher Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi in 1191, Ottoman mystic and mutineer Sheikh Bedreddin in 1420 and wandering dervish Sarmad Kashani in 1661 in Mughal India. The exact reasons for executions in some of those cases were disputed.

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 been rejected by others.

Revivalist Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328) wrote about what he called the metaphysical "deviations" of Sufism, and criticism of Sufism is attested in the writings of Ibn Jawzi.[4]

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".[5].

Teaching of a puritan reformer Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1702-1793) and subsequent actions of founders of the founders of the First Saudi State (1744–1818), that were based on Abd al-Wahhab's ideology, had strong anti-Sufi dimensions including banning practices and destroying shrines. Similar attitudes continued after the foundation of the Second (1824–1891) and the current Third Saudi State (1902-).

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[citation needed]. 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[citation needed].

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.[4] 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.[4]