Dr. Farid Khan
The renewal of the religious discourse necessitates reforming the religious field, not just use it as a tool by authority. So, Algeria began to formulate a new religious policy that would make the file of security and stability a centerpiece for it, parallel to the security measures of the proactive security strategy to confront the religious and Muslim terrorism. Algeria also formed this strategy in order to outline the new religious approach; the Algerian bet was strong on the Sufi orders.
Thinking and writing about the Sufism with its different orders is an inevitable necessity. This thinking is dictated by the political factors and international conflicts that were caused by the religious aspect, especially when Islam was accused of extremism and Muslims are terrorists because of Salafist, jihadist group and the extremist Muslim brotherhood.
As a result of these projections it was necessary to reform the religion, and keep it far from extremism.
Is Algeria before the return of Sufism as an instrument of the state to counter the religious extremism represented by the Muslim Brotherhood? Are we facing a revival of the Sufi approach as an expression of social demand?
The Sufi orders have become a strategic outlet and a reflection of political balances, which help countries to counter fundamentalist Islam.
The Authority also has adopted an old strategy to strengthen Zawiya, by overcoming all obstacles; in order to play pivotal role in building the state, and this of course will be achieved only by freeing the Zawiya from the constraints that have remained along decades.
- Sufi orders and functional approach to counter religious extremism
Sufi orders in Algeria have participated, as a political partner, in building the state policy. Since the twentieth century, the sufi orders practice the politics during its fight against colonialism, in light of its demand to participate indirectly in political life.
After long-term marginalization since the 1960s and attempts of repression by Islamists in the 1990s, Sufism now meets both the need for authority and citizens to create new channels; to engage in political life and mobilize resources.
The return of Sufi orders reveals many fundamental changes that have taken place in Algeria over the past 10 years.
The Sufism existence at the national level also helps to show how the state united its political leaders through regaining control of the religious domain.
The state suffered as a result of the ongoing terrorist attacks in Algeria and the attempts of political Islam to control the course of events. The Algerian authorities re-established Sufism again as a national and popular model of Islam, which defends Algerian identity against external threats.
On the other hand, Sufi orders have recognized that these regimes are the only legitimate authority that has the right to organize religious and political life in the country.
Supporting Sufism at the national level also helps the state to show itself as an important partner in foreign policy circles where moderate religious forces are supported. Sufism could also calm the rebellious conflicts in civil society in the south of the country.
Although all Sufi orders have re-awakened the interest of the state and the people in the past 10 years, they have not had the same effect on the ruling elite over state institutions, mass media, universities, the private sector and public institutions.
It should be noted that the most privileged Sufi order are the Alaoui order, Tidjani order, National Association of Zawaya, and the National Union of Algerian Zawaya. These orders work to clarify the true Islam that must be followed in Algeria, and they seek to replace the union of scholars who follow the Brotherhood ideology.
- The Sufi orders (Zawaya) a balance against Islamic extremism
The state relied on El-Zawaya to counteract the enormous influence of Salafist jihadism, represented by the Islamic Salvation Front, since it had long been excluded from the political scene. El-Zawaya was a true tool that could be presented to people as a traditional and local form of religion, as an attempt to tackle the Islamic Salvation Front, faithful to the Afghan model.
The same is true for the secular and the left, who also suffered from the strategy of the Islamic Salvation Front, which banned some things from them. That is why they welcomed the idea of Sufism as a counterbalance to the presence of the Islamists in Algeria.
In May 1991, the Algerian government led by Chadli bin Jdid supported establishing the National Association of Algerian Zawaya. The aim of this association was to combat all movements carried out in the name of Salafi jihadism or the Shiites or other religious beliefs and intercepting everything that speaks against the Maliki direction, the common ideology of the Algerians, this came few days after the general strike, which was organized by the Islamic Salvation Front.
This strategy of using the Sufis to avoid confrontation has not worked. The country has experienced a wave of violence that lasted ten years, these years were marked by a silence of the Sufis, without a role. The Zawaya only re-emerged when President Bouteflika came to power in 1999 and the ending of the civil war. The Zawaya have welcomed and supported the policy of President Bouteflika, especially the policy of national reconciliation.
The reemergence of Sufism in the political scene in Algeria shows that it may be necessary to redefine traditional readings of the role of religion in politics with religious and collective factors, in view of the lack of traditional political party structures seeking new ways to participate in political life.
In fact, the Sufi orders are not those who are not interested in politics as a whole. Sufism has its own political concepts and is supported by the current context of the political situation. Where the parties have lost their capacity to reform, and on the basis of what has already been mentioned and in connection with this perception of employment instruments, the Sufism card has been considered as a safety valve to avert the danger of radical Islam.
Sufism, ideological ally without political representation
It is worth noting that the government had already supported the Islamist movements in 1970 to fight the secular and leftist movements, but the government quickly discovered that the Islamic groups took a radical course. The number of its members has increased and they have become a serious challenge to the government. Therefore, the government is wary this time, fearing that the same scenario will be repeated with the Sufis. Therefore, it believes that the support of Sufism must come as an ideological “ally,” not as a genuine desire to open the field of political representation to achieve political diversity. Apart from the fact that the presentation of the Sufi movements as social or educational forces would encounter obstacles because it is virtually impossible for these Sufi movements to contribute anything new.
Sufism, a social demand
Indeed, the importance of this hypothesis is undeniable, especially given this Sufism movement that Algeria has experienced and the new revival of its activities, especially when we look at what it has done on the social level, to activate Sufism.
After the imbalances that have arisen at the level of the official organization on the political religious scene, the state has been forced to resort to the Sufi actor, who could be an antidote in the strategy against the radical movements of Islam.
But our invocation of that sentence and hypothesis does not mean our desire to confirm any agreement. At the same time, with what the state is looking for in its politics with Sufi orders, we emphasize that Sufism was never just a tool or a map for political action. From another point of view, as well as in terms of the social form of Sufi practice, there is no single logic or form of this practice, that involves the participation of different actors with the different origin and social and cultural tendencies.
Here we are confronted with a temporary form practice; cannot limit it to a specific form or a specific field of operation.
We may be confronted with a field of social practice that reflects part of the dynamic relationship between society and its values, religious, cultural and economic systems, as well as its relationship with the government. These observations, therefore, seem essential to understanding the nature of today’s Sufi movement. Of course, in the context of people’s desire for Sufism. This leads us to question the dynamics behind the forms and manifestations of this Sufi revival.
The requirement of social demand for the inclusion of Sufi methods in the political scan comes in the context of promoting acceptable approaches to social change and religious reform. In addition to avoiding competition with the institutional forces in the state to keep the Sufis and their Zawaya as social mediators to ensure redistribution by the state rather than being a political party united with the ruling elite.
According to the above mentioned, we conclude that the role of Sufism cannot be limited to the functional approach of confronting the political Islam, even if this assumption is one of the most important political missions. Above all, the Sufi orders must be promoted and supported as an ideological “ally”, far from political representations. So, these Zawaya and Sufi orders fulfill their spiritual and tolerance educational and religious role, which we need today. They are more connected with the country, the homeland and the peculiarities of Algeria. They could also be a pillar of Algerian strategic security, threatened by ideas produced by extremism and terrorism. What we understand today as a great interest in Sufism is motivated by the emphasis on the danger of political Islam.