By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam
30 March 2016
“Islam does not allow incitement to rebellion, suppression, defiance, commotion and Fasad Fil Ard (tumult on the earth) at any cost. Prophet PBUH says: “extremists and transgressors are doomed”. Those who made such attempts destroyed themselves and also tarnished the image of Islam in the process. Muslim youth should not forget that an overwhelming majority of the world loves Sufism and Sufis even today. Only a fraction of extremists, who are also opposed to Sufism, are engaged in shattering world peace. We, therefore, need to come out of our deep slumber and sabotage their efforts and make the representation of Muslims possible on political, social, educational and humanitarian fronts”.
The above is the English translation of an Urdu passage from the Declaration of the recently held World Sufi Forum that stressed peace, pluralism and counter-extremism in its entire text.
As the world governments are endorsing Sufism— a mystical interpretation of Islam— in their domestic and foreign policies to curb the radical currents, India is also seen on this trail. A massive Sufi movement of counter-extremism is rising in the country of Rishi-Sufi tradition. For an observer of the Indian Muslims’ opposition to extremism, it is not difficult to see this tangible development in the country. After the Muslim-majority countries like Egypt, Morocco, Chechnya, Algeria and the larger parts of the al-Maghareba, a concrete Sufi counterpoint to the ever-rising radicalism is evolving in India too, in the backdrop of the mega Sufi event “World Sufi Forum” held recently in Delhi’s Ram Lila Ground.
However, a few Muslim voices are complaining against the World Sufi Forum’s hospitality to the Indian PM and his presence in its inauguration. They hypothesise that the Sufi counter-extremism emanating from Delhi’s Ram Lila Ground will only help the BJP government and further its politics.
Islamic scholar and journalist Dr. Zafar ul-Islam Khan writes in The Milli Gazette dated March 19, 2016: “Delhi’s Sufi Conference is seen as a conspiracy to pit Indian Muslims against one another…. Barelvis have been apolitical traditionally while Deobandis were active in politics even during the struggle against the Britishers. A section of Barelvis has now joined hands with BJP while many others maintain a distance from it….” This is a bizarre argument. Not to speak of the so-called Barelvis, all those who profess and practice the universal and egalitarian Sufi message are indisputably ‘apolitical Muslims.’ They don’t challenge any regime. What ‘politics’ can one see in the Sufi endeavour to stress the Islamic message of universal brotherhood, multiculturalism and pluralism, at a critical time when the world is facing terrorist strikes almost daily in the name of Islam? Isn’t it the duty of all Muslims to counter extremism and protect the image of Islam?
Global Phenomenon of Sufi Attempt at De-Radicalisation
Sufism as an antidote to extremism is a widespread phenomenon in the global Muslim society. From Egypt to Morocco, Bosnia to Chechnya, Pakistan to the war-torn Iraq and Syria and in Europe and America, Sufi luminaries, thinkers and scholars along with heads of Sufi shrines and hospices are all set to tackle the extremist onslaught. At least on an ideological level, if not in action, Sufi practitioners are trying to hold back the tide of radicalism wherever they exist.
Among the most pro-active Muslim thinkers and organisations who are articulating an Islam-based approach to peacemaking and de-radicalization are the Sufism-inspired veteran Indian journalist Mr. Sultan Shahin, founder-ideologue of the Delhi-based New Age Islam Foundation whose website is battling radical thoughts online, Pakistani Sufi scholar Dr. Tahir ul Qadri and his ‘Minhaj ul Qur’an’, now active among Indian Muslims too, Turkish Sufi scholar Fethullah Gulen and his civic movement ‘Hizmet’, active in major capitals of India by the name “Indialogue Foundation” and the South-Indian Islamic organisation, ‘All India Muslim Scholars’, founded by Shaikh Abu Bakr Ahmad, Chancellor of the Markaz Saqafa Sunnia (Sunni Cultural Centre) and chief patron of the Sunni Youth Society in Kerala. These Sufi Muslim thinkers and organisations are known for their research-based activism for peace and de-radicalisation of the Muslim society. They are all active in various areas of peacemaking, conflict resolution, cultural renaissance, interfaith dialogue, education, media and relief work. They also engage in various initiatives that foster inclusiveness, build community capacity, create shared spaces and counter violent extremism on an ideological level.
Formation of the World Sufi Forum in India
The most recent development in community resilience against extremism is the formation of World Sufi Forum (WSF) in India. Bringing together majority of the anti-extremism Islamic scholars and Sufi leaders, Hazrat Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichhouchhawi, a prominent Sufi leader in India, has conceptualised the WSF as an Indian Sufi movement of counter-extremism. Within a short period, the movement has garnered vital support and endorsement from the progressive, moderate and pluralistic Sufi Islamic scholars of the Indian subcontinent. In fact, it is an initiative of the All-India Ulema &Mashaikh Board, one of the most notable Sufi organizations in modern India with over 30 branches in different parts of the country.
Interestingly, the Sufi attempt at de-radicalization comes at a time when the mainstream Indian Muslims seem to be mentally responsive to rethinking, introspection and ideological reforms to counter extremism.
Categorical Stance against Extremism
Going by a decade-long history of the AIUMB, this apex body of Indian Sunni Muslims has rebutted the ideology and theology of the terrorist outfits—ISIS, Taliban, Al-Qaeda and the ilk. In an article dated October 17, 2011, prolific writer Uday Bhaskar noted that ‘AIUMB has united millions of mainstream Muslims in India in the gigantic task of denouncing the extremism (New Age Islam). He quoted a TOI report: “addressing vast numbers of people at numerous anti-terror Sunni conferences and Sufi Muslim Maha-Panchayats (massive congregations), the AIUMB leaders exhorted their flock to reject extremism and every distortion of the normative principles of Islam”.
PM’s Speech amidst the Sufi Anecdotes
It would be interesting to include in this discussion a few quotes from the Prime Minister’s speech that was addressed to the Indian Muslims in general and Islamic scholars in particular:
“A belief in harmony with the message of Holy Quran that mankind was one community, and then they differed among themselves, a creed echoed in the words of the great Persian Sufi poet Saadi, written in the United Nations, that human beings come from the same source: We are one family.…”
“At a time when the dark shadow of violence is becoming longer, you are the Noor, or the light of hope. When young laughter is silenced by guns on the streets, you are the voice that heals…..In a world that struggles to assemble for peace and justice, this is an assembly of those whose life itself is a message of peace, tolerance and love….And, you represent the rich diversity of the Islamic civilization that stands on the solid bedrock of a great religion. It is a civilization that reached great heights by the 15th century in science, medicine, literature, art, architecture and commerce….”
It drew on the immense talents of its people and also Islam’s engagement with diverse civilizations – ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Africa; the Persian, Central Asian and Caucasian lands; the region of East Asia… It set, once again, an enduring lesson of human history: it is through openness and enquiry, engagement and accommodation, and respect for diversity that humanity advances, nation’s progress and the world prosper….”
“And, this is the message of Sufism, one of the greatest contributions of Islam to this world….”
Since India’s PM spoke so highly of Islam and Sufism at the Sufi forum, the rest of the world got the message that it should utilise the Sufi counter-extremist ideas to fight global terrorism. As for the common Indian Muslims imbued in the mainstream Rishi-Sufi tradition of the country, they are now taking a careful look at the agenda and declaration of the World Sufi Forum focusing on the essentials of their religion. They are eager to learn how best they can survive in these volatile times. Apparently, non-Muslim communities have developed better expectations. They hope this Indian Sufi narrative guided by the essential universal values and based on categorical denouncement of the extremist ideology will usher in a new era of peace and pluralism.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is classical Islamic writer, Comparative Religion scholar, Media and Communication Studies researcher and commentator on Muslim affairs.