Saturday 25 November 2017

Another Faith-Based Massacre

The al-Rawda Sufi mosque, Bir al-Abed, Sinai, Egypt
Photo credit: EAP
Egypt attack: Gunmen kill 235 in Sinai mosque - BBC News

Islamic jihadists believed to be affiliated to Islamic State (IS) have attacked a Sufi mosque in Sinai, killing at least 300 people, now revised upwards from the BBC News report.

The reason? Because the Islamic tradition of Sufism is considered heretical by fundamentalist Sunni Muslims, so obviously those who believe they know the mind of Allah believe Allah wants heretics killed and needs their help to kill them.

Applying William Lane Craig's 'Divine Command Theory' by which this fundamentalist Christian believes he can determine which massacres and genocides are moral, even mandatory acts, these Muslim fundamentalists have decided killing Sufis is divinely commanded, therefore moral, even mandatory. It's enough to tell yourself that God is commanding you, apparently. You can do this by reading a book and deciding which passage applies, apparently because whoever wrote it was thinking of you and the world you would encounter many hundreds of years later and was spelling out in detail exactly what rights and responsibilities you have to determine the fate of other people, especially those who don't agree with you.

Choosing the time when the Mosque was packed with worshippers at Friday prayers (Friday being the Islamic Sabbath), 25-30 IS jihadists drove up in off-road vehicles, blocked access to the Mosque with burning cars from the car-park, then bombed the Mosque and sprayed the inside with automatic gunfire from doorways and windows. As people tried to escape they were shot down. The jihadists then shot the crews of attending ambulances as they tried to treat the injured.

The Sufis can't claim they weren't warned. Last December, the self-appointed IS religious police in Sinai beheaded two elderly Sufi clerics and warned Sufis that they would also be killed if they didn't "repent".

Just as with the difference between Sunni and Shi'a Islam, where to an outsider the difference is barely perceptible or to an outsider the difference between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity is more ceremonial that philosophical and something to do with the dating of Easter, so the difference between Sufism and 'standard' Islam is minuscule. To an insider however; to a member of the in-group, the difference are major and serve to reinforce the in-group versus out-group cult thinking.

The in-group is the one true faith; the one Allah intended complete and perfect in every detail; all others are heretical, evil and the work of Satan! No matter that they both stem from slightly different interpretations of the same passages in the same book or the opinions of ancient philosophers trying to work out exactly what Allah meant by an obscure, ambiguous word in an ancient dialect that no-one speaks any more and for which even the context is difficult to discern.

Sufism (or Tasawwuf) is an ascetic version of Islam not confined to Sunni but found in Shi'a Islam as well. It was described by 14th century Arab historian, Ibn Khaldun, as:

... dedication to worship, total dedication to Allah most High, disregard for the finery and ornament of the world, abstinence from the pleasure, wealth, and prestige sought by most men, and retiring from others to worship alone.

Ibn Khaldun, quoted in Keller, Nuh Ha Mim, The Place of Tasawwuf in Traditional Islam,, 1995

Sufis are regarded as moderates - which is probably the main reason for the hatred IS feels for them. Sufi thinkers contributed enormously to the development of Islamic philosophy and science in the golden age of Islamic learning in the Middle Ages, with thinkers like William Lane Craig's favourite from whom he plagiarised the Cosmological Argument, Al-Ghazali, as well as Rumi and Omar Khayyám. Like all religious fundamentalists, IS is nothing if not vehemently anti-intellectual.

Sufism is divided into 'orders' each of which follows the teaching of a 'master' who learned from an earlier master, so traditions are handed down generation after generation, in the manner of some Buddhist communities. Sufis justify this by reference to the Hadith of Sahih Muslim and two verses from the Qur'an - "Ask those who know if you know not" (Qur'an 16:43) and "And follow the path of him who turns unto Me" (Qur'an 31:15). Probably the closest Christian equivalent would be the Quakers.

Of course, this tradition challenges the self-arrogated right of autocratic, self-appointed imams and caliphs to tell the obedient faithful what to think - another challenge to IS's totalitarian ambitions.

It is almost (no, exactly!) like fundamentalist Islam has not managed to progress beyond where Christianity was in the Middle Ages before the European Enlightenment and the penetration of Humanist thinking, and the place back to which Christian fundamentalists would love to take us, if only they had the power.

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