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Sufism and Islamic Mysticism should not be promoted merely as a Western tool to counter political extremism and religious fundamentalists, say academics in Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia University

By New Age Islam Special Correspondent

13 Feb 2014

Academics Brainstorm the Precepts of Sufism and Hanafi jurisprudence, as the most liberal of all schools of Sunni Islam, to Tackle the Onslaught of Extremism

The vast regions which stretch from India particularly its northern part, to Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Anatolia (Turkey) had close interaction throughout history. The people of these regions with different ethnic backgrounds, cultures and languages have been intermingling for many centuries, as seen in the cross-current exchanges of religious ideas and belief. Sufism, popularly known as Islamic mysticism is deeply rooted in India and central Asia with its development in the late 7th and 8th centuries.

To discuss the relevance of Sufism and its beautiful spiritual doctrines and  teachings in India and the Central Asia, the Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, organized an International Conference on “Sufism in India and Central Asia” yesterday at New Delhi.

This seminar was an attempt to put into perspective the dynamics of Sufism in Central Asia and India and to provide a realistic assessment of its role in the region. It brought together a group of distinguished scholars from India, Central Asia and other parts of the world. They mainly discussed vibrant and vital themes of Sufism such as survey of Sufi literature and precepts, Sufi masters and Hagiographies, main features of Sufi discipline and practices, experiential knowledge of God, formation of spiritual lineages (silsilas), Sufism and non-Muslim spiritual disciplines and regional Sufi Centres and their inter-connections.

Eminent scholars, historians and social scientists presented their papers on the above themes from different disciplines such as sociology, economics, history, political science, literature, anthropology, linguistics and philosophy.

The focus of the research work presented in the seminar was that the Sufis love the Creator and all His creations, cherish the desire of His closeness and follow a spiritual path to divine salvation. According to the spiritual Islam as propounded by Sufis, there are two types of service for man. Throughout the night, they remain in prayer, meditation and contemplation of Allah and throughout the day, they serve His creatures especially human beings. Sufis help the people irrespective of caste, creed, religion, faith, belief and sex. They are moderate, progressive, inclusive and broadminded persons having the universal vision. They follow the illuminated path of Islam, founded on divine love, universal charity and human compassion which also enshrine righteousness, piousness, truthfulness and kindness.

The Conference was inaugurated by Mr. Shambhu S Kumaran, Joint Secretary, (ERS), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. The session was chaired by Prof. Talat Ahmad, Vice-Chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia, who also gave the Welcome Address. H.E. Ibrahim A Hajiyeh, Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan was the Guest of Honour. Mr. Shambhu S Kumaran highlighted the socio-religious culture fabric of India in his speech and established the connection of this fabric with central Asia from a historical and political perspective. He appreciated the significance of the organization of a Conference on Sufism in India along with Central Asia, as this perspective broadens the subject for a more enlightened scholarly enquiry.

Prof. Talat Ahmad, in his welcome address, expressed his views on the significant role of Sufis in the history of India. He delivered a comprehensive talk on significance of the subject, highlighting socio-religious culture of India and its connection with Central Asia from historical and political perspective. He also stressed on Sufism’s peaceful existence in India along with Central Asia.

H.E. Ibrahim A Hajiyeh stressed need and importance of academic debates on Sufism in Islam and its socio-political importance in the context of India and Central Asia. He said that “Sufism has been integral in defining the Indian culture, political behaviour and economic interaction of Central Asians since its arrival in the seventh century. Hence, its resurgence is neither surprising nor unintelligible.”

Earlier in the day, several other renowned scholars of history and Sufism from different parts of India and Central Asia had presented papers. The most prominent among them were Prof. S.M. Azizuddin Husain and Dr. Sirojiddin S. Nurmatove. He said that “despite bans on unofficial religious activity, Sufism received widespread allegiance at the grassroots level during the Soviet period. Sufism remains an important strand as a calming influence even in the context of violence and terrorism in the name of Islam. Their impact on many parts of the world is so deeply rooted that it forms a significant part of popular religious beliefs and practices.”

Speaking on the impact of Sufism on politics and administration in the Central Asia, Mr. Zubair Nazeer, guest lecturer at the department of Political Science in JMI, said: “We have seen the role Sufism has played in politics and administration of Tajikistan. It played a significant role during the Soviet Era, at a time when conditions and circumstances were difficult. It was an important force in protecting Islamic culture and traditions in Tajikistan. In fact, national consciousness and national identity which bound together several ethnic groups in Tajikistan were direct outcome of the efforts of Sufi brotherhoods during the Soviet Era.” 

Mr. Zubair Nazeer traced back the history and further said that “during the Civil War, Sufi leaders played a pivotal role to ensure peace and condemned violence and brutality, as many Tajiks lost their lives.”

He also touched upon the Tajikistan’s political authorities’ policies to curb Islamist trends by promoting a spiritual vision of Islam, intimately connected to Sufism, that is concerned with the preservation of national traditions and combating extremism. He said that “Like other Central Asian republics in the post-Soviet period, Tajikistan’s government and religious authorities also contend that the best remedy against “extremism” is the promotion of Sufi-Hanafi jurisprudence, considered to be the most liberal of the four schools of Sunni Islam (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali), coupled with Naqshbandi Sufism which, in their opinion, best reflects the traditions and Islamic history of Central Asia.”  

Dr. Shaikh Inagomov, Ambassador of the Republic of Uzbekistan, said that “the transformative spiritual and political power of Sufism in the contemporary Muslim world, especially in Central Asia, cannot be underestimated”. He added saying that the governments of Central Asia are well aware of its potential to both advance the goals of the national project and to act as an underground vehicle of resistance to the national Islam and politics promoted by the state.”


Prof. Syed Liyaqat H Moini, Gaddi Nashin, Dargah Shareef, Ajmer Shareef said that “any kind of religious intolerance has not been the part of Sufism or its traditions. It has always stood for co-existence, cultural harmony, religious freedom, choice and consensus.”

Noted historian Prof. I.H. Siddiqui also spoke on this occasion. He stressed the need to understand the impact of Sufism on social, cultural, political and religious fabric of the Indian states.

The seminar had  various  technical sessions and a parallel Session which was attended by academicians, experts and research scholars from different educational institutions, and research organisations across the country like Aligarh Muslim University, University of Kashmir, University of Jammu, Jamia Millia Islamia, Jawaharlal Nehru University, National Council for Education Research and Training, Kurukshetra University, University of Delhi, etc. as well as other parts of the world like Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Beirut, Kazakhstan, and Pakistan. They presented research papers in the Seminar on the sub-themes relevant to it. 

In the open discussion, many scholars opined that the promotion of Sufism should not be like externally induced phenomenon. They maintained that Sufism should be preached in true letter and spirit. It should not be promoted as the Western tool to merely counter radicalization and political extremism. They argued that the West at one point promoted Mujahideen to fight communists and now it is promoting Sufism, which it considers moderate to fight religious fundamentalists. They averred that if Sufism is preached and spread in true letter and spirit, the legacy of Sufism is such that it has always successfully resisted religious fundamentalism and promoted social, cultural and all-round human well being of people and helped them attain spiritual enlightenment and solace.

This seminar was coordinated by Dr. Nasir Raza Khan, Professor, MMAJ-Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia,  who not only presented a paper but also gave the vote thanks at the end of the seminar. As part of the Conference, there was a special cultural event of Sufi Music and Qawwali in the late evening in Dr. M.A. Ansari Auditorium, Jamia Millia Islamia.