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The Islamic Modernists, Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb and the Sufi's


Abū Naṣr Muḥammad al-Fārābī is widely considered to be the founder of Islamic Aristotelianism — an influential branch of medieval philosophy that examines the study of Aristotle’s formal logic and natural science, while also borrowing from Plato for political matters [1].

Farabi borrows from Plato’s Republic and outlines his own criteria for a virtuous city, specifically accentuating the need for a city to be both necessary and virtuous.
The necessary and virtuous city for Al-Farabi consists of: “one whose inhabitants mutually assist one another in obtaining the best things for a human being’s existence, constitution and preservation of life” [2].

Dissecting this quote, one could reasonably infer that al-Farabi is accentuating the role of the general citizenry — who participate in a city to ensure the best possible outcomes for all inhabitants.

Just like in Plato’s Republic, when Socrates envisioned a perfectly just city (polis) as one in which all citizens are devoted to the common good — Al Farabi seeks to apply this concept into an Islamic context, thus wondering what it would take for Islam to rule the world justly [3].

Farabi’s world view highly encourages tolerance between faiths. More specifically, Farabi claims that a virtuous world regime requires a multiplicity of religions to match the multiplicity of virtuous regimes.

Similar to Plato, Al Farabi further dissects this idea of virtue, so as to outline what makes a city truly “virtuous”. Farabi cities knowledge as a universal that applies to many virtues phenomena — ultimately claiming that:

”Knowledge that is a virtue of the theoretical part is for the soul to attain certainty about the existence of the beings whose existence and constitution owe nothing at all to human artifice, as well as about what each one is and how it is, from demonstrations composed of accurate, necessary, universal, and primary premises of which the intellect becomes certain and attains knowledge by nature”.
Al-Farabi also emphasizes the role of the King in the City — who governs with the noble purpose of providing happiness for a just city’s inhabitants.
Al Farabi lays out a set of criteria for a just king, one of them, namely being the following: “he should be well provided with ready intelligence and very bright; when he sees the slightest indication of a thing, he should grasp it in the way indicated”[4].

It is especially important to note that Al Farabi strongly emphasizes the aspect of Sa’ada (happiness), in a virtue’s city⁠— while also affirming the role of happiness as a meaningful virtue in this life and the next one.

In his book, The Attainment of Happiness, Al Farabi fundamentally claims that “nations and citizens of cities attain earthly happiness in the first life and supreme happiness in life beyond when four human things are met: theoretical virtues, deliberative virtues, moral virtues and practical arts” [5].

Farabi’s teachings would seamlessly guide the United States to virtuousness and happiness. For instance, Al-Farabi’s vital emphasis on the mutual cooperation between inhabitants of a political community would bring about essential political discourse in the U.S.

Farabi’s insistence on an active and healthy political community will help bring about much needed political partisanship into the current polarized political and social climate in the U.S.

Farabi’s emphasis on knowledge as a virtue of the soul will help dismantle the political ignorance and lack of reasoning presented in popular American discourse in the Trump era.

As a result of this, more citizens in the U.S will be more willing to accept the dangers of climate change and populism and will begin to see the virtues of cosmopolitanism and free market economics mixed with social benefits.

Al Farabi’s enthusiasm for religious tolerance would relief the Islamic Ummah of needless sectarian strife.

In the world of Trump, Putin, Assad, Erdogan and Sisi — Al Farabi’s commentary on the Just Ruler who must bring about happiness to his community is timelier than ever.
Al Farabi innovative criteria for a Just Ruler fits snuggly with the interests of the citizens of a world in decay with the rise of left-wing stupidity, Brexit, Trump, religious extremism and right-wing authoritarianism.
What is so beautiful and nuanced about Farabi’s approach to classifying the just ruler is that he not only emphasizes the ruler’s fundamental duty to provide Saa’da to his people, but also underlines a set of ethical and physical norms a just ruler must adhere to.

It is today’s rulers who instill misery into their populations and create global refugees. The citizens of these nations are desperate for happiness and freedom — and Al Farabi’s teachings promote both of these vital principles.

The leaders mentioned above are complete fools, thugs and thieves, and Al Farabi’s avant-garde theories warned against such foolery and promoted intelligent leadership that would enable a healthy and happy political community.


[1] Steven Harvey, "Alfarabi, The Political Writings, vol. 2, “Political Regime” and “Summary of Plato’s Laws," Speculum 92, no. 2 (April 2017): 493-494. 

[2] Fārābī, and Charles Edwin Butterworth. Alfarabi: the Political Writings. Cornell University Press., 2015.

[3] Parens, Joshua. Islamic Philosophy of Virtuous Religions, An: Introducing Alfarabi. SUNY Press, 2012

[4] Macarimbang, Ahmad Toquero. "Envisioning a Perfect City: An Introduction to Al Farabi’s Political Philosophy." Journal for Islamic Identities and Dialogue in Southeast Asia 1 (2013): 73-92.

[5] Elhajibrahim, Samah. "Alfarabis Concept of Happiness Saada (سعادة): Eudaimonia, The Good and Jihad Al-Nafs (جهاد النفس)" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Marriott, Loews Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia, PA, Aug 31, 2006.

The Innovative Discourses of Ibn Khaldun

Ibn Khaldun is a 14th century Tunisian Islamic jurist, scholar, and politician. His works regarding the state, society, politics, jurisprudence, history and human nature have made him one of the most influential and creative thinkers of all time.

In his 1377 magnum opus, Muqaddimah, Khaldun curates radically new theories, discourses and methods of examining history, society, and politics [1]. For instance, Khaldun employs unique case studies to illuminate the role of Asabiyyah, which he defines as group feeling or spirit of kinship.

Khaldum invokes the history of Arab conquests as an example of Asabiyyah in action. Khaldun claims thatbefore Islam, Arabs were tribal, barbaric and primitive. In Khaldun’s view, the Arab conquests created an Islamic Ummah (community) and facilitated mass social cohesion that was simply unprecedented in that region.

Mass social cohesion simply could not have assumed form in the region without the rise of Islam, Khaldun postulates. This avant garde observation from Khaldun took shape much before Max Weber and Emile Durkheim’s idea that a mixture of charismatic authority, education and socialization are the main components that creates mass social cohesion in the form of a stable religious community [2].

Durkheim’s concept of “mechanical” and “organic solidarity” directly complements Khaldun’s notion of Asabiyyah or social cohesion [3]. Just like Durkheim illustrated to us how the collapse of solidarity led to abnormal behavior, or “anomie”, Khaldun emphasizes the importance of stability and peace in the Islamic Ummah.

In fact, most turmoil seen in the MENA region today comes from the decay of this fundamental “Asabiyyah”, which has deteriorated due to political splits, sectarian divides and tribal skirmishes.

In the Muqaddimah, Khaldun makes a stunning observation about the role of progress in societies — specifically claiming in Chapter two, section seven that: “It should be known that God put good and evil into the nature of man… evil is the quality that is closest to man when he fails to improve his customs” [4].

This illustrates to use the significance the role of progress plays in Khaldun’s vision for a modern state. Khaldun’s emphasis on the need for societies to progress through improving barbaric and outdated positions was unique for his cultural positioning and place in time.

In a modern context, Khaldun’s innovative and intimate reflections on the need for societies to update their customs applies seamlessly to the Wahabi state of Saudi Arabia as well as all over the Muslim world.

Khaldun’s idea of updating customs based on the evolution of time is heavily democratic.

If Khaldun was alive today, he would marvel over Tunisia’s stunning democratic achievements while simultaneously showing massive opposition to the tyrannical regimes of Egypt and Syria.

Khaldun further applies this notion of progress into the sciences. To expand, Khaldun claims that “the easiest method of acquiring scientific habit is through acquiring the ability to express oneself clearly in discussing and disputing scientific problems" [5].

Khaldun is reiterating the principles and ethos of the Islamic Golden Age which took place from 800 Ad up until 1258. Khaldun is invoking principles and ideas that would have fit seamlessly with the intellectual scene that ignited the British Industrial Revolution.

Khaldun also stresses the role of social cohesion in forming economically prosperous societies. In fact, Khaldun’s economic thought was about 400 years earlier than Adam Smith’s but is virtually identical.
Like Smith, Khaldun claimed that the individual human could not obtain basic necessities in life without social cohesion.
According to Khaldun, the economic cooperation of beings in a group will satisfy the greatest number of human beings [6].
Khaldun is also mentioning a Utilitarian perspective about 400 years before John Stewart Mill. In all, Khaldun underlines the role of Asabiyya in the highest levels of economic cooperation and growing market.
Khaldun predicted and emphasized the need for free market capitalism much earlier than Western economists did.

His economic observations touch on his theories on the rise and fall of dynasties and their correlation with culture [7]. Just like much of Khaldun’s observations, they were so Avant Garde that they were not appreciated until much later. Indeed, Khaldun was a true innovator.


[1] Garrison, D. H. (2012). Ibn Khaldun and the Modern Social Sciences: A Comparative Theoretical Inquiry into Society, the State, and Revolution.

[2] Whimster, Sam. “Max Weber, Rationality and Modernity,” April 2014.

[3] Ahmed, Akbar. "Ibn Khaldun's Understanding of Civilizations and the Dilemmas of Islam and the West Today." Middle East Journal56, no. 1 (2002): 20-45.

[4] Esteban, D. (2004). Religion and the State in Ibn Khaldiin's Muqaddimah (Doctoral dissertation, McGill University Montreal).

[5] Baali, Fuad. “Society, State, and Urbanism: Ibn Khaldun's Sociological Thought.” SUNY Press, July 8, 1988.

[6] Weiss, D. (1995). Ibn Khaldun on Economic Transformation. International Journal of Middle East Studies, 27(1), 29-37. Retrieved from

[7] Spengler, J. (1964). Economic Thought of Islam: Ibn Khaldun. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 6(3), 268-306. Retrieved from

The Islamic Reformers Muhammad Abduh and Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī

From the beginning of the 19th century, much of the Muslim World saw the unfortunate decay of cultural and political sovereignty at the hands of European powers [1].

One of the main responses to combat the disintegration of Islamic prestige was Islamic Modernism — which refers to the intellectual response that attempted to adapt to the religious and cultural challenges of the time period by practicing a balancing act between the adaptation and rejection of Western technological advancements.

In this discussion, I will argue that Islamic Modernism was prompted by internal decay of the Islamic Empire, and not by European Hegemony.

Egyptian Jurist Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905) was a prominent leader of Islamic Modernism. His desire to reform the Islamic Ummah originated from what he saw as the decay of the virtues and strengths of the Muslim World.

Abduh claims that the greatest single cause of decline in the Islamic Ummah was the feeling of despair, meaning that people were unable to see any prospect of improvement in institutions [2].

This prospect illustrates to us that much of the Islamic political and cultural reforms of the late 18th century up until the 20th century did not come from a reaction to Western hegemony per se, but instead came from the genuine lust of Islamic thinkers to improve their unique societies and cultural positions in time.


Abduh diagnoses the problem of Islamic political and social decay as a result of a certain unhealthy state of mind that enables ignorance of the teachings of the Qur'an and the Hadith (prophetic traditions), coupled with reliance on unauthentic hadith, or a misinterpretation of correct hadith. 

This illustrates to us that Abduh is not so much concerned with adopting the political, social and economic models of Europe – but he instead proposes to reform the current Islamic order to make it more authentic and compatible with the teachings of Islam while simultaneously reconciling it with modernity.

Abduh found it crucial that the Muslim world blend old Islamic teachings with modernity so as to create a certain social and political harmony that would even transcend the achievements of the Islamic Golden Age.

Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī, another prominent Islamic Modernist – focused more on revitalizing the Islamic World. More specifically, Afgani’s primary goal was to rebuild a strong Islamic State that eloquently combated Western Hegemony [3].

Al-Afghānī was highly concerned with interpreting Islam using only the Quran, therefore, he was promoting national cohesion, anti-imperialism, modern science and technology. Again, this approach to Islamic political life promotes a seamless combination between religious tradition and scientific reasoning.

Another prevalent Islamic modernist of the time was Rashid Rida — who attended a school established by Shaykh Husayn al-Jisr, who believed in the need to combine religion and modern education — therefore, Rida nourished himself in knowledge regarding modern sciences and European languages while simultaneously studying and evoking Islamic innovators such as Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (1058-1111), Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328), and his fellow Islamic modernists Al-Afghani and Abduh, who he later travelled to Egypt [4].

In his highly influential Magnum Opus, the Beacon, Rida dismantles the ideas of Islamic reform throughout the Muslim world and reiterates the compatibility of Islam, Science, reason and modernity — while simultaneously advocating for a return to the authentic religious sources of Islam and the reinterpretation of the Quran to meet the increasing demands of a modern age.

With this in mind, Rida did deviate from Abdu’s secular and liberal orientations, and instead promoted religious conservatism instead of conformity to Western notions as did Al-Afghani.

This illustrates to us that Islamic reformers often endorse a return to form of traditional Islam instead of complete subjugations to Western modes of life. Unlike Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton and other Western Scientists and intellectuals in the Republic of Letters, Islamic Modernists did not deviate from the culture and create new radical conclusions, but instead desired a peaceful and productive coexistence between old teachings and modernity, thus reiterating the importance of staying in an Islamic framework.

Islamic Modernists spoke of Europe’s increasingly hegemonic position by critiquing Western Imperialism, while warning of the moral decay that came with Western freedom and decadence.

Despite this, notable parallels exist between Islamic Modernism and the European Enlightenment period. Though islamic modernism was a reaction to western cultural changes, it featured a critical reexamination of the classical approaches and methods of jurisprudence in the Islamic world — and contained a discussion regarding the validity of knowledge derived from the sources of Islam and the mythological adequacy of the four traditional sources of Jurisprudence: the Quran, Hadith, Ijma and Qiyas — thus evoking the same discussions taking place in the European Enlightenment but situating them in an Islamic context [5].

Islamic reformers of this time period asserted that Islam was authentically compatible with science and reason, and that the Islamic world should castigate religious dogmatism that is antithetical to progress and modernity.

It is important to note that much of the problems of the Islamic world and the solutions to them have been assuming form for centuries before, and these modernist thinkers provide solutions that seek to revive the Islamic Ummah with its unique laws, traditions and cultural positioning in space and time.

When we talk about Islamic reform presently, we should consider Islamic history and the unique context and cultural positioning of the Muslim world before we propose Western solutions to Islamic woes.


[1] Adam, Abba Idris. "Islamic civilization in the face of modernity: The case of Jamal Al-Din Al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh." Proceeding of the Social Sciences Research 9, no. 10 (2014): 594-599.

[2] Muslich Shabir, Muhammad Abduh and Islamic Reform. International Journal of Civil Engineering and Technology, 8(7), 2017, pp. 902–910.

[3] Tariq, Malik Mohammad. "Jamal Ad-Din Afghani: A Pioneer of Islamic Modernism." The Dialogue 6, no. 4 (2011).

[4] Rida, Muhammad Rashid. "Renewal, renewing, and renewers." Modernist Islam 1940 (1840): 77-85.

[5] Moaddel, Mansoor. Islamic Modernism, Nationalism, and Fundamentalism: Episode and Discourse. Chicago (Ill.): The University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Hassan al Banna and Sayyid Qutb

Today, I would like to provide a comparative analysis between the Islamist ideas of Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb, who were both prominent leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, with Hassan Al Banna being the founder [1].

Both of these thinkers strived to merge politics and religion with the teachings of the Quran — which, according to them, would bring back the Islamic Ummah from what they called Jahiliyyah (non-islamic barbarism).

Frustration with the repressive and colonial powers of the time prompted Hassan al-Banna to create the Muslim Brotherhood as a response to what he perceived as a decay of morality in his homeland of Egypt.

Qutb comes to a similar, but more radical conclusion after a visit to America. Qutb critiques Western culture in the mid 20th century as decadent, immoral and philosophically hollow.

Qutb criticized racism through segregation in this time period in American History and reiterated the need for a unified Islamic Ummah to combat these negative aspects of humanity.

During Qutb’s stay in the United States between 1948 and 1951, he was shocked by American bias against Arab’s, their support for the newly formed State of Israel, the materialism of the West, as well as the Sexual permissiveness and promiscuity that is prominent in Western societies.
Qutb is emphasizing the failures of Western secularism, which he believes stems both from the failures of godless Communism and decadent Capitalism — thus, Qutb began to believe that the only alternative to these godless and commodified modes of organization is a return to pure Islam on all societal levels [2].
Qutb and his followers rejected Western modernity and culture for a more Eastern and Literalist interpretation of the Quran.
Qutb’s view on the role of women in society is somewhat unorthodox compared to his Islamists counterparts.
Qutb criticizes what he sees as the Illusion of Women’s emancipation in the West — since according to him, a Women’s usefulness should not be measured based on their value in the marketplace, but instead should be measured based on their humanity and the elevation of mind and character.
According to him, the West has capitalized on femininity and beauty to make profit, through phenomena such as advertisements and stereotypes such as “the sales-girl” and “model”.

By contrast to Qutb more philopshically complex theories, many scholars claim that al-Banna was more a narrow-minded religious scholar while Qutb was more intellectual, poetic and revolutionary. Al-Banna was willing to accept compromises for the construction of the new Islamic order and wanted to slowly build an Ummah from the bottom up.

Qutb had no interest in bargains, and with his pen as his sword, he spent most of his political active life behind prison bars, constantly accentuating the need for Islam to finally become the all-encompassing divine order of life, and through all means if necessary.

For both thinkers, the importance of an Islamic Ummah over nationalism is highly emphasized. For instance, before his assassination by the Egyptian government in 1949, Al-Banna writes an open letter to King Faruq, (the leader of Egypt before being overthrow by Gamal Abdel Nasser and the free officers) and to other Muslim leaders.

Written in 1948, the letter appears to be endorsing Islam on the grounds that it will make the nation stronger —but in reality, Banna believes that national liberation is only a tactical goal, a steppingstone in the journey towards the creation of a universal Islamic Ummah.

According to Bana, nationalism that only focuses on the nation-state is a European construct and is truly at odds with the teachings of Islam and destructive of the Islamic Ummah. Al-Banna’s many contradictions are an example of his political realism, which he employs to bridge gaps and appeal to various factions in his society [3]. Bana’s conception of a nation state emphasizes one’s allegiance Islam over any tribal, ethnic or civic notions of nationality.

By contrast, Qutb takes a more uncompromising approach to this notion of Ummah, primarily due to the different political and historical context he is operating in.
Qutb, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, presented his work during a time that the Muslim Brotherhood was violently repressed under the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Thus, the last years of Qutb’s life, from 1954 and 1964 were spent in Nasserist jails and concentration camps, where he was atrociously tortured.
This helps explain Qutb’s radical transition from mild poet to a radical preacher that wants to facilitate an Islamic Ummah.
The1976 Egyptian film Karnak, based on a novel by acclaimed Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz, depicts the rape and torture of students who criticize the Nasser era.

Qutb was unequivocal as to the role of Islam in social and political society. Qutb views the Islamic Ummah as not pertaining to any nation state but is the name of a group of people whose manners, ideas and concepts are derived from an authentic Islamic source.

Qutb is advocating for a political community aspiring for its own state, with the non-Muslim of Jahiliya. Qutb is less concerned with Egyptian identity and is more concerned with Islamic identity and is likely due to his brutal treatment by Egyptian authorities.

Qutb’s desire to rule over the “Jahiliya” stems from his critique of western modernity, consumerism and decadence, which he sees as stemming from a moral and metaphysical emptiness in the soul. In Qutb’s view, the notion of Jahiliya is based on rebellion against the sovereignty of God.


[1] Larsson, Tommy. "The Islamist Ideology of Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb. A Comparative Analysis." Master's thesis, 2017.

[2] Shehadeh, Lamia Rustum. "Women in The Discourse of Sayyid Qutb." Arab Studies Quarterly 22, no. 3 (2000): 45-55.

[3] Brykczynski, Paul. "Radical Islam and the nation: the relationship between religion and nationalism in the political thought of Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb." History of intellectual Culture 5, no. 1 (2005): 1-19.

The Alluring Prospect of a Sufi Islamic order

Historically speaking, Islam’s Sufi traditions manifested greatly in various contexts and political orders.
Sufism, which is a fairly broad term, often refers to various Islamic metaphysics, ethical disciplines, devotional practices, music, poetry and mystical experiences [1].
The eventual decay of the influence of Sufism comes at the 20th century, when societies witness a new era of modernity that is ushered in by what Max Weber calls rational social forms – which is seen as a deviation from religious sources in bureaucratic and societal social systems.
Despite this, no country in the predominantly Muslim Middle East successfully adopts secular institutions – except Turkey with the rise of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

I will argue that the rise and spread of Islamist movements like those we have seen in the 1990s and post Arab Spring could be successfully moderated and contained with Sufi orders (Turuq), whose mysticism and exoteric revivalism sets them apart from the exoteric revivalism and political activism of the Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and its many affiliates [2].

We will define Sufism as not only a mystical expression of Islamic faith; but as a multifaceted complex set of practices and beliefs that has an intellectual dimension which deals with the content of Sufi teachings – as well as an organizational dimension that manifests through associations with great significance within Muslim societies [3].

These organizations and associations are often referred to as tariqa (“path”) and are often referred to as “brotherhoods” or “orders”.

Traces of a Sufi political order first manifested in the 12th century – and it entailed a common search for truth – thereby, it contrasted the legalism and conservatism of the traditional Ulama (the interprets of law).

In terms of Weberian theory, the Sufi mystics quickly undermined the so-called charismatic authority of the conventional Ulama. Despite this, Sufi Shayk’s and the Ulama often coexisted peacefully.

Scholars refrain from considering the political manifestations of Sufi Islam. Sufi involvement in politics has assumed form on both individual and collective levels, and these orders often take a particular side: either against an establishment order, injustice, and oppression, or in support of a ruling power.
For instance, “The Suhrawardi shaykhs in general never accepted the idea of revolt against any king, no matter how unjust....
In Ottoman lands, the Mevlevi order in particular, and also the Bektashi to some extent, had close alliances with the ruling power” [4].
Perhaps the most prominent Sufi philosopher, Ibn Arabi – has had a great impact on the Muslim world both politically and socially.

Averroes’s work – which ignited the discussion in the West about God as an abstraction from perceived reality and hypothesis that could be dispensed with, was never adapted in the Muslim world.

By contrast, Ibn al-Arabi’s perspective became integrated in mainstream Islamic intellectual life; thus, creating a Sufi harmony between reason and spiritual perception [5].

An example of Al-Arabi Sufi philosophical tranquility which by and large promotes democracy is best illustrated in the following passage, in where he claims that diversity in belief stems from God:

“Since God is the root of all diversity of beliefs within the cosmos and since it is He who has brought about the existence of everything in the cosmos in a constitution not possessed by anything else, everyone else will end up with mercy”[6].

This passage illustrates to us Al-Arabi’s Sufi democratic and pluralist vision for societies.

The role of the imagination in Al-Arabi’s theories cannot be ignored – since it is seen as the creative source of manifestation, the very cause of our existence, and it is the powerful intermediary that enables us to remain in the constant contact with the infinite and absolute [7].

Al-Arabi claims that through this concept of imagination, a differentiation must assume form between human and divine mechanisms of creativity, which will in turn help resolve the paradox of eternity (qidam) and newness (huduth) of the world.

Much overlap is present between conservative interpretations of Islam and mystic Sufism. For instance, Sudan’s Mahdi, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna and Ruhollah Khomeini all began as Sufi’s.
The philosophical responses that critiqued Western colonization, rationalization and modernization of Islamic modernist thinkers like Sayyid Jamal ad-Din al-Afgani (d. 1897), Muhammad Abduh (d. 1905), Muhammad Rashid Rida (d. 1935) and the later thinkers such as Abu al-Ala Mawdudi (d. 1979), and Sayyid Qutb (d. 1966) shunned Sufi doctrines and practices as being both Non-Islamic and superstitious without any authentic basis in the Qur’an, the Sunna and the Shari’a [8].

Sufism is the modern other of hegemonic Islamic modernism and fundamentalism. Both are more traditional practices of faith that shun modernity and consumerism while calling for a return to authentic spiritual experiences.

The anti-materialistic stance and meditative practices of Sufism often invoke similarities and contrasts between Islamists thinker like Sayyid Qutb, who shuns Western materialism and searches for a deeper spiritual experience through more militant means, while Sufi’s employ mystical answers to modernity’s woes [9].

Islamic modernism and later fundamentalism is a product of westernization, decadence and modernity – and many Islamic fundamentalists critique Sufism as being both superstitious and apolitical – thereby, they are forgetting the leading role that Sufi reformist brotherhoods had filled in premodern Islam and in their own upbringing [10].

Sufi mystics and scholars are seen as more tolerant, democratic and faithful to traditional Islam than their more literalist and unimaginative Islamist counterparts. In the case of Egypt, the governments of Sadat and Mubarak promoted the Sufi movement as a more healthy, tolerant and viable alternative to traditional political islam.

The myth of the possibility of perfectly secular institutions in the muslim world has proved to be a complete fantasy – thus, Sufism can serve as a mediator between theistic and secular Islamic expressions – which will allow them to successfully maneuver between traditionalist and modernist attitudes with great precision compared to Salafists or more moderate Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood [11].

Egypt after the January 2011 uprisings, mainstream Sufis and their political parties become firm allies of both the transitional authorities and of liberals; thus, identifying with the state-controlled religious establishment [12].

This prospect illustrates to us that the Sufi Islamic political organization can successfully coexist with traditional religious institutions like Al-Azhar in Egypt; while simultaneously promoting progressive visions of what a modern Muslim state should look like.

The growth of Sufism in Egypt vis-à-vis Sufi orders and dhikr sessions illustrate to us the increasing influence of Sufism as a political force among ordinary people, technocrats, socialists and secular groups.

The incorporation of Sufism in the Egyptian constitution could prove to be an adequate remedy to the pressure by many Islamists to incorporate larger Islamic “doses” into amendments on education and family life in the 2012 constitution.

Even in the Maghreb post-Arab Spring in countries like Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, Sufi orders have seen renewed political visibility – largely as a result of new distributive and selective policies that create a new room to maneuver, along with the weakness of formal political institutions, has created incentives and pressures for Sufi order to be more prominent in the political scene [13].

In the case of Turkey, even though many Sufi’s supported the secularization efforts of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Sufi practices are banned in 1925, but they survive through underground networks [14].

Sufism functions as a societal and political mechanism that emphasizes and enhances self-discipline and personal reform through spiritual practices. One of these spiritual practices of Sufism is known as Dhikr, which entails continuous individual or collective recitation of prayers, qur’anic passages and the names of God.

Although only a minority of Turk’s subscribe to Sufi Islam, it has great influence on the religious, social and political life of the country, and this is best illustrated through the example of highly influential figures such as Fethullah Gülen, who according to Turkey’s current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his supporters, orchestrated the 2016 Coup. The Gülen movement has contributed to the rising popularity of Sufism in contemporary Turkey.

Gülen defines Sufi Islam as: “the path followed by an individual who, having been able to free himself or herself from human vices and weakness in order to acquire angelic qualities and conduct pleasing to God, lives in accordance with the requirements of God’s knowledge and love, and in the resulting spiritual delight that ensues [15].
This passage outlies to us the goals in Sufi Islam and how it’s goals would affect the political community at large.

The Gülen movement seeks to promote a nationalist, globalist and free market orientation in modern Turkish society – while simultaneously promoting personal and societal transformations by utilizing new liberal, economic and political transformations and conditions [16].

Gülen’s Sufism intertwines Sufi Islamic identity with Turkish national identity – thus creating an organic Turkish conception of modernity that rejects the Kemalist equation of modernization with westernization [17].

This prospect illustrates to us that Turkish Sufi orders can function as a viable alternative to Erdoğan’s AKP and can Islamize modernity and national identity by promoting religious values and practices from the Islamic golden age.

Undermining the considerable influence of Sufi Islam in Turkish political life would simply be a mistake. The Naqshbandiyya (a major Sufi order in Turkey) help get the 8th President of Turkey elected, Turgut Ozal, as he himself was a member of this Brotherhood.

The Naqshbaniyya is one of the most widespread Sufi brotherhoods in the world – and its strengths lie in its characteristic combination of strict adherence to the divine law and active involvement in social and political affairs [18].

The Naqshbaniyya order has evolved in three main phases: the original Naqshabandiyya of Central Asia, the Mujaddidiyya which sprang from India, and the Khalidiyya, which was formed in the Ottoman lands and reached the remotest corners of the Muslim world – from the North Caucuses, Siberia, and Indonesia.

In the case of Iran, Sufism is especially influential in culture and society. Specifically, Sufi traces remain in Iran, such as; morality and ethnic traditions as well as more subtle traditions such as Dervish houses, beggars with Koshkool in their hands and alchemy [19].

Sufism also greatly influences Iranian literature – in the sense that poetry was employed to propagate ideas and beliefs.

Poetry was utilized as a tool to relief sorrows and grieves of the society and edify people. From the perspective, the use of the concept of love was not synonymous with youth sex drives, love was synonymous with divinity.

Much overlap is present between Ruhollah Khomeini and Sufism. Even though since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran many Shia Sufi orders that exercise the mystical and spiritual elements of Shia Islam have been forced into exile due to oppression from the government – there are many instances where Khomeini speaks positively about Sufism with words such as ‘Mystic’ and ‘Gnostic’, which according to him, are positive ways of approaching God and Islam [20].

It is also notable that Khomeini was a reader of Ibn Arabi and himself has often evoked a certain poetic Sufi mysticism that hypnotized many against the repressive Shah. To expand, when Khomeini handles two types of divine of Mercy in his works, he is often evoking Ibn Arabi’s Fusus al-Hikam [21].

Ibn Arabi depicts divine Mercy as operating in two directions: “outwardly, creating the necessary object of the divine love” (Rohman) and “inwardly reestablished the original synthesis of the reality” (Ramin).
Both authors seem to be pursuing a common goal, insofar as they endeavor to illustrate “the double and inevitable necessity of otherness and nonotherness for love, whether divine or human, which creates the tension necessary for the experience and awareness of self-consciousness”.

Despite these overlaps, the model of Khomeini’s Iran leaves little room for alternative expressions of Islamic faith like Sufism, since Khomeini often spoke negatively of Dervishes and Sufi orders in general.

Khomeini’s model of governance deviated from Sufism and created a more fundamentalist state that led to the Islamization of society that creates a certain state that is planned based on the model of the original Islamic community of Muhammad and his immediate successors, but the interpretation of their principles in relation to modern socio-political contexts gives rise to political ideologies that represent a certain departure from traditional

Islamic concepts and doctrines, thus incorporating more modern concepts [22]. This prospect by and large illustrates to us the clash between traditional models of the state which are based on traditional faith practices vs more secular visions for a given state; and how Sufi parties and orders can provide a reasonable mediation between these two visions for a state.

The Iranian clerical regime represents a common crisis in the Muslim world, which is that Sufi’s are becoming increasingly prominent as representatives of a new political and social alternative to the failed state of the Ayatollah Khomeini [23].

In Saudi Arabia, Sufi’s have been at the forefront of demands for social and political reform where the anti-Sufi Wahhabis have a strong hold on the state. These revelations illustrate to us that Sufism is a more pluralist model for the state, social and religious interactions that can change fabrics and institutions in the Muslim world.

Moderate Islam, in which Sufism exemplifies is not a recent phenomenon dreamt up by those in the West. Islam has historically encompassed a plethora of religious expressions that have promoted religious diversity and pluralism.

On one hand, there is the radical Shia Iran and Hezbollah who seek to impose an Islamic state and the Sunni Wahabis who are a product of fanatical Arab nationalism more than anything else.

But on the other hand, enlightened practitioners of Sufism boast a fruitful vision for humanity that is filled of tolerance, coexistence and enlightenment.

This blissful ideology also stresses a spiritual dialogue between Muslims and a separation between the spiritual and clerical authority that stresses the importance of mutual civility, interaction and cooperation between all inhabitants of the earth.

The Wahabi visions of the state have been directly been nourished by U.S imperialism and the Shia extremist visions have been also, since the U.S supported the Shah before 1979 and undermined the will of the people.

We have discussed Sufism as being beyond a beautiful and mystical component of Islam. Sufism can be a religious alternative to the failed Islamist movements in the Maghreb, Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

This vision is not exactly unrealistic, since through Islamic history, Sufi practices have gradually become mainstream practices in Muslim societies and religious institutions.

Sufism has historically had massive societal influence in Muslim nations through underground networks such as “brotherhoods” and more conventional means of political expressions such as political parties.

Sufism serves as a reasonable mediation between the Islamic fundamentalist visions of the state which calls for a return to a pure state of Islamic practice, and the moderates and seculars who think faith is an inner practice.
The diverse and mystical aspects of Sufi Islamic practice are often flexible and open to interpretations; thus, they can serve all cultural contexts and positions in time.
It’s a reasonable political alternative that incorporates all visions of the state that will bridge secular and ideological divides that have plagued the Islamic Ummah for centuries.
No wonder that most Islamic political philosophers incorporated Sufism in their ethos, it is simply one of the core foundations of traditional Islam and is the missing link that creates a healthy Islamic Ummah that Islamic philosophers have been searching for.


[1] Bruinessen, Martin van, and Julia Day Howell. Sufism and the Modern in Islam. London: I.B. Tauris, 2007.

[2] Hamzeh, A. Nizar, and R. Hrair Dekmejian. “A Sufi Response to Political Islamism: Al-Aḥbāsh of Lebanon.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 28, no. 2 (1996): 217–29. doi:10.1017/S0020743800063145.

[3] Trimingham, J. Spencer. The Sufi Orders in Islam. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971.

[4] Stepanyants, Marietta. "Sufism in the context of modern politics." The Journal of Oriental Studies 19 (2009): 166-181.

[5] Lewisohn, Leonard. “Imaginal Worlds: Ibn Al-'Arabi and the Problem of Religious Diversity.

[6] Ibid

[7] Akkach, Samer. "The world of imagination in Ibn ‘Arabi's ontology." British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 24, no. 1 (1997): 97-113.

[8] Kim, Heon Choul. The nature and role of Sufism in contemporary Islam: A case study of the life, thought and teachings of Fethullah Gülen. Temple University, 2008.

[9] Mendoza, Kristin. "Islam and Islamism in Afghanistan." Islamic Legal Studies Program, Harvard (2008).

[10] Weismann, Itzchak. 2011. Modernity from Within: Islamic Fundamentalism and Sufism. Der Islam. 86(1): 142-170.

[11] Milani, Milad. Sufi Political Thought. London; New York: Routledge, 2018.

[12] Brown, Jonathan. Salafis and Sufis in Egypt. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2011.

[13] Werenfels, Isabelle. "Beyond authoritarian upgrading: the re-emergence of Sufi orders in Maghrebi politics." The Journal of North African Studies 19, no. 3 (2014): 275-295.

[14] “Sufism in Turkey.” Religious Literacy Project:

[15] “Gülen Fethullah, and Ünal Ali. Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism: Emerald Hills of the Heart. Somerset, NJ: Light, 2006”.

[16] Yavuz, M. Hakan. “Turkish Islam and the Secular State The Global Impact of Fethullah Gülen's Nur Movement M. Hakan Yavuz

[17] Gulay, Erol N. "The Gülen phenomenon: A Neo-Sufi challenge to Turkey's rival elite?." Critique: Critical Middle Eastern Studies 16, no. 1 (2007): 37-61.

[18] Weismann, Itzchak. The Naqshbandiyya: orthodoxy and activism in a worldwide Sufi tradition. Routledge, 2007.

[19] Ghadamyari, Karamali. "Sufism impact on Iranian society, culture and literature." European Journal of Experimental Biology 2, no. 2 (2012): 410-416.

[20] Taffazoli, Parasto. "Khomeini and Sufism: Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on the oppression against Sufi Orders in the Islamic Republic of Iran." (2014).

[21] Knysh, Alexander. ""Irfan" Revisited: Khomeini and the Legacy of Islamic Mystical Philosophy." Middle East Journal 46, no. 4 (1992): 631-53.

[22] Zubaida, Sami. "The ideological conditions for Khomeini's doctrine of government." Economy and Society 11, no. 2 (1982): 138-172.

[23] Schwartz, Stephen. The Other Islam: Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony. New York: Doubleday, 2008.


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