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Sufi Paradox
October court verdict and sentence against Sufi Pir Ismatullah Abdugappar with followers exposed a serious dilemma before secular society in our country. Salafit Wahabbies and their Sufi opponents may cause problems to Secular Society in Kazakhstan
Maxim Zolotukhin
Imam Shamil
Imam Shamil
Sufii pir Abd al-Kadyr
Sufii pir Abd al-Kadyr
Автор: Sultan Akimbekov
Локация: Almaty
Номер: №19 (56) 2011

Generally speaking, various trends in Islam are Terra Incognita in the eyes of a secular individual. Such a person is aware of some radicals, like Taliban and Salafit Wahabbies and local Islamic cultural tradition to invite Mullahs on, most of the times, sad occasions with subsequent due recoupment, but secular community does not know all peculiarities of the world that opened up to us after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

That is why, a secular individual will not be in position to apprehend the magnitude of contradictions that exist in the Islamic community.  The latter community is not numerous, but people of that community represent ideologies shared by broad masses in the Islamic world and able to mobilize hundreds of thousand followers.

Ismatullah Abdugappar, the defendant sentenced to 14 years in detention was not the first Sufi leader and teacher (Murshed) who visited Kazakhstan in the past 20 years. In the 90-s, Kazakhstan deported visitors from Turkey and Uzbekistan, who actively propagated their religion and formed their own groups of students/followers (Murids). Those were not classical Sufi Tariqats (Clubs, Communities) that Western researchers often call Orders, but they already were communities with the dominating authority of the teacher.

It concerned the country leadership, because Sufi communities were closed, their goals were vague and their willingness to recruit more followers reminded network organization. That’s why, relevant authorities would just exile Sufi Mushreds from Kazakhstan and call it days.

Ismatullah’s total difference from all foreign Sufi preachers was his Kazakh ethnicity. Besides, he came from Afghanistan where the struggle among religious trends, from Pure Islamists to Sufis, was always very tough and all those involved in that struggle were chastened ideologically and organizationally.

One important detail should be taken note of.  Sufis were the preachers who brought Islam to the land of Nomads. Sufi practice allowed integration of Nomadic customs into Islamic tradition.  Sufis recognized the Common Law Adat as an important component of the court proceedings. Besides, Sufis maintained the Cult of Saints, which cult appeared well compatible with the local Ancestor Spirits cultural tradition.

That is why, Hoja Ahmed Yassauyi and Arystan-Baba Mausoleums, likewise others,  are sacred places for population of Kazakh Steppes. Yassauyi, for example, was one of Sufi Mushreds, a Pir.  Sufis call such succession as the Silsile or Silsila Line, which phenomenon ensures the continuity of the Yassauyi Tariqar tradition. The Yassauyi Sufi Tariqat, also referred to as Hojagan, is one of Central Asia’s most influential religion schools.  In the middle of the 19th Century, the Yassauyi Tariqat established its power in the East Turkestan oasis areas.  Before that, they deposed local rulers, descendants of Genghis-Khan and Chagatay (Genghisids). Chokan Valikhanov, a famous Kazakh-Russian Anthropology Researcher, visited their auspices on an intelligence mission.

The Hoja regime was rather robust and active in establishment of radical Islam.  With that respect, it appears justified to make reference to one historic peculiarity of Sufism. Although Sufism is based on continuous interior self-improvement, in the spirit of the Gnostic Philosophers of antique epochs, which individuals strived to discover their own ways to God (compromise with local customs and traditions goes in line with such approach), its followers united in Tariqats could not but aspire to material wellbeing and political power.

The above is not a surprise, as the Teacher-Student/Mushred-Murid form of organization results in appearance of powerful associations that could, theoretically, claim ownership and involvement in the decision making process.

The East Turkestan Hojas did not use power of thought and spiritual perfection to defeat Genghisids.  The quantity of loyal Murids, including many Warlord Class representatives outnumbered Genghizids. Likewise did Abd-al-Qadr, a Sufi Pir, who founded his own state (based on own Tariqat). Almost similarly ruled the famous Imam Shamil, who mobilized his Murids to depose the power of Dagestan traditional elites.

Sufi Tariqats created their own regimes in Morocco, where local ruling dynasty goes back to a Sufi leader. The last Emir of Libya, Idrys, deposed 42 years ago by then youngish Muammar Qaddafi belonged with the Senusiya Tariqat of Sufis. The Alavits ethnical minority of Syria, the mother ethnicity of the Asad Family descends to the Alauiya Shiite Sufi Tariqat. Moderate Turkish Islamists from Erdogan’s Party of Justice come from Nurjular Tariqat. Those individuals have old historic bones to pick with the followers of Ataturq, which individual prohibited all Sufi Tariqats, a powerful force in Ottoman Empire, during the public administration reformation of the 1920-s. Fathullah Gullen, a famous Turkish Sufi philosopher, is spiritually close to Erdogan’s supporters and his ideology constitutes the foundation for academic processes in Turkish schools and the Suleiman Demirel University in Kazakhstan.

In the post-Soviet countries, the Sufi Tariqats of Qadiriya, Naqshbandiya and Shaziliya are actively present in Dagestan and Chechnya. In Dagestan, they control local official Muslim bodies and academic institutions and are in active rivalry. In the past several years, they opposed local Wahabbies from the Pure Islam community.  In Chechnya, Mufti Ahmat Kadyrov’s turnabout to the side of Russia was, in many instances, caused by severe struggle among Sufis, mainly Qadiriya, Kadyrov’s mother Tariqat and local Wahabbies.

So, Sufis differ.  Their organization and involvement in political life are in close connection to the condition of public administration bodies.  Once those bodies are powerful, Sufis deal with pure religion and if the country leadership weakens control, Sufis, due to interior solidarity, often transform into political forces.

Please note that Sufis are not only absolute opponents to Pure Islam.  Many Sufis promote Shariat and oppose to Unacceptable Novelty Practice (Bida).  The latter is inclusive of practically all Central Asian cultural traditions.

Would be enough to remember Jadids, a phenomenon in the history of our region of early years of the 20th century.  Jadids always were considered progressive people.  Because they encouraged society to progress and introduce new methodologies.  At the same time, Jadids were most continuous supporters of purification of Islam from all borrowings from local cultural traditions, acquired throughout many years of interaction between Islam and local community with its Ancestor Spirit cult. In doing so, Jadids struggled against Conservative Mullahs, who protected the old practice. Both groups were either Sufis or Sufi-derivatives and all Central Asian preachers were from that community.

Given above, it appears Sufis may be radical.  That regularly happens, when public administration institutions weaken and it is when Sufis may transform into a dangerous force. If the public administration operates to its full capacity, Sufis become its loyal allies in struggle against Salafit Wahabbies, to which community Sufis are antipodes.

In the Kazakh Steppes, among Nomads, influence of Sufis was in direct connection to the existence of the power of Khans. When Khans were strong, Sufis felt themselves very comfortable.  For example, it is commonly believed that the Kazakh Khan Tauekel was a Murid of a Naqshbandiya Tariqat Pir. Eventual degradation of the Khan power resulted in the reducing influence of Sufis among common Kazakh Nomads.

One important factor contributing in the degradation of the Sufi influence among Nomads was the lack of material bases that would allow Sufis to maintain their own independent existence among Nomads. In the North Africa, for example, local Sufis or Marabuts managed to create the so-called Zavis/Convents, which Zavis owned land, pastures and livestock and could afford to support numerous Murids, both for spiritual practice and as the military force. Abd-al-Qadr of Algeria rested on those Murids in the struggle against the French rule.  Zavis produced creators of many religious states in the North Africa, including Almoqads.

Sufi Tariqats lacked economic base that would ensure their survival in Kazakh steppes.  They lacked something similar to other, settled areas of Central Asia, where Sufis generated material income from Vakuf lands.

In many instances, the economic factor deprived Kazakh Steppes from either significant class of Muslim preachers or influential Sufi Pirs from Kazakh nationals. Mullahs were all either Tatars from Povolzhiye (Volga Region) or non-Kazakh Central Asian nationals. That is why, we were not touched upon by discussions between Jadids and Conservatives, which discussions were at their worst in early 20th century.

At that particular time, nothing posed threat to the ancient Canton and Tribal Division of the Kazakh Nomadic Society. No propaganda was able to direct the minds of the Kazakh society with one of its most significant features – absolute loyalty to mother canton.

In the Soviet period of history, the significance of Ulem, the Muslim clergy was brought to minimum. There were certain Sufi leaders in Central Asia and North Caucasus, but not in Kazakhstan, so there was no community to perform the continuity of knowledge -Silsile.

Ismatullah’s appearance became a phenomenon. As a Kazakh national, he had no problems in communication with the Kazakh society.  As an obviously talented Mushred and public speaker, he acquired a significant group of personal Murids. Some individuals from local elites became his Murids. Growing number of Murids inevitably led to formation of an organization.  The Loud Ziqr practice conveyed impression of the pugnacious nature  of his practices. Please be reminded that Loud Ziqr is a public esoteric activity involving big masses of Murids. The most famous example of a Loud Ziqr is a Chechen practice, when men stand in circle and synchronically move in line in some sort of a dance, thus achieving a very specific state of mind.

The Quiet Ziqr, differently from Loud Ziqr implies the individual quest for own ways to God. Quiet Zikr is actually the main esoteric practice for self-improvement. One famous example is the Dancing Dervishes in Turkey who whirl and meditate at one time.  But in our daily perception, the Loud Ziqr became firmly tied to Chechen War.

Small wonder, the public administration expressed concern.  Growing number of Ismatullah’s Murids became a threat to stability.  It is today that they are peaceful people involved in esoteric practices, but what about tomorrow. Their loyalty to their Murshed could, theoretically, exceed loyalty to the country.  Some Mass Media claimed Ismatullah had half a million followers, which figure appears improbable, but the quantity of his Murids definitely was high.

At the same time, the above situation is not the justification to suppose the country’s leadership is at struggle against loyal Sufis, as well, as reported by some media on the internet. It probably derives from a single case and an overlap of several circumstances, including discussed Mushred’s origination from the belligerent Afghanistan, first of all, and a significant number of follower among locals, including intellectual elites of the society.

Please note that Sufism practices of Islam never ceased to exist in Kazakhstan and territories of our close neighbors. In the end, it was the community of the Sufi Pirs that justified the combination of local traditions and Islamic practices and it was particularly due to that combination that Kazakhs developed their Cult of Saints. The main Fetvas produced by our Religious Administration of Muslims against Wahabbies recently and Koranits, past year were all made in the spirit of Sufism. Earlier, our Mullahs were members of the Central Asian Religious Administration of Muslims, in which formal authority the Naqshbandiya Tariqat possesses the maximum capacity. The Deputy Mufti of Kazakhstan Muslims, ALsabekov was a Chechnya Mufti in the 90-s.  Chechnya is famous for a powerful standing the Qadiriya Tariqat.

Such situation is fairly logical, as the main problems to secular society and its authorities will come from the Pure Islam followers, - Wahabbies and Salafists, i.e. those intending to clean Islam from local traditions and revert to values of initial Islamic community. Sufis, under such perception of the world, appear natural allies.  Such situation formed in Dagestan and Uzbekistan.  After several years of disorder following the acquisition of independencies, our neighbors began to suppress Pure Islam supporters and by the time of those actions, Pure Islamists were in confrontation to traditional Ulems, many of which Ulems, in their turn, belonged with certain Sufi Tariqats.

As stated above, Sufis differ and there might some Pure Islam supporters, likewise those supporting the establishment of Shariat in public policy and administration amongst them. In particular, please note that all radical Islamists of Central Asia and North Caucasus came from traditional Sufi communities. In such case, the Sufi organization system based on Mushred-Murid relationships may transform into a threatening force. The latter circumstance probably was one factor for court proceedings against Ismatullah and his supporters.


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