Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Sufis Aren’t an Apolitical Counterweight to Political Islam, Babadzhanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 28 – Many post-Soviet analysts and officials have argued that Sufism, the mystical trend in Islam, can serve as a powerful bulwark against followers of political Islam and have even urged that their governments support Sufi orders as allies in the struggle against Islamism.

            (For background on such advocacy, see,, and

            But that attitude and the policies that arise from it are beginning to change, as ever more observers recall the role of militant Sufis in the 19th century and deal with the problems, often greater than those posed by Islamist groups, that some Sufi orders present across the post-Soviet space.

            (For examples of such problems, see, and

            Now, Bakhtiyar Babadzhanov, a scholar at Tashkent’s Institute of Oriental Studies, has attacked as “a cognitive mistake” the view that Sufism in principle is “apolitical” and warned officials in Uzbekistan and elsewhere that Sufism is a militant threat (

            It is likely that he will be accused of ignoring those aspects of Sufism that genuinely are pacific and apolitical in order to make his case; but it seems likely that Babadzhanov’s argument likely presages a shift in policy not only in Uzbekistan against a segment of Islam even the Kremlin thought it could work with.

            To the extent that is true, the Sufis are likely to respond not by withdrawing from politics and militance but by doubling down on both, something that sets the stage for potentially serious consequences not only in areas where Sufis have been traditionally strong but in others where they have been growing in many cases because of state protection. 

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