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Peter Gottschalk walk not job-related for, consult, own shares in or receive resources from any agency or organization that would benefit from this article, and has expose no appropriate affiliations past their scholastic appointment.

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A devotee prays in ~ the dig of Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Pakistan. Akhtar Soomro/Reuters

As a scholar that Muslim and also Hindu traditions, I’ve lengthy appreciated the various and influential functions that Sufis and their burial places play in South asian communities and also many neighborhoods elsewhere in the world. From my perspective, the effects of the deplorable violence in Egypt and elsewhere walk far past the scores of body strewn about the damaged shrine and also the ruined families.


Many Muslims and also non-Muslims about the globe celebrate Sufi saints and gather with each other for worship in their shrines. Such practices, however, carry out not conform to the Islamic beliefs of intolerant revivalist teams such as Islamic State. ~ above the contrary, IS find these practices threatening. This is why.

Who are the Sufis?

The beginnings of the word “Sufi” come from an Arabic term for wool (suf). It references the unrefined wool apparel long worn by old west eastern ascetics and points to a usual quality ascribed to Sufis – austerity.

Commonly Muslims regarded this austerity together stemming from a sincere religious devotion the compelled the Sufi into a close, an individual relationship v God, modeled on aspects of the Prophet Muhammad’s life. This often involved a an ext inward, contemplative focus than plenty of other develops of Islamic practice.


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tomb of Data Ganj Bakhsh in Pakistan. Guilhem Vellut, CC through

In some instances, Sufis challenged contemporary norms in order come shock your Muslim neighbors into an ext religiously intentional lives. For example, one eighth-century woman Sufi saint, recognized popularly together Rabia al-Adawiyya, is claimed to have actually walked v her hometown the Basra, in modern Iraq, through a lit torch in one hand and a bucket the water in another. When asked why, she replied that she hope to burn under heaven and douse hell’s fire so human being would – without concern for price or punishment – love God.

Others supplied poetry in order to express their devotion. For example, the renowned 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi leader Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī relied upon themes the love and also desire to connect the yearning for a heartfelt partnership with God. However others, such therefore as Data Ganj Bakhsh, an 11th-century Sufi, wrote thick philosophical tracts the used complicated theological disagreements to explain Sufi principles to Islamic scholars.

Sufi veneration

Many Sufis are trained in “tariqas” (brotherhoods) in which teachers closely shape students.

Rumi, for example, established the famous “Mevlevi” order ideal known as “whirling dervishes” for your signature performance.


This is a ritual in i m sorry practitioners deepen their partnership with God through a twirling dance intended come evoke a religious experience.

Some Sufis – men and, sometimes, women – concerned gain such a reputation for their insight and also miracles that they were watched to be guides and healers for the community. The miracles associated with them may have been carry out in life or after ~ death.

When few of these Sufis died, typical folk involved view their burial places as locations emanating “baraka,” a term connoting “blessing,” “power” and “presence.” some devotees considered the baraka as raising their prayers, while others thought about it a miraculous power that might be took in from proximity through the shrine.

For the devotees, the tombs-turned-shrines are areas where God offers special fist to prayers. However, part devotees walk so far as to pray because that the deceased Sufi’s personal intercession.

A ar of interfaith worship?

So, why perform some teams like the so-called Islamic State violently oppose them?

I argue, there room two reasons: First, part Sufis – as shown by Rabia, the Sufi from Basra – deliberately flout the Islamic conventions of your peers, which reasons many in their neighborhoods to condemn their unorthodox views and practices.

Second, countless Muslims, not simply militants, consider shrine devotion as superstitious and also idolatrous. The popularity among Muslims and non-Muslims of dig veneration alarms plenty of conservative Muslims.


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Devotees irradiate oil lamps at the shrine of Muslim saint Data Ganj Bakhsh in Lahore, Pakistan. Mohsin Raza/Reuters

When a Sufi tomb grows in reputation for the miraculous powers, then an increasing variety of people begin to constant it to look for blessings. The burial places often come to be a gathering place for Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and also people from various other faiths.

In south Asia, special songs of prayer – “qawwali” – space sung in ~ these shrines that to express Islamic values making use of the imagery the love and also devotion. In other regions, other heritages of devotion have actually emerged, while zikr (“litany recitation”) is commonly popular.

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However, regardless of the divergent ideologies and goals that identify them from one another, intolerant Islamist teams such together the Taliban and also the so-called Islamic State disapprove shrine worship and also dancing and singing as un-Islamic (hence the Pakistani Taliban’s assassination the the world-famous qawwali singer Amjad Sabri). In their view, prayers to Sufis space idolatrous.

Success the Sufi traditions

Sufi personalizeds reflect a vastly underreported quality around Islamic heritages in general. While some revivalist Muslim activities such together the Wahhabis and other Salafis see just one method of being Muslim, there are others who take on the diversity of Islamic traditions.

Many Muslims proudly safeguard Sufi custom-mades such as shrine devotions because they room so integral to Muslim and also non-Muslim communities, not just in southern Asia but in miscellaneous regions that the world. Today, about 15 percent that Egypt’s population belong come Sufi order or practice Sufi traditions. Lock play an essential roles in their locale and also region. For many, Sufi sites offer an Islamic expression that what it means to love God.

In fact, historically, in many regions the the world Sufis have been highly successful in adapting Islamic theologies and practices to local customizeds for non-Muslims. For this reason, Sufi traditions have actually been attributed for the majority of conversions to Islam in south Asia.

It is just with the an international expansion the Islamist revivalist groups in the critical century that the advice to absolute conformity has become so strong and pervasive. Also so, a majority of Muslims continues to expropriate a diversity of Islamic practices.

Given the popularity of Sufis, that no wonder the so-called Islamic State objects to such models of Islamic pluralism. The ferocity of the recent strike in Egypt and feasible involvement of a suicide bomber demonstrate not only the strength of beliefs in this regard, but likewise how significant IS and also other extremists judge both the prominence and also the popular of Sufi traditions.