Sufis vs. Shiahs in Iran

Police, Sufis clash in Iran

    Sufi Muslim spirituality is tolerated under mainly Shia Iran’s strict Islamic laws, although some senior religious figures occasionally call for a clampdown on its rites.
Foreign plot
    Abbas Mohtaj, the governor-general of Qom, accused the dervishes of being part of a foreign plot, but he did not explain this.
    The Sufis’ mystical path to God through dance and music does not go down well with some of the most senior religious figures in the country.   
    Ayat Allah Hossein Nouri-Hamedani in September called for a clampdown on dervish groups in the holy city of Qom, which he called a "danger to Islam".

I’d be interested in learning more about the doctrinal objections to Sufism that are put forward by conservatives in Iran, and comparing them against those of Salafis and other critics of Sufism.

I find this dynamic particularly intriguing given how much Sunni Sufism and orthodox Shiahism seem to have in common in terms of devotional practice and mystical discourse, at least compared to Salafism and many other contemporary Islamic movements. 

In fact, Zahir makes the interesting argument that Shiahs don’t need to become Sufi to be mystical, as mysticism is woven into their tradition.  If that’s true, I wonder what doctrinal issues the clerical establishment has with Sufism (other than the fact that most Sufis are Sunni).

[HT: Anas, who emailed me this last week; Shabana, for reminding me of my forgotten draft by posting on the topic.]

  • Leila

    This isn’t a new thing, there’s a history of certain shi’i ulama being anti-sufi orders. Personally, my theory is that any leader who flips out over sufism is only doing so because they believe their authority will become diluted as a result.
    I do, however, have to point something out, though. It’s a bit weird to me how you stated your title “sufis vs shiahs.” Number one, it gives the connotation that sufism is a “sunni thing” by polarizing it against “shiahs” in this case. What we’re seeing here is a crappy government action, not an actual religious movement going on. It’s way different than Salafism’s take on the subject. Even in uber orthodox sheikh-centric shiism, there is a whole lot of irfan, or gnosis, which is quite different.
    That being said, Iran has also gone against shi’a sufi orders as well, namely the Uvaisis and the Nimatullahis. Again, I think this all has to do with control of power– the main reason we see most takfiring going on.
    Sad, isnt it?

  • Leila

    Ah, I did a google news search. The sufis who were attacked? They’re also shi’i.

  • Svend

    Thanks for the enlightening comments, Leila.
    I stand corrected about assuming that they were Sunni. Shouldn’t have made that assumption. I guess I assumed that if they were accusing them of being agents of “foreign” influence that that was also code for being Sunni.
    I am aware of (but poorly informed on) the existence of Shiah tariqahs, so I certainly wasn’t trying to imply that it’s unique to Sunni Islam.
    Your point about irfan is part of why I find the question so interesting. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if you’re right and this is simply a power struggle between established players and their up & coming rivals, but some of the quotes seem to imply a doctrinal critique. (Of course, even if it is simply a power struggle, critics would pretend that this purely doctrinal, as well.)

  • Deni

    Just to throw in my two pence (or cents) worth of opinion on the matter. From what I’ve read of critiques of Sufism and Tariqah by Shi’i ulema (and by no means are all of the critics partizans of the doctrine of wilayat-i-faqih), the clear impression I gained is of opposition to innovation/bida in acts of worship (eg recitiation of daily wirds authorized by Sufi shuyukh, the practice of periodic seclusion/khalwa etc). Basically, their critiques of Sufism mirror the polemical works, almost word for word, of Salafi scholars like Bin Baz and Uthaimeen.
    Here are some links to Shi’i tariqahs: (Nimatullahi Gonabadi Order) and (Oveyssi Order).

  • svend

    That’s very interesting. I’m not surprised, as I’ve long believed that primary factor in contemporary opposition to Sufism isn’t doctrinal or theological in nature, so much as psychological/cultural (namely a neurotic contemporary discomfort with complexity and ambiguity in religion, which is at the heart Sufism). If Shiah scholars are using the same arguments as Salafis as you say in spite of the affinities between Sufism and traditional Shiahism that would bolster my theory.