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Algeria sponsors Sufism to fight extremism

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  • Algeria sponsors Sufism to fight extremism

    ALGIERS, July 8, 2009 (Reuters) - After using police raids, arrests and gun battles in its fight against Islamist insurgents, Algeria is now deploying a new, more subtle weapon: a branch of Islam associated with contemplation, not combat. The government of this North African oil and gas producer is promoting Sufism, an Islamic movement that it sees as a gentler alternative to the ultra-conservative Salafism espoused by many of the militants behind Algeria's insurgency.

    The authorities have created a television and radio station to promote Sufism and the "zaouias" or religious confraternities that preach and practise it, in addition to regular appearances by Sufi sheikhs on other stations. All are tightly controlled by the state. Sufism, found in many parts of the Muslim world, places a greater focus on prayer and recitation and its followers have tended to stay out of politics. In Algeria it has a low profile, with most mosques closer to Salafism - though not the violent connotations that sometimes carries. Exact numbers are hard to come by, but George Joffe, a research fellow at the Centre of International Studies, Cambridge University, estimates there are 1-1.5 million Sufis in Algeria, out of a total population of 34 million.

    Salafism has its roots in Saudi Arabia and emphasises religious purity. Adherents act out the daily rituals of Islam's earliest followers, for example by picking up food with three fingers and using a "Siwak" - a toothbrush made out of a twig.

    Officials believe Sufism could help bring peace to Algeria, a country still emerging from a conflict in the 1990s between government forces and Islamist rebels that, according to some estimates, killed 200,000 people.

    "I disagree with the Salafi ideology because it doesn't take into consideration the particular nature of Algeria," said Mohamed Idir Mechnane, an official at the Ministry of Religious Affairs. "We are doing a lot to encourage people to come back to our traditional Islam: a peaceful, tolerant and open-minded Islam. And thanks to God, people are much more attracted by our message than by the Salafi message," he told Reuters.

    To give the Sufi "zaouias" a more central role in society, they are encouraged to arrange marriages, help take care of orphans, teach the Qur'an and distribute charitable donations.

    Followers of Sufism focus on the rituals of "Dhikr" or "Hadra" - "invocation" or "remembrance" - which feature sermons, reciting the Qur'an, praising the Prophet Mohammed, requests for intercession and rhythmic invocations of Allah. During one "Dhikr" ritual at a Sufi zaoui just outside Algiers last month, about 60 men sat in a circle in a large room and began chanting. After a few minutes, some of the elders rocked from side to side, deep in what appeared to be a trance.

    "For over 14 centuries, Islam has been present in this country," said Hadj Lakhdar Ghania, a member of the influential confraternity, Tidjania Zaouia. "We used to live ... in peace and in harmony. But the day the Salafists said we should implement a new Islam in Algeria, problems and troubles started," he told Reuters.

    Though the violence has tailed off sharply, insurgents affiliated with al Qaeda still mount sporadic attacks on government targets, posing a challenge to stability in a country that is the world's fourth biggest exporter of natural gas. Deploying Sufism against radical Islam is not a new idea. A 2007 report by the U.S.-based Rand Corporation think tank, said Sufism could be harnessed to help promote moderate Islam. "Traditionalists and Sufis are natural allies of the West to the extent that common ground can be found with them," it said.

    Algeria's promotion of Sufism could also have implications for countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, which also have Sufi traditions and where Western governments are struggling to counter the influence of Islamist radicals.

    "A Sufi should connect with Allah through invocation and prayer. For example, on Fridays we spend several hours ... chanting and reciting the Qur'an. We repeat 1,200 times the name of Allah, and 1,200 times the name of his Prophet Muhammad," Hadj Lakhdar Ghania said.

    The Salafists are a more visible presence in Algeria because while the Sufis do not wear any distinguishing dress, most Salafists have beards and in the street wear the "Kamiss", a long white robe, and white skullcaps. For some militants, the Salafi puritanism leads to a strict interpretation of religion that justifies violence against non-Salafis. Many leading Salafis reject violence, and others have renounced it since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. But some militant groups still claim Salafism as their ideology.

    Hard-line Islamists say Sufi practices such as visiting the tombs of Sufi saints to seek benediction amount to idolatry. "Sufism is negative. It doesn't seek change. It promotes charlatanism," said Sheikh Abdelfatah, an influential Salafist imam based in Algiers. "Salafism is good and combats harmful ideas. We encourage our youth to follow the rules of Islam and get away from the western way of life," said the bearded imam dressed in a Kamiss.

    The predecessor organisation to al Qaeda's North African wing was influenced by the movement, calling itself the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. Since 2001 however, several Salafist clerics have issued religious decrees condemning violence. The influential Algerian Salafist cleric Abdelmalek Ramdani, who lives in Saudi Arabia, called on his followers a year ago to keep away from politics and stop using violence.

    But to Mouloudi Mohamed, an independent Algerian expert on Islamic issues, the best way to combat extremism is by going back to traditional Islam, not the Salafism that was imported from Saudi Arabia. "I don't believe we should import solutions but rather use the Islam of our fathers to live in peace," he said.

  • #2
    I agree the the best way to combat extremism is by going back to traditional Islam. Inshallah we will see change in Algeria with this approach


    • #3
      Boualam Ghimrassa:

      Algiers, July 28, 2009 (Asharq Al-Awsat) -- The Algerian authorities have been trying to propagate Sufism in Algeria to contain a strong Salafi movement in the country, espoused by most members of the armed Islamist groups. An event was officially launched last Saturday, organized by the Zaouia [religious confraternity] Alaouia, with the participation of 5,000 people from 34 countries. The event featured lectures and seminars calling for moderation and shunning hardline behavior, and Sufi chants.

      As part of a fierce war that has been going on with the extremist Islamist groups since the early nineties of last century, the authorities have found a different way of stemming the influence of the Salafi jihadist ideology which is espoused by the armed hardliners. This new approach consists of propagating the Sufi thought through bodies that have thousands of followers inside and outside Algeria. In this respect, the Mostaganem Governorate, 250 km to the west of Algiers, has been the scene of festivals commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Allaoui religious confraternity, under the slogan: "Let us sow the seeds of hope in the minds of people."

      The organizers of this week-long event say that it is aimed at "encouraging people to return to traditional Islam, the Islam of tolerance and open-mindedness." Its aim is also to "revive the spiritual and cultural heritage." The event's launching ceremony was marked by a parade of folklore troupes, with the participation of scout groups from several countries. The Algerian news agency said that 5,000 people would be watching the planned spiritual activities, including 2,200 coming from 34 countries such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Jordan, some European countries, Canada, the United States, Argentina, Japan and Indonesia.

      According to the event's program, the week-long lectures and seminars will go beyond broaching the spiritual aspects of Islam to include discussions on current world issues such as the environment and communication technology. This will be in parallel with lectures on "revelation," "Sufi spiritualism," and "awareness-raising education."

      For their part, the organizers of the event say that the Alaouia-Dargaria-Chadhilia religious confraternity dates back to the time of the descendants of Prophet Muhammad, God's prayers and peace be upon him, and is strongly inspired by the ideas of the man who revived it early in the 20th century, namely Cheikh Allaoui. The latter succeeded his master, Cheikh El Bouzidi, in 1909. The Cheikh Allaoui confraternity is known for associating traditions to modernity in Islam, and its current Cheikh is called Adlan Khaled Ben Tounis. He is a writer and lecturer on Sufism and Islam.

      These celebrations are sponsored by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika personally, and call for brotherhood, tolerance, fighting hatred and spreading the values of tolerance. They are keenly used by the Algerian authorities to confront the activity of the propagators of Salafia jihadi ideology, which is infiltrating society through mosques, books and compact discs distributed to the young in various places, including schools. The Salafia jihadist ideology is also propagated through films inciting combat, which are shown on the Internet. Investigations indicate that a large number of armed groups' members have espoused this ideology as a result of the propagation of a discourse calling for war against the state.

      Moreover, the Algerian gendarmerie announced over the weekend that border gendarmes had seized four tons of drugs, two weapons, ammunition, and a mobile telephone in the small town of Oued Ritma, Bechar Governorate, 965 km to the south west of the Algerian capital Algiers. In this respect, an Algerian source stated that border guards in Oued Ritma ambushed and opened fire on a convoy composed of four vehicles belonging to drug smugglers; the gendarmes arrested four and seized 4,060 kg of treated drugs and an automatic weapon.


      • #4

        Mercredi 29 Juillet 2009 -- La tenue du Colloque international de la Tariqa Alawiya à Mostaganem, à l’occasion du centenaire de cette zaouïa, a suscité une levée de boucliers chez les salafistes. Le leader de la zaouïa, Khaled Bentounès, un proche du président Bouteflika, établi en France, a soulevé une véritable tempête politico-médiatique. Raison invoquée par ses adversaires : son livre Soufisme, l’héritage commun contient des images reproduisant le Prophète (QSSL). Mais au fil des jours, les attaques contre M. Bentounès se sont orientées vers ses idées qui vont à contresens du discours salafiste, notamment en ce qui concerne le rôle de la femme dans la société, et surtout la question du hidjab. L’Association des oulémas, relayée par le HCI, s’est embarquée dans une campagne salafiste, en tirant à boulets rouges sur Khaled Bentounès. Mais qu’est-ce qui fait agiter le courant salafiste ? Qui a, réellement, lu ou vu le livre de Bentounès ? En fait, l’image qui fait tellement parler d’elle est une représentation du Prophète (QSSL) entouré de ses compagnons. Le visage du Prophète n’apparaît pas. Mais, au-delà de cette polémique, c’est le rôle des zaouïas qui est pointé du doigt. Le courant salafiste, qui s’est emparé des mosquées et des espaces d’expression, y compris de certains médias, voit d’un mauvais œil l’intrusion des zaouïas dans le débat public sur les choses sacrées.

        D’autant plus que la Conférence internationale de la Tariqa Alawiya a vu la participation de chercheurs venus des États-Unis et du Japon et, de surcroît, a choisi de sortir des murs de la zaouïa pour s’ouvrir aux jeunes de l’université de Mostaganem. Dans un entretien accordé à Tout sur l’Algérie, Khaled Bentounès a clairement annoncé la couleur : “Je ne vous cache pas que j'ai contacté aujourd'hui (ndlr : lundi 27 juillet) le président de la République Abdelaziz Bouteflika pour l'informer de la tenue de notre colloque. Il m'a dit que l'État algérien soutient totalement ce projet et fera tout pour sa réussite. Surtout que je l'ai informé que notre objectif est de faire participer toute la société pour instaurer la fraternité et la paix, avec comme objectif un avenir meilleur pour nos enfants.” Le président Bouteflika, connu pour être issu d’une zaouïa, a grandement misé sur ces confréries religieuses pour contrer l’influence des courants salafistes (djihadiste et scientifique). Ne lésinant pas sur les moyens, le chef de l’État a tout mis en œuvre pour permettre aux zaouïas d’organiser des colloques internationaux et autres conférences où sont débattues les questions de l’heure.

        Cependant, il est à se demander si les zaouïas ont les capacités de contrer les courants salafistes. Le soufisme pourrait-il être adopté par toute une société ? Difficile de l’imaginer. Les confréries religieuses ont, de tout temps, été des cercles fermés, des écoles de formation et des centres de rayonnement des sciences islamiques. Même si beaucoup d’entre elles ont des prolongements dans plusieurs pays, et même si leur rôle reste déterminant, notamment lors des élections, il n’en demeure pas moins que les zaouïas restent en marge de la société. Les mosquées, les marchés, les rues, les cafés et les stades sont, eux, laissés aux bons soins des salafistes qui y prodiguent leurs “fetwas” et y imposent leur code de conduite. L’État a beau tenter de réguler l’activité des mosquées, celle-ci continue à lui échapper. Plus grave, là où l’État brille par son absence, le salafisme puise toute sa force. Le commerce informel constitue, pour lui, un terreau, une terrible arme de guerre qui constitue une véritable bombe à retardement. On ne peut pas remplacer les mosquées par des zaouïas, et l’expérience a prouvé que le discours officiel ne passait pas dans les mosquées. L’État, qui a mis toutes ses forces dans la lutte antiterroriste, n’a pas encore trouvé la formule idoine pour combattre la matrice idéologique du terrorisme et ses réseaux tentaculaires de soutien financier et logistique.


        • #5
          This battle is cruciall all over the muslims world....and it already started

          I found this article intersting to add..from time of india

          Before this, almost everybody reminber that on the wake of the septembere 11. Saudi king saw his 10 millions dollar cheque return back by the new york major julianni...

          In the recent history, Not that sufis lost millions of followers, executed basically by the wahabism, but it even worse, ....they lost all 3 holy cities, already in 1936 cairo meeting when the ulama want to establich califate, Wahabi invite an alternatve inter ulama meeting, (20 days later) and it become very clear to them that no one in the modlem world will accept any wahabi caliphe.... After that..they ciment a deal with strong power to exhange juresulem for their own control on the 2 remaning holy cities....and since than, oil countinue to flow as much as moslim blood.

          From time of india

          In the last century along-with the Oil %26 Gas, the Arab kings also came up with clever formula to create immortal Kingdoms. According to their whims & fancies, they redefined these 4 words 1.Haraam, 2.Kufr, 3.Shirk, and 4.Bid‘ah. These are four most powerful words of the islamic history. Haraam, Kufr, Shirk, Bid‘ah (biddat) They are the license to terrorise innocent people, and a formula to brainwash the weak minds of muslim masses. Definition: Haraam (forbidden) : e.g. wearing a bindi on the forehead is haraam. Kafir (unbeliever, infidel) : e.g. anyone who denounces the fatwa of petro-mullah. Shirk (polytheism) : e.g. celebrating non-Saudi festivals (eid e milad, new year etc.) Biddat (innovation) : e.g. Singing Qawwali, Writing Poetry, Making films Action: Anyone who commits these 4 crimes or gives shelter to the above criminals will incur the curse of Allah, the angels and all the people. Therefore, these are unforgivable crimes, and it is the duty of every muslim to punish the person who falls in these four categories. Result: The world is divided among 2 groups: Wahhabi/Salafi who believe in this. Rest of the World (Hindus, Christians, Jews, Muslims who are Sunnis, Shia, Sufi, Ahmadi, Aghakhani, Ismaili etc) Indiscriminate killing of innocent people all over the world. The Muslims of Indian sub-continent are rich in culture and literature, they are peaceful and mostly influenced by the Sufi philosophers. These peace loving Muslims are the biggest victim of Wahhabism. In last 100 years Millions of muslims have been killed for the above 4 words. The fundamentalist books which define (Haraam, Kufr, Shirk, Bid‘ah) are enough to make a terrorist out of a peaceful muslim youth, after reading, it becomes your duty to spread Wahhabism. Solution: Expose the source of such an ideology and pressurize the governments who are funding and promoting this ideology. Help the muslims who are promoting peace. Bring back the misguided people to mainstream peaceful Islam.

          A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.
          By: George Bernard Shaw


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