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Sufi rising

January 25, 2009
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For years, the Islamic revival has seemed to be a story of ever-growing fundamentalism and political extremism, but around the world, Sufi orders are rapidly gaining strength -- in Turkey and Syria, Uzbekistan and Indonesia. Sufism is also growing quickly in Iran, as younger Muslims seek a liberal and liberating kind of spirituality utterly different from anything the ayatollahs can provide. In 1979, Iran had 100,000 Sufis; today, there may be 5 million.

Globally, the movement represents a close parallel to the explosive worldwide growth of charismatic and Pentecostal styles within Christianity. Both practice a passionate style of religion, and both have demography on their side. The Sufi revival is most obvious in the African and Asian lands that have some of the world's highest birth rates. Although the Sufi revival has its impact in many Muslim countries, the North African story is particularly important for Europe and the West because of the influence of migrants. As Morocco and Senegal spawn new forms of Sufi devotion, for example, these spread to African communities in Europe, and find expression in youth culture and hip hop, even in Sufi rap.

Always, these movements speak the language of peace, hope, and reconciliation, and condemn extremism. These are the Muslim voices that can compete with the calls to jihad and terror.

Philip Jenkins

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