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Spiritual Meditations ( 1 Apr 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Sufi Islam for Tolerance and Peace


By Bodh Bharati

Mar 31, 2013

The tomb of the great Sufi Saint Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer, India inspires and draws not only Muslims from South Asia but also Hindus who converge to seek blessings. Those especially political leaders, film stars and celebrities, who pay homage to the Ajmer Dargah, mostly do so in order to get their wishes for fame, power and money, fulfilled. They could gain more by learning from the profound Sufi message of ‘Aman’ or peace and ‘Gharib Namazi’ meaning welfare of the poor. The Chisti lineage goes back to the town of Chist, near Heart in Afghanistan; at one time a flourishing and peaceful Sufi centre, now at the heart of fundamentalist terror

Sufis are a liberal, tolerant and inclusive form of Islam which has interwoven in its tapestry the fabrics of local and folk cultures and elements of other forms of spirituality in many parts of the world. Through its poetry, music, dance, unique aesthetic sensibility, advocacy of peace and mysticism. The Sufis arrived on the scene around the year 800, and were originally pious devotees, whose poor woollen clothes showed their humility. They presented an Islam that incorporated local traditions and worship styles, including Christian saints and Hindu gods.

 Sufism believes in the doctrine of 'Wahdat al-Wajud' or the unity of all beings and not to harbour ill will against other faiths. The famous Sufi woman Rabia Basri used to say "I am so absorbed in loving Allah that I have no time to hate Satan”. Sufism much like believes in breaking barriers created by orthodox religious taboos and seeks to directly connect with the beloved Allah or the divine. When the body, mind and spirit are aligned with God, then a direct spiritual connection takes place. This deep connection is blissful and one gets intoxicated with spiritual love

Maulvis trained at the Wahhabi oriented Deoband School in North India (whose teachings have inspired generations of Taliban and fundamentalists in South Asia and Afghanistan) who go to towns and villages all over South Asia to teach the so called pure Islam of Arabia. They ask Muslims to move away from their traditional grass roots, folk Islam and mixed shrines which have over hundreds of years have given them a sense of community and belonging in the local multicultural milieu.

The historian William Dalrymple noted that during his last visit to Pakistan, it was very clear that while the Wahhabi-dominated North-West was on the verge of falling under the sway of the Taliban, the same was not true of the Sufi-dominated province of Sindh. “Here in southern Pakistan, on the Indian border, Sufi Islam continues to act as a powerful defense against the puritanical fundamentalist Islam of the Wahhabi Mullahs, which supports intolerance of all other faiths” The Mullahs “read their books but they never understand the true message of love that the prophet preached” said one old Sufi. Dalrymple suggests that “Here is an entirely indigenous and homegrown 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”.

Sufism can provide an inclusive openness and ecumenical intra-faith dialogue within the Islamic streams and sects as well as inter-faith dialogue with other religions for more tolerance, mutual respect and understanding. The Persian civilization has produced world class poets inspired by Sufi philosophy like Hafiz, Rumi and Omar Khayyam. Even though the Sufi legacy is now frowned upon by the puritanical clergy in Iran, Hafiz’s poetry book and the Quran are placed side by side in homes and worshipped. Rumi resonates the Sufi way as opposed to rigid dogma and seeks formless fluidity. In his poem ‘Infidel Fish’ he writes: In the world full of shape / there you are without form.

A leading Iraqi intellectual and a former minister; Ali Alawi in his book; Crisis of Islamic Civilization (Yale University Press, 2009) argues that Sufism is integral to the revival of Islamic civilization which is facing grave threats on the one hand from Modernist Islam and on the other from Wahhabi Islam which is against heterodox and individualist folk Islam like Sufism 

The RAND Corporation report in 2007, called "Building Moderate Muslim Networks," focuses on the Sufis as moderate traditionalists open to change, and thus as potential allies against violence. The British government is befriending the Sufi orders, and has made groups like the British Muslim Forum and the Sufi Muslim Council its main conversation partners in the Muslim community. Philip Jenkins a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, makes a plea 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”

Kashmir now getting radicalized by Wahabi Mullas was at the heart of Sufi cross roads where Sufi shrines are still worshipped by both Muslims and Hindus.  Kashmiri Hindu Shaivism deeply bonded with Sufi thought. Alienated youth in Kashmir and Muslim youth elsewhere need to be persuaded to learn from their own profound Sufi traditions and follow the broader vision and more tolerant version of Islam and carry out their struggle through peaceful means, with greater moral force. Teaching of Sufism in Madrasas and institutions of Islamic learning needs to be urgently promoted

Such is the Sufi message of peace, helping the poor and a tolerant spirituality for common humanity preached by Moinuddin Chisti, the foremost Sufi saint of South Asia. If Sufi spirit prevails we can hope for a sort of miracle of peace to happen, in our times of hate and terror, and truly say Peace be Upon You; Assalam o Alaikum