Sufis Under Fire in Macedonia

Damage from an arson at the Harabati Baba teqe, a Sufi Muslim religious complex in Tetova, Macedonia. Photo: Bektashi Community of Macedonia

Stephen Suleyman Schwartz is author of The Two Faces of Islam: Saudi Fundamentalism and Its Role in Terrorism (2002) and The Other Islam: Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony (2008). He is the Executive Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism.

As an informed global media audience should know, traditions of pluralism that were long established in Islamic statecraft, law, and public institutions today face a mortal threat from adherents to radical, fundamentalist interpretations of Sunni Islam. The latter mainly comprise Saudi-financed Wahhabis, who masquerade as “Salafis,” and South Asian Deobandis, who support the Taliban. In the Balkans, the front line between Sufism and Wahhabism runs through the Albanian- and Muslim-majority – and in the past, Sufi-identified – city of Tetova in eastern Macedonia.

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The Disappearance of Muslim Scholarship?

Islamic Calligraphy Depicting the 13th Century Andalusian Morrish Sufi Mystic and Philosopher, Ibn Arabi

We hear a lot about the decline of  intellectual and cultural production in the Muslim World, but very little attention is paid to the actual heyday of Islamic scholarship itself. Many of these traditions have indeed declined, but so too have recognition and knowledge of the most important spiritual, artistic, and scientific contributions Muslims have made. Islamic scholarship—from poetry to the philosophy of metaphysics—has been rich since the founding of Islam in the 7th century, but very few even know it exists.

A variety of factors have prevented many of the most insightful and stunning works of art and scholarship from gaining recognition. Pieces remain hidden treasures in the minds of a handful of academics and on the dusty shelves of libraries and museums around the world.

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The “Islamic” Republic of Pakistan

Despite its wealth of intellectuals, higher education institutions, and rich arts tradition, Pakistan has become increasingly choked by violent extremist elements. Initially foreign in origin, these elements are now seen as “indigenous” violent fundamentalism.

Inadequate land reform, an ambiguous national ideology, and politically motivated Islamic nationalization efforts by both internal and external forces have separated Pakistan on many measures from its rival and socio-historical “cousin” India. The pockets of social and religious conservatism within Pakistan’s borders are foreign to a majority of regional historical narratives, but extremist influences are rapidly growing.

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