Tayyip Erdoğan receives much criticism from Western media because of his conservative and repressive policies. It’s quite difficult to refer to him as a typical example of ‘Sufism’ or Islamic mysticism. Nevertheless, for a long time Tayyip Erdoğan belonged to the Naqshbandi tariqa — one of the eldest and most widely spread mystical brotherhoods in contemporary Turkey.Interestingly the Gülen movement, which, in the last few years, grew out to be one of Erdoğan’s greatest political enemies, also has a supposed 'Sufi' background.
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Our misconceptions about 'Sufism' wouldn’t be much of a problem if they were simply some ‘misunderstanding’ based on a ‘lack of knowledge’. Yet the fact of the matter is that our misunderstandings about Islamic mysticism do not simply stem from innocent ignorance. They are misunderstandings that are closely tied to the enormous blind spots of the contemporary view on religion and they are misunderstandings that are heavily entwined with pressing political issues.
(Re-visioning Sufism - part 3) - The typical modern dichotomy of ‘religion’ vs. ‘mysticism’ is utterly useless to describe Islamic mysticism for what is generally called ‘Sufism’ is, in fact, a rather ‘normative’ form of the Islamic tradition. This norm only gradually started shifting because of modernist influences and contemporary geopolitics. However, acknowledging these facts doesn’t imply that one should get carried away by yet another modernist assumption when trying to understand the place of mysticism within Islam.
The first article of this series explained how ‘Sufism’ isn’t a ‘separate branch’ at all (as is often claimed), but is in fact a very central aspect of the broader Islamic tradition and why it should rather be seen as ‘normative Islam’. Sadly enough however, one cannot deny the fact that the varied mystical expressions of Islam were far more prominently present before than they are today and once can easily notice a strong opposition towards ‘Sufism’ in many Islamic environments.