Photo: FSB raid on the Saint Petersburg center of Süleymancılar. Source: FSB.

RUSSIA: Süleymancılar: Russia cracks down on Turkish Sufi organization

Accused by anti-cultists of being a “pseudo-Islamic cult,” the group has two million members in Turkey and a distinguished history.


By Massimo Introvigne

Bitter Winter (07.07.2023) – Russian anti-cult web sites reported on June 27 on the ongoing crackdown against the Turkish Sufi organization Süleymancılar in Russia.

The FSB cracked down on the organization in Saint Petersburg and is investigating it elsewhere in Russia. It is accused of trying to convert Russian Orthodox believers in violation of anti-proselytization laws, but also of advocating a great Turkish-speaking “Turanic” state that would include parts of Russia, and of “torturing minors,” something connected with the use of corporal punishments in its dormitories and religious boarding schools for male Muslim students.

While anti-cultists define Süleymancılar as a “pseudo-Islamic cult,” in fact the organization traces its roots to one of the largest Sufi brotherhoods, the Naqhsbandiyya. It has some two million members in Turkey and is recognized as part of Islam by mainline Islamic organizations in Germany and the United States.

Naqshbandi shaykh Süleyman Hilmi Tunahan founded the organization in 1920. It suffered under the repression of religious activities by the secular military regimes, and Tunahan was shortly incarcerated. The group, however, survived and with the progressive restoration of religious liberty for Sufi brotherhoods opened in Turkey hundreds of dormitories, where male students received a Muslim education to supplements their attendance at state high schools and universities. The Süleymancılar also opened a variety of businesses, from private hospitals to travel agencies and food and beverage industries.

The founder passed away in 1959 and was succeeded by Kemal Kaçar, who was his son-in-law having married his daughter Bedia Hanım and died in 2000. Kaçar had been a member of both the Turkish and the European Parliament, and his funeral was attended by more than one million people. His successor was Arif Ahmet Denizolgun, the son of another daughter of Tunahan, Feriha Ferhan, He was also a member of the Parliament and served as Minister of Transport in 1998–99. Denizolgun died in 2016 and was replaced as leader of the movement by his nephew (and Tunahan’s great-grandchildren) Alihan Kuriş, a businessman and architect.

Far from being a marginal “cult,” the Süleymancılar is part of mainline Islam in Turkey and internationally. However, any group trying to convert Russian Orthodox believers is a “destructive cult” in the eyes of Russian anti-cultists, and its leaders and members may easily go to jail.

Photo: unahan’s successors Kemal Kaçar (1917–2000, credits), Arif Ahmet Denizolgun (1956–2016, from Twitter), and Alihan Kuriş (from Twitter).

Massimo Introvigne (born June 14, 1955 in Rome) is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new religious movements. Introvigne is the author of some 70 books and more than 100 articles in the field of sociology of religion. He was the main author of the Enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia (Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy). He is a member of the editorial board for the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion and of the executive board of University of California Press’ Nova ReligioFrom January 5 to December 31, 2011, he has served as the “Representative on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, with a special focus on discrimination against Christians and members of other religions” of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). From 2012 to 2015 he served as chairperson of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, instituted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to monitor problems of religious liberty on a worldwide scale.

Further reading about FORB in Russia on HRWF website