The ideological encounter of Islamic violent Extremism on Sufism


N.Muhammed Khaleel



In the Muslim discourse on terrorism, for a last couple of years, the matter more debated is why the terrorism [or Islamic violent extremism (IVE)in a broader concept] Sufism  as the focal point of its attack. Taking the statistics of terrorist attacks for the last 5 years it could be noted that many Sufi shrines Such as Imam nawawi tomb(r), Khalid  (r)tomb etc were destructed and Scholars such as saeed Ramadan bhouthi was killed. The bomb blast in shahwan before a couple of month has also triggered this question.

The aim of this article is to look into how terrorism tries to establish ideologically against Sufism. Before going into that let me inquire the emergence of  Islamic violent extremist (IVE) groups.

Back ground of Islamic extremism

To my extend none of the extremist groups has come up annihilate or destroy Islam, all advented with different interpretations of Islamic dogmas. But the matters to be agreed,is that most of these groups where the brainchild of imperialism. they received all supports from such Imperial powers except the ideological support which is drawn from the ‘so-called Islamic thinkers’  such as Sayyid Qutub, Abul Ala Maududi, Jamaluddin  Afghani, etcetera.their ideas and concepts such as concept of Islamic state of Maududi, hukumathe ilahi, iqamat-i-in were clearly employed by these extremist groups, Which is to be then called as violent extremists .These groups claimed their belief as real Islam forgetting the words of Imam gazzali(r) that “Islam is ultimate reality but Muslims are relative”. That means Islam itself is a reality in its ‘being’ but the Muslimness is relative according  to their believes. Extremism in Islam was vivid at prophet’s age itself and the violent extremism after the prophet’s age. The Wahabi movement rised in the 12th century is a notorious extremist group in Islam which made ample of destructions in Islamic world such as killing

Sufis,  devastating Sufi Shrines even in the holy cities of Mecca and

Medina. From their inceptive period itself they had tried to extirpate Sufi Islam (using this term even with knowing the limits of such amalgamations) from the world. They had even tried to take out the holy body of prophet from His holy Shrine.

Another IVE group is salafism which intends to make Islam as political force against neocolonialism. These groups were strong anti-West which annexed in wahabism in 1970, where the well known Islamic thinker Khalid Abou El fadl call it as salafabism.

it is too jargon to spell out ‘Islamic terrorist groups’ anymore rather than Salafabist movements. The Wahabi ideology of thakfir ( labelling all non wahabis  as infidels and killing them) is almost used by all terrorist groups. Even the  ISIS proclaims that they will kill all non ISIS Muslims. I am not arguing that all the one who argues  radically are salafabists, but all those have similarities with these two groups(viz,vahabism and salafism), such as literal reading of Islamic texts, clamouring for democratization of Ijtihad, negation of classical quranic exegesis  etcetera. Why I argue to call those IVE groups as salafabist movement is because, Islam at global level is facing great threat due to Dreadful deeds of the extremist groups, as the Islam globally known as in Sunni-Shia fractions. So all non shia including the one who argued that we are not sunni also became an inclusive category of Sunni. (A person becomes Salafi or the like kind not because of his proclamation or his membership, but  because of his ideology).                The background of ISIS is also the same. they receives arm support from western countries and is  the brain child of Western imperialism in Iraq. ISIS uses Wahabi ideologies,  qoute the vahabi leaders statements etc. Most of the official  decrees of ISIS Starts  or ends with statements of ibn Abdul Wahab, Ibn taymiyyah, Ibn qayyimul jouzee who were considered as the great leaders or contributors of Wahabi ideology.


Why does Sufism is always encountered?

Debate on terrorism concentrates  around the cultural and political realms were politically it is attributed as a pursuit of political power, but there is a hidden agenda of piercing the political Islam into the mainstream politics (Mamdani,M,2004). According to terrorist the idea of politics is the idea of violence even though the liberal thoughts separate the both.

In the words of Syed Hussain Nasr, sufism is the powerful  antidote to the religious radicalism  called fundamentalism as well as the most important source for a responding into the challenges faced by modernism. Nazr says it because Sufism is the only system which sustains and follows the Islamic practices and dogmas and they can only make constructive engagement with modernism which can only be made by the scholarly persons.

Answering to the questions why Sufism is always encountered by terrorism I found some distinct reasons. The new trend of terrorist (do not consider the continues reiteration of   the word terrorist as my dichotomy but it is because of the limitation that I face due to its prevalence)  groups such as salafabist movements is to condemn the Sufism for the enigmas of Muslim world  and attributing it as fundamentalism. because sufism do not agree the democratization of Ijtihad voiced by modernist who advocated that ijthihad is to be done by Ummah not the ulamah. even many vahabi  Scholars came with commentaries on Quran and Hadith but Sufism denied to agree them because of their decontextualisation of quranic verses and literal reading of Quran. So wahabis termed Sufism as fundamentalism in a sense that,

which do not agree anything unless it is in their faith. But fundamentalism is that something that hold only fundamental text without accepting its scholarly interpretations. Another reason is that existence of sufism as a power and authority in Islam which stringently holds the tradition. well known academician and anthropologist Talal Asad spells out in one of his paper ‘An idea of Anthropology of Islam’ that discourses of tradition relates to past, present and future I.e. related to the knowledge of practice, its performance and its security in long term whether it should be modified or abandoned.  he continues that tradition is established, has a history. This Influence and power might have made wahabis- terrorist groups worried.

Every IVE groups find its space of violence by making Islamophobia and hatred towards Muslims as a loophole but the Sufim encounter this threat by peace and dialogues. there is an Immortal clash between sufism and IVE about the concepts of peace. The ISIS always proclaims that there is no peace in Islam but only Jihad. even when the Sufi forum in India was being held many debates were held on the attendance of Modi. But sufism strictly adhere the ideas of plurality and dialogues and always hope the peace.

According to the moderns terrorist psychology getting a wider audience for them is inevitable. so Sufism as an important path in Islam, salafabists focused on attacking  them. But what make Wahabis condemning and criticizing sufism is because, demonizing enemy is a feature of all wars especially of colonial and counter insurgency wars (Asad,talal,2010)

Let me cite an example how does Sufism is  misunderstood as  fundamentalism. it is an NDTV Talk Show conducted just after a month of 9/11 incident titled as  ‘The Indian Muslim voices. there were 3 panels in first panel there were 5 Muslim hijab wore women and in another panel, Shabana Azmi, a liberal Muslim actor and in third panel Sayed Ahmed Bukhari Imam of Delhi Juma Masjid joined through telephone. in the  discussion about 9/11 incident, while Imam Bukhari strongly condemn and 9/11 incident by saying that ‘it is  not Islam’. Answering to his argument Azmi held that moderate voices were being marginalized in Islam.”Islam in some places have a moderate, Fundamentalist, conservative voices the stress only on your path(implying the path followed by imam bukhari) that is Fundamentalist path made Islam synonymous with terrorism.”

The question of Islam as Islams is the enigma here also. the Sufism as an  unquestioned and unparallel path in islam, the entire IVE  group including Wahabism  call sufism as fundamentalism.

Moreover why IVE Groups fear sufism even though they were well armed forces because sufis speak  the powerful and authenticated Islamic ideas and it is not the arms that Conquer the minds of people but the ideas.

Bio note

N.Muhammed Khaleel is research intern at madeenathunnoor college of Islamic science, Calicut. his area of interest includes terrorism and political violence,critical terrorism studies,muslim cultural studies etc.


1 Ahmed, irfan. essay on ‘ Kafka in India terrorism media and  Muslims; in being Muslim in South Asia, (2014)daily life Oxford press.

  1. Asad,Talal, on suicide Bombing(2007)- Columbia University press

3.Asad, Talal, thinking about Terrorism and just war,(2010)- Cambridge review of international affairs

4.Asad,Talal, The idea of an  anthropology of Islam(1986), George  town University.


  1. Mamdhani, mahmood, good Muslim bad Muslim Islam the USA and global war against terror, permanent black (2004)

6 .progrssive muslims: on justice, gender and pluralism; SafiOmid. Publisher: Oxford : Oneworld, (2003). Format: Books

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