The politics of popular religion: Sufis, Salafis, and Muslim Brothers in 20th-century Hamah

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With the advent of the 20th century, Sufism found itself under increasing attack in many parts of the Muslim world. In previous centuries, mystical movements had played a prominent role in the struggle for the revival of Islam and occasionally, where governments were weak or nonexistent, also in actual resistance to European encroachment. In the wake of the increasing consolidation of the state and the spread of Western rationalism, however, Sufis came to be regarded as a major cause of the so-called decline of Islam and an obstacle to its adaptation. In the Arab world, this anti-Sufi feeling was generally associated with the Salafiyya trend. The Salafi call for a return to the example of the forefathers (al-salaf al-sālih) amounted to a discrediting of latter-day tradition, which was described as cherishing mystical superstition as well as scholarly stagnation and political quietism. Under the burden of this critique, and as a response to the general expansion of education and literacy, Sufism has been forced to assimilate new ideas and to make room for a new form of organization; the populist Islamic association. These developments culminated in the establishment of the Society of the Muslim Brothers. This article seeks to advance our understanding of the socio-religious process of the "popularization" of modern Islamic discourse and organization by focusing on one such. "peripheral" setting: the Syrian district town of Hamah. My aim is to illuminate through this case study the nature of the challenge that the Salafiyya imposed on the Sufi aspect of Islam in the late Ottoman period and to follow the course of the struggle between their main protagonists during the French Mandate up to its dissolution after independence within the framework of the Muslim Brothers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-58
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Middle East Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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