PhD thesis: From Sufism to Sufislamism in Pakistan

Alix Philippon, Pir politics. From Sufism to Sufislamism: recombination, modernization and mobilization of “brotherhoods” in Pakistan. PhD thesis in Political Sciences, IEP Aix-en-Provence, 8 December 2009.

“Generally posited as the mystical trend within Islam and often hyped as an alternative to the more politically active Islamism, Sufism, through its various orders and leaders, the pirs, is however a key to understanding “Muslim politics” (James Piscatori and Dale Eickelman). A major repertoire of Islamic language, Sufism is an ambiguous signifier which has undergone a process of politicization: its semantics has become a stake in the power ratio between many contending groups, both state and non-state. Within the Pakistani Islamist field, the movement which has the most loudly trumpeted its affiliation to the Sufi identity is the Barelwi movement. Often overlooked by scholars, this theological school has been experiencing a revival since the 1980s, through the burgeoning of many new religious and/or political organizations, generally structured on the pattern of the brotherhood. Recruiting in sociologically modern circles, these brotherhoods, established in urban centres, have often successfully attempted to redefine themselves in accordance with the demands of modernity. They have notably rationalized and internationalized their organizations, and become conscious of the importance of socio-political stakes, prompting them to adopt a posture of committed activism, thus demonstrating how “tradition” may become a powerful vehicle for change and political mobilization. In order to designate such groups claiming Sufism and Sufi identity as a register for Islamist mobilization, I have coined the concept “Sufislamism”. Besides enabling an enhanced analysis of the various  interactions between Sufism and Islamism, this concept may also improve our understanding of the highly fissile politicization of the doctrinal fractures inside the Islamist movement in Pakistan, thus helping to chart the deep waters of identity politics, especially those of intra-Sunni sectarianism.”

Keywords: Sufism, Islamism, identity politics, modernization, mobilization, Pakistan


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Asian Studies (November 22, 2009). PhD thesis: From Sufism to Sufislamism in Pakistan. Sindhi Studies Group. Retrieved July 16, 2024 from

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