Current crisis was caused by spread of Salafism
Increasingly, Islam appears to be in crisis. Our religion is constantly under the spotlight and implicated in acts of violence. This crisis, however, is not a crisis of Islam as such, but rather a retreat from the traditional, Sufi understanding of the faith and its replacement with a relatively modern aberration called Salafism.
In many ways, Salafism is the antithesis of Sufism and Islam as it has been historically understood and practiced.
The differences between Sufism and Salafism are fundamental in every sense of the word.
Sufism starts with the individual and his relationship with the divine, seeking his refinement and a nuanced understanding of faith and religion.
Salafism starts not with the individual believer and his moral and spiritual well-being but with the state, seeking to impose a political order based on austere diktats that do not cultivate spirituality, but rather impose a form of shallow observance in which spiritual improvement is supposed to spring from the forcible imposition of state-sanctioned observance.
As an essentially political project, Salafism is focused on political identity, constructing a bipolar vision of the world that lacks human nuance. The Salafi world is reduced to binary absolutes: us versus them, good versus evil.
Naturally, we find only those dedicated to the Salafi political project in the “us” camp of absolute good, referred to as the jama’a, or partisans. Everyone else on Earth, including those Muslims who understand the Quran differently, belong to the “them” camp of absolute evil.
Naturally, those who are outside the true religion are legitimate targets of violence. It is therefore religiously permissible for the representatives of absolute good to eliminate the representatives of absolute evil by destroying what they love, dispossessing them and ultimately exterminating them. The implications of such thought for religiously inspired terrorism in service of a political project are obvious for anyone who follows the news.
Sufism, on the other hand, does not split humanity into tribes, instead seeing God’s creation as essentially good. Obviously, Sufis proselytise Islam but do so in terms of reason and honest advice.
By focusing on their own relationship with God, Sufis hope to inspire genuine devotion in others, not impose a shallow observance. Sufis follow what they see as the true path of the Prophet: the path of love, compassion and gentleness. These values are expressed in many ways from refined music and spiritual listening to elegant language, none of which is compulsory.
A natural concomitant of cultivating spirituality and inspiring genuine devotion is a striving to understand the word of God in its totality, with particular attention to context to uncover the intention of a verse.
In Sufi thought, the seeker is constantly engaged in a struggle against himself to reach higher stages of achievement. This is not to say that Sufis have not been involved in religiously justified armed struggle, but this has been strictly defensive in nature and not part of a militarily aggressive attempt to impose a religiously inspired political order upon others.
There is no better illustration of this militarily defensive Sufism than Sufi Salah ad-Din al-Ayoubi, better known to the West as Saladin, who was influenced by Master Uday Ibn Musafir and Master Abdul-Qadir Gilani and his order.
In contrast to the rounded textual reading of Sufism, the Salafi approach gives particular attention to those verses calling for jihad or on verses describing the erroneous ways of the non-believers and the devious ways of the hypocrites.
Believing themselves to be representatives of absolute good, Salafis take each verse describing a virtue or jihad for justice as applying to them and reserve each verse talking about a vice or licentiousness for their enemies.
In addition, the verses are stripped of their context and taken literally, without concern for original intent. This essentially ahistorical, decontextualised use of Quranic verses forms a cornerstone of Islamist terrorism.
The current crisis of the Islamic world is a direct result of the spread of Salafist thought at the expense of traditional Sufi interpretations. The morally improving quest of Sufism is an anathema to oversimplification and ready-made solutions on which Salafi-inspired terrorism relies. Unfortunately, few hear about the virtues of Sufism, and its teachings remain entombed between the covers of books or confined to small circles of practitioners. Salafism, meanwhile, is propagated and spread via a vast and well-financed global network, giving it an unparalleled global reach and influence.
Sufism must be promoted as ubiquitously as its Salafi rival or the violence concomitant with Salafi thought will not cease.
Sufis strive to bring out the best in their followers, making them spiritually refined and sensitive human beings. Salafis use their followers as fuel for a totalitarian project.
Sufis are the true practitioners of the Prophet’s instructions when he said: “Those who are merciful will be shown mercy by the merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One above the heavens will have mercy upon you…”
It is an instruction that all must heed if we are to have a prosperous and peaceful future.