Why are they targeting the Sufis?
By Richard Schiffman Remember the bombing of the Buddha statues carved into the cliffs at Bamiyan in north central Afghanistan in 2001? The Taliban destruction of these massive archaeological monuments dating back to the sixth century has become emblematic of the cultural and religious intolerance of radical Islam.
What is less well known is that fanatical elements have done equal damage to Islam’s own religious heritage. Not only have Shi’a and Sunni partisans bombed each other’s mosques in countries like Iraq, Syria and Pakistan, but Sufi places of worship are under attack throughout the Islamic world.
In September, the world was shocked to learn that the US ambassador and three other Americans had been killed in an attack on a US Consulate in Libya. Few heard of the other violent events there later that month, which included the destruction of Sufi shrines in three Libyan cities.
In Tripoli, security forces watched passively as militants with bulldozers levelled the shrine of al-Shaab al-Dahmani, a venerated Sufi saint, in broad daylight. In Benghazi, on the other hand, locals fought back, killing three of the militants who were assaulting a holy place.
Perhaps we don’t hear much about these incidents because attacks on Sufis and Sufi sites have become routine, not just in Libya, but throughout the Islamic world. This past summer, Islamic militants in Mali demolished historical mausoleums, universities and libraries in the ancient Saharan trading town of Timbuktu, several of which were on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites. Sufi worship halls have also been turned to rubble in Iran, where the Islamic government has reportedly jailed and tortured thousands of Sufi practitioners for their unorthodox views. And in Egypt since the fall of Mubarak Sufi shrines have been torched and the Sufi chanting ritual called zhikr has been banned in some locations.