Sufi Mujahidin

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

This is an article by Brother Khuram Zaman on Sufi mujahidin.  Brother Khuram Zaman is the general administrator of Seekers Guidance, an online Islamic educational institute specialising in the teaching of sacred knowledge in its modern context through online courses, webinars, weekend seminars, retreats, and through social media.  He received a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and a Juris Doctor from Widener University School of Law, Delaware campus.

More often than not, the term ‘Sufi’ invokes images of twirling dervishes lost in ecstasy, strange people who engage in exotic practices that seem antithetical to Islamic legal traditions, or apolitical mystics fixated in meditation.  In addition to the misconception that Sufism is inherently heterodox, perhaps the greatest misconception is that it is passive and apathetic towards jihad.  In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.  First and foremost, it is necessary to establish the orthodoxy of Sufism by pointing out the sheer number of eminent scholars who have been Sufi.  As taken from Imam Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Miswri (r.a.) from “Reliance of the Traveller”, we have the following from the various madzahib.  The translation was by Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller.

Amongst the Hanafi ‘ulama, we have Imam ‘Ali Qari (q.s.), Imam ‘Abd al-Ghaffar an-Nablusi (q.s.), Imam Ahmad as-Sirhindi (q.s.), and Shah Wali’ullah (q.s.).  From the Maliki, the following ’ulama were Sufi: Shaykh ibn ‘Atha’illah as-Sakandari (q.s.) and Imam ibn ‘Ajibah (q.s.).  However, Imam Taj ad-Din as-Subki (r.a.) concluded that Shaykh ibn ‘Atha’illah (q.s.) was more Shafi’i.  The Hanbali had Imam ‘Abd ar-Rahman ibn al-Jawzi (q.s.), Shaykh ‘Abd al-Karim Jili (q.s.) who was the great-grandson of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (q.s.), and Imam ibn Rajab (q.s.).  Shaykh Abdal-Hakim Murad also mentioned this in his article, Islamic Spirituality: The Forgotten Revolution.  Shaykh Muhyi ad-Din ibn ‘Arabi (q.s.) was of the Zhahiri madzhab.  The Shafi’i madzhab too, had a plethora of Sufis as some of its most prestigious scholars: Imam Abu al-Qasim al-Junayd (q.s.), Imam Hakim at-Tirmidzi (q.s.), Shaykh Abu ‘Ali ad-Daqqaq (q.s.), Shaykh Abu ‘Abd ar-Rahman as-Sulami (q.s.), Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (q.s.), Imam ‘Abd al-Wahhab ash-Sha’rani (q.s.), Imam Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri (q.s.), Imam ‘Izz ibn ‘Abd as-Salam (q.s.) who in addition to his outstanding works in Islamic law, he is also known for his harshness with Muslim rulers who did not fight against the Crusaders vigorously, Imam an-Nawawi (q.s.), and Imam as-Suyuthi (q.s.).

It should also be noted that even Imam Muhammad Hayyat as-Sindi (r.a.), the hadits teacher of Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab (q.s.) who introduced him to the works of ibn Taymiyyah (r.a.), was from the Naqshbandi thariqa’.  There is much debate over whether or not Shaykh ibn Taymiyyah (r.a.) was a Sufi of the Qadiri Order.  Interestingly enough, the great Indian scholar and Sufi, Shah Wali’ullah ad-Dihlawi (q.s.), was a student of another great Sufi scholar, Imam Ibrahim al-Kurrani (q.s.), who happened to also be the teacher of Imam Muhammad Hayyat as-Sindi (r.a.) and Shaykh Yusuf (q.s.) who later lead a jihad against the Dutch in Indonesia.  Aside from the select few of Sufi scholars that were briefly mentioned above, there are countless others who have not been mentioned.  Although it does not give the subject justice, it should be clear that the roots of Sufism have always had its roots firmly entrenched in orthodoxy.

The second greatest misconception that people, including non-Muslims, have of Sufism is that it is flaccid in participating in issues pertaining to social justice and engaging in jihad.  History is a testament that not only is Sufism not opposed to jihad, but rather, Sufis have been amongst the foremost leaders of jihad.  Even the early Sufis were known for their fervent desire for engaging jihad and seeking martyrdom.  For example, Shaykh Ibrahim ibn Adham (q.s.), was an early Sufi ascetic who was born into a life luxury which he abandoned in order to study the Sacred Sciences and later fought in jihad against the Byzantines.  In fact, the very roots of the Sufi zawiyah, a type of lodge, has its roots in the ribath.  The ribath is a type of fortress that was often built along the ever expanding Islamic frontier.  At these fortresses, Sufi shuyukh adapted their teachings of outward jihad in order to teach their disciples the science of inner jihad.  This was taken by Brother Abdullah Schleifer’s paper, “Jihad & Traditional Islamic Consciousness.”

During the Crusades, Sufis also participated in popular resistance against the Franks.  The Battle of Mansura in Egypt included participants of the likes of Shaykh Abu Hasan ash-Shadzili (q.s.), Shaykh Ibrahim Dassuwki (q.s.), and Shaykh al-Qannawwi (q.s.).  When Sultan al-Kamil of Egypt began negotiating with the Franks during the Fourth Crusade, Shaykh Muhyi ad-Din ibn ‘Arabi (q.s.) scolded him by saying, “You have no pride and Islam will not recognise the likes of you.  Stand up and fight or we shall fight you as we fight them.”

Even Imam al-Ghazali (q.s.) castigated the Mamluk Sultans for failing to carry on the fight by giving them a similarly pernicious warning, “Either take up your sword for the sake of Allah and the rescue of your brothers in Islam, or step down from the leadership of Muslims so their rights can be championed by other than you.”  This is found in Shaykh Muhammad Said ash-Shinnawy’s, “Sufism: A Call & an Education.”

Egyptian resistance during the Seventh Crusade was lead by Shaykh Ahmad al-Badawi (q.s.) of the Rifa’i thariqa’.  Shaykh Najm ad-Din Kubra (q.s.), the founder of the Kubrawiyyah thariqa’, died in the defense of Khwarazm from the Mongol hordes.  Even from within the Ottoman Empire, Sufis mobilised the masses in jihad, often lead rebellions against the rulers, assisted in the accession of the Sultan, and some even served as chaplains to the warrior class known as the Janissaries.

During the era of colonialism, Sufis lead resistance movements across the ummah against imperialism and its purveyors.  In the Caucasus, the Russians faced stiff resistance coming primarily from the Naqshbandi and Qadiri thariqa’.  Mulla Muhammad al-Ghazi al-Kamrawi (q.s.) fought against the Russians when Russia declared itself the protector for the Christians in Khurjistan and annexed portions of Safavid Persia in 1800.  Mulla Muhammad (q.s.) was the Shaykh of the Naqshbandi thariqa’ and hundreds of thousands of his muridun fought against the Russians until he died.  Leadership was then transferred to al-‘Amir Hamzah al-Khanzaji (q.s.) but within a year, he was martyred as well.

The famous Imam Shamil ad-Daghistani (q.s.) then became the ‘amir of the jihad and fought the Russians for twenty-seven consecutive years.  Interestingly enough, Imam Shamil (q.s.) met Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza’iri (q.s.), another Sufi who was fighting over 3,000 miles away, in 1828, while on hajj where they exchanged information about guerilla warfare.  After his surrender, rebellions were carried on by the muridun of the Qadiri order.  In 1864, the Russians killed over 4,000 Qadiri muridun alone along with many other innocent civilians.  This is found in Brother Kerim Fenari’s article, “The Jihad of Imam Shamyl.”  The Naqshbandi and Qadiri joined forces and rebelled in 1865, 1877, 1878 and all throughout the 1890s.  During the Soviet Revolution, the Muslims were lead by Shaykh Uzun Haji (q.s.).  Stalin ultimately dealt with the “Chechen problem” by forcibly relocating the entire population into concentration camps.  Dr. David Damrel mentioned this in his paper, “The Religious Roots of Conflict: Russia & Chechnya.”

In the Indian subcontinent, Sufis and Sufi orders played a considerable role in active military and intellectual resistance against the British.  The Sufis participated in resistance prior to the famous Mutiny of 1857 when the followers of Shah Waliullah (q.s.), under the leadership of his son Shah ‘Abd al-’Aziz (r.a.) began initiating jihad.  In a fatwa, Shah ‘Abd al-’Aziz (r.a.) proclaimed India to be Dar al-Harb.  He declared jihad, stating, “Our country has been enslaved.  To struggle for independence and put an end to the slavery is our duty.”  This is mentioned in Muhammad Burhan ad-Din Qasmi’s paper, “Darul Uloom Deoband.”  He was succeeded in his struggles by Sayyid Ahmad Baralwi (q.s.) who founded the Thariqa’-i Muhammadi and was eventually defeated by the Sikhs of Punjab.  Both Sufi and non-Sufi scholars alike participated actively in the Mutiny of 1857.  When the rebellion was finally extinguished, over 50,000 ‘ulama were dead.  This was detailed in Dr. Ira Lapidus’ “A History of Islamic Societies.”  After the failure of the Mutiny of 1857, resistance to colonialism by the ‘ulama re-invented itself in the form of the Deoband movement which established a plethora of madaris all across India that taught the sacred sciences derived from the Qur’an, hadits, law, along with logic, kalam, science, and Sufism of the Jisti Order.  Information on this is found in Dr. David Emmanuel Singh’s, “The Independent Madrasas of India: Dar al-‘Ulum, Deoband & Nadvat al- ‘Ulama”

The Tablighi Jama’at grew out of the Deobandi movement through Mawlana Muhammad Ilyas al-Khandalwi (q.s.) who was also a member of the Jisti Order through the Swabiri branch.  The focus of this movement was a return to the correct understanding of Islam based on the Qur’an and hadits, adhering to the injunctions of the shari’ah, with an astute focus on worship.  There is greater detail of this in Dr. Barbara Medcalf’s “‘Traditionalist’ Islamic Activism: Deoband, Tablighis, and Talibs.”

Even in Indonesia, the Qadiri Order provided leadership in the already widespread resistance to Dutch imperialism in the 1840s and 1850s.  This is found in greater detail in Dr. Ira Lapidus’ “A History of Islamic Societies.”  By far, one of the most active areas of Sufi resistance occurred in Africa.  Resistance by Sufis against imperialism began almost as soon as Europeans endeavoured at colonising the Muslim lands.  In Morocco, the Shadzili thariqa’ was the forefront opponent of the Portuguese in the 15th century, the most notable of the Sufis being Imam al-Jazuli (q.s.).  This is explained in Brother ‘Abdullah Schleifer’s “Jihad & Traditional Islamic Consciousness.”  Shaykh ‘Utsman Dan Fudyu (q.s.) was a Maliki scholar of the Qadiri Order who vigorously spoke out against the innovations that had become dominant in his time, particularly the mixing of Islamic and pagan beliefs.  He eventually performed hijrah, established an Islamic state, and engaged in jihad to unite the region under the shari’ah.

al-Hajj ‘Umar Thal (q.s.) was a Tijani shaykh from northern Senegal who fought jihad against both the French and pagans of Guinea, Senegal, and Mali.  After performing his second pilgrimage, he traveled across various cities in Africa starting in Cairo and eventually coming to Sokoto, Nigeria, where he studied with Muhammad Bello (q.s.), the son of Shaykh ‘Utsman Dan Fudyu (q.s.), in the field of military sciences and administration.  Upon his return to his homeland, he fought mainly against the pagans of Karta and Segu.  ‘Umar (q.s.) was a staunch advocate of the Shari’ah and after one victory against the polytheists; he destroyed the idols of the pagans with his own hands using an iron mace.  al-Hajj Muhammad al-Ahrash (q.s.) from Morocco, a Darqawi Sufi, organised a group comprised of Tunisians and Moroccans in 1799 to fight against the French during their invasion of Egypt.  Sayyid Muhammad ‘Abdullah as-Sumali (q.s.) was a Shafi’i scholar and member of the Swalihiyyah thariqa’, which he utilised effectively as a military force for over twenty years against the British and Italians in Somalia.  He once said in a speech, “Unbelieving men of religion have assaulted our country from their remote homelands.  They wish to corrupt our religion, to force us to accept Christianity, supported by the armed force of their governments, their weapons, their numbers.  You have your faith in God, your arms and your determination.  Do not be frightened by their soldiers or armies: God is mightier than they…”

Perhaps one of the most famous Sufi mujahidin was Imam ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza’iri (q.s.), was elected an ‘amir at the age of twenty-five and personally lead the mujahidin against the French invasion of Algeria in 1830.  He was part of the Qadiri Order and authored al-Mawaqif, which is a three volume Sufi manual.  Dr. Itzchak Weismann wrote about him in “God & the Perfect Man in the Experience of ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza’iri.”  Shaykh Ma’ al-‘Aynayn al-Qalqami (q.s.) of Mauritania was also a Qadiri Sufi who made a personal alliance with the Sharifian dynasty of Morocco to engage in jihad against the French which resulted in the death of several of his sons.  In Libya, members of the Sanusi thariqa’ lead a coalition against the French and Italians.  In the Middle East, with the Ottoman Empire in disarray, several prominent Sufi scholars carried the banner of jihad against European occupation.

Shaykh ‘Ali ad-Daqar (q.s.) was a Shafi’i scholar and shaykh of the Tijani thariqa’ who founded al-Jami’iyyah al-Ghurra’, an academy of more than eleven separate schools of the sacred sciences.  Along with Shaykh Badr al-Din al-Hasani (q.s.), he traveled the Syrian countryside during the French occupation and instructed the people of the villages of the obligatory nature of jihad against the imperialists.  Shaykh Hashim al-Khathib (q.s.) was a Shafi’i scholar of the Qadiri thariqa’ who also urged the Muslims to wage jihad against the French.  Shaykh Muhammad Sa’id al-Burhani (q.s.) was a Hanafi scholar and Sufi of the Naqshbandi Order who fought against the French during their occupation of Syria that began in 1920.  Sufi resistance has not withered away and is still active in many parts of the ummah.  For example, during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Sufi thariqa’ played a pivotal role in evicting the Communists.  Many prominent leaders of the resistance were Sufis such Sayyid Ahmad al-Jilani (q.s.), the head of the Qadiri Order.  He once held the position of Chief of Justice amongst the mujahidin.  Two previous presidents of Afghanistan, Sebghatullah Mojaddedi and Burhanuddin Rabbani, are of the Naqshbandi order.  Dan Alexe wrote about this in “Sufi Brotherhoods Reemerge after the Fall of the Taliban,” February 1st 2002 on Radio Free Europe.  The founder and the leader of the Taliban, Mulla Mohammad Omar, is allegedly a Naqshbandi as well.  Even today, in Iraq a resistance group was recently formed in April 2005 known as the “Jihad Sufi Squadrons of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani” in order to fight against the American occupation.

It should be self evident by now that Sufis are not passive, apolitical mystics but have often formed the core intellectual and military elite in propagating Islamic revivals all across the ummah.  The article should not be misconstrued as being a comprehensive study of the role that Sufis have played in da’wah, the revival of the sacred sciences, and jihad, but rather, it is intended to be merely a brief introduction to a voluminous study.  May Allah (s.w.t.) Raise up a leader from amongst us who will fight the fitnah of our day and unite our ummah.  Amin.


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