Role of Sufi Islam in Countering Turkish Coup
By Dr Ghayur Ayub
Many reasons, some genuine others not so genuine, are advanced as to why the Turkish military coup failed. I have my own. This is besides the reasons that 1) Erdogan showed his political strength by putting the Turkish economy on the road to progress; 2) He helped Turkey to keep national pride in post-9/11 global politics; 3) He let the army realize that in democracy, military honor does not reside in political corridors; 4) He sent a message that secularism does not go well with Muslim public in a Muslim country. It is the last point which has been less scrutinized by the analysts analyzing the failed coup.
The question is why Erdagon, despite corruption allegations, got public support? We don't you see that for the Pakistani politicians. The answer lies in the Sufi teachings he follows. We have seen a glaring example of this when Imran Khan (IK) and Tahir ul Qadri took part in the famous Dharna of 2014. The youth followed IK because he wanted a change of the government. Using his charismatic oration supported with musical tunes, he argued why a change was necessary. In the following weeks, we saw his convincing power started to crumble as he kept on repeating the same theme again and again. Repetition works in Zikre, not otherwise. The gathering got thinner and in the end, it looked like a musical show where the youth came out to have a good time in a city where the streets are dead after sunset.
It was a different type of gathering on Tahirul ul Qadri’s side. His audience was not high society youth. Though, he called them PAT workers but in reality they were the followers of Minhaj ul Qu’ran, adhering to a specific Sufi order based on special relationship between the master and disciple. When TUQ called them to join him in the long march, they followed him blindly, knowing the suffering they would face. In such a relationship, when the master asks them to jump from the roof they would do so without hesitation. This commitment became obvious when they refused enormous amount of blood money. When Tahir ul Qadri decided to end his Dharna, they packed their bags and went back without blinking an eye. This is called the disciple's commitment in Sufism.
It was this commitment which played an essential role in the unsuccessful Turkish coup. To understand that, we have to go back into the history of Turkish society where Sufi Islam is in abundance. It is the Naqshbandi order with its sub-branches which has overwhelming followings.
Sufi orders are known for their esoteric nature in contrast to orthodox Islam. Naqshbandi order differs from other orders for its compatibility with orthodox Islam. This is because of the seventeenth century theosophist Sheikh Ahmad al-Sirhindi, who brought orthodoxy in the order while keeping ijtihad (independent reasoning) within the bounds of the Qur’an and Sunna. In doing so, he introduced politics in Sufism to oppose Shaism. In the n ineteenth century, this thinking was picked up by Khalid-i-Baghdadi, a Naqshbadi sheikh of Kurdish descent. He developed the Khalidi branch and soon this branch started to flourish in the Ottoman Empire infiltrating its bureaucracy.
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the secular Kemal Ata Turk did not spare Sufi Dargahs and shut them down along with the religious Maddaris. As a result, some Sufis went underground and others went abroad and ended in Islamic centers in Cairo, Baghdad, Damascus and Medina. There, they were exposed to Salafi thinking and the ideology of Hasan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb of the Muslim Brotherhood. During their learning, they found close theosophist links between Naqshbandi-Khalidi Sufi order and orthodox orders of Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood. After the emergence of democracy in Turkey from 1950 onwards, they returned and reimported the religious education they studied abroad and started mixing it with Naqshbandi-Khalidi order and spreading it as political tool.
The main credit goes to Mehmet Zahid Kotku (1897-1980), a son of migrants from Daghestan. He was initiated into the Khalidi order in 1918 and became a sheikh in 1952 when he took up preaching in Istanbul. In 1958, he took over the Iskenderpaşa mosque, where he remained until his death in 1980.
He became the real leader in Turkish politics promoting the Khalidi philosophy in a multi-party democracy. Initially, he involved Necmettin Erbakan to form the National Order Party in 1969 telling him that “the country has fallen into the hands of Freemasons imitating the West”. In the following years, he polished Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and taught him how Sufism concentrates on public affairs by helping common people in their social life, education and health. Erdagon understood it and made it his political motto.
In his political career, differences appeared between him and Erbakan, when he found Erbakan arrogant, strict, unbending and unwilling to compromise on political matters. Kotku contained this rift while he was alive. After his death, his successor Essad Cosan could not maintain the control and migrated to Australia where he was killed in a car crash in 2001.
While the rift continued, Erdagon formed the AKP to end fragmentation of the religious orders in 2001. As part of his Sufi-cum-political expediency, he chose to become an ally of another Sufi order of Nurcu group led by Fethullah Gülen. Unlike Erdagon, Gulen was more liberal, but he needed him for political stability. While he was strengthening his power by following the Sufi instructions and helping the public at large, he started developing links with Brotherhood organizations. It became obvious when leading representatives of the various branches of the Brotherhood, including Hamas, were the honored guests at AKP conventions. This bothered Gulen. He parted his ways and went in exile settling in Pennsylvania. Some people say that Erdogen developed personal relationship with Sharif brothers for their leanings to centrist Islam. In contrast, he was close to liberal Gen. Pervez Musharaf as both had links with another Naqshbandi Sufi, Sheikh Nazim of Cyprus.
The point I am trying to make is that it was a Sufi path which made Erdagon help the public in their social life including education and health and which became a scoring point politically. And, if it was not the messages from the mosques run by the Sufis on that fateful night, the public would not have come out on the streets and bare-handedly stopped the most powerful army or laid down in front of tanks.