CAIRO: The mosque where Friday’s massacre unfolded in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula had been widely associated with Sufi Muslims who have been attacked by the Islamic State group wherever the extremists operate.
A Bedouin tribal leader told AFP the Rawda mosque, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of the North Sinai capital of El-Arish, was known as a Sufi mosque and contained a “Zawiya” — a lodge used by the mystics for prayers and gatherings.
IS has targeted Sufis in Egypt in the past. Last year, the militants kidnapped and beheaded an elderly Sufi leader, accusing him of practising witchcraft.
The group’s weekly Nabaa newsletter then published an interview with the commander of its “morality police” in Sinai who said their “first priority was to combat the manifestations of polytheism including Sufism”.
In much of the Muslim world, Sufism has for centuries been accepted and practised by mainstream Muslims and Sunni Islam’s most important theologians.
The head of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s top Islamic authority, is a Sufi, as are many top clerics in the Muslim world.
Some mystical concepts espoused by their religious leaders have led to detractors over the centuries accusing them of pantheism and other heresies.
In recent times, as the mystics grew more influential and Arab governments embraced them for being non-political, some of their leaders have been criticised for becoming too worldly themselves.