1st Edition

State and Sufism in Iraq Building a “Moderate Islam” Under Saddam Husayn

By David Jordan Copyright 2022
    310 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    310 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    State and Sufism in Iraq is the first comprehensive study of the Iraqi Baʿth regime’s (r. 1968–2003) entanglement with Sufis and of Sunnī Sufi Islam in Iraq from the late Ottoman period until 2003 and beyond.

    For far too long, the secular and authoritarian Baʿth regime has been reduced to the dictator Saddam Husayn and portrayed as antireligious. Its growing political employment of Islam during the 1990s, in turn, has been interpreted either as an abstract Baʿthist-nationalist Islam or as an ideological U-turn from secularism to a form of Islamism that ultimately contributed to the spread of Islamist terrorism after 2003. Broadening the narrow focus on Saddam Husayn, this book analyses other leading regime figures, their close entanglement with Sufis, and Baʿth religious politics of a state-sponsored revival of Sufi Islam and Iraq’s broad and distinct Sufi culture. It is the story of a secular regime’s search for "moderate" Islam in order to overcome the challenges of radical Islamism and sectarianism in Iraq.

    The book’s two-pronged interdisciplinary approach that deals equally with politics and Sufi Islam in Iraq makes it a valuable contribution to scholars and students in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, Religious Anthropology and Sociology, Political Science, and International Relations.


    List of Figures

    List of Tables

    Notes on Language and Transliteration


    Part I: Sufi Islam and the Challenges of the Modern Iraqi Nation State (1876–1979)

    1. Islam and the Decline of Sufism After the End of the Ottoman Empire

    2. The Rise of the Baʿth Party and its Early Nationalization of Islam

    3. Sufis Under the Early Baʿth: First Links to the Regime

    Part II: State Patronage of Islam During the Iran–Iraq War and Beyond (1980–1989)

    4. The Religious Propaganda of a Secular Regime

    5. The New Prominence of Sufi Scholars

    6. New Opportunities for Sufi Orders

    Part III: The Faith Campaign and the State-Sponsored Revival of Sufism (1993–2003)

    7. Sufism to Counter Moral Decay and Wahhabism

    8. Sufi Ecumenism Against Sectarianism

    9. The Entanglement of Sufis with the State Elite


    Afterword: The Naqshbandī Army and the Legacy of the Baʿth Regime’s Sufi Revival After 2003




    David Jordan (Ph. D. 2019 Hamburg) is Research Associate for Islamic Studies at Bochum University. His research focusses on Sufism and the entanglement of religion and politics in the early modern and modern history of the Middle East. His publications include: "Jaysh rijāl al-ṭarīqa al-naqshbandīya: The Sufi Resistance of the Former Baʿth Party in Iraq" (2020).

    "David Jordan’s new book shines a bright light on a hitherto largely ignored aspect of recent Iraqi history: the revival of Sufi thought and Sufi networks during Saddam’s final years and the mobilization and reinvigoration of these networks in the wake of the American invasion. Essential reading on contemporary Iraq."

    Martin van Bruinessen, Utrecht University, The Netherlands

    "Based on extremely rich source material, State and Sufism in Iraq provides novel and surprising insights into the political and religious complexities of Baʿthi Iraq, at the same time opening fresh perspectives on the cultural strategies of Arab nationalist regimes in the Middle East."

    Stefan Reichmuth, Ruhr University Bochum, Germany

    "Contribution puissamment originale à l’histoire de l’Irak contemporain, l’étude ferme et dense de David Jordan sur les rapports entre État et soufisme s’ancre dans une vraie profondeur historique, de l’Empire ottoman jusqu’aux cheikhs soufis insurgés de l’Irak d’après 2003. Sortant d’une vision rapide des habituels clivages entre chiites et sunnites, soufis et islamistes, Etat et société, David Jordan souligne en définitive le rôle fondamental des généalogies soufies et des descendants du Prophète dans l’histoire politique irakienne au XXe siècle et au début du XXIe siècle."

    Catherine Mayeur-Jaouen, Université Paris-Sorbonne, France

    "As a strongly original contribution to the contemporary history of Iraq, the solidly founded and dense study of David Jordan on the relationship between state and Sufism is anchored in a truly historical depth, from the Ottoman Empire to the insurgent Sufi shaykhs in Iraq after 2003. Going beyond a hasty view of the usual divides between Shīʿīs and Sunnīs, Sufis and Islamists, and the state and society, David Jordan conclusively highlights the fundamental role of Sufi genealogies and descendants of the Prophet in Iraqi political history in the twentieth and at the beginning of the twenty-first century."

    Catherine Mayeur-Jaouen, Université Paris-Sorbonne, France