Sufism and Modernity from the Empire to the Republic

  • Brian Silverstein


Sufi orders were prominent and widespread in the Ottoman Empire but were officially banned by the new republican state in 1925, and it has since been a punishable crime in Turkey to be involved with a Sufi order as a sheikh or as a disciple. Why were the orders banned? What then becomes of Sufi practice in such an environment? The short answer many of the Sufi men I worked with in Turkey gave me is “Sufis in all periods of Islam, and in all parts of the Muslim world, have been harassed. But no one can destroy Sufism, because it is a matter of the heart [kalb işi].”1 Nonetheless, it is the case that many are dissatisfied that they are not able to practice their religion as they please (many adding, for my benefit no doubt, “like one can in America”).2 From the point of view of the history of Islam and Muslim communities, how should we conceptualize Sufism in the country in the wake of this? How should we conceptualize it from the point of view of the history of the state, religion, and politics? To do this adequately, I would argue that we need to examine in some detail how and why Sufi orders in the late Ottoman Empire had been restructured according to the new regimes of knowledge and power we described in the previous chapter, for this will provide an important context in which to interpret the proscription of the Sufi orders in the new republic in 1925 and the nature and place of Sufi discourse and practice in the republic subsequently.


Nineteenth Century Muslim Community Previous Chapter Late Eighteenth Century Muslim World 
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© Brian Silverstein 2011

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  • Brian Silverstein

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