By Sadia Dehlvi
April 19, 2016
The malaise creeping into Sufi communities manifests in the recent violence and siege of Islamabad that glorifies Mumtaz Qadri’s death. In 2011, he assassinated Punjab Governor Salman Taseer for talking about reforming blasphemy laws that victimise minorities. Mumtaz Qadri was aligned to the Qadri Sufi order, which once produced the great Mian Mir who laid the foundation of the Golden Temple at Amritsar.
Pakistan’s bold step in hanging Mumtaz Qadri has set the cat amongst the doves. Many Sufi leaders are competing to claim his political legacy, lauding the ‘ghazi’ or ‘warrior of Islam.’ Extremism feeds on selective retrieval of sacred texts and history, creating irrational fears that require urgent remedial measures. Terrorists employ this methodology to evoke rage, Salafi Wahhabi groups to promise a return to some imagined historic ideals as the only route to paradise.
Many Sufi leaders in the subcontinent are turning political, extreme and as exclusionary as the groups they condemn for the same reasons. At the culminating public rally of the recent Sufi event in Delhi Sufis from India and Pakistan, with authoritative titles such as Pir Saqib Shami, Shaykh ul Alam Alauddin Siddiqui and Shiekh ul Islam Tahir ul Qadri were present. Most stressed on ‘Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat’, the Aqeedah, creed, describing Sunnis following Sufi traditions.
Distancing from Shias and other Muslim groups, they reinforce the sectarianism they pledged to fight. Sectarianism is fuelling bloodbaths in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Pakistan. Somewhere the strife is Shia-Sunni; elsewhere it is Sunnis against other kinds of Sunnis!
Tahir ul Qadri and Saqib Shami are religious figures from Pakistan with cult-like followings. While appreciating Qadri’s fatwa against terrorism, Shami challenged him publicly to issue a fatwa prohibiting Muslims from praying behind terror supporting Salafi Imams, even in Mecca. In earlier videos Siddiqui takes similar positions, calling Salafis Kafirs for pronouncing other Muslims kafirs.
Shami is the new icon for the Bareilly Sufi Centre that has long proclaimed Shias as Kafirs, non-Muslims; recently closing their mosques to Wahhabi Muslims. This contradicts Prophet Muhammad’s action of facilitating the prayers of a Christian delegation at his mosque in Medina.
Tahir ul Qadri’s scholarship, efforts in interfaith and Shia-Sunni unity and unequivocal condemnation of Mumtaz Qadri are commendable. However, his political methodologies and positions on blasphemy are questionable. On Pakistani television, Qadri says that blasphemers require to be killed, claiming credit for helping General Zia creating the blasphemy laws in 1985.
On foreign shores, Qadri tactfully denies this by blurring the issue with legal jargon. Pir Shami held special prayer services honouring Mumtaz Qadri’s martyrdom with thousands in attendance. Talk of combating terrorism while legitimising violence for blasphemy is ridiculous.
Sufism is the modern word for Tasawwuf, Islam’s mystic path. Sufis never called themselves Sufis but Faqirs, indicating their state of humility before God. Datta Ganj Baksh of Lahore wrote of Sufis in the 8th century saying, ‘Tasawwuf, once a reality without a name, is today a name without a reality’. The ‘ism’ remains problematic for it turns an internal spiritual quest into externalised religiosity and bubblegum spirituality. The ‘ism’ is commercialised, pickled and sold as Sufi Disco, Sufi Kathak, and Sufi Nights at bar clubs, and as the ‘Antidote to Terror’.
Historically, Sufis played key roles in providing educative, philosophical and spiritual nourishment, enabling openings of both mind and heart. Sufism gained strength in the 8th century as a reaction to the Islamic Caliphate’s obsession with conquests and wealth; forgetting the egalitarianism and simplicity of the Prophetic message.
Early mystics raised voices against stifling religious freedoms, ensuring Islam not be confined to legalistic codes. Today, frequent Deoband fatwas and Sufi advisories constrict the inherent flexibility of Islam. Barring some mandatory rules, Quranic wisdom lies in its silence on trivial issues; offering layers of multiple interpretations.
Sufis like Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, Baba Farid and Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya brought new dimensions to Islamic understanding; enabling it to blossom organically with the colours of the Indian soil; not requiring local citizenry to commit cultural apostasies. This provided nourishment to the synthesis of Muslim and Hindu mystics that produced the Bhakti movement, when people across faiths came together against religious orthodoxies and social divisions.
At the World Sufi Forum in Delhi, as expected, enlightened Islamic narratives came from Sufis and scholars in Syria, Egypt, Indonesia, America, Africa, Europe, and Canada. Contemporary Muslim rhetoric in the subcontinent remains intellectually lethargic, failing to rejuvenate the pluralistic traditions of Islam.
Perhaps the slogan ‘Islam is peace’ should change to, ‘Islam is non-violence and non-coercion’. Some individuals and states find peace through wars, suicide bombings, retribution, death penalties and other ways of bloodletting. Peace in the Quran flowers from the absence of ‘Khauf’, fear, and ‘Huzn’, grief; achieved through denial of violence, coercion, sectarianism, oppression, injustice and poverty. Prophets were not sent to establish peace, but to alleviate suffering, establish law and preach the Oneness of God.
Violence is an aberration of the human heart that naturally inclines towards calm. Muslims requiring Fatwas against terrorism reveal the vulnerability, despair and defeat of Muslim communities. Until issues such as heresy, blasphemy, apostasy, exclusion and gender justice are addressed; the words ‘love, harmony and world peace’ remain candy floss. Be they Salafis, Sufis, Deobandis, Barelvis, Shias or other, Muslim thinkers must engage critically and creatively with canonised medieval laws; enabling Muslims to negotiate today’s realities. Otherwise, violence in the name of Islam will long continue.