The Strongest Indigenous Force Against Islamic Fundamentalism

A Sufi pilgrim dances at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in Sehwan Sharif, Pakistan, in 2006. Photo by Aaron Huey. “Sufism is not a sect, like Shiism or Sunnism, but rather the mystical side of Islam—a personal, experiential approach to Allah, which contrasts with the prescriptive, doctrinal approach of fundamentalists like the Taliban. It exists throughout the Muslim world (perhaps most visibly in Turkey, where whirling dervishes represent a strain of Sufism), and its millions of followers generally embrace Islam as a religious experience, not a social or political one. Sufis represent the strongest indigenous force against Islamic fundamentalism. Yet Western countries have tended to underestimate their importance even as the West has spent, since 2001, millions of dollars on interfaith dialogues, public diplomacy campaigns and other initiatives to counter extremism. Sufis are particularly significant in Pakistan, where Taliban-inspired gangs threaten the prevailing social, political and religious order.”

~ From “Pakistan's Sufis Preach Faith and Ecstasy,” by Nicholas Schmidle, Smithsonian Magazine, December 2008