Algerian Sufi order master wants reformist Sufi role in Arab Spring

September 9, 2011

(Members of a Sufi brotherhood carry their flag as they pray in the desert during the festival of Sboue near the town of Timimoun about 1,200 km south of Algiers, March 24, 2008/Zohra Bensemra)

Sufi Muslims across North Africa must stand up for dignity and freedom so their mystical form of Islam can be heard in the lively debates over democracy in the Arab world, a leading Algerian Sufi master says. The official Islam promoted by dictators who were swept away by Arab Spring revolts has failed and Muslims now need Sufi-style spirituality to promote brotherhood and unity, said Sheikh Khaled Bentounes, head of the Al’ Alawiya Sufi order.

Arab leaders who do not guarantee universal values such as dignity and freedom risked being swept from office by a “tsunami” of youth protests, he told Reuters at his order’s lodge in this coastal city 300 km (187 miles) west of Algiers.

“We need to open the doors of debate in our countries,” said Bentounes, 62, whose order claims tens of thousands of followers in North Africa and Europe. “Let the Salafi, the Muslim Brother, the secularist, the agnostic and the Sufi speak freely and suggest solutions.”

“Spirituality commits us to take the path of the good, of unity and brotherhood,” he added.

Although well-represented in the traditional Islam of North Africa, Sufis — whose teaching stresses mysticism and love of God — have been less visible in the Arab Spring uprisings than the conservative Muslim Brothers or the strict orthodox Salafis.

Sufis in Egypt have occasionally come under attack by Salafis, who consider them heretics for venerating saints and sometimes damage the shrines they maintain in their honour. Bentounes said Sufis should stand up to counter extremism. “There are 13 million Sufis in Egypt and it’s time for them to show what they can do to help implement democracy,” he said.

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