Even after defeat, ISIS’s influence will remain strong

Hassan Hassan writes: The extent to which communities in Syria and Iraq that have fallen under ISIL’s influence have changed since the group took control might take a generation to fully comprehend. In much of the expanse that ISIL has controlled or still holds, social change was historically slow due to their remoteness from centres of power. Whether under the Ottomans or the Baathists, whether they practised Salafism or Islamism, change in these hinterland areas was mostly limited and scattered.

When ISIL came, it emphasised managing all aspects of people’s lives. It brought with it a radical project to erase and eradicate social bonds and religious norms.

Will Sufism, for example, survive the vicious systematic campaign by ISIL to uproot it?

Historically, Sufi orders prevailed in the region that stretches from Fallujah to the Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish areas all the way to Aleppo. Much of this expanse subscribes to the Naqashbani Sufi order, followed by the Qaderiyah order. Despite the social conservatism prevalent in these areas, attempts over the past century to spread Salafism there largely failed.

For ISIL, which represents the opposite extreme of the spectrum, to have followers in this region – or at least people it has been able to control it with relative ease – should be regarded as damning evidence that the governments that formally ruled these areas have done a bad job.

Sufis have been at the forefront of ISIL’s targets. Sufi imams at mosques were replaced by clerics who preach anti-Sufi messages. Sufi shrines were quickly destroyed in every village or town controlled by ISIL. Some Sufi clerics were punished or killed after the militants accused them of practising sorcery. The majority of Sufis in the region either fled or converted to ISIL’s religious doctrine. [Continue reading…]

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