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Open Thread Sunday 7-6-08


A year ago today, I was in Morocco leading a group of American teachers on a study trip.  During our stay, we attended lectures and tours that highlighted the varied practices of “popular Moroccan Islam,” things like beating oneself to gain union with God, paying money and praying to dead people, rubbing onself on graves…that kind of thing.  I found these practices a bit distasteful, probably because I have been influenced by the austere brand of puritanical Islam, spread through massive oil wealth, that seeks a return to seventh century Arabia.  Interestingly, the Moroccon state is keen to promote “popular Islam”.  I penned this reflection after returning from Morocco:

Seriously though, we often hear that Saudi Arabia promotes a specific school of thought as the authoritative version of Islam.  What is often ignored, however, is that all governments in the historically Muslim world do the same thing.  Ironically, some of the fiercest critics of Saudi’s “official Islam” are sponsored or trained by institutions that represent the official Islam of other states.  Whatever the flaws of the Saudis, I can’t imagine that anyone would view the authorities of other nations (Egypt and Syria, for example) as more virtuous.

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Keeping this in mind, I thought our readers could offer a descriptive list of “official Islams” by nation (including Western ones).  This is not to promote one state’s view over the other, or to discredit specific scholars and institutions.  Rather, we should keep in mind that every group is subject to political exploitation, and that proximity to power is an ongoing historical problem for Muslims.

(Incidentally, one can have an adversarial relationship with one or many states and still be misguided.)

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Musa Maguire is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and accepted Islam after graduating from college. In 2004-2005, he received a Fulbright grant to study in Egypt, and then spent the following year working at Huda TV, an English-language Islamic satellite channel that broadcasts from Cairo.



  1. iMuslim

    July 6, 2008 at 1:38 PM

    It might just be my imagination… but I swear I just heard the sound of a very large can of worms being opened…

    Wouldn’t it be refreshing if this thread didn’t turn into a Saudi/Salafi/Wahabi/whatever-i bashfest… or the alternative, of a blind lovefest. Ahem.

    Anyway, I shall wait and see, as I don’t have much to contribute.

    {sits and waits}

  2. Hassan

    July 6, 2008 at 2:25 PM

    LOL, iMuslim, Musa used the can of worm as traget practice and he shot a nuclear missle at it.

    Musa I think except for Saudis, there is no state that promotes any version of Islam, except America perhaps that would like to promote real authentic muslims like Irshad Manji etc.

  3. Dawud Israel

    July 6, 2008 at 4:13 PM

    Salaam aleikum

    We have a download campaign going at my site. Please check it out:

    Re: this discussion—suffice it to say every group has its problems and strengths.
    My opinion is that in some sectors of the Saudi Ulama there is an agenda re: Islam just as the same exists in other Islamic schools of thought. Not as much as a interpretation but a purposeful neglect of other views for specific worldly purposes–like maintaining their positions of religious authority. Like I’ve seen some Salafi scholars quote Sufi shaykhs in “Don’t be Sad” but purposefully omit the name of the Sufi shaykh who said it (but mention at length who said this and where for a shaykh who agrees with their views). That’s intellectual robbery isn’t it?
    And then other times their are mistranslations or narrow mistranslations that are all the difference between one group and another…and why are only certain books translated? And then why is dissent silenced? The Haqq can never be destroyed so what to fear?

    Sometimes I wonder…that’s all.

    And I can’t say the same for the Sufi Ulama because their “weaknesses” are in totally different areas from Salafi Ulama and their Islam is more “classical” so they have hundreds of years of examples to follow whereas the Salafi Ulama are new and still have to develop.

    Allahu Alam

  4. Hassan

    July 6, 2008 at 4:39 PM

    And I can’t say the same for the Sufi Ulama because their “weaknesses” are in totally different areas from Salafi Ulama and their Islam is more “classical” so they have hundreds of years of examples to follow whereas the Salafi Ulama are new and still have to deve

    I thought we(salafis) had all the sahabah and all imams through out the centuries, I do not understand.

  5. Alex

    July 6, 2008 at 5:01 PM

    Forget “popular” misunderstandings or what particular governments promote.
    How about a survey of Islam throughout the world as taught by the Ulama of those regions:

    West Africa- Maliki, Sufi, Ashari
    North Africa- Maliki, Sufi, Ashari
    Egypt- Hanafi/Shafii/Maliki, Sufi, Ashari
    East Africa- Shafii, Sufi, Ashari
    Yemen- (mainly) Shafii, Sufi, Ashari
    The Gulf states- (mainly) Hanbali/Maliki, Sufi, Ashari
    Sham- Hanafi/Shafii, Sufi, Ashari
    Turkey- Hanafi, Sufi, Maturidi
    Central Asia/Russia/Western China- Hanafi, Sufi, Maturidi
    Indian Sub-Continent- Hanafi, Sufi, Maturidi (Shafii in South)
    Indonesia/Malaysia/Singapore/Philippines- Shafii, Sufi, Ashari

    KSA- Salafi
    UK- (mainly) Salafi
    USA- (mainly) Salafi

    *There are, of course, fairly new Salafi movements in most if not all of these regions, but those do not yet represent the majority of the Ulama.

  6. H. Ahmed

    July 6, 2008 at 5:16 PM

    I think this is great that you’ve brought this up. Unfortunately most Muslims dont realize how vast and beautifully diverse our deen actually has been over the past 1400 years throughout the world.

    I believe this discussion can be very beneficial…

  7. Hassan

    July 6, 2008 at 5:29 PM

    Alex, great job, can you provide the source of these stats. Thanks.

  8. Alex

    July 6, 2008 at 5:37 PM

    The stats are from various readings on the history of Islam and speaking to people who’ve studied in some of these different regions.

  9. Hassan

    July 6, 2008 at 5:45 PM

    Alex, it seems then I have been reading different books on the history of Islam, and apparently spoke to different people that also studied in these different regions. So who is right?

  10. H. Ahmed

    July 6, 2008 at 5:45 PM

    Moreover, although this is probably obvious to most, but most of the Sufis listed (virtually everywhere, as per Alex’s survey) do follow one of the madhabs.

  11. Dawud Israel

    July 6, 2008 at 6:24 PM

    I think that is the greater point I am getting at–Sufis have been the standard of the Ummah for ages. They have carried Islam far and wide and have been the Ummah’s foremost Daiees. Yes, we disagree with them on using the Tareeqah and whatnot but if you look at it as just another institution in Islam I think it is justifiable, especially in light of it’s success. Let’s face it, if it weren’t for these people–our ancestors would not have converted and we would not have been born and raised Muslim.

    Remember the hadith about the (Jamah of the) Ummah never uniting upon error? Sufis have been around for 1400+ years and are more connected to Islam than Salafis are due to that. So I would argue that at the very least we need to take a closer look at Sufis rather than a cursory glance and a sharp, “Bidah!” Blind following has lead to this sort of mentality and a culture of highlighting the “deviations” of these groups when the only reason we are safe is because we aren’t so old as yet to build up negative traits (or some would argue we have built up more faster).

    I am suspicious of Salafi Ulama at times mainly because I wonder at the reasons of censorship in their religious works. And furthermore, to what aim? ar-Razi is awful because he did kalam and so ANYTHING he says is bad–but hold on a minute, I know Salafi brothers who are willing to read Razi’s work on other Islamic matters because he was nothing short of a genius in those areas. But this is very rare among Salafi brothers. It’s less about learning and more about endorsing a certain view and building it up.

    The problem is that since Salafis are new they also are not going to be the most experienced…the traditional scholars have certain principles that they follow when they encounter certain situations whereas a Salafi scholars will simply give the default, “Bidah” fatwa. Look up Salatul Hujat/Hojat and the fatwa on SunniPath and then on Salafi sites and see the difference.

    I am not trying to start some sort of conspiracy theory and I know I’ll probably shake a few people’s beliefs and get yelled at but I am just wondering if this sort of behavior among the Ulama is going to be beneficial to the advancing of the Ummah.

    Are we really going somewhere? Does all this work translate into actually achieving something?

  12. abc

    July 6, 2008 at 7:05 PM

    In bringing up the influence of sufis on spreading of islam, an interesting modern-day figure comes to mind- Fethullah Gulen, the scholar from Turkey. He’s controversial in turkey, as is everything that has to do with Islam, but for someone who I’d never heard of until fairly recently, I’m surprised at how influential he is outside Turkey too.

    The Economist, Forbes, and The international herald tribune did articles on the network he’s spearheaded, and their influence in education, the NYT did an interesting article on turkish schools in pakistan. (links provided below)

    Whats interesting about Gulen is his attempt to bring back sufism within the realms of traditional interpretations of the Qur’an and Sunnah.
    He was also voted in an online poll as the worlds no 1 thinker by a publication very recently. And yet, most muslims I ask about whether they’ve heard of him haven’t, which is a shame.

    The Economist Article:

    The Forbes Article:

    NYT artlcle on the turkish schools his movement supports:

    Article on being voted top living public intellectual:

    His own website offers a lot of his writings:

    Out of curiosity, has anyone else on here ever heard of him? have any opinions of him? One mention of him to someone of more salafi leanings dismissed him outright because of his association with turkey and sufism as well as being modern(not a criticism of salafism, more a reflection about an individual’s approach to new thinkers)

  13. ibnabeeomar

    July 6, 2008 at 8:31 PM

    dawud i think you are getting too caught up in labels. you could substitute the word “salafi” for the word “sufi” in your post, and you could still make a legitimate argument. it just all gets back to how you define each word and who you hold as representing it.

  14. ibnabeeomar

    July 6, 2008 at 8:32 PM

    alex – i would say ksa is hanbali. i like how that’s always conveniently ignored.

  15. Ammar Diwan

    July 6, 2008 at 8:32 PM

    Iran – Shi’ism

  16. ibnabeeomar

    July 6, 2008 at 8:37 PM

    dawud – i hope you realize the picture is not as black/white as you’re painting it. someone could just as easily come back and say tariqahs did not exist until much after the time of the sahabah, and the ashari aqeedah did not exist until after the time of the mu’tazilah. i’m well aware of the counter arguments to those statements – but im trying to make the point that it is not as clear as you think it is in your post.

    also in regards to suspicion and censorship, i have read a work translated in english by a very famous scholar famous for upholding the “traditional/madhab/ashari” way who says that it is not allowed to question an imam about a hadith – ie if a hadith contradicts the practice of your teacher, you are not allowed to question them and must blindly submit to their way. ive also read in some – again, popular and “mainstream” – works that a person on this ‘path’ is not even allowed to pray nawaafi in the presence of their shaykh without his permission :)

    i dont disagree with your assessment of some salafis but you need to realize that ignorance in our ummah is widespread and not confined to any one particular group.

  17. Hassan

    July 6, 2008 at 8:52 PM

    Everything is sufi, the whole world is sufi, I see sufi flyings here and there, man this bhang is strong!!

  18. Dawud Israel

    July 6, 2008 at 9:26 PM

    ibnabeeomar- Please don’t take offense at what I am saying bro. I am just thinking outloud here.

    You are right about the whole following my shaykh thing among Sufis–but that’s not censorship as much as it is related to a bayah (pledge). In other words, it is under consent. Now I think I should say, if Salafi shuyookh had that much control over our Salafi brethren, we would be able to nip extremist brothers in the bud (and yes they exist, take a look at Sh. Waleed’s talk at My focus here is among Salafis because we could improve on ourselves–no Sufis are going to come here to listen to what we have to say.

    Tazkiya has a higher priority in the world of the Sufis than it does for Salafis. And that is partially why we have so many super-Salafis and they have but a handful of zealots.

    The picture I painted is what I believe it boils down to. Now I’m a neutral guy so don’t think I’m Sufi either but when you look at which interpretation can contend, the bulk of confidence seems to be in the Traditional way. Why? It has been tried and tested, has more backing throughout the world, intellectual has led to many great things (poetry, deep wisdom, legendary mujahideen like Salahuddin), is all-in-all the part of Islam that puts us above the rest (no Sufis exist in any other religion) and been the dawah of the ages. I am not talking about bidah grave worship or anything like that, I am talking about the real deal Sufi shaykh upon the Sunnah and not some charlatan.

    In any case, if you want to discuss this more it would be better to take it to my blog and specifically this post so it doesn’t get lost in the comments here…

    All the best and If I stepped on someone’s feelings my apologies.

  19. Dawud Israel

    July 6, 2008 at 9:28 PM


    i dont disagree with your assessment of some salafis but you need to realize that ignorance in our ummah is widespread and not confined to any one particular group.

    Dawud said:

    Re: this discussion—suffice it to say every group has its problems and strengths.


  20. Lubna

    July 7, 2008 at 1:21 PM

    Dear all,
    I know I am a Muslim, I guess I am a sufi muslim (I belong to India and it is the sufi preachers who convertered my ancestors). But right now, I need your prayers. Please pray for my mother who has been diagonised with pancreatic cancer.
    Thank you

  21. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    July 7, 2008 at 1:27 PM


    May Allaah (swt) heal your mother, and comfort her as much as possible. May Allaah (swt) make whatever suffering she has to endure to be a means of forgiveness for her sins and of raising her station and bringing her closer to her Lord. May Allaah also strengthent her entire family and allow them to be of help and comfort to her in her time of trial. Ameen.

  22. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    July 7, 2008 at 1:36 PM


    Interesting topic and observations in your original post. I don’t really say how much of the subsequent discussion relates to the questions you raised, but perhaps I did not understand you correctly.

    I am also hesitant to comment because I don’t have personal experience in any of the Muslim lands, which are to me more interesting than trying to discuss the “official Islam” of non-Muslim western lands. But, perhaps I shall try to gather my thoughts on those topics.

    A couple of things I’d recommend as very relevant to this discussion are Imam Zaid Shakir’s (May God protect and preserve him) set of lectures “Rise and Fall of the Muslim Ummah (available in mp3 format). Also, a book I am currently reading, Muslim Rebels: Kharijites and the Politics of Extremism in Egypt by Jeffrey Kenney.

    Allaah knows best.

  23. ibnabeeomar

    July 7, 2008 at 1:53 PM

    abu noor – can you post a link to the rise and fall mp3s?
    jazakallahu khayr

  24. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    July 7, 2008 at 4:05 PM


    I had a feeeling right after I wrote that that I was not as clear as I should have been. What I meant to say that was that the “Rise and Fall” class was available for purchase in mp3 format.

    I do not know if it is available to listen to for free. Sorry for the misunderstanding. InshAllaah I hope to post some thoughts about the series on my blog. Some things from it that I found relevant to this discussion were: Imam Zaid’s discussion of Al-Afghani, Abduh, and Rida, the original Salafis. (His main problem with these “Salafis,” at least in the context of this series, seems to be their critique of madhabs and sufism and their prioritization of political issues. In this context, he seems to link them completely with the modern day Salafis, which is somewhat problematic since at least what I think of as Salafis in our time have many large and fundamental differences with these figures even if they may share some similarities. He cites approvingly a book by Elie Kedourie (which is hard to get for an affordable price but which I’ve also been interested in, which according to my understanding, although Imam Zaid does not mention this explicitly in his lectures, basically questions whether Al-Afghani and Abduh were sincere in their eemaan or whether Islam was just entirely an instrumentalist tool in their hands. The subtitle of Kedourie’s work is “An essay on Religious Unbelief and Political Activism in Modern Islam.” In this series, he links their thought, especially as regard to their diagnosis of the ills of the Muslim ummah to the analysis of the Orientalists. He then defends the traditional unity of the Muslim ummah through the madhabs and the sufi tareeqahs and charges that, contrary to the claims of their opponents it was the sufis who were the bulwarks of resistance to European colonialism rather than accomodationist or pacifist forces.

    Now, much of the series is contained with historical analysis of why the Muslim ummah fell under the dominance of the European colonial powers and most of this analysis is economic in nature. Imam Zaid does do a stirring job of critiquing European colonialism and questioning the underlying assumptions of orientalists like Bernard Lewis, especially in his work “What Went Wrong?”

    Imam Zaid (May Allaah Preserve and Protect Him) is always fascinating to me in that his essential “militancy” can hardly be contained, especially when he talks about political issues, and of course, especially when he talks about large scale historical injustices like European colonialism and the profound and lasting suffering that it unleashed upon much of the rest of the world, Muslim and non-Muslim.

    Yet, Imam Zaid is so firmly convinced (as far as I can tell from his work) of the wrongheadedness of both the Salafi trend, the Islamist trend, and the Jihadi trend and so firmly wedded to defending the madhabi, sufi, “traditional” Islam that much of the historical discussion is viewed through this lens.

    Well, there’s more I want to say on this…but then I wouldn’t have anything left to say on my blog.

    Allaah knows best.

  25. ibnabeeomar

    July 7, 2008 at 4:38 PM

    jazakallahu khayr for the info, i will look out on your blog for that then inshallah :)

  26. Ibnkhalil

    July 7, 2008 at 8:27 PM

    Br. Dawud I strongly disagree with what you said.

    Falsehood stands clear from the truth. It is our duty to find what is true or not. Your comments seem to imply that the Sufis are the masters of Tazkiyyah. Tazkiyyah an Nafs is very important to Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’ah.

    On another note if you go to
    you will see that this author is of the opinion that in order to make Islam compatible with the Western ideology of democracy, human rights etc. the West should promote Sufism. I wonder why they want a Sufi culture? (She happens to be the wife of Zhalmay Khalilzad).

    It takes away all important aspects of the Deen which infact are drivers for Tazkiya.

    In a society where dancing is allowed music creeps in and makes people confused. I request you to name one Sufi tareeqa…oh wait a minute did I say tareeqah? Hmm why a tareeqah? I wanna jion all the tareeqas and recieve purification of the soul! Singing, dancing are not purification of the soul which is endorsed by Sufi scholars who have ijazahs and are very well known.
    Wallah u alam

  27. Sharif

    July 9, 2008 at 7:54 PM…r/obama_family

    In this article, “Obama says kids won’t be doing any more interviews”, I found this paragraph to be quite interesting from an Islamic point of view:

    In the “Access Hollywood” interview, Malia said she sometimes finds her father embarrassing, such as when he shook a friend’s hand instead of waving to her or saying hi. Asked what makes their parents angry, Sasha said whining and Malia cited arguing with each other.

    Subhanallah, I am always amazed when I hear small children say such things. This is proof of the fitrah that Allah has created each of us with, that unfortunately becomes distorted by outside influences as we age…

  28. Dawud Israel

    July 12, 2008 at 7:48 PM

    If you make people think they are thinking, they will love you for it. If you make them really think, than they will hate you for it.


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