Peer Syed Mudassir Nazar Shah with Professor Alexander Knysh on “A Clash of Islams: Sufism and Salafism in the Caucasus”
The presentation examines the vicissitudes of Sufism’s recent history in the Muslim republics of Russia’s North Caucasus, the Russian Federation. Using this region as a case study, Alexander Knysh shows how Sufism’s role as “a mainstay of the international social order” (per Marshall Hodgson’s Venture of Islam) has come under critical scrutiny as well as verbal and physical attacks from a variety of quarters. Somewhat paradoxically, these attacks are motivated by Sufism’s former social, political, and cultural dominance in Muslim societies worldwide. Enmeshed deeply and inextricably into the very fabric of Muslim life, Sufism with its doctrines, practices, institutions, literature, and leadership structures has become a potent symbol of the status quo that reformers of various stripes sought to change or even to abolish altogether. The most potent challenge to Sufism’s doctrinal and devotional dominance has come from various Salafi-Wahhabi (“[neo-]fundamentalist”) movements. Does this “clash of Islam” represent a re-enactment, in Muslim communities worldwide, of the Protestant Reformation? Knysh will try to answer this question by using the Muslim societies of the North Caucasus as his case study Alexander Knysh is a Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Michigan and Academic Director of an Islamic studies program sponsored by the St. Petersburg State University, Russia. His academic interests include Islamic mysticism (Sufism), Qur’anic studies, the history of Muslim theological, philosophical, and juridical thought, and modern Islamic/Islamist movements from a comparative perspective. He has numerous academic and instructional publications on these subjects, including twelve books. His most recent books in English are Islam in Historical Perspective (London and New York: Taylor and Francis, Routledge, 2017) and Sufism: A New History of Islamic Mysticism (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2017). Alexander Knysh currently serves as section editor for “Sufism” on the Editorial Board of the Encyclopedia of Islam, Third Edition (E.J. Brill, Leiden, and Boston) and is Executive Editor of the Encyclopedia of Islamic Mysticism and the Handbooks of Islamic Mysticism series associated with it.