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Sufi Establishments Stand For Love and Tolerance

By Raziuddin Aquil

1 April, 2017

Sufi meditational-cum-bodily practices included control of the lower self.

Located in the picturesque terrain adjacent to the historic Vijayanagara city of Hampi, the Kannada University recently organised a two-day national seminar on “Sufi Traditions of India: Philosophy, Music and Poetry”. In its heyday, the medieval Vijayanagara Empire epitomised the best in the field of political and cultural achievements, combining Sanskrit and Persian cultural markers to create a distinct and cosmopolitan identity of its own. Now, the 25-year-young research-oriented Kannada University is reviving older traditions of looking for common grounds for religious dialogues, appropriations and peaceful coexistence. The seminar on Sufism was part of the attempt to analyse its considerable impact on Indian philosophy, music, language and literature in all their multiple dimensions, especially focusing on Sufi idea of love in socio-political contexts charged with hatred and violence.

Terror groups abusing the name of Islam want to attack and destroy Sufi establishments, which still stand for love and tolerance. Sufis dedicated themselves to the love of God, which in turn meant love for all His creations—translating into charitable endeavours, notions of equality, egalitarianism, brotherhood and broad humanism. Service to humanity through feeding (Langar), healing (Jhar-Phuk, blowing and touching, charms and amulets), etc., was considered a better form of worship than ritualistic prayers, which in turn was seen in terms of rewards in heaven and fear of punishment in hell. Sufi meditational-cum-bodily practices included control of the lower self, nafs, cultivation of the heart, Qalb, and renunciation or withdrawal from this-worldly demands, Tark-I Duniya, with the same kind of intensity bordering on madness of Majnun and yet superior to him, for the latter sacrificed his life for a perishable Laila, whereas Sufis devoted themselves for an eternal God. Sufis could also sing and dance in the most aesthetically sophisticated forms developed through centuries of practice, teaching all along the virtues of acceptance, harmony and peace—seeking to preach what they practised and styling themselves as friends and lovers of God, Waliullah, or Aashiq-Billah; and when Sufis passed away, celebrated as marriage or union with God, Urs, they left behind memories to be cherished forever.

The papers presented in the seminar covered Sufi activities in large parts of the subcontinent over centuries. Professor Shafi Shauq spoke on the vibrant Sufi traditions of Kashmir. Dr Yogesh Snehi contrasted violent attacks on Sufi shrines in contemporary Pakistani Punjab with widespread devotion for and even revival of Sufi practices in the Indian side of Punjab, comprising Sikhs and Hindus as devotees and patrons. This writer discussed the value of Chishti Sufism in the shaping of the cosmopolitan character of the capital city of Delhi. Leading Chishti figures such as Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki and Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya played important social and cultural roles, standing up to power from a position of moral authority acquired through Tazkiya-i-Nafs, control of the lower self, and Khidmat-i- Khalq, service to humanity. Nizamuddin’s collection of discourses or spiritual conversations, put together by a close disciple of his in Fawa’id-ul-Fu’ad (Benefiting the Heart), is a must read for anyone interested to comprehend the relevance of Sufism.

As a spiritual movement, Sufism had spread to different parts of India from around the thirteenth century CE onwards. The seminar at Hampi also covered Sufi traditions in Maharashtra and Karnataka, with some fine presentations on key figures and crucial themes by a number of accomplished scholars, including Dr Ganesh Visputay, Mr Riyaz Ahmad Bode, Mr Devu Pattar, Mr Amiruddin Khaji and Dr Ramjan Darga. The participation of a formidable line-up of Karnataka scholars, intellectuals and social analysts such as Professor H.S. Shivaprakash, Dr V.S. Sridhara, Mr Shivasunder and Dr J. Balakrishna, among others, added value to both style and substance. All of them emphasised on the crucial role of Sufis in creating religious harmony with long historical antecedents going back to medieval Persian poets of the stature of Jalaluddin Rumi and Hafiz Shirazi, as well as ecstatic expressions of Mansur Hallaj.

Sufi music or qawwali has especially played an important role in bringing people together as a fraternity, above caste, class or religious divide. Graceful rendition of the Sufi number, Dam mast qalandar by Dr Jayadevi Jangamashetty of Kannada University’s Music Department, rustic charm and powerful voice of Qawwal Mukhtiar Ali of Bikaner, Rajasthan, somewhat raw enthusiasm of the Khadripeera team of Sufi singers from Siraguppa, Karnataka, and devotional performer Mr Ibrahim Suttar’s singing of songs transcending narrow communal boundaries and invoking one God, sabka malik ek, moved the large audience during the two-day programme. The university’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mallika S. Ghanti, Registrar Dr D. Panduranga Babu, Dean, Fine Arts Faculty, Dr Ashokkumar Ranjere, and the Coordinator Professor Rahamath Tarikere deserve commendation for organising this important event.