The Nov. 24 attack on a mosque in Sinai, Egypt, marked not only the country’s deadliest terror act but also the largest against Sufi Muslims, who are increasingly targeted by Islamic extremists.
Between 25 and 30 militants stormed the al-Rawdah mosque, where they set off explosives and shot people as they attempted to flee. Witnesses shared gory details of how the militants went through the carnage to fire extra bullets into anyone who was still breathing or moving. At least 305 people died and another 128 were injured. No group claimed responsibility, but Nabil Sadeq, Egypt’s chief prosecutor, in a statement said one of the militants carried a black banner matching those carried by Islamic State (ISIS).
Sufi Muslims practice a form of Islam often called mysticism that focuses on a spiritual search for God and promotes tolerance. Peter Gottschalk, a professor of religion at Wesleyan University, said Sufi practices typically involve “more inward, contemplative focus than many other forms of Islamic practice.” They also venerate the tombs of saints—a practice extremist groups view as idolatrous.
ISIS, with its stronghold in the Sinai Peninsula, has increasingly targeted Egyptian Coptic Christian churches and their members over the past year. Friday’s attack marked the first time the group targeted a mosque, but it made multiple threats against Sufis in the past. Residents near the al-Rawdah mosque said ISIS warned villagers not to participate in rituals commemorating Muhammad’s birthday this coming Thursday. Mohammed Ibrahim, a university student from the village, said the militants told residents days before Friday’s attack not to collaborate with security forces. They also distributed leaflets ordering villagers to abandon Sufism, he said.
In 2016, ISIS released a video of the purported beheading of an elderly Sufi cleric for “professing knowledge of the occult” and cautioned Sufis to renounce their beliefs. In Pakistan, ISIS in February killed more than 80 people who gathered at the tomb of a Sufi philosopher to pray.
Mohannad Sabry, an Egypt-based political analyst, told Al Arabiya the Sufis pose a threat to ISIS because they offer a conflicting view of Islam and remain one of the communities most loyal to the Egyptian state. “The Sufis are succeeding in drawing hundreds of youths from the terrorist organization in a way the military hasn’t been able to do,” Sabry said. “And I believe that the most important point, for ISIS, is to eliminate their ideological rival rather than their military rival.”
Millions of Sufis mark Muhammad’s birthday by gathering for rituals in mosques and shrines across the country. Abdel Hady al-Qasaby, head of Egypt’s Supreme Council for Sufi Orders, told The Guardian they canceled all outdoor celebrations but will hold activities inside mosques across the country. “We will only cancel the annual Sufi parade as we are mourning our martyrs,” al-Qasaby said. The Egyptian military said in a statement Sunday that it carried out airstrikes at some terrorist hideouts in response to the attack, and law-enforcement followed up by combing through the bombed areas.
Ebrahim Deen, an analyst with the South Africa–based Afro Middle East Center said the attack was largely in response to “perceived cooperation” between the Sufis and Egyptian security forces. Deen said ISIS is increasingly losing support among Islamic tribes in the Sinai Peninsula—a move that could herald more attacks. “ISIS will continue trying to carry out these attacks to remain relevant,” he said.
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Publication date: December 4, 2017