Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Sufis in Iraq

Salaams one and all.  recently asked Sis Sabbie, an American sister, who just returned from Iraq about the situation of Sufis and Sufism in Iraq. She gave the following response:
Thank you for your interest concerning your Sufi brothers and sisters in Iraq. Challenging times are the norm in Iraq, and this era is no different. Dr. Godlas has the best information about al-tariqqas in Iraq.
al-tariqqa al-Kasnazani Qadiriya is one of the few Sufi orders in Iraq that has websites. They are working on getting both the websites and publications in English but this takes time and good translators, we had a deep discussion about this and its importance including 12 newly published books on Islamic Mysticism (which are available in Arabic and they may send this huge box to me). This tariqqa has both Sunni and Shia and extends down to Baghdad, thru Iran, India, up through Russia, etc. (more later)
The second are the Naqshbandiya. I am a murid of both. The Naqshbandiya in Iraq/Kurdistan do not have a website although they are thinking about it. Again it takes time for development and time. There are many Shaykhs in both tariqqas, and I am looking forward to returning for zikr with several different groups who invited me (did not have time this trip for many), but they for the most part, they fall under the same umbrellas, so to speak.
Now for the reality of today's current situation in Iraq. In Iraq as a whole extending down to Basra, the Sufis are targets for the extremists by mostly Salifis and Wahhabis, especially foreigners arriving from other countries. The Qadiriya includes both Sunni and Shia murids, and continue to hold zikr and other gatherings up in Kurdistan (where it is safe) and smaller cities around the country. Since last fall they had to close down in Baghdad including the school, there have been threats on murids and khalifas, and actual attacks on their tariqqas, in Central Iraq (not Iraq Kurdistan).
Bombings directly aimed at the Sufis have been in Balad where we lost 10 brothers and most recently in Tikrit May 25th or so, where we lost 2 brothers with an attack. The historical politics, including the past 20 years is extensive and complex for all the Sufis in Iraq especially under Saddam which I may address in a different post. Either way, the Qadiriya are practicing Islamic peacebuilding openly and moving in this direction, a role model for sectarian unification.
The Naqshbandiya have remained extremely quiet and yes, they do still conduct zikr, but very quietly and hidden from the public. On this most recent trip, I did not attend zikr with my beloved sisters, only to protect them from my American presence. In the fall, I went to zikr 2x a week. They do not have guards, or a secured compound as the Qadiriya and life is so simple with them. I know my sisters asked me to come for zikr on this short trip, saying do not worry, but I do, not for me but to protect them. Inshallah, maybe next time, I will go quietly. We are very quiet…
Iraq Kurdistan has totally different set of issues. It is a secure region, under Barzani (Naqshbandiya) and Talibani (Qadiriya). Both leaders have extensive Sufi backgrounds, although now they down play it to the extreme degree for political reasons. They are beginning to see Sufism as an Islamic peacebuilding and counter-terrorism preventative path, but are still very uncomfortable about religion in Kurdistan. The region is safe because of the measures against Islamists but it goes to the other extreme. People are becoming afraid to practice Islam as then they are investigated to determine if they are extremists.
Religious identity has almost become a 4-letter word, yet Islam is prominent in Kurdistan. It is a schizophrenia situation. On the one hand, the government wants to separate religion and state and guard against extremists, but in kind, there are many traditional and moderate Muslims in Iraqi Kurdistan who feel threatened and watched because of upholding the security in the region.
I feel the trend is changing to be that the government will continue protect and support the Sufis, as many people in Iraq Kurdistan are Sufis and they support other Sufis visiting the al-tariqqas in Kurdistan. The government is just realizing the beautiful and unique gems in their region. I asked an official whether she was ready for a group of American and Western Sufis to come visit Iraq Kurdistan. Her reply was, of course, we will take care of them, the region is secure, and we would be honored to have them come see Kurdistan, take part in
zikr and there are new hotels opening and we can give a guided tour. Later, a few days after the meeting, I found out she was Naqshbandiya. So there we are. 
When asked if they will willing to do drum circles, it would only be within the tariqqas. So I found a youth center that is willing to do the drum circles and other peacebuilding activities for all youth.
Well, this is very simplified. For example, at one point a few years ago, the Ba'thists advised US forces that certain Sufi groups were jihadists or insurgents, when actually it was the opposite. Now the US knows, but hmmm. The Sufis in Iraq carry on, the Naqshbandiya very quietly, and the Qadiriya, more open but under attack outside of Kurdistan. Both support Islamic peacebuilding and dialogue, both very loving and dedicated and growing support of at least the Kurdistan Regional Government. As was told to me, not only is there a war on the ground but a spiritual war, and they continue to bring light to the region.
Be assured, the tariqqas in Iraq send salams and much love to all of you, brothers and sisters, to your hearts and they are very aware of this group, Sufis without Borders. They welcome your visits in the future and I am willing to facilitate visits to Iraq Kurdistan for those interested.
Some links for more reading on the subject:

Muslims, Islam and Iraq by Prof Alan Godlas
Sufis under attack as Sunni rifts widen
The Naqshbandi Shaikhs Of Hawraman and The Heritage of Khalidiyya-Mujaddidiyya In Kurdistan
Kurdish Leader Calls for the Elimination of Ladenite Ansar Al-Islam
Hedieh Mirahmadi on Sufis in Iraq - Sunni Disposition


tyven said...

As a Pagan, I am in total support of the Sufis. It is sad how it's always the peaceful and decent esoteric people who are persecuted against. I will continue to send protective energy to my Islamic counterparts.

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