Sufi And Shia Of Afghanistan, The [world Service]

Episodes

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Rustam Qobil examines Sufi Islam of Afghanistan.

Rustam Qobil from the BBC’s Central Asian Service visited northern Afghanistan for a two-part series for Heart and Soul.

Chanting and singing worshippers, eyes closed, lost in their hypnotic worship, was not a sight he expected to see when he made the difficult journey to one of the most remote parts of northern Afghanistan. What he found was a renaissance in the mysterious Sufis school of Islam in this part of the world.

For Sufis, Islam is about love to God and other human beings. The Sufi Muslim’s prayers are all about singing and dancing. For some Muslim believers these actions are the opposite of how they pray and worship and even look and sound blasphemous. But the Sufi prayers praise Allah only. Afghanistan, like other Muslim countries, owes a huge part of its rich cultural heritage and traditions to Sufism, once the most powerful Islamic teaching in all Central and South Asia. But the long years of conflicts and rise of radical Islam in Afghanistan forced the followers of Sufism underground and the most prominent Sufi groups all but disappeared from public view in many parts of the country.

There are followers of four Sufi branches in Afghanistan: Qadiriya, Chishtiya, Naqshbandi and Sarwardia. All Sufis perform Zikr, remembrance of Allah. This is a Sufi way of praying. Some of them do chant God's names loudly, the others prefer a silent Zikr, Chishtiya even favour playing musical instruments.

Although there is strong opposition against Sufism among the most traditional Muslims in Afghanistan, Rustam has found that Sufism is reclaiming a place in Afghan society.

Picture shows Sufi Muslims in Afghanistan practising Zikr – the Sufi way of prayer.

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The future of Shia Muslims who live in Sunni-dominated Afghanistan

For the second part of his series for Heart and Soul, Rustam Qobil investigates the lives of Shia Muslims in Sunni-dominated Afghanistan.

While the two main Islamic groups, the Sunnis and Shias, are in conflict in many other Muslim countries, the Afghan Shias have been enjoying newly-acquired rights, equality and opportunities in this complicated country. Shia Muslims are the second-biggest religious group in Afghanistan and have been the most-oppressed minority in this country's recent past. Although it has never resulted in large-scale sectarian violence, relations between the majority Sunnis and minority Shias have historically been tense. But now Afghans say that they want to build peaceful and friendly relations in their war-torn country and have met with Shias to discuss how to make it happen.

After years as an almost non-existent political force and living on the fringes of Afghan society, the Shia are now represented by more than 50 MPs in the Afghan parliament. Some argue that centuries-long oppression and living in radical Sunni society might have made them more determined and progressive. Others say that long years in exile as refugees in neighbouring countries made them realise the power of education.

But now as foreign troops are leaving Afghanistan many Shia Muslims are nervous of the ongoing sectarian violence between Shias and Sunni in neighbouring countries, and fear that the violence may spill over into Afghanistan.

Rustam meets the Shias of Afghanistan to explore the life of this community, and also talks to Sunnis who have defied traditional boundaries in this divided society and married a Shia or converted to Shia Islam.

Image shows Shia Muslims of Afghanistan flailing themselves in the street.