By M Aamer Sarfraz
April 27, 2019
Sufism is linked with the political history of Pakistan. When the Sufi saints arrived in South Asia, they would not have imagined the extent to which their creed would influence the religious landscape. From shrine worship to the missionary activities of the Tablighi Jama’at, elements of Sufism are found everywhere in Pakistan. Considering its popularity, it is curious that Sufism did not play a greater role as a political identity, and curbed large-scale political organization. This could be due to the Sufi religious identity never being an important component of political identity. Therefore, despite emergence of religious political parties, no Sufi parties came into being. This is line with the nature of Sufi political engagement over centuries.
Current use of the term “Sufi” applies to the practices of saint veneration and shrine worship but the consensus is that it is about personal development through mystical experiences. It claims three dimensions to Islam: the law, theology and spirituality. As the third inward dimension, Sufism lays claim to the collective knowledge that has existed since Adam. It maintains that in the Quran, God is represented as both the Outward and the Inward, the Visible and the Hidden. Therefore, underneath the world of the obvious, there exists an inward reality (Haqiqa) which is the true foundation and meaning of everything. A Sufi recognises this reality by starting from the outward (Sharia) for a journey across the divide through initiation (Tariqa).
The alternative view is that Sufism has been around since mankind feared or worshipped what it did not understand. It has nothing to do with Islam or any other religion. There is no reliable evidence to support Sufism in the Quran. It entered Islam through Magian converts after the conquest of Iran. To Islamise the concept, Sufis take Faiz from Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and most refer to Hazrat Ali for Vilayat, staying true to their origins. It is noteworthy that Shiite do not recognise Sufism. Abu Hashim bin Usman is known to be the first Muslim Sufi who went from Kufa to adopt an existing monastery in Ramallah (Palestine) in 140H. Ibne Arabi (1165-1240 CE) is given credit for cementing this creed inside Islam after writing two great books on the subject. His work has close resemblance to the Jewish foundational work the Zohar, which is a part of mystical teachings of Kabbalah.
A thousand years ago, Abdul Qadir Jilani had advised Muslims to avoid violence, never to accuse anyone of Kufr (disbelief), and to never forget that Lord is above all benevolent and forgiving
Sufis are not concerned with the Umma; their orders are aligned more with secular institutions. The hospices in India, for example, fed and lodged millions of Hindus, and offered compassion to people who never knew human brotherhood while suffering from a caste system. Sufi orders are based on personal attachments of members to the saint who had founded their order. The reform-minded version of Sufism in 16th and 17th centuries came as a response to the contemporary Islamic trends in South Asia, and adopted diverse tactics to bring lives of Muslims and their courts closer to the sharia. The tombs constructed after the deaths of these saints somehow became objects of popular syncretic devotion.
It is said that if the Sufi Prince Dara Shikoh had won the war of Mughal succession, the history of subcontinent would have been different. The Sufi message has DNA of a tolerant and pluralistic nature that had once marked out Arab culture from Baghdad and Sana to Fez and Cordoba. They have always stayed out of trouble, and thrived in the shadow of the rulers. The first prominent Sufi, Hasan Basri, was reported to be a Murid of Hazrat Ali. He, however, advocated neutrality and submission of the rulers when the battle between Hazrat Ali and Muawiya raged. A thousand years ago, Abdul Qadir Jilani had advised Muslims to avoid violence, never to accuse anyone of Kufr (disbelief), and to never forget that Lord is above all benevolent and forgiving.
Following the breakdown of Mughal Empire, Sufis found it hard to come to terms with a position where they had no patronage from the rulers. They resorted to fighting against the Sikhs partially because they were suspicious of Sufi circles’ ties with the Muslim power centres. In the late 18th and early 19thcenturies, Hafiz Jamal and his followers fought against the Sikhs, along with the soldiers of Nawab Muzaffar Khan, the ruler of Multan. Similarly, Mian Muhammad Afzal spearheaded the revolt against Sikhs and was killed along with his followers. The jihad against the Sikhs was continued later by Sayyid Ahmad Khan (d. 1831), who founded Tariqah-i Muhammadiyah, an organization which opposed the superstition of traditional Sufi orders, and paved the way for an openly reformist Islam.
The Sufi orders had started becoming less conspicuous in the nationalist political affairs as neo- Sufism started to take the centre stage. Religious literalism, the primacy of the text and aggressive methods of proselytisation were becoming the principal features of religious discourse to which the traditional Sufism was an appendage now. Fadl-e-Haq Khairabadi (1797-1861) waged his jihad against the British in 1857. Haji Imdadullah Makki (1817-99) is another example of a Sufi who fought against the British, and then had to flee to Arabian Peninsula for self-exile afterwards.
(To Be Continued)
Read Part One Here: