The world is perplexed how members of a group calling themselves Muslims could massacre fellow Muslims. That it happened on a Friday, a holy day for the obligatory weekly congregation and in the sacred House of Allah, Rawda Mosque, defies easy explanation. Councilor Marciano Medalla asked me to explain the conundrum when our Tuesday Group met to play golf (it’s really a misnomer because we play more on days other than Tuesday). My curt answer was: The attack was both religious and political.
The deadliest ever attack in recent memory by militants in Egypt on Nov. 24 in North Sinai, where the media reported at least 305 dead and 109 wounded, brought to fore a less known Islamic movement, Sufi, and the weakness of the Egyptian military ruler to quell extremism. While no group has claimed responsibility, the
fingerprints of Islamic State jihadists were all over the scene of the crime, and state authorities have pointed to them.
The Land of the Pharaohs where I was posted for years as Philippine envoy is home to millions of Muslims belonging to the Sufi order. This is not a distinct sect of Islam; rather, it has a peculiar method of observing the religion. It is a mystic movement described as “an inner or esoteric dimension of Islam.” Members of the order engage in songs, incantations, chants, dancing and poetry, hoping to draw themselves closer to Allah SWT. Readers must have seen in movies or television a wool-clad group swirling in cadence to the beat of a drum and music in Morocco and elsewhere in the Arab world. They venerate in saint-like passion shrines that house the tombs of Sufi holy men, a practice condemned by radical Muslims as idolatry and dubbed by them as “mushrikin” or polytheist. Their influence is expansive, even including, for a while, Filipino Muslims.
I have a faint memory of a practice among Filipino Maranaw Muslims related to Sufism. Growing up, I often observed, during a vigil for the dead, devotees sitting in a circle, bending their heads to the left and right in cadence, chanting “La illaha ilallah,” meaning “There is no God (Allah) but God (Allah).” It lasted for hours until the devotees were drawn into a trance-like state. But this practice was discarded for being un-Islamic by Salafist-Wahhabbi fundamentalists.
After strongman Hosni Mubarak, the longest-serving ruler of Egypt, was deposed, the radical Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi was democratically elected president. Unfortunately, because of his harsh and draconian implementation of Shariah-based law, he was deposed by a military coup in 2013, barely a year after his election. Gen. Abdel Fattah El Sisi was installed as president in his place. Analysts say that this political event was the cause célèbre of the militant attackers and that the unholy alliance between the Islamic State or Daesh and the Muslim Brotherhood was the culprit. Since then, Egyptian soldiers, policemen, Sufis and Christian Copts in churches have been attacked and state authority subjected to other forms of destabilization, leading to the recent attack on Rawda Mosque. And in Pakistan and other parts of the Muslim world, the “heretical innovation” and “idolatry” of the Sufis have made them targets of Islamic hardliners and extremists.
The mass murder at Rawda Mosque is a clarion call to all to be on their toes. The defeat of the Islamic State in Mosul and Raqqa has emboldened its remaining jihadists still holding out in wilayats and terror cells to launch fresh attacks to dispute claims that they are now kaput.
The mayhem betrays the philosophical divergence in Islam that will exponentially corrode its stability.
And President Duterte is on the right track when he warned that the defeat of the Islamic State in Marawi will not close the chapter on extremism in the Philippines.
Macabangkit B. Lanto (email@example.com), UP Law 1967, was a Fulbright fellow in New York University for his postgraduate studies. He has served the government as congressman, ambassador, and undersecretary, among other positions.