The religion as itself has been always the most sensitive question and challenge. If we try to make an objective approach to the religion matters, we will be accused that we have never been able to understand the energy of divine, the spirituality of connection with God, that special level which cant be understood but rather accepted without any doubts. On the other side, if we choose theological framework, we must be more believers than writers, so that could  eventually give some results.

When it comes to the Islamic religion, the rules are stricter. Analyzing and writing about Islam is a hard task but also not impossible. The complexity of this religion reaches many different fields and only interpreting of the whole picture can lead us to the conclusions which aren’t opinionated , pro or against, but as much neutral and realistic  as it is possible.

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Long time ago, when I was starting my research journey into lands of Islam, I thought that all I have to know about Islamic diversity is a fact that there is Sunni and Shia Islam,based on the spiritual leadership struggles after Prophet Mohammad death in 632. The tribal Arabs of that times were divided in two groups: 80% of them, later knows as Sunnis and mostly located in the Gulf states, were following Abu Bakr, the friend of the Prophet Mohammad and the father of his wife Aisha; 20% were supporting Prophet Mohammad’s cousin Ali who was  also his  son-in-law—so they were named as Shia, the partisans of Ali.  We would think that after this major diversion, everything else is not important or not so important. Years after my discovery, I was facing up with many colors of Islam, many ideological streams and theories so I found myself trapped into the whole new world of Islams i didn’t know or didn’t understand. Somehow, the fragile surface of Sunni and Shia Islam opened many questions and dilemmas if the Islamic religion  is semi united and if not,  where are the Muslims today  when they have so many choices within one Islam? The old division on Sunni world in Arabic countries and Shia mood in the country like Iran is upgraded  with plenty of potential options for Muslim people to follow and to accept or to deny and move on.

What is Sufism then? I would start with Sufi Islam because I was traveling so many times in Turkey and was informed by local people that their Islam is a special, Sufi Islam, totally different than Arab, Wahhabi Islam. Sufism (tasavvuf) is a mystical way of approaching the Islamic faith through the self-discipline in spiritual practice with the purpose to experience God on the personal level. The devoted mystics who are following this way of religious expression  are  known as Sufis, darvish and Arabic language calls them fuqara, “the poor”,because of their trans meditative approaches and ideology which combines orthodox Islam and Islamic deep mysticism.

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The substantial elements of Sufi Islam are: tawakkul (absolute trust in God)  and  tawhid (the truth that there is no deity but God):“The love of God for man and the love of man for God are also very central to Sufism, and are the subjects of most Islamic mystical poetry and hymns.” This movement is theological because it insists on purity of Islamic life and respecting of Islamic law and  it is defined by self-denial and deep introspective moments so majority of those believers are trying not only to imitate Prophet Mohammad’s way of life but to not sleep, not eat and not talk much so to be ready for final spiritual journey:“Mystical experience of the divine is also central to Sufism. Sufis are distinguished from other Muslims by their fervent seeking of dhawq, a ‘tasting’ that leads to an illumination beyond standard forms of learning. However, the insight gained by such experience is not valid if it contradicts the Qur’an.The Path The Sufi way of life is called a tariqah, ‘path.’ The path begins with repentance and submission to a guide (sheikh or pir). If accepted by the guide, the seeker becomes a disciple (murid) and is given instructions for asceticism and meditation. This usually includes sexual abstinence, fasting and poverty. The ulimate goal of the Sufi path is to fight the true Holy War against the lower self, which is often represented as a black dog.”  They are having one almost poetic pattern for searching for God, the ultimate union between man and God, awarded with love and knowledge and spiritual ecstasy.

Following the typical Sufi rituals: prayers, music and whirling, they are focusing themselves mainly on the praising of Allah’s name Surah 62:10, Holy Qur’an. It is interesting but this form of Islam is more inner-oriented than outer. The accent is on the personal link with God and on the celebration of intimate relation with God’s love. The history of Sufism is very rich.The earliest type  of Sufism arose under the Umayyad Dynasty (661–749) and then Rabi’ah al-‘Adawiyah (d. 801), one woman from Basra, made a pure God’s love as an ideal for Sufi mysticism. The period from 800-1100 AD is  a classical Sufism and then it comes the 13th century, the  golden time of this movement and theological philosophy, empowered with legendary Sufi masters :Ibn al’Arabi of Spain,Ibn al-Farid of Egypt, Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi of Persia, and Najmuddin Kubra of Central Asia.

A Kashmiri Muslim man looks at the ruins of a revered 200-year old sufi shrine in downtown Srinagar on July 5,2012, which was gutted in a devasted fire recently.Thousands of devotees throng the place of worship daily and the number is expected to go-up tonight on the occassion of Shabi-e-barat, an auspicious night during which muslims offer special prayers seeking forgiveness from God.The shrine stood in Srinagar's khanyar locality in memory and respect of the 11th century sunni priest from persia Syed Abdul Qadir Geelani burried in Baghdad. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA (Photo credit should read TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/GettyImages)

However,The Turkish Sufi orders are dissolved  and Sufi practices is   banned  in 1925 after the secularist took political power in Turkey. So many years of brilliant influence of this mysticism on local Turkish Islam and form of belief were almost erased by strongly established Turkish   secularism. In spite of it, the underground activities of Sufism in Turkey remain as a necessity of Turkish people who were loyal to this kind of Islam.   Ottoman Islam has been always inspired by Sufism which  was also the wing for neo-Islamism in Turkish society and soul food for the  new Islamic intentions in society with injected secularism.

The destiny of Sufism is difficult. Wherever they are, they are not fully  welcomed. In Arab states, the Sufism is considered as charlatan non-Islamic wave of Islamic religion but their invisible power is outrageous. They are very active in the shadow of the official Islam of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.In Shia-land, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, they are considered in dual way. Their past is respected as the important ingredient of the Iranian heritage but their presence in Iranian society is not tolerated at all.

 The Sufism has deep tradition and religious strength but it is endangered by radicalized forms of Islam and it is almost muted nowadays. The mystics who celebrate God’s love and invite for spiritual road should be an inspiration for all believers because the religion is personal experience above all, not mobilized in ideology or even  politicized.

 How we will understand the  Salafism and what is the Wahhabism then? Some people use these two terms as synonyms and I think it should be declared that the differences exist. First of all, the misunderstanding came from the Arabic word ”Salafiyyah” which should mean  the preceding one, past and in this case, the first Muslims and their form of religious practices. Some scholars labeled them as Salafists and some as Wahhabists. Who are they and where are the boundaries between those two controversial Islams, what are accused for extremism and sometimes for inspiration for Islamic terrorism?

During the 18th century, the scholar Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab began preaching his revivalist brand of Islam amongst the Bedouins of the Najd, it was almost sounded like heresy to the  official authorities of Al Azhar University. He didn’t give up on convincing local political  leaders that they need new Wahhabi movement to rebuild the lost Islamic power and he offered to Mohammad bin Saud the new glory and pact for Islamic unity for protection and enhancing of the new religious wave. The central principle of Tawhid – the “uniqueness” of God was based on knowledge of medieval thinkers like Ibn Taymiyyah and Ahmad ibn Hanbal.  Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab believed that the weakness of Muslims came from the European modernism and turning of Muslims into polytheists instead of keeping them on the track of monotheism. Accusing them for shirk, he came out with the new platform which could make Islamic civilization again to rise and shine. This movement was concentrating on jihad as a main  part of teaching and this alliance made between this Islamic sect and the House of Saud, later the rulers of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, was resulted with the Wahhabism as the official form of Sunni Islam in that country today. The followers of Wahhabi’s teaching call themselves Muwahideen (monotheists) and they do not think positive about the westernized word Wahhabis.


Salafism originated in the mid to late 19th century as an intellectual movement started in  well known al-Azhar University,in Cairo and  led by Muhammad Abduh,Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Rashid Rida, the group which was consisted of educators, professors and political activists with the strong will to change the current Islamic positions. It is important to mention that Salafism admired the western civilization’s progress and dreamed about making balance with going back to Islamic purity but through the achieving the modern and golden age of Islam.  They wanted to adopt the ancient Islamic rules and to enforce them in modern times so to fulfill the Prophet Mohammad’s Revelations.  The typical form of Salafi authority today is the  Muslim Brotherhood organization.The Wahhabi and Salafi aren’t the same- some experts state that the Wahhabi is a strict form of Salafi ideology implemented in Saudi Arabia, but also the Salafism came later than Wahhabism so that doesn’t apply so well. The fact is that they both insist on fundamental teachings of Islam but Wahhabism denies the modern influence whilst the Salafism thinks it could be good to have both combined and new refreshed Islam. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia made some kind of pan-Salafism movement, using Salafism as a chance to export Wahhabism into the target lands and to fight against Arab secularism , introducing moderate Muslims with the new Islam. The followers of Wahhabism consider themselves pure as the first Sunni Muslims and they label all others as Sufi or kuffr. However, here is a tip:“There are people who do not realize the difference between Salafism and Sunni beliefs even among Sunnis. In order to be a Sunni, one should not and cannot accept rebellion against a government as a legitimate right. So, categorizing those who rebel against a government and even kill others in the name of Islam is a historical error.” That further means that the rise of Wahhabism and its conflicts with local governments is not in the spirit of Sunni Islam and this is more extreme ideology than a real purified Islam, which should be a spiritual thing rather than political victim. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always had the sense of entitlement that it presents the real Islam, and that everything else is shirk. Emphasizing that, it counts on growing radical elements in other Muslim countries which are simply pushed into the shadow of Saudi Arabian Islam or whatever it is.Râbıta al-alemi al-Islami (The Muslim World League) is an international propaganda organization for Wahhabism and through the donation from the KSA, the idea of Wahhabism is spread around the world, bringing totally new Islam into the old one, what has never been the issue of global problems. The pure Islam which Wahhabism brings is rather the mobilized Islam. Salafists hold on pure Islam and they believe in non-violent preaching of Islam and they never oppose the rulers and never start the aggressive rebellions. This is the nightmare for understanding because it is again  about the manipulation so I will give myself freedom to give my own theory. Wahhabism is an aggressive form of Salafism as a teaching and adopting the ancient Islamic rules in the modern times. While the Salafism insists on some peaceful propaganda, the Wahhabism adopts the primary codex and pushes it through the extremism if that is necessary. Wahhabism is enforced by Saudi Arabian political power and ideological interests and it is feed by Salafism spirituality.

Saudis attend a religious sermon at Rabwat Arriyadh in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, July 12, 2009. Saudi authorities have been poring over psychological profiles of terrorists and studies of how al-Qaida draws in recruits, looking for scientific ways to keep the kingdom's youth away from militancy. One new method they've hit on: segregated Islamic summer camps for the whole family. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Maybe I should give an example. Back in 2009, I was visiting some of the first Salafists in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I was living with those people for 7 days under the same roof, sharing the same life conditions. In that period of time, they were accused that they are “extremists” and “potential terrorists” but they welcomed me as their own family members. The whole village was in the spirit of awakening Islam. Men were wearing specific clothes so the women who were under niqab. They were following Islam very passionately and I could have seen that those people are interested in religion not in salafi jihadism. Nevertheless, I remember that one young scholar who adopted Salafism, after he came back from Saudi Arabia, told me that he is very worried for the increasing number of Wahhabists in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who are paid extremists and those who are playing with the fire. I was shocked to find out that many of Salafists are afraid of their radicalized versions, who were sent for another purposes and from different ideological cores.  That is why I believe it is very important to divide believers from those who are paid to promote the belief as someone who is paying them says or wants.


The controversial Wahhabism what is always somewhere behind the extremist ideology should be monitored because it is a typical abuse of religion into political fields.The judgement of all Salafists as a potential extremists or terrorists is also a bad habit of lack of knowledge and right information from the ground. The Wahhabism is not from yesterday and it is traveling around the world for years, trying to find hosts.The Salafism is abused by Wahhabism so are the people who follow it. The real believers do not want violence and they will distant themselves from it. The paid believers will believe in everything for money. They are dangerous and they bring danger.

The Islamic trilogy in modern ages: Sufism-Salafism and Wahhabism is showing the deep crisis within Islam as itself and its drowning into the political and ideological swamp.  The Muslims today are divided among themselves and many are labeled that they are infidels according to real believers. This kind of deformations in one religion leads to the big cracks and the earthquake of basic principles which could be perfectly misused by those who have agenda.

Allah is one but His people are separated by people.


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About Sarahowlgirl1982

I am a master of Political Sciences, with special focus on Security Studies, Islamic Counter Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction. I enjoy discovering and commenting things which are " in the air" but still not spoken.I also do like science writing and planing to move myself into the pure science journalism !