Reevaluating Sectarianism in Light of Sufi Islam

The Case-Studies of the Naqshbandiyya and Qadiriyya in Syria and Iraq

In: Sociology of Islam
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  • 1 Truman Institute, Hebrew University; The Alliance Center for Iranian Studies, Tel Aviv University

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This study will evaluate the relationship between Sufism, ethnicity and sectarianism, through the prism of the Naqshbandiyya and Qadiriyya orders in Syria and Iraq, during the last two decades. It will demonstrate that the complex interaction between religion and politics in Iraq and Syria resulted in dynamic and even contradictory positions within these two orders in regards to questions of sectarianism and ethnicity. With the growing struggle over religious identities in the region, this research highlights the role of informal Sufi leaders in blending political participation with a mystical inclination, within a dynamic relationship with the state. This nominal Sufi inclination provided an opening for combining Islamic mysticism with other, and at times, opposing affiliations, ranging from nationalism to Jihad. As a result, some Sufi supporters showed sympathy towards Shi‘is while others tended towards a Salafi Jihadist orientation, with its exclusionist worldview. These non-affiliated Sufi voices play an important role in promoting new and diverse blends between mysticism, orthodoxy, activism and sectarianism. As a result, the historical role of Sufism as a cross-sectarian agent is maintained only in particular conditions, within a balance between the doctrines of a particular order, relations with the holders of power and ethnic membership.

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