Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Sufism in Darfur

Jane at Armies of Liberation clears up a point I have been puzzling about with regard to the Sudanese attacks on their fellow Muslims in Darfur:

The roots of the conflict are many. The collective punishment of the civilian population began as reprisals for an uprising by rebel groups from the disenfranchised western populace. In the Sudan, the Arab ruling class is primarily nomadic cattle and camel herders. The Darfurians are primarily pastoralists, farmers. Drought and desertification has made arable land more scare and placed these groups in conflict. Furthermore, many of the black Darfurians are Sufi Muslims who reject the strict Sharia law imposed by the government in Khartoum. Some point to a racially motivated Arabization policy. [emphasis hers]

If Sufism is the brand of Islam that the Darfurians practice, that makes a little more sense than my hypothesis that Khartoum is under the influence of an Arab supremacist ideology like Baathism. The difficulty for the latter hypothesis has always been that Baathism is not particularly anxious to implement sharia, which the government in Khartoum has done.

To understand why Sufism makes a big difference to this analysis it is necessary to know a little about the background of Islamic sects. Perhaps a broad analogy to Christian denominations may be helpful: if Shia Islam is like Roman Catholicism (because it is concerned with the line of succession from the prophet) and Sunni Islam is like Protestantism (because it is more concerned with content), Sufism would be like the Amish or Quakers, groups more concerned with Inner Light and which neither of the main branches considers part of the true faith. There are many ways in which this analogy is misleading, (and my Orthodox friends will kill me for having left them out of the discussion), but the point is that the more radical sects of Islam do not consider Sufism to be Islamic at all. A more thorough discussion of Sufism may be found here.

Of course, as Jane points out, the hypotheses are not mutually exclusive and it is possibly a mix of several factors, and the real issue is to stop the genocide whatever its cause. But understanding the nature of the enemy is often helpful in combating him.

PS: It isn't really relevant to this topic, but I thought I'd point out that there is an excellent book, now out of print called the Book of Sufi Chivalry. I used to own a copy, but it is now on permanent loan to I-Know-Not-Whom. Sufism is still a false religion, but a false religion with class!

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