With funding from a number of Saudi and Gulf businessmen, the Sufis have decided to start a television war by launching a satellite television channel that aims to find an audience among Sufis, while also targeting members of other sects. Sheikh Alaa Abul-Azayem, the head of the Sufi Azayemiya order in Egypt said that this channel is set to be launched soon, and that it aims to address the “deluge” of new satellite channels that are financed by Gulf States and Saudi Arabia and that are controlled by “Salafist and Wahabi extremists and fundamentalists” according to the well known almesryoon website.
What is worth mentioning in this regard is that everybody knows that Sufi Sheikhs and religious figures and guardians of Sufi shrines across the Arab world have fortunes estimated in the billions of dollars, so why have they only now – at a time when launching a satellite channel is as cheap and easy as launching an internet website – decided to launch a satellite channel?
Sufi followers have considerable and diverse expertise, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that some of those who follow Sufi sheikhs have political clout. Therefore why have they allowed “Salafist and Wahabi” media freedom to make gains and grow strong in an arena where competition is open to all without exception? More importantly how will a single Sufi satellite channel be able to address “the deluge” of Salafist and Wahabi” satellite channels?
The general definition of Salafism is to utilize the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet [pbuh] as the only reference [in life], and to worship God in a traditional manner away from newly emerging heresies. Therefore Salafism has achieved an overwhelming majority [with regards to the number of believers] in comparison to Sufism, whose believers chant the names of God, perform heretical dances, and conduct strange rituals.
Sheikh Abul-Azayem justified the Sufi practice of swaying their heads and chanting the name of God over and over as being like the exercises that school children perform in the morning. He said isn’t it better for the Sufi to sway and chant the name of God, rather than counting 1–2–3–4 as is done in the exercises?
This simple example illustrates how this narrow definition of Sufism is “unconvincing” except perhaps to figures like US Ambassador to Egypt, Francis J. Ricciardone who loves Sufism, Sufi dances, and Sufi rituals, according to alarabiya.net. Therefore it was completely logical and normal for Salafism to win this battle [with Sufism]. Sheikh Abul-Azayem said that there was a “deluge” of Salafist channels, however what he did not pay attention to is that this “deluge” was not caused because these Salafist channels are better funded – because as we mentioned previously Sufi followers have billions of dollars – but rather because Salafism is more convincing. In fact I pity the forthcoming Sufi channel, as I question how it will manage to convince the new and educated and intellectual generations of certain Sufi practices that have no basis in Sharia law or common reason. Therefore I am not exaggerating when I say that launching this channel may in fact have a negative impact on the future of Sufism itself.
It is important that I point out here that in discussing Sufism I do not mean the Sufism that aims to purify one’s soul from sin, as famed Sufi figure Imam Junayd al-Baghdadi understood this term. In fact, Imam Junayd al-Baghdadi’s understanding of purifying one’s spirit is not too dissimilar from the understanding of Salafist Sheikh Imam Ibn-Qayim al-Jawziyya. Nor do I mean those who claim to be Sufis and whose knowledge of Sufism is limited to lectures given on the Prophet’s birthday.
I would also like to point out here that the battle is not for one sect or another to occupy the largest media space, but rather the battle is one over the “terms” Sufism and Salafism. Salafism is a loose term that can be expanded to include the majority of Sunni Muslims in the world and at the same time it can be contracted to include a small group of just a few thousand. Salafism – as understood by the Sufis – is a loose term, and anybody who dislikes visiting holy sites, and does not like Sufi practices like swaying or chanting the names of God must therefore be a Wahabi or a Salafist.