By Aijaz Zaka Syed
14th Mar 2017
The way of love differs from all others; lovers (of God) owe allegiance to no nation or sect but the way of their beloved, said Jalaluddin Rumi, the great Sufi philosopher and poet.
Contrary to the widespread fiction, Islam spread in much of South Asia not at the point of the sword. Rather, it was embraced by people bowled over by the stark simplicity and honesty of Arab traders and the love and tolerance exemplified by saints and Sufis like Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer, Delhi’s Nizamuddin Auliya and Lahore’s Abulhasan Hajvery.
They might not have been greatest scholars but they exemplified their faith in its simplicity and in its teachings of love, brotherhood and equality of men with their actions and conduct. Saint Nizamuddin was so wildly popular among all sections of society that he gave a huge complex to contemporary Sultans who ruled their vast empire from Delhi.
War for Hearts, Minds
Everyone these days talks about the wars that the Mughals and various other Muslim dynasties fought for power in the subcontinent. However, the real war for hearts and minds was fought and won by others and their power didn’t flow from their sword.
Many Muslim rulers might have built grand mosques as a token of appreciation and gratitude to the ruler above. But they did not exactly represent Islam nor fought their wars for the religion. If they invaded and fought Hindu kingdoms and States, they were hardly driven by any missionary zeal. All said and done, theirs was essentially a battle for power. Indeed, many of them brought nothing but disgrace to their faith. So if South Asia is home to a huge chunk of the world’s Muslim population today – nearly half of it – the credit largely goes to those Sufis and saints.
What kinds of people target such holy men, and people who love and revere them? And in the end what are they trying to prove? Can there be a more heinous crime than targeting men who spent all their lives in the service of God and humanity? All Sufis did nothing but spread love, kindness, acceptance and inclusion. Their doors remained open to people of all persuasions – Hindus and Muslims, the rich and poor. They sent no one away.
That was the way of the Sufis. Their doors were open for everyone, feeding the hungry and sheltering the weak. Some of us may not agree with their interpretation of Islam or some of the practices their overzealous followers have introduced over the centuries. But this is not about Sufism or how it is being commercially exploited by some.
This is about the increasingly dangerous interpretation of the faith whose very name denotes peace. It is an appalling, disgraceful crime in itself to send brainwashed youth and even children to target unsuspecting men, women and children inside mosques, churches and shrines of saints who offered nothing but love and mercy.
But it is an even greater crime and ultimate calumny against our faith and everything it stands for when such shameful crimes and atrocities are inflicted in its name.
Indeed, this is an affront to all religions and men of faith. Perhaps no other faith celebrates peace and repeatedly warns against violence and strife as Islam. Why it literally means peace. This is a faith that preaches moderation, restraint and reason in all spheres, even in our devotion and prayers.
It warns us that taking one innocent life is akin to killing all humanity and saving one life is like saving the whole of mankind. The Quran cautions us that Allah does not like transgressors. We are warned that killing a fellow human being equals waging war against Allah and He promises them nothing but the harshest punishment.
But, we keep repeating this stuff ad nauseam like parrots without anyone taking us seriously. While we earnestly hold forth on the real teachings and message of Islam, a weary world looks away in disgust as the jackals in straitjackets continue to kill in our name and in the name of God.
We could go on waxing lyrical on the peaceful nature of the great faith and its liberating teachings but the world looks not at our scriptures but at our actions, or rather of those who claim to be Muslims and shed innocent blood with impunity.
How long will this go on? And who’s going to stop this endless dance of death? From mosques to madrasas and from mourning Shias to Ahmadi shrines, no one is safe. And this is not a problem exclusive to Pakistan. For whatever reason, the cancer of extremism is fast eating into the vitals of the whole of Muslim world.
In their long and eventful history, Muslims have never faced a greater challenge to their identity and existence. This sickness within is far more dangerous than any challenge or threat that they may be confronted from without. Where are the Muslim voices of reason and sanity? Where are our leaders, our Ulema and intellectuals when we need them so badly?
They must come forward and speak out more often and more forcefully against this distortion of our faith and morbid celebration of death. They must put their heads together to examine what is really fuelling this menace and what needs to be done to eliminate the sources of this ideology of hate.
Indeed, all of us, everyone of us who is concerned about the spread of this scourge must raise their voice against this deliberate and dangerous distortion of a faith that came as a blessing to the whole of humanity. If their voices are not heard, they must shout from the rooftops but speak they must. There is no other way to stop this madness. This is no time to hide for the believers.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award-winning journalist.