Sufi Saudi Arabia


This is definetly a sequal to my first post, Sufi Saudi?!…j/k.

– – – – – – – –

In Saudi Arabia, a Resurgence of Sufism
Mystical Sect of Islam Finds Its Voice in More Tolerant Post-9/11 Era
By Faiza Saleh Ambah
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, May 2, 2006

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia — A hush came over the crowd as the young man sitting cross-legged on the floor picked up the microphone and sang, a cappella, a poem about Islam’s prophet Muhammad. His eyes shut tight, his head covered by an orange-and-white turban, he crooned with barely contained ardor of how the world rejoiced and lights filled the skies the day the prophet was born.

The men attending the mawlid — a celebration of the birth and life of Muhammad — sat on colorful rugs, rocking gently back and forth, while the women, on the upper floor watching via a large projection screen, passed around boxes of tissues and wiped tears from their eyes.

The centuries-old mawlid, a mainstay of the more spiritual and often mystic Sufi Islam, was until recently viewed as heretical and banned by Saudi Arabia’s official religious establishment, the ultraconservative Wahhabis. But a new atmosphere of increased religious tolerance has spurred a resurgence of Sufism and brought the once-underground Sufis and their rituals out in the open.

Analysts and some Sufis partly credit reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States for the atmosphere that has made the changes possible. When it was discovered that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi, the kingdom’s strict Wahhabi doctrine — which had banned all other sects and schools of thought — came under intense scrutiny from inside and outside the country. The newfound tolerance Sufis have come to enjoy is perhaps one of the most concrete outcomes of that shift.

“This is one of the blessings of September 11. It put the brakes on the [Wahhabi] practice of takfir , excommunicating everyone who didn’t exactly follow their creed,” said Sayed Habib Adnan, a 33-year-old Sufi teacher. The government “realized that maybe enforcing one religious belief over all others was not such a good idea.”

When Adnan moved to Saudi Arabia from his native Yemen four years ago, Sufi gatherings were often clandestine, sometimes held in orchards outside the city, or in basements and without microphones, for fear of drawing attention. “I couldn’t wear this,” he said, pointing to his turban. “Or this,” he said, pulling at his white cotton overcoat. “Or I would be branded a Sufi. You couldn’t even say the word ‘Sufi.’ It was something underground, dangerous, like talking about drugs.”

Sufis here say they are not a separate sect or followers of a separate religion, but adherents to a way of life based on the Muslim concept of ihsan . Muhammad explained ihsan to the angel Gabriel as “worshiping God as if you see Him. Because if you don’t see Him, He sees you.” Another Sufi characteristic is a strong belief in the power of blessings from the prophet, his close relatives and his companions.

Sufism had previously been predominant in Hejaz, the western region of Saudi Arabia, which includes Muhammad’s birthplace, Mecca; Medina, where he is buried; and the Red Sea port city of Jiddah. Muslims prayed often at shrines where the prophet’s daughter Fatima, his wife Khadija and his companions were buried. Mawlids were public affairs with entire cities decked out in lights, and parades and festivities commemorating the prophet’s birthday and his ascension to Jerusalem.

When the al-Saud family that would later come to rule Saudi Arabia took over Hejaz in the 1920s, the Wahhabis banned mawlids as a form of heresy and destroyed the historic shrines of Khadija, Fatima and the prophet’s companions, fearing they would lead to idolatry and polytheism.

Wahhabis, crucial allies in the Saud conquest of the disparate regions that became Saudi Arabia in 1932, were awarded control of religious affairs.

Discrimination against Sufis, among others, intensified after armed Wahhabi extremists took over Mecca’s Grand Mosque in 1979, demanding that a more puritanical form of Islam be applied in the country. Though the government quelled the uprising and executed its leaders, authorities were shaken by the incident, and lest other Wahhabis defy them, they allowed them more rein.

Soon after, extremist clerics issued a religious edict, or fatwa, declaring Sufi’s spiritual leader, Muhammad Alawi Malki, a nonbeliever. He was removed from his teaching position, banned from giving lessons at the Grand Mosque, where both his father and grandfather had taught, and interrogated by the religious police and the Interior Ministry. After Malki was later attacked by a throng of radicals incensed at his presence in the mosque, he could pray there only under armed guard.

Meanwhile, thousands of cassettes and booklets circulated calling Sufis “grave-lovers” and dangerous infidels who had to be stopped before they made a comeback. Their salons were raided, and those caught with Sufi literature were often arrested or jailed.

The tide finally turned in 2003, with the new atmosphere that took hold following the Sept. 11 attacks, when the future King Abdullah, then the crown prince, held a series of meetings to acknowledge the country’s diverse sects and schools of thought. One of the guests was Sufi leader Malki. When he died the following year, Abdullah and the powerful defense and interior ministers attended his funeral. The rehabilitation of his legacy was almost complete.

“We were then upgraded from infidels, to people who are ignorant and practicing their religion wrong,” said Wasif Kabli, a 59-year-old businessman.

But many Sufis complain that despite outward appearances, Wahhabis continue to destroy shrines in and around their holy places, their salons continue to be raided and their literature is still banned.

Wahhabis and Sufis view Islam from opposite directions. To Wahhabis, who emerged from the kingdom’s stark, harsh desert, a believer’s relationship can be only directly with God. To them, Sufis’ celebrations of the prophet’s life smack of idolatry, and supplications to him, his relatives and companions appear to replace or bypass the link with God.

Sufis answer that the prophet celebrated his own birthday by fasting on Mondays, that he himself offered to intervene with God on behalf of Muslims and that he could often be found in the evenings at the grave sites of his wives and companions.

Last month, on the occasion of the prophet’s birthday, a crowd of more than 1,000 gathered to celebrate at a private residence. Sufi books, cassettes and DVDs were selling out in one corner of the large garden where the event was held. Adnan, the Sufi teacher, was one of four speakers who addressed the crowd. He asked: Why are we Sufis always on the defensive? “Nobody asks [soccer] fans for religious proof that sanctifies their gatherings at the stadium because of their devotion to their team,” he said. “How come we are always asked for an explanation of our devotion to our beloved prophet?”

Muhammad Jastaniya, a 20-year-old economics major and part of a new wave of young Saudis who have embraced Sufism, said what drew him was the focus on God.

On a recent moonlit evening, Jastaniya sipped sugary mint tea with his friends on rugs spread on the rooftop of a Zawiya, or lodge where Sufis go to meditate, chant or sit in on lessons. The words ‘God’ and ‘Muhammad’ were written in green neon lights, and Islam’s 99 names for God were stenciled in black paint around the wall. “To be a Sufi is to clear your heart of everything but God,” he explained. “The Islam we were taught here is like a body without a soul. Sufism is the soul. It’s not an alternative religion — it can contain all Muslims.”

That thought seems to be taking hold, even in faraway corners.

Salman al-Odah, the country’s most popular puritanical cleric, who was jailed in the 1990s for opposing the presence of U.S. troops in the kingdom, accepted an invitation to visit Sufi cleric Abdallah Fadaaq’s mawlid and lesson last week. The scene at Fadaaq’s house was an obvious sign of conciliation.

Al-Odah sat with his hands neatly folded in his lap, wearing a red-and-white checkered headdress and clear wraparound glasses and sporting the short scraggly beard that indicates a conservative. Fadaaq, who at 39 is emerging as the new symbol of Hejazi Sufism, wore the white turban, the white overcoat and shawl typical of Sufis, wooden prayer beads resting on his lap. “It’s true that there are differences between the way people practice their faith in this country, and this is an indication that people are using their minds and thinking, which is a good thing,” Fadaaq said. “But what we should concentrate on are the expanses that bring us together, like the prophet. We must take advantage of what we have in common.”

Source: The Washington Post

24 Replies to “Sufi Saudi Arabia”

  1. Your article makes it sound wonderful and beautiful. If all Muslims expressed and lived the beauty and peace you portray in this post, it would be a wonderful thing. I was very happy to read this.

    You and Nadia kept things interesting at Right Truth while I was away doing all my own yard work, cleaning, washing, shopping, cooking (no illegal immigrants requied).

    I told Nadia that I’m not fat, have never been fat, and never intend to be fat. That was a very broad statement she made about Americans. Wonder what SHE looks like???

    She just needs to look at the ‘about page’ or the “Just for fun – White Trash Wednesday” post I did today, to see I’m not fat.

    She needs to lighten up and laugh, that is what the ‘swimwear’ post was about, just a good laugh, nothing more.

    People are too serious.

    Perhaps I have the impression that I am completely anti-Muslim, which I am not. I am a religious education ministry graduate, I respect all religions.

    But even you have to admit that the majority of terrorism that has been perpetrated lately was by individuals who happened to be some form of Muslim.. Am I wrong in that? I’m open to learn.

    Have a wonderful evening and take time to smile and laugh.

  2. “But even you have to admit that the majority of terrorism that has been perpetrated lately was by individuals who happened to be some form of Muslim.. Am I wrong in that?”
    Terrorism – The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons. (
    Also, from Angels & Demons by Dan Brown: “Quite simply, the goal of terrorism is to create terror and fear. Fear undermines faith in the establishment. It weakens the enemy from within…causing unrest in the masses. Write this down. Terrorism is not an expression of rage. Terrorism is a political weapon. Remove a government’s facade of infallibility, and you remove its people’s faith” (pg. 174).
    What good has the caution and ‘security’ in the USA done for them? What good are all these red, orange or whatever alerts they have? Who has really inflicted fear into the Americans’ (and other’s) hearts? Before the finger was pointed toward Muslim Wahhabi fundamentalists on 9-11, who was actually scared of Muslim’s? So we still don’t know who was really behind 9-11, although numerous evidences/sources clearly show that American’s may know more about the situation than they are revealing, but yet Muslim’s have suddenly become spotlighted. Sometimes I wonder how it would be if the Italian’s or Australian’s were sitting on numerous oil mines. Would the mafia have been responsible for 9-11? Wait, maybe it would have been the crocodile hunter, damn maybe even a kangaroo or koala bear with box cutters! Going back to the definition of terrorism, it states that terrorism is “often for ideological or political reasons”. Interesting.

  3. Debbie,

    Most of the atrocities in human history have been caused by Western civilization. Look at the actions of communists, fascists, and so-called ‘democracies.’ You are a biased individual and I wish you used a little more sense in attributing the actions of an extreme minority in passing a judgement on a religion that has existed for 1400 years.

    I apologize, but you’ve engaged in a form of religious profiling that is simply not acceptable in a civilized society.

    According to your logic, we should admit that white people are more prone to murder simply because most serial killers happen to be white Christian males.

    If you truly seek to understand Islam, I am open for discussion. You can e-mail me at

    Before we criticize ‘islam’ we should first ask ourselves ‘what is islam?’ and cover some basic fundamentals before diverging into side-topics.


  4. why are debbie and jinnzaman fighting in your blog…leave mr blog site and go fight somewhere else….idiots

    debbie…go get a life and who the heck is nadia?

  5. Chill, Debbie is confused about True Islam. She hasn’t seen the real Muslims in the media or publicly speaking out against the corrupted version of Islam. She is one of the thousands of Americans who haven’t seen Muslims like us. We have Islam, practice Islam, but yet we do other things like any other normal Human being. We watch movies, eat out, chill, play sports, etc. Debbie sees Muslims like Osama and Saddam who only have hatred for American and the Western world, which isn’t true, because I myself love living in America. I love the food, the entertainment, the sports, etc. Jinnzaman and her are not arguging they are just discussing issues about Islam which are unclear to the masses of America.

  6. As-Salaamu ‘Alaykum Wa Rahmatullaah,

    lol, I see this article like in EVERY sufi corner. The saudis have always been more sufi inclined, I’m not at all surprised that its finally showing now.

    May Allaah guide us upon His True Path. Aameen.

    Was-Salaamu ‘ALaykum Wa Rahmatullaahi Wa Barakaatuh.

  7. jinnzaman, you judge me too harshly. I said I do not see all Muslims as terrorists. I realize that there has been tragedy perpetrated by all races and religions over the history of our world.

    I simply stated that the most recent terrorists attacks were done by Muslims, and that is a true statement.

    Mujahideen Ryder and I have been commenting back and forth across our blogs, he understands that I (and other Americans) were really ignorant to Islam before 9/11. We have been trying to understand and learn, but you have to admit there is a lot of information out there that is anti-Islam, teaching that it is a religion of war and terror and subjugation, and not a religion of peace.

    No one, including me, believes that blanket statements like that are true of any religion.

    I think talking to each other and learning about each other as individual people/human beings is more valuable than anything else.

    I consider Mujahideen Ryder a blog friend.

    I will check out your website if you have one. I prefer not to email. Thank you for the offer.

  8. I’m going to check out all the sites you left at Right Truth. Thanks for the relevant comments you just left there. It really adds a lot to the article and hopefully helps readers understand better.

    I’m not thrilled with Bush these days either.

    Does jinnzaman have a website?

    I’m off now to check out those sites you mentioned.

  9. assalamu Alaykum wa rahmatu Allah wa barakatuh to all;
    this is just my two cents;

    my view is that all of this naming and classifying everyone into a certain type of islam is pointless and tears at the unity and mutual brotherhood that this deen was founded upon. Subhana’Allah, you never saw the earlier generations classifying themselves as salafi, or sufi, or moderate, or progressive, or whatever else new terms people come up with. If we think about it, we are supposed to practice Islam by sticking to the salaf as much as possible. And the earliest salaf had the concept of tasawwuf ingrained within their lives, not as a seperate form of practice. We need to stop all this name-calling and getting caught up in the semantics of islam and think about larger picture things. sorry about the long post but its crazy that our sufi and salafi brothers are at each others throats over things that have no real significance over real world events, and we make muslims as a whole look worse.

    once again sorry for the essay but the “lets get rid of the sufis” sentiment angered me, as well as some of the other non-sensical stuff posted


  10. For the comment, “May allah get rid of the sufis” what is happening in Saudi is just a repetition of history. As we learned in “Islam Invulnerable” (Almaghrib class) the greatest Islamic Revival in Makkah was started by Ibrahim Kurni who was known as ‘hujjat al-sufi” the proof of sufism. A modified return to the true practice of sharia and fiqh, Karni’s students were Syed Sibghatullah and forgetting his name but ends with Hindi (a scholar from Gujarat, Indian) who was the teacher of no other than Abdul Wahhab. There is too much empirical evidence to deny the dawah of sufis to the state, spread of Islam and civilization. Probably the best quote I have heard is by Hamid Algar (a University of California, Berkely Prof Islamic Studies), “Sufism was a reality without a name, now it has become a name without a reality”.

  11. “Sufism was a reality without a name, now it has become a name without a reality”

    SubhanAllah…that’s true to an extent with all the poser sufis out there who just fuel wahhabis like Mr GQ’s fire. I think sitting and learning with any traditional scholar will be evidence enough that the teachings of tasawwuf (sufism) are very much alive and going strong alhamdulillah.

  12. Debbie,


    or e-mail me.


    The teacher of Shaykh Muhammad ibn AbdulWahhab was Shaykh Muhammad Haya Al Sindhi who was an Ashari Shafi’i Naqshbandi Sufi.

    Also, lets not forget that the resistance against colonialism in Africa, Indonesia, India, and the Caucasus was lead by the Sufis.


  13. GQ is a wahhabi ROFL…
    wow i such a spectrum of commments…

    owing to the fact that most people here are sufi chearleaders I’d limit my comments…

    salma awdah has gone all melloww lol…

Comments are closed.