By Raziuddin Aquil
Nov 17, 2017
The popular historical reference of Rani Padmavati or Rani Padmini comes from Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s poem Padmavati written in the 15th century. However, historians reject the entire fiasco as a mere figment of fiction. Per their knowledge, it was merely a story woven to praise and sing songs about the bravery of the Rajputana clan.
Muslim holy-men or Sufis devoted their lives to the love of God. Organised in many groups and chains of lineages from early centuries of the rise of Islam in Arabia, Sufism spread to almost all of the known parts of the world. Sufism, true to its meaning as love for all His creations, translated into service to humanity through a variety of ways, including charitable endeavours and healing practices.
Following notions of egalitarianism and brotherhood preached by Prophet Muhammad and formidable early figures, such as Hazrat Ali, the Sufis defied hierarchies, patriarchal norms and various other forms of discrimination, and gracefully handled painful aspects of social reality. In doing all these, they were able to attract a large following, wherever they settled.
Islamic fundamentalists have always criticised the Sufis for compromising theological positions, especially in transcending the dichotomy between a monotheistic concept of the unity of God (Tawhid) and monistic understanding of non-duality (Wahdat-ul-Wujud, or unity of existence). The latter proposition sounded like advaita monism, which in turn meant that Sufis were quickly able to straightaway connect with India’s longstanding Vedantic philosophy.
The Sufis also supplemented Perso-Arabic spiritual idiom with their poetry of love in Indian vernaculars, such as Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, or Bengali. Common grounds, thus, explored could be seen in the popularity of medieval yogic texts such as Amritkund in Sufi circles and its Sufic interpretations.
Questions have been frequently raised about Sufi accommodation and appropriation of ideas from the non-Islamic environment to the extent of losing Islamic identity. The possibilities here were two-fold: Either subsumption in Hindu or yogic mysticism or winning converts to Islam.
Sufis conformed to the traditional Muslim emphasis on Shari‘at, generally understood as Islamic law, and, yet, confidently appropriated yogic and other forms of Indian mystical practices. It led to the medieval yogi, Gorakhnath’s declaration that Sufi Darwesh belonged to Allah’s caste (Jati), as they knew the door to his house.
The widely appreciated language of love runs into trouble with the language of power and hate, which survives on dividing people. The sceptics are, understandably, surprised that Sufis were able to sing the poetry of love, despite being Muslims. Sufi premakhayan, such as the one on the legendary Padmini or Padmavati has now become so controversial that the original author of the narrative, Sufi-poet Malik Muhammad Jaisi, must be turning in his grave.
Further, the Ulema, theologians or custodians of Sunni Islam, have for long opposed music, Mahfil-i Sama or Qawwali, which is central to Sufi practice across lineages or orders, leading to a variety of responses from cynical contestations and aggressive defence to widespread popularity.
Surviving attacks from reformists within Islam and flourishing even in contexts when mosques can be demolished, state machinery permitting, the Sufis sought to break the binaries of man/woman, high-caste/low-caste, master/slave, etc. Thursday evening visitors to the shrines have always included rulers, ministers, politicians, bureaucrats, thugs, criminals, rich and poor. Boundaries and barriers were broken – all are equal in the eyes of the saint and His Lord.
Sufis also consistently defied political control and authority or negotiated for their own sacred or spiritual space.
This was different from the usual approach of say opportunist scholars who are ready to crawl when asked to bend. Once a visiting young scholar told Hazrat Nizamuddin that he had recently completed his education and started hanging around the ruler’s court so that he was able to find employment to support himself.
Nizamuddin remarked that knowledge is a great thing in itself, but if it becomes the source of livelihood and for which a scholar has to beg from door to door, it loses respect it should otherwise command. As a young scholar (Alim), Nizamuddin himself had looked for work in Delhi before becoming a full-time Sufi, starting with a difficult life in poverty. But then, poverty (faqr) and complete dependence on the will of God (Tawakkul) is a matter of pride in Sufi traditions.
For Muinuddin Chishti, the patron saint of Hindustan, listening to the grievances of the poor, feeding the hungry and helping the needy included the best forms of prayers. The Sufi recommended river like generosity, affection like that of the sun, and modesty and hospitality of earth. He thought it was possible through controlling the lower-self, Nafs, and cultivating the heart, Qalb, which included renunciation, or Tark-i Duniya, that is, to rise above materialistic desires through meditational-cum-bodily practices and acquire supernatural powers which can be used in the service of the people.
Majority visitors to Sufi shrines do approach the saints buried there seeking blessings and benediction. Some fascinating anecdotes – recorded in Sufi literature from the very early period and orally transmitted among generations of devotees – reveal how vibrant Sufi traditions remain relevant and continue to flourish even in most violent political contexts causing widespread social churning.