What follows was written and edited before those violent, uncompromising events of this day. Nothing will be the same any more in Egypt. The old gangs of the Mubarak era and the deep state have taken back the Egyptian revolution for the time being, relying on the power of the gun. But the only way out is reasoning together, working together for the better life in a battered country.fn1
Here are some highlights concerning Sufism in Egypt before July, August 2013 and about their shuyukh’s and some followers ‘ analysis of the events. The increasing degree of fitna in the country for the last couple of years have influenced and engaged everyone in the political affairs of Egyptian society. But there has not been enough ground for agreeing on the basics and to come to a consensus.
Salafi intolerance threatens Sufis in Egypt, Baher Ibrahim; 10 May 2010
Whenever religious freedom is discussed in Egypt, the topic inevitably turns to the status of the Christian Copts. Thousands of articles have been written about Egypt’s Copts and how they are denied their religious freedoms, but it almost never occurs to anyone that even Sunni Muslims are being deprived of their basic rights to religious freedom and worship.
That is exactly what happened at the end of last month when the ministry of awqaf (religious endowments) decided to ban Egypt’s Sufi orders from holding gatherings for the performance of dhikr – rituals devoted to the remembrance of God. Sufis have been performing these rituals for centuries, so a ban at this particular time is absurd.
The ministry’s excuse is that the ban is intended to pre-empt undesirable behaviour at Sufi gatherings, such as the shouting of invocations and late-night loitering in mosques. In a city such as Cairo where the noise of traffic is a constant background, it just doesn’t make sense.
Sufi Islam in Egypt, Sarah El Masry, October 21, 2012
Lately, Sufis …being supportive of the “civil state” camp and against political Islam added more to the long list of misconceptions about Sufis…
Someone said, “today people decide for us what to wear, buy, eat and drink; we no longer feel spirituality. Even religion is now measured with material rewards. Do this and you will get a reward from Allah. How about doing this because you love it or because it’s right?”
He thinks that true followers of Islam should control themselves because the Prophet, peace be upon him (saws), was not afraid of Muslims being infidels, he was afraid of them being tempted by ’al dunyah’ (worldly desires).
Conforming to the five [rules] of the order disciplines the person; eating less to purify the body, speaking only to say good, limiting sleeping, refraining from vicious company and keeping dhikr.
Sheikh Mazhar of the Borhameya order explained what Sufism is, “Sufism is the rūh [soul] of Islam. It seeks to help people reaching ihsān (a level of perfection and certainty in worshiping Allah) because it is based on the principle of purifying the baser self.”
“The ruling principles of any order are to abide by the Quran and the Sunnah [actions and sayings] of the Prophet (saws) in our manners, talks, and actions. The order is really about istiqama, incorruptibility,” he said.
Sheikh Alaa Aboul Azayem of the Al Azmeya order in Cairo agrees with Sheikh Mazhar. He said, “all the orders are spiritual paths to reach Allah.”
On the other hand, Sheikh Mazhar agreed with some of the criticisms by Salafis and disagreed with others. He agreed that some [who try to become] Sufis are not good disciples of Sufism. Those disciples sometimes commit mistakes against Shari’a and in that case Salafis are right to criticise Sufism.
He said, “Ibn Taymiyya (the grand Sheikh who influenced Abdel Wahhab) distinguished between the early pure forms of Sufism and the later forms. The former he praised and the latter he criticised. However, he was criticising with knowledge of the ruling principles. Some critics of Sufism slam it so hard and generalise the wrong practices they see without having knowledge of the principle.”
Sheikh Mazhar explained that having awliya’a and virtuous men is important in Islamic societies.
“If the awliya’a are not highlighted, then people will think that Islamic virtues like loyalty, asceticism, honesty are just theoretical manners restricted to prophets only. Showing them that in our time there were awliya’a who practiced these virtues strengthens their belief in religion.”
Due to its overt involvement in politics, Al Azmeya order, in particular, has been criticised by different media outlets. The media capitalised on the membership of Sheikh Aboul Azayem in the Iranian-based organization known as the International Academy for the Approximation between Islamic Sects (IAAIS) and some Islamist fronts insinuated that Sufis are being infiltrated by Shi’a groups to be used to spread Shi’a Islam in Egypt.
Sheikh Aboul Azayem commented on the accusations of spreading Shi’a Islam saying, “Iran is an Islamic power, calling it an infidel only helps Israel and divide the Islamic nation further.”
He believes that Al-Azhar should play a stronger role in reforming what Islamists ruin. He said, “Egypt is Al-Azhar. If Al-Azhar is virtuous, so is Egypt, if Al-Azhar goes off track, so does Egypt,” referring to the autonomy of Al-Azhar from the state and its impartiality.
Unlike Sheikh Aboul Azayem, both Sheikh Mazhar and Stelzer think that Sufis should be out of the political realm and if they are to play a role in it, it should be to guide those in power towards the true principles of Islam.
Sheikh Mazhar said, “politics has its own balance of power, is governed by interests and needs compromises that can endanger some religious values.”
Sufis In Egypt Thrive With More Than 15 Million Despite Attacks By Islamist Hardliners, By Hassan Ammar 06/14/2013
Egypt’s Sufi Muslims say their places of worship are under threat by rising radicalism, as shrines sacred to them are coming under attack by Islamist hard-liners who deem them heretical.
The Secretary-General of the Union of Sufis in Egypt, Abdullah al-Nasser Helmy, says more than 100 attacks against shrines have taken place across the country in several Nile Delta provinces, the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria and northern Sinai Peninsula where radical extremists are active.
In the northern Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweyid, for example, extremists bombed the shrine of the saint who gives the town its name. The tomb was not totally destroyed, so a few months later, they bombed it again. In other places, shrines have been defaced or damaged…
Salafis are now the second largest bloc in the interim parliament, after the Muslim Brotherhood… Helmy says Sufis are concerned that the new government and Salafis are slowly trying to encroach on mosques and force out moderate scholars.
Still, he says it is not in the nature of Sufis to be politicized or be consumed by worldly problems. “Sufis only tremble from God’s majesty, though they are being fought by the current government,” Helmy said.
Egypt’s Sufis to form popular committees for self-defence, Ahram Online , 1 Apr 2013
Sufi orders in Egypt are to form popular committees to protect their shrines and mosques from “radical Salafists,” a Sufi leader Alaaeddin Abul-Azayem, founder of the Azamiyya Sufi order, one of the largest Sufi orders in Egypt, has said. He accused “radical Salafists” of attacking Sufi shrines and festivals. “If any Sufi shrine is demolished, all of Egypt will not be silenced whether Sufi or not,” he added.
A fire ripped through the Sheikh Fouad shrine and mosque in Tala, to the north of Cairo, for almost two hours on Sunday, destroying the contents of the mosque but leaving the structure of the shrine intact.
In April 2011 fire erupted at Sidi Ezzeddin mosque and shrine in the same city. Nobody was charged over the incident, but locals blamed radical Islamist groups.
Salafists condemn Sufism and consider Sufi shrines a form of idolatry. There are estimated to be at least six million Sufis in Egypt.
Contested Sufi Electoral Parties: The Voice of Freedom Party and The Liberation of Egypt Party, ca. 2012
Egyptian Muslims are frequently devotees of Sufism, a mystical interpretation of Islam generally catering to shrine veneration, popular cultic rituals, and close ties between a Sufi master (shaykh) and disciple (murid) There is some 77 Sufi orders (tarikas) throughout the country, involving some 10 million followers. These trends are similar in terms of the requirements to join and to become a Sheikh of a tarika.
Sufist [tariqas] in Egypt are governed by Law 118/1976… Given their commitment to non-interference in politics, Sufi orders enjoyed freedom during the Mubarak regime, and they regularly expressed their support of Mubarak…
The egalitarian, charitable, peaceful, and friendly ethos of Sufism encouraged some in the U.S. foreign policy establishment to think about encouraging Sufism as a counterweight to the violent ethos of such radical and Salafi groups as Al-Qaeda which adopt varying forms of Takfiri and Jihadi interpretations of Islam. A 2007 report by the Rand Corporation advised Western governments to “harness” Sufism, saying its adherents were “natural allies of the West”.
[This is of course the greatest danger: the West influencing or manipulating different spiritual groups, on top of what they are already doing with political parties. This cannot be accepted!]
Sheikh Kassaby mentioned two reasons for (his) rejection [of participating in the political process]. First, establishing a Sufi political party is currently illegal. Second, Sufis should not be political leaders, but rather should be leaders of religious thought. He also warned that involvement in party politics by religious groups could lead to contestations that in turn could lead to major societal problems.
He argued that if there is a role for Sufi orders in political activism, it should be focused on awakening the consciousness of the people to work hard and excel in moments of crisis through promoting the ethical codes and the application of Quran and Shari’ah. At the same time, Al-Kassaby noted that the general coalition of Sufi orders would not object to individual members of Sufi orders running for offices. However, Sufi orders should remain religious bodies that have no role in political parties.
The Sufis’ Choice: Egypt’s Political Wild Card, Kristin Deasy, September/October 2012
(Azayem) launched a vitriolic attack on the powerful Muslim Brotherhood…
After shrine violence last March, Azayem recalled, he thought to himself, “we need some kind of protection against the stupid ones who have taken control of the country,” referring to the Muslim Brotherhood.
“We do not mind if people involve themselves in political parties or political experiences, as long as they do so privately and do not attribute it to Sufism,” Sheikh Abdel Hady el-Kassaby told me from his more formal downtown office, from which he issues directives as the head of the Supreme Council of Egyptian Sufi Orders.
“The Egyptian state is secular,” Kassaby said sternly. Azayem, by contrast, believes Shari’ah, or Islamic law, has a place in Egypt’s yet-to-be-defined political life. “It’s not as scary as people think,” he said, comparing its tenets to those of the Ten Commandments and taking care to distance himself from extreme interpretations such as those of supporters of the radical Wahhabi movement, for example, whom he called “idiots in their translations of the Koran, requiring a woman to cover everything but her eyes.”
May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon Sayyiduna Muhammad,
his family and his companions.