November 26, 2017 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1360

ISIS Official Weekly 'Al-Naba' Specifically Mentioned The Al-Rawdah Mosque In Sinai, Site Of The Recent Massacre, As A Center Of The 'Infidel Polytheist' Sufis

November 26, 2017 | By R. Green
Egypt | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1360

The following report is a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here.

On November 24, 2017, armed terrorists attacked the mosque in the village of Al-Rawdah, near Bir Al-'Abed in northern Sinai, killing over 300 people. The mosque belongs to the Jariri Sufi order and is one of the most popular Sufi centers of worship in northern Sinai. Although no organization has claimed the terror attack, which was the most deadly in Egypt's history, the Islamic State (ISIS) can be assumed to be behind it, despite vehement denials by its online supporters. This, in light of the fact that ISIS has been waging an all-out war against the Sufis in Sinai in recent years. Its fighters have bombed Sufi buildings and places of worship, disrupted rituals and prayers, and abducted members of Sufi orders in order to force them to renounce their faith, among other actions.


These anti-Sufi measures came after ISIS proclaimed all Sufis to be infidels, as part of its campaign to purge Sinai of what it calls paganism and polytheism. The head of ISIS's hisba (religious police) in Sinai declared that his organization would not tolerate the existence of Sufi centers in Sinai or in Egypt at large. It should be noted that in an interview with ISIS's official news bulletin Al-Naba several months ago, the head of the hisba specifically mentioned the Al-Rawdah mosque as one of the Sufi centers in Sinai.


The following report, based on a report published by MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM) in July 2017, reviews ISIS's war on the Sufis in Sinai.


ISIS's War On The Sufis In Sinai

ISIS's war on the Sufi's in Sinai stems from the tenets of its Salafi faith. The Salafi-jihadi stream aims to purge Islam of what it considers polytheistic elements, and therefore vigorously targets the Sufi stream. Salafi-jihadis, including ISIS, see Sufis as heretics, particularly because of their veneration of saints, considered worship of others beside Allah. In all the regions under their control, ISIS has systematically destroyed the tombs of Sufi saints as well as ritual sites and buildings belonging to Sufi tariqas, or orders. ISIS Sinai's approach is no exception.

On November 18, 2016, "Sinai province" released photos of the beheading of Sufi elder in Sinai Sulaiman Abu Haraz, who had been kidnapped a month earlier.[1] The photos, which sparked outrage in Sinai, Egypt, and the Arab world, constituted another milestone in the ongoing war waged by jihadis against Sufis, which includes destroying buildings, threatening members of Sufi orders, kidnapping and killing sheikhs, and more.

ISIS member reading out the sentence of Sufi sheikhs before their execution

Tomb detonated by ISIS

Head Of ISIS's Hisba In Sinai: "We Will Not Tolerate Existence Of Sufi Centers In Sinai Or Egypt At Large"

On December 8, 2016, ISIS's official weekly news bulletin Al-Naba published an interview with the head of the hisba in ISIS's "Sinai Province." The interview, published several weeks after the beheading of Sheikh Abu Haraz, was largely dedicated to the fight against the Sufis. Describing the presence of Sufis in Sinai, the head of the hisba said: "The Sufi stream in Sinai consists of two main orders, the 'Alawi-Ahmadi order and the Jariri order." He added: "As for the Jariri order, it has three main centers: the Al-Arab mosque in Ismailia and the Sa'ud mosque in the Sharqia governorate, both of which are in Egypt proper, and in Sinai it has the Al-Rawdah mosque..."

Asked how the mujahideen in Sinai deal with the Sufis, the hisba director said: "After the mujahideen fought a jihad war to make Allah's word supreme, they fought the heads of unbelief, including the tyrants who rule other than by the laws of Allah and have risen to power in parts of Sinai and become influential there. They strove to establish Allah's religion there, to remove the symbols of idolatry and jahiliyya [the pre-Islamic period], and were sincerely determined to leave no Sufi orders in the land where the banner of jihad was flying. The mujahideen began preaching to these Sufis, whether they were members of the Ahmadi order or the Jariri order. Some responded to the preaching and repented immediately after the mujahideen explained the evils of polytheism. But some chose to distance themselves from Allah's religion and from the commandment to preach monotheism.

"At this point, ISIS soldiers deployed, established checkpoints on roads, captured all their leaders, and imprisoned them for three days to force them to repent. If they repented, [they would be released,] and if not, they would be executed.

"Praise Allah, they repented on the first day, and along with them, their followers atoned for their errors and heresy. This was after the mujahideen explained about the idolatry that afflicts them, and explained its evil to them, praise Allah.

"There are some large pagan Sufi centers outside the rule of the caliphate in Sinai and Egypt, and, with Allah's permission, they will become targets for the soldiers of the caliphate when they take over those territories, [and will be subject] to hisba and jihad operations in order to bring the people from darkness to light.

Al-Naba interview with the head of the hisba

The mention of the Al-Rawdah mosque in the Al-Naba interview

"We say to all the sheikhs and members of the Sufi centers inside and outside Sinai that we will not tolerate the existence of Sufi centers in Sinai or in Egypt at large. All we want is to guide you to the straight path. So 'let us agree to worship only God, [and] not to ascribe any partner to Him [Quran 3:36],' and let the Quran and the Sunna be our judges. We say to you, learn monotheism and the [Islamic] faith, and the [transgressions] that nullify them.[2] Learn that those who wage jihad for the sake of Allah embark on war and jihad only in order to consolidate monotheism and remove polytheism, and that they sacrifice their blood to fight the most arrogant of the heretical nations on earth. By Allah, they do not fear those who condemn [them]. Know that we considered you to be heretical polytheists, and that we consider it permissible to shed your defiled blood. But we preach to you and call upon you to repent. We want you to adhere to Islam and to the straight path. We want you to adhere to the path of the Seal of the Prophets, Muhammad, and of those who followed him..." [3]

Members Of Sufi Orders Describe ISIS Persecution

According to a member of a Sufi order in the town of Sheikh Zuweid, ISIS Sinai's conflict with the Sufis peaked in early October 2016, when "a group belonging to the Islamic State raided Sufi centers in southern Sheikh Zuweid and prevented them from performing dhikr ceremonies, as well as all activities and rituals unique to them. This reached the point of a scuffle and an exchange of blows, and the following day, ISIS activists kidnapped seven officials from one of the Sufi centers." They demanded that the officials "do what was demanded of them," that is, to refrain from all Sufi activity, and threatened them "and anyone else who refuses these demands" with "shari'a punishments." He added that the seven were released after meeting the demands, but that Sheikh Abu Haraz was nevertheless kidnapped a few days later.[4]

A Sheikh Zuweid resident said that Abu Haraz's kidnappers were two of his sons who had joined ISIS, and that they did this after urging him to refrain from performing Sufi rituals. Others said that his body had not been handed over to his family after the beheading for fear that a tomb would be erected for him.[5]

The targeting of Sinai's Sufis, especially in the town of Sheikh Zuweid and nearly villages, took several forms. Local residents have told how masked armed men kidnap people participating in rituals, how explosives are placed outside Sufi mosques, and how tombs of saints are blown up. Similar incidents also took place in the Bir Al-'Abd region, far to the west of the northeastern corner of Sinai, which is ISIS Sinai's usual area of operations. Local resident Abu Marwan said that gunmen in El Arish had fired RBGs at a Sufi mosque, adding that they "often warn people not to conduct any Sufi rituals in the mosques."[6]

A Sinai resident said that "Salafi extremists" had attacked a group of Sufis during a ritual in a mosque in Sheikh Zuweid, threatened to kill the worshipers if they continue to conduct Sufi rituals, and accused them of heresy and corrupt beliefs. He added: "We had to submit to them. What else could we do at gunpoint?"[7]

Sufis abducted by ISIS


ISIS activist preaching to abducted Sufis

Forcing Sufis To Renounce Their Beliefs

The incidents described above by the members of the Sufi tariqas, and other incidents like them, are featured in the video "The Light of Shari'a," in which ISIS Sinai boasts about the violent means employed by its members against the Sufis. In the video, ISIS Sinai member Abu Mus'ab Al-Masr, from the hisba, declares: "The phenomenon of Sufism is among the phenomena of polytheism and is bid'a, against which the soldiers of the caliphate in Sinai have come out... The first thing we did about these Sufis was to call on them [to adhere] to monotheism and to conduct themselves according to the Prophet's Sunna and to abandon polytheism. Some of them heeded this call, but others continued in their polytheism and their bid'a. The soldiers of the Islamic State immediately went to stop them. We caught them and called upon them to repent."

The video shows one of the senior commanders of ISIS Sinai[8] briefing a group of armed men before they head out for an operation to kidnap Sufis and force them to renounce their beliefs. He tells them: "With the grace of Allah, we in the "Sinai province" are implementing Allah's laws. We are going, with Allah's permission, to those Sufis who claim that Allah has partners, who pray to other [entities] besides Allah, who seek assistance from other [entities] besides Allah, and who communicate with those whom they call the righteous. We have approached them in the past, and explained to them that this is polytheism. This time we are going to them in force, since they have returned to their [errant] ways even though we repeatedly clarified to them that this is polytheism. We will go to them in force, take them, and call upon them to repent, and then wait a few days. If they repent – [fine], if not – they will be killed."

Following that, the video features the nighttime abduction at gunpoint of a group of Sufis engaged in a religious ceremony. They were taken to a building where they were lectured by an ISIS operative; he preached to them, explaining that they were accused of apostasy and demanding that they repent. The segment ends with the Sufis signing a document repenting of their sins and undertaking to abandon the Sufi customs and beliefs, and embracing the ISIS operatives.


*R. Green is the director of MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor Project.


[1] See MEMRI JTTM report ISIS Sinai Beheads An Elderly Sufi Sheikh, November 19, 2016.

[2] According to 18th century Islamic scholar Muhammad Ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab, there are ten "nullifiers of Islam," i.e., transgressions that exclude one from the fold of Islam.

[3] Al-Naba Issue 58, December 8, 2016, pp. 8-9.

[4], December 8, 2016.

[5], December 8, 2016.

[6], December 8, 2016.

[7] Al-Arab (London), October 25, 2016.

[8] The man's senior position is indicated by the fact that he was filmed in the dark and that his voice was altered.


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