By Prahlad Shekhawat
March 20, 2013
The Pakistani Prime Minister’s recent India visit to pay homage at the Ajmer Dargah is ironical because the spirit of Sufi Islam has been mostly crushed in his country by fundamentalists propagating Wahhabi Islam which is orthodox and intolerant. Strengthened by millions of Saudi petro dollars, Wahabi Islam is also spreading in India, particularly in vulnerable Kashmir.
In fact, Maulvis trained at the Wahhabi-oriented Darul Uloom Deoband seminary now travel all over India to teach the supposedly pure strain Islam that has its roots in Arabia. These Maulvis persuade Indian Muslims to move away from their familiar version of Islam — which mixes hundreds of years of culture and tradition with religion to produce an identity that fits into a multicultural milieu.
During his visit to Pakistan, author William Dalrymple noted that: “Here in southern Pakistan, on the Indian border, Sufi Islam continues to act as a powerful defence against the puritanical fundamentalist Islam of the Wahhabi mullahs, which supports intolerance of all other faiths…Here is an entirely indigenous and home-grown Islamic resistance movement to fundamentalism, with deep roots in South Asian culture. It is one of the few sources of hope left in the increasingly bleak political landscape of this strategically crucial country.”
To counter Islamist fundamentalism, the British Government has made the British Muslim Forum and the Sufi Muslim Council its main conversation partners with the Muslim community. Mr Philip Jenkins, a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University in the US, pleads that, “Sufis, better than anyone, can tell disaffected young Muslims that the quest for peace is not a surrender to Western oppression, still less a betrayal of Islam, but rather a return to the faith’s deepest roots.”
Sufism believes in the doctrine of Wahdat al-Wajud or the unity of all beings and teaches not to harbour ill will against other faiths. For example, Hamiduddin Nagauri, a disciple of Moinuddin Chisti of Ajmer, turned vegetarian to be closer to his Hindu brethren. Imam Shah, a Gujarati Sufi saint, affirmed in his poetry that the Holy Prophet was an avatar of Lord Vishnu. In Rajasthan, there are shrines in places such as Gogameri, for instance, worshipped by both Hindus and Muslims while in Kashmir, Shaivism had a major influence on the rich legacy of Sufism in that State. Sufi saint Mirza Mazhar Jan-e-Janaan even opined that Hindus are not Kafirs as they worship God’s glory in the idols and not the idols themselves.
Sufism, much like the Bhaktism of Hindu poet-saints, aims to break barriers erected by the orthodoxy of organised religion and seeks to directly connect with the Almighty. When the body, mind and spirit are aligned with God, then a direct spiritual communion takes place. This union is blissful and similar to the union of the Atma with the Paramatma. The best way to realise this union is through poetry, music and dance — none of which are favoured by orthodox Islam.
Sufi music may have taken different forms in different cultures and countries but the spirit has been retained. In what was then Persia, Sufism was expressed mainly in the form of poetry, and the city of Shiraz alone produced several world-class poets including Rumi, Hafiz and Omar Khayyam. Even today in Iran, the poems of Hafiz are placed alongside the Quran.
In Turkey and Egypt, Sufi Dervishes of the Mevlevi order still practise the traditional whirling dance form. In South Asia, Sufi saints popularised the Quawwalı where poetry was combined with evocative music. In Africa, the Sufi spirit is celebrated through group chanting and collective singing in which women participate wholeheartedly.
The Sufi tradition also boasts of female philosophers such as the renowned Arab poetess Rabia Basri. Often considered to be the Arabian Meera, Basri walked around with a flame in one hand to set heaven alight and a bucket of water in the other hand to douse the fires in hell, so as to show that both heaven and hell are traps that distract from spiritual pursuit. She often said: “I pray to Allah and his divinity but for its own sake… I am so absorbed in loving Allah that I have no time to hate Satan.”
Today, many people, especially the rich and powerful, visit Ajmer Sharif because they hope to become richer and more powerful. But perhaps, they should strive to understand the profound message of ‘Aman’ or peace and ‘Gharib Nawazi’ or welfare of the poor that is at the heart of Sufism.
If they can grasp those sentiments, perhaps, some day the miracle of peace will unravel and one will be able to truly say: Peace be upon you.