An interior view of Al Rawdah mosque is seen after an explosion, in Bir Al-Abed, Egypt November 25, 2017 - REUTERS/Mohamed Soliman
CAIRO – 27 November 2017: The attack on the Rawdah mosque in North Sinai is the first organized attack of its kind in North Sinai. Although this is not the first instance that the Sufi stream, along with its mosques, shrines and followers, has been targeted in North Sinai by terrorist groups that have become increasingly active since the Muslim Brotherhood were deposed from power, it is by far the bloodiest of these attacks.
The armed attack was highly organized and executed by 40 terrorists who rode in eight four-wheel vehicles and who began their attack soon after the second call for the Friday prayer was announced and the Imam had started his khutbah (sermon).
Why did the attack target a Sufi mosque?
Although no one has claimed responsibility for the attack yet, all evidence strongly indicate that Ansar Bait al-Maqdis (ABM), who have dubbed themselves ‘The Sinai Province’ ever since they pledged allegiance to ISIL, are responsible for the attack.
Being the most active terrorist group in Sinai is not the only indicator that ABM is the perpetrator of the attack; the fact that they have repeatedly threatened followers of Sufi circles in Sinai shortly before the attack, and the fact that they have abducted and murdered many such followers, and have bombed and wrecked many of their shrines and mosques proves to be stronger evidence. Sufi circles are increasingly becoming targets for terrorist groups in Sinai for the following reasons:
ABM, or the Sinai Province, considers the Sufi method to be “shirk” (idolatry or polytheism), which is against the Islamic belief system and law and which is why the group has been bombing and demolishing Sufi shrines in Syria and Iraq; its territories of authority.
In an interview published on December 9, 2016 in the ISIL-affiliated Al-Naba electronic newspaper with one of the organizations leaders in Sinai about the Sufis of Sinai, he addressed the followers of Sufi orders in Sinai with a statement which said: “You must know that, to us, you are polytheists and infidels, and that shedding your blood is lawful. And I’m telling you this: we will not allow the presence of your mosques in the Sinai Province.”
He added that Sufism is one of the most dangerous diseases that the Islamic State has ever been afflicted with and that he considers the Jarirya Sufi order to be the most deviant and the closest to Rafidah, and warned of a war to be waged in the Sinai Peninsula for the purpose of completely uprooting and eradicating Sufism from it.
Popularity of the Sufi stream in Sinai:
ABM harbors hatred toward tribes’ chieftains who are known for their piety and Sufi tendencies, especially since the terrorist group regards those chieftains as potential threats due to their popularity, which acts as a firewall against spreading ABM’s extremist takfiri (excommunication) ideas.
Refusing to shelter ABM’s members:
Followers of Sufi orders often reject takfiri ideas and seek to fight them in their territories. The commitment which leads them to refuse to shelter members of the terrorist group who had to look for alternative shelters after combing operations and strikes from security forces have intensified.
Cooperation with security forces:
Followers of the Jarirya Sufi order in Sinai, the targets of Friday’s attack, have an honorable patriotic history owing to their role in supporting and assisting the Egyptian armed forces in both the War of Attrition and the October 6 War. Young Sufi men fought fiercely in the War of Attrition and were thus awarded the Order of Distinction by the president in gratitude for their lives which were sacrificed in the battles. Such roles continued after takfiri ideologies started to grow and spread in Sinai.
Celebration of the birth of Prophet Mohamed:
The attack coincided with the Sufi orders’ celebrations of the birth of Prophet Mohamed, which is considered by fundamental takfiri streams to be an act of heresy. The terrorist group targeted Rawdah village because of the high localization of the followers of the Jarirya order in the village.
Jarirya has a zawiyah (a small mosque) next to Rawdah mosque, but neither the mosque nor the zawiyah have any shrines, for Jarirya followers decided to abandon their most significant ritual in order to avoid attacks from the ABM. They demolished all their shrines and rebuilt them without domes.
The ABM’s most significant attacks against Sufis in Sinai:
There are more than 12 Sufi orders in Sinai, the oldest of which is the Tijaniyyah order, and the most popular and populated of which are the Alawiyyah Darqawiyyah Shadhiliya order, and the Jarirya order which bears its name after Sheikh Eid Abu Jarir, chief of the Jararat family from Sawarka tribe to which many mosques in Rafah, Arish and Sheikh Zuweid are affiliated.
Despite the popularity of Sufi thought in Sinai, and the fact that many chieftains are affiliated with Sufi orders, this popularity is receding because of the growing power of takfiri groups and the increasing number of attacks on Sufis since the onset of 2013. That year witnessed the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood, after which terrorist groups, heralded by ABM, started to wage attacks on the guests of Sufi circles and started to abduct them as well. The most significant of these attacks since 2013 till today are the following:
• On August 4, 2013, ABM bombed the shrines of Sheikh Hameed Abu Jarir in Al-Maghara in central Sinai, and Skeikh Selim al-Sharif Abu Jarir in Al-Mazara in Bir al-Abed simultaneously during Tarawih prayer. Not only were the shrines knocked down along with the graves inside, but the explosion also extended to the surrounding graves.
• ABM’s pressure against Sufi orders in Sinai intensified in early October, 2016, where a number of Alawiyyah affiliated zawiyahs were attacked, and followers of the order were forbidden from practicing zikr and other rituals.
The situation escalated when Sufis refused to succumb to the terrorist group which responded by abducting seven people from Sufi zawiyahs and threatened to apply the Islamic law (kill them since they are considered infidels) should they not meet ABM’s demands.
Sufi orders yielded to these demands to avoid ABM’s vengeful attacks, and this was shortly followed by an official statement in which ABM declared that followers of Sufi orders are on its assassinations list.
• On March 29, 2017, ABM executed two Sufi sheikhs on account of witchcraft and soothsaying. The terrorist group made a broadcast of a video showing the arrest and murder of Sheikh Soliman Harraz, one of the oldest Sufi sheikhs in Sinai who was in his 90s, and one of his followers named Quttaifan Eid Mansour.
The video showed the terrorists taking the two bonded men out of a black car to the desert where they were beheaded while one of the terrorists was saying these words: “A court of Islamic law convicts these two men with soothsaying, fortune-telling and calling for idolatry, and they are therefore sentenced to death.”
This article was originally published in Arabic on Al Siyassa Al Dawliya Magazine