Somebody asked Abu Hafs: “Who is a Sufi?”
He answered: “A Sufi does not ask who a Sufi is.”
Sufism (Tasa wwuf) is generally accepted the name for Islamic mysticism because the word Tasawwuf meaning “mysticism” has been use in Muslim society for long time. To understand the concept of Sufism first we should have a look into meaning of mysticism. Mystery refers to “religious truth via divine revelation”. Philosophy, reason, even sensual and rational methods can not reveal it because it depends on spiritual experience. In fact without real practical experience, it is hard to understand mysticism. Only wisdom of the heart, gnosis, may give insight into some of its aspects. The ultimate goal of the mystic or seeker is to find the final Reality –The Truth. As Sindhi mystic poet and Sufi, Shah Latif says: “Wherever I see, I find clear manifestation of truth. Should you acquire the ability to recognize Truth, You, too shall see nothing but God.”
Annemaire Schimel writes in his book entitled Mystical Dimensions of Islam, “The Islamic mystics liked to play with the root of Safa, “purity,” when they discussed Sufism and qualities of ideal Sufi: “He that is purified by love is pure (safi), and he who is purified by the Beloved is a Sufi” i.e., he who is completely absorbed in the Divine Beloved and does not think of anything but Him has trained the true rank of a Sufi. It is not surprising that Sufi made attempts to designate Adam as the first Sufi: for he was forty days “in seclusion” (like the novice at the beginning of path) before God endowed him with sprit; then God put the lamp of reason in his heart and the light of wisdom on his tongue, and he emerged like an illuminated mystic from the retirement during which he was kneaded by the hands of God. After his fall he performed acts of penitence in India for 300 years until God “elected” him so that he became pure (Safi) and thus a true Sufi.
But Sufism is more as Junayd of Baghdad (AD.910), sees the prototypes of the Sufis in the prophets which are mentioned in the Koran. Junayd wrote, “Sufism is founded on eight qualities exemplified in eight apostles: the generosity of Abraham, who sacrificed his son; the acquiescence of Ishmael, who submitted the command of God and gave up his dear life; the patience of Job, who patiently endured the afflictions of worms and jealousy of the merciful; the symbolism of Zacharias, to whom God said “Thou shalt not speak unto men for three days by signs” and gain to the same effect “when he called upon his lord with a secret invocation”; the strangerhood of John, who was a stranger in his own country and alien to his own kind amongst whom he lived; the pilgrimhood of Jesus, who was detached therein from worldly things that he kept only a cup and a comb – the cup he threw away when he saw a man drinking in the palms of his hand, and the comb likewise when he saw another man using his fingers instead of comb; the wearing of wool by Moses, whose garment was woolen; and the poverty of Muhammad, to whom God Almighty sent the key of all treasures that are upon the face of the earth, saying, “Lay no trouble on thyself, but procure every luxury by means of these treasures,” and he answered, “O Lord, I desire them not; keep me on day full fed and one day hungry.”
The social and practical aspect of Sufism is understood from the definitions of Junayd and Nuri, the leaders of the Iraqi school of mysticism, according to whom “Sufism is not composed of practices and sciences, but it is morals” and “who surpasses you in good moral qualities surpasses you in Sufism.”
The Sufis always remained inside the fold of Islam, and their mystical attitude was not limited by their adherence to any of legal or theological schools. According to Sufism, the central mystery of Islam is Tauhid, “to declare that God is one.” That’s why Sufis claimed that whole Wisdom was included in the letter Alif, the fist letter in alphabet and Symbol of Allah. The Sufis often condemned the bookishness of Scholars and admonished their disciples to strive to lift the veils, not to collect books. Therefore “to break the ink-pots and to tear the books” was considered by some mystics as a first step in Sufism. The great saint Umar Suhrawardi, who studied scholastic theology in his youth, was blessed by a saint who put his hands on his chest and made me forget all he had studied, “but he filled my breast with the knowledge immediately derived from God.” Same thing was happened with Rumi before his turn from traditional scholar to Sufi. Historians wrote the encounter of Rumi with his spiritual mentor Shams Tabriz in different ways. According to them, “One day Rumi was reading next to a large stack of books. Shams Tabriz, passing by, asked him, “What are you doing?” Rumi scoffingly replied, “Something you cannot understand.” (This is knowledge that cannot be understood by the unlearned.) On hearing this, Shams threw the stack of books into a nearby pool of water. Rumi hastily rescued the books and to his surprise they were all dry. Rumi then asked Shams, “What is this?” To which Shams replied, “Mowlana, this is what you cannot understand.” (This is knowledge that cannot be understood by the learned.)
Pakistan’s known scholar G.M. Syed divides Sufis into two groups in his book entitled Religion and Reality.
- The introvert Sufi (Salik)
- The extrovert Sufi (Majzoob)
The introvert saints (Salik)
The Sufis/saints in this group have’ expressed their thoughts through signs and symbols. According to the circumstances, they adopt a way of expression, which does not hurt the susceptibilities of the people, and yet, at the same time, the learned men see the light.
The introvert saints were fully aware of the menacing terror of the vested interests and vicious prejudices created by men in power. These vested interests were against the common weal. This becomes all the more virulent when, in the first place, society is dominated by men of low morality; secondly, the servile masses, being under their baneful influence, have no capacity for tolerance. In this state of affairs, the saints could not be altogether silent, but they could not freely express themselves, either. It is for this reason that they adopted this way to kill two birds with one stone. At every step, they felt threatened by the men with vested interests. Therefore, they selected signs and symbols for communicating with the elect. They succeeded on conveying their message and were safe from the mischief of the exploiters.
The Extrovert saints (Majzoob)
These saints were guided more by passion than reason. They disseminated knowledge openly and fearlessly. They knew very well that their teachings would strike at the roots of superstitions and narrow-mindedness. As a result, the fury of exploiters would be let loose. In spite of these odds, the saints had confidence in the justness of their mission and in the innate love people had for justice. Although the masses have little analytical power, and it is time- consuming to sift truth out, the fact is that the masses are generally exploited because they are gullible and lack memory. However, they are essentially good- natured and have feeling hearts. The extrovert saints felt that the masses would not immediately listen to them, but when the exploiting priests and rulers made them the target of their aggression, they would really wake up. This was the reason that the extrovert saints openly preached their faith regardless of the consequences. With great fortitude, they not only suffered the atrocities of the exploiters, but also proved that punishment was no remedy. Advocating the cause of such valiant souls, Ghalib says:
[O Judge! useless is the charge of love; punishment further stokes the desire to sin in me.]
Beyond doubt, one who adopts this way is either a lunatic or a person unmindful of the consequences of his actions. But the exploiters are not content with mere punishment of the saints; they are bent upon usurping their freedom. That is why the extrovert saint has a burning desire for making the maximum use of time. Waiting for the future, he is not ready to pass the present in silence. Therefore, he takes a rebellious course. To the extrovert saint, whatever chance is available, he makes the utmost use of it. He preaches truth and preaches it most fearlessly. He is ever conscious of the fact that time is fleeting.
Now the question arises as to what was that which the introvert saints taught through signs and he extrovert saints preached openly, thus exposing and jeopardizing the vested interests of the professional priests and the ruling classes. In my opinion, the sun and substance of this kind of preaching was that the Creator is the Real Being and, except Him, there exists nothing. All other manifestations are his own Attributes”. As Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai says:
[He is neither a Lover nor a Beloved; neither the creator nor the Created. Talk only to him who can comprehend.]
Islamic mystical thinkers Mohiuddin Ibn Arabi and Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindi introduced philosophies/concepts which focus on the nature of the divine, but are vastly different from each other in several respects. Nonetheless they both derive their ideological framework from the mystical folklore and philosophy of Islam. Ibn Arabi (A.D. 1240) revolved the absolute concept of the unity of existence (Wahdat-ul-Wajud), while this concept got the popularity in Islamic masses and within Sufism. But later this concept was become problematic for some Sunni Muslims and it was become hurdle for ruling elite to use religion for exploitation and geopolitical purpose. Therefore in 16th centaury another concept was launched by Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindi which is called Wahdat-ul-Shahood.
The Muslim mystics believe that it was taught to Imam Ali by the Prophet Muhammad and, from him, it kept moving from generation to generation. Mansoor Hallaj, Shams Tabrez and Khawaja Fariduddin Attar openly preached it. However, Ibne Arbi first made philosophical exposition. His famous book, entitled Fasusul Hukum is a work of immense value and is worth reading.
The theory of Wahdat-ul-Wajud is also called the theory of “All is He” which means, “The only existence is the Absolute or All-existent”. This ‘Absolute- existence’ is God. Nothing exists but Him. The universe is a manifestation or a shadow or His light, which is called the world of attributes and this world has no existence beyond Him; the slogan of the advocates of this theory is “There is no existence except Allah”.
As inseparable the reflection of man’s face in the mirror, his shadow on earth, the echo of his voice; similarly, His attributes are not different from Him and they are the reflections of the Real being.
As regards the effect of this theory on conventional religion and politics, a discussion on the subject will not be uninteresting. Since, according to this theory, the reality of everything is One, instead of hatred and discord; its believers find a universal bondage of love and amity. They expose the secret of unity, which is hidden in diversity. This theory cuts at the roots of religious bigotry dividing men and creating many differences among them. It also leaves no room for exploitation in the name of religion. Thus, it criticizes the rulers, the exploiters, and the monopolists of religion and all those who suck the blood of the people in the name of their faith. Such classes, when they see that their interests are at stake, get secretly united and employ all means in order to stifle the voice of Truth-lovers. It is an irony that religious monopolists have always obstructed the teachings of the truthful. It is also a fact that whenever a professional religious group tried to exploit the religious sentiments to the extreme, thus spreading bigotry and narrow-mindedness, the believers of Wahdat-ul-Wajud also assumed an equally serious stance. As the Bulleh Shah says:
[Pull down a temple or demolish a mosque, But don’t break the heart, for in the heart lives God.]
Abdul Hamid Adam expresses the same feeling thus:
[Pleased I am to see a deserted mosque, Like mine, the House of God, too, is in a shambles].
The Mansoor of Sindh, Hazrat Sachal Sarmast, pained at the bigotry of the so- called religious men, said:
[Until the pulpit, the mosque, the minaret are destroyed Truth shall not dawn on you, Sachal.]
Another name of this concept is “Everything is from Him.” According to it, all existing things are the creation of God. The Absolute is God. He is above all creation and is Holy and High. The world of attributes cannot be associated with Him. Spirit and matter are two separate things.
First of all, this theory finds expression in virtue and vice, atonement and sin, reward and punishment. Then it advances further, and adding intensity to the collective belief of faith and infidelity, it influences social and political life. Religious institutions consider it their duty to liberate people from “infidelity” and set them “on the path of truth. In order to bring people to their fold, the monopolists of religion first use preaching, and subsequently, force. To them, unity is sheer superstition and innumerable manifestations as the Absolute Reality. On this basis, they accept the distinctions of high and low.
So far as it is a question of organizational set-up among like-minded individuals and groups, it is useful. However, the fact is that beliefs never remain confined to their authors. Later, these beliefs create social disturbance and discord. History is a witness that, after a stage, the adherents of a concept takes to extremism. This idea of kindred ideas lead to sects and schisms. Within a religious order, or a race that creates violence. Blind following of a sect has sometimes brought to surface the fascists who have disturbed world harmony. The growth of this concept in religion has been extremely detrimental to the freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, democracy and broad mindedness. Fascism has, in fact, given birth to many divisions such as high and low among the individuals, superiority and inferiority complexes among the races.
In short, both the concepts have retarded human progress. People interested in Wahdat-ul-Wajud should also read, in addition to their own literature, works on Yoga, the Bhagvad Gita, addresses by Swami Vivekanand and of Swami Ram Tirath, the writings of Plato, Spinoza, the neo-Platonists, etc.
Difference between Mainstream Muslim Scholars and Sufis
As it is mentioned above that second doctrine Wahad ul Shahood was introduced to counter unity of existence likewise Sufism has remained the target of mainstream jurists and scholars because in Sufism there is a respect for all religions and humanity and they opposed all types of bloodshed in the name of Islam. As Maulana Abul Kalam Azad writes in the preface to “The Life of Sarmad, the Martyr”, “In Asia, politics has always been working from behind the veil of religion. Thousands of events of bloodshed were cloaked with religion. During the thirteen hundred years of Islam, the pen of the jurists has been like a naked sword. The blood of thousands of lovers of truth was shed on their verdict. Read the history of Islam of any period and you will get thousands of such examples that wherever any ruler decided to shed blood, the pen of the jurist and the sword of the general were with him. Not only were the Sufis (mystics) and national leaders made the targets, even those scholars who were critical and realistic, were made to suffer hardships at the hands of jurists, and they were relieved of their misery only after being beheaded”.
There is a fundamental difference between Sufism and mainstream Islam due to different perceptions of the divine and the attainment of spiritual purity in the eyes of God, but both would agree that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was the embodiment of the Quranic text and thus, it is his life that should be emulated if one hopes to attain closeness to God.
Right Path and Attain to God
Orthodox mainstream scholars depend on Quran, teachings of Prophet Muhammad, Hadiths and Sharia Law to seek the closeness of God while Sufis believe that love to His creatures with sincerity and purity can bring closeness to God. According to Sufism, emulation of the Prophet’s Sunna and obedience towards the Sharia Laws do not necessarily guarantee closeness to God, one must also keep themselves in constant dhikr (remembering of God). Sufis believe that with tasawwuf, you can attain closeness with God in the physical realm by feeling God inside yourself during intense dhikr (in a manner similar to that experienced by the Prophet Muhammad during the miraj).
Traditional scholars and Ulmas taught that by strictly following the Quran and the Hadith, a Muslim can attain divine closeness in the paradise after death. While Sufis believe that by meditation and ritualistic practices a Muslim need not wait for death, rather can embrace divine closeness with God in this life itself.
The traditional Muslims believe that Islamic Sharia law is necessary to serve God. Without strict adherence of Islamic law in daily life, it is impossible to achieve the closeness of God. This mainstream block believes Sharia is the only way to govern the state and Sharia is the only way to build welfare in an Islamic State. Even some orthodox Scholars have view that any legal system other than Sharia is anti-Islam.
Sufis have different opinion about Sharia. Followers of Sufism believe that adherence of Sharia is not necessary for a Muslim state. Any other legal system can be adopted according to the demand of time in the view of the real welfare for common people of state. Even many Sufis criticized legalistic scholars Abu Hanifa and Imam Shafi by saying that Abu Hanifa has not taught love while Shafi has no traditions about it.
Views about Music and dance
Music and dance of any kind are prohibited (haram) in mainstream Islam. Radical scholars argued strict punishment for musicians and dancers. In fact throughout in the history of Islam, Orthodox Muslims have widely been in agreement that music and dance did not fit well with the concept of worship, and the only adhan (prayer calling) and Quranic chanting are allowed while Sufism has changed this concept through introducing musical worship with dance to the realm of Islam. Music and dance played an important role in the spread of Islam in south Asia. Sufi’s music and dance with the teachings attracted Hindu’s masses towards Islam. Imam Ahmad al-Ghazali was an advocate of this “spiritual” practice of dance and music as he writes, “The dancing is a reference to the circling of the spirit round the cycle of existing things on account of receiving the effects of the unveilings and revelations; and this is the state of the Gnostic. The whirling is a reference to the spirit’s standing with Allah in its inner nature and being, the circling of its look and thought, and its penetrating the ranks of existing things; and this is the state of the assured one. And his leaping up is a reference to his being drawn from the human station to the unitive station.”
Al-Ghazali attempts to justify dancing and music as a legitimate form of worship in Islam by arguing its merits as symbolic of the achievement of fana. Al-Ghazali, according to Trimingham, suggests that after Sufis have performed Quranic recitation and its meaning has been explained by the Sheikh in mystical terms, a qawwal (singer) begins singing Sufi poems to begin the process towards ecstasy.
Mainstream Islam has lack of spiritual values while Sufism is based upon the deeper spiritual meaning of Islam. Therefore Sufism is considered the real soul of Islam. According to famous Sufi philosopher Baba Garib Shah, “Islamic law is not conducive to attaining oneness with God, but it is Sufism that leads to God. “
The believers of mainstream Islam, putting religion and politics together made warfare as its basic policy. They advocated the use of religion to run the state affairs therefore history is witnessed that they diverted the attentions of Muslims towards conquest and material wealth, which was acquired by loot. And they employed force to bring non-Muslims to the fold of Islam. Even in modern day we can analyze that in many Muslim countries, there are moments aimed to launch Islamic Sharia government. Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and some African countries are the example of it where through arms movements; they want to launch Islamic government.
According to G.M. Syed, “This practice is not the product of the present times; it has been in existence ever since the death of the Prophet. The Prophet, besides being the Messenger of God, was an administrator of rare ability. Therefore, in his person were combined the tasks of Prophet Hood and that of an administrator, which he performed most commendably. However, after his demise, Prophet Hood ended. People were divided into two groups on the propagation of religion and the conduct of state affairs.
The Sufis on the other hand, did not believe in state affairs. They separated religion, faith from state affairs. They have opinion that religion, faith and sect is a personal matter. It cannot be used to run state affairs or in politics to control the masses for geopolitical objectives. Even Sufis often opposed Jihad; they preached that in the eye of Allah, the best jihad is to fight with inner evil rather than killing people of other faith or religion.
These differences between mainstream scholars and Sufis provided a base to interpret Islam in two different ways.
Throughout the Muslim history mainstream Islam was used to control people by ruling classes while Sufism is only way to seek reality through peace and love. Present Crises and conflicts in the Muslim world are witnessed that how Islam was used to misled masses to achieve the geopolitical purposes. People of Pakistan are directly victim of it. Jihad against the USSR was launched from Pakistan in the name of Islam to achieve western objectives. The hypocrisy of mainstream scholars pushed our country into trouble. The land of Sufism was forcefully turned into extremist factory where Jihadis were trained and used to kill people on the name of Islam. All the ills in Muslim world are due to an erroneous interpretation of Islam. In fact the word “ISLAM” gives the meanings of Peace, Prosperity and Progress but unfortunately we can easily discover from the history of Islam that how individuals or groups of exploiters misled Muslims to promote their vested interests.
Two Interpretations of Islam
There is no doubt that Islam is the complete code of life but unfortunately its wrong interpretation has become problematic for humanity. Like other religions, Islam has also interpreted in two different ways. According to G.M. Syed, “One interpretation has invariably been made by the exploiting rulers and the so- called scholars with their own vested interests to protect. The other interpretation has been that of the Sufis (mystics) who gave solace to the teeming millions and were the true well wishers of people.”
The first group was responsible not only for the birth of various religions and sects, but also for creating differences among them. On the contrary, the second group has been striving to unify men divided on account of religious differences into the bond of love, signifying the basic unity underlying religious diversity.
Exploiters/Ruling class interpretation
Here is a resume of the interpretations presented by the ruling classes and their appointed religious commentators:
1. They regard Islam as the last and the only true religion in the world, insisting that all other religions are false and discredited.
2. They stress that Islam is the panacea for all ills and it is a complete code of life.
3. They consider the Qur’an as the storehouse of all knowledge and teachings for this world and the Hereafter. So they emphasize on the understanding of the Qur’an, the word of God as revealed to the Prophet. They believe that it offers a solution to all the problems of all ages and that their solutions are final and eternal.
4. They insist on calling Prophet Mohammed not only the last of all the prophets, but also as the last reformer and guide.
5. They prescribe some of the words and acts of the Holy Prophet as binding in all cases. They claim that the Muslims are the favorite creatures of God. Their fanciful mind leads them to think that, as a single nation the Muslims are the chosen people. Further, they are destined to lead the world. This leadership shall continue till Doomsday.
6. Not only that, they consider Islam as the only true and legitimate religion; they regard all those outside its pail as misguided and accursed. They consider it their religious duty to show the misguided ones the right path and spread Islam all over the world. At the same time, they regard preaching and fighting for their religion as righteous acts.
7. In order to keep religion and politics under their thumb, these exploiters insist on yoking together the spiritual and temporal spheres. They regard the Caliphs as the representative of the Prophet. Similarly, they consider the Muslim king as the “Shadow of God”, insisting on his obedience and claiming that this obedience is a religious obligation. In the same way, they consider the interpretation of the Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet as the sole right of their favorite scholars.
As compared to this group, the interpretation given by the Sufis (Muslim mystics) is summarized as under:
1. God, the Almighty, has kept sending His messengers to each and every tribe and nation in every age. The basic aim of the preaching of the prophets has been to promote human well being. Despite the apparent differences in their laws, this reality is magnifiers from the religious order of each of them. Islam, too, has conveyed the message as a manifestation of the same reality.
2. Every man is a vicegerent of God in this world. Thus, he exudes divine lights. Just as sunlight or air can’t be the monopoly of any particular tribe or nation, similarly the message of universal brotherhood peace and welfare of mankind cannot be the exclusive preserve of a particular religion or sect. To associate it with a particular religion or sect is to negate the laws of Nature and the spirit of Islam.
3. Religion means leading life according to voluntarily accepted beliefs to preach the tenets of any religion through government or collective organizations, to force it on people by law or power is against the right of individual freedom, which is given by God. Only that preaching can be appreciated which has respect for the individual’s rights and which is based on mutual understanding, love tolerance and service. Good preaching is that which aims at winning hearts. Good manners make good preaching. It is, therefore, necessary that politics and religion be kept apart. Religion is a personal and affair of individuals; it has nothing to do with collective or national matters.
4. By associating the natural religion with one group, calling that group a nation, and confining it to some social customs is against the fundamental objectives of religion. Every man of firm faith and good character is loved by God, whatever his religion. Similarly, God does not love a man, who is wicked and bad in conduct, even if he pretends to be follower of Islam. Hence, in the eyes of these mystics, the narrow bounds of religion are born of wrong and misleading objectives.
5. The Sufis (Muslim mystics), therefore, believe that all that which is based on selfishness or all that, which creates bad blood and ill-feeling among fellow men and all that which obstructs unity, peace and human progress is gross infidelity; even if it is done in the name of Islam.
The moderates in the second group, however, continued to preach despite the ruthlessness of the ruling classes and the unschooled sentiments of the masses. Whatever they could not preach openly, they conveyed through symbolic language. However, to this group also belonged those who did not believe in expediency; and caring the least for consequences, they settled for nothing less than truth. Such persons the rulers and commentators of religion regarded as rebels. They were denounced by the rulers and the so-called custodians of religion, they were subjected to privation and penury, torture and death. Hazrat Imam Hussain, Mansoor Hallaj, Shams Tabrez, Sarmad, Shah Enayat Sufi and Makhdoom Bilawal are just a few names in the brilliant galaxy of such lovers of truth. Ibne Abbas, to quote Bokhari, once said:
[The Prophet that if I reveal them today, I shall be killed has told me such things.]
Hafiz Shirazi expresses this in the following words:
[There should be no expediency in unraveling the truth. Those who tell the truth have never cared for any expediency; otherwise, truth should have never dawned.]
The exponent of truth, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai says in this context:
[O Friend! my secret should not come to my lips. Men of poor understanding shall not be able to understand it. But they will become deadly enemies.]
Spiritual control and Command in Islam
Sufis, saints and seers believe in Divine knowledge which comes directly from God. All Muslims agreed that the Holy Prophet Muhammad in his life gave the command of spiritualities to his cousin Hazrat Ali and he is the final authority of Divine knowledge. Ali was the only one who knew the secrets of the Prophet. As once Prophet Muhammad said, “I am the city of knowledge and ‘Ali is its gate; so whoever desires knowledge, let him enter the gate.” While once the Prophet also said, “Ali is from me and I am from him, and he is the Wali (patron/spiritual master) of every believer after me.” These sayings about Ali are a true reflection of the final control and command authority of knowledge and spiritual secrets of Islam. All Sufi orders, fraternities and spiritual linage in Islam led to Ali while only Naqshbandi order traces its spiritual linage to the Prophet Muhammad, through Abu Bakr, the first caliph and Muhammad’s companion.
In the early age of Islam, the Sufis were not organized in a planned circles or Orders but with the passage of time, teachings, preachings and personal examples of Sufis attracted masses towards spirituality and mystical dimensions of Islam with the complete code of life. As a result Sufi orders emerged among Muslim societies. The popularity of mystical aspects of Islam institutionalized Sufi orders for religious gatherings. Spiritual masters used centers (proper place) to organized their disciples and seekers for teachings, dhikr. A Sufi center was usually given a name as Khanegah, Jmaat Khana, Zawiyya, Tekke. In different languages, Sufi centers were given different name as in North Africa such center was called a Ribat, the name which was also used to describe the frontier fortresses of the Sufi soldiers who defended the way of Islam. Before the emergence of Sufi orders, there were many schools of Islamic law created and supported by rulers. According to available information that there were more than thirty different schools of law existed during the ninth century. Every Caliph/ruler crated its own school to control masses for his vested interests, but the emergence of Sufi Orders as a parallel to those schools minimized the influence of such schools because Sufis give a simple and clear path for the practice of inner purification. During ninth through twelfth centaury, various Sufi Orders were founded in Muslim societies and the recognition of these Sufi Orders ended Islamic schools of law and later the number of these schools was reduced to five or six. All Sufi orders have specific spiritual lineages and roots in which founders of orders and their disciples are connected to each other and these roots or lines traced back to Prophet Muhammad via his cousin Imam Ali. Therefore Sufis call Ali the father of Sufism.
Islam in the Subcontinent
Historically, the subcontinent consists of Sindh (Indus) present Pakistan and Hind (India). In fact the word India is derived from Indus, which originates from the Old Persian word Hindu. The latter term stems from the Sanskrit word Sindhu, which was the historical local appellation for the Indus River. The ancient Greeks referred to the Indians as Indoi (Ἰνδοί), which translates as “The people of the Indus”. This is an historical fact that the people of the Mighty Indus Basin were known as Indians. But British colonial division of the subcontinent into Pakistan and India changed the ancient history and now in the present era, the people of the Indus basin called Pakistanis because presently Pakistan almost covers the whole ancient Indus valley.
Arabs with sword brought mainstream Islam into the Indus valley (present Pakistan) via the Arabian Sea. According to historians, “The western provinces of the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent had become the part of Muslim Empire in 711, the year in which the Arabs conquered Sindh and adjacent provinces to northward up to Multan along Indus River.” The history is disputed over the victory of Sindh by Arab general Muhammd Bin Qasim. In Pakistani text books he is called “the first Pakistani”. The local people of Sindh, local Muslim historian and Sufis have opinion that Qasim was an exploiter and sent to the land of Sindh to kill the family of Prophet Muhammad. In fact the last Hindu ruler of Sindh Raja Dahir who was defeated by Arabs, had given shelter in Sindh to a well-known follower of Imam Hussian, Muhammad Bin Allafi–a man much sought by the Umayyad in their deadly hunt for eliminating the last of the Ahl-e-Bait (Prophet Muhammad’s immediate family). That, according to some very believable sources, Dahir had even offered asylum to Hussain ibn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Mohammed and the son of Imam Ali (father of Sufism), who was being persecuted at home. That as a result of this offer, Hussain was on his way to Sindh when he was seized at Karbala in Iraq and killed most viciously. That according to G.M. Syed, the grand old man of Sindh, “the Sindhis weep for Hussain ibn Ali and they weep for Raja Dahir Sen.”
In fact the subcontinent was the center of gravity for Muslims. In the early centuries of Islam, many Muslims travelled to this land for trade as it was the part of ancient Silk Road.
It was also one of the main geopolitical reason to attack on this land of peace by the central Muslim Umayyad caliphate to control over this trade route down the Indus River valley to the seaports of Sindh. As they had tried to control over route, via Khyber Pass, to Gandhara (also an ancient civilization and neighbor state of Indus valley). Beside this geopolitical objective, the pious Muslims in these areas were apparently interested mainly in the collection of Hadith and scientific information aimed to transmit to the central Muslim countries. During the early age of Islam, the knowledge about mathematics, medicine, astronomy and astrology were translated from Indian local languages to Arabic and transferred it to Arab world.
Encounter of Sufism with Buddhism and Hinduism
The land of Sindh valley present Pakistan is the birthplace of several unique ancient civilizations; the archaeological remains at Mehrgarh, Mohen-jo-daro, Harappa and Gandhara are witness to the glory of this land. Several ancient races integrated here. The relics of Dravidians, Aryans, Semites, Mongols and Turks are easily to be found here. As different races and civilizations mingled on this land same an amalgam of different religions and philosophies took place here. It is fact that the valley of Sindh has always been the land of tolerance for conflicting faiths and cultures. This uniqueness of the history of the Indus valley has been glittering indeed.
Buddhism was born in India as a result of reform in Hinduism but it flourished here in Sindh. When Islam appeared in Sindh it encountered with Buddhism and Hinduism. Gautam Bhuddha’s teachings on Nirvana had already added mystic impact on the people of this land through Yoga while Islam with intermingled Buddhist teachings gave the new spiritual impact to the people of this region. This unique encounter gave new heights of mystical experience to Muslims. Spiritual contacts between the Muslims and the small Buddhist minority, as well as with large group of Hindus formed the Islamized form of Vednata. Famous Islamic mystic Mansoor Al-HallaJ, who raised the slogan of Anal-Haq (I am the truth) travelled extensively throughout the Hind and Sindh and probably discussed theological problems with Buddhists, Hindus and the Sufis of this region in 905. While in year 1000, the Sultan of Ghaznavid Empire, Mahmud of Ghazanvi conquered the subcontinent and not only brought Persian –inspired Muslim culture but he also brought many Muslim scholars and Sufis to this region. One of the greatest scientific scholars of medieval Islamic era, Abu Rehan Al-Burani came here to study Hinduism and Buddhism’s philosophy and life. While along many poets, Sufi saint Data Ganj Bakhsh Ali al-Hujwiri with his famous book Kashf ul Mahjoob also known as Revelation of the Veiled, and it is also consider the oldest Persian treatise on Sufism, came in this region and made Lahore as center of his teachings. He significantly contributed to the spreading of Islam in South Asia. It has been a practice of Sufi saints coming to South Asia to first visit the shrine of Al Hajvari. Even Moinuddin Chishti, who brought the Chishti Order into the subcontinent, first visits his tomb on his arrival in the subcontinent from Sistan. The Muslim rule over this region attracted Sufis from central Islamic countries to come here. The subcontinent was becoming an attractive place to preach Islam for Sufis because mainstream Islam had created problems among other religion’s followers. By the late twelfth and early thirteen centuries, Sufism had shaped itself into a progressive movement aimed to create interfaith harmony among the people of different faiths and religions.
In fact Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism with their principles and noble philosophies created the brotherhood among all religious followers. While mainstream Islam came with swords therefore it was a natural that Muslim rulers and their jurists wanted to propagate the Islamic religion by adopting forceful methods. Muslim outlander rulers used Islam to conduct the state affairs as a result Jihad (war) against other religion’s followers was declared. Even Muslim rulers of the Sultanate period treated Hindus as second class citizens. The Hindu and Buddhist religious sentiments had received a big set back from their new rulers. Muslim rulers plundered gold, precious materials from Hindu temples and destroyed their religious places. These acts of rulers created antagonism between the different faiths and sects. Besides this, religious supremacy made the Muslim rulers and people exhibit mutual hatred and hostility, towards their fellow Hindu citizens. At this critical hour of human ignorance and mutual hatred and hostility, Sufis came to establish brotherhood, love and friendship between the Hindus, Buddhist minority and Muslims.
Sufis and Muslim mystics studied deeply to understand Vedantic philosophy and the Buddhism of India. They had gone through various religious texts of India and had come in contact with great sages and seers of India.
They could see the Indian religions from very near and realized its inner values. Accordingly they developed Islamic Philosophy which at last gave birth to the Sufi Movement in Subcontinent. The Sufi movement therefore was the result of the Hindu and Buddha’s influence on Islam. This movement influenced both the Muslims and Hindus and thus, provided a common platform for the two. Though the Sufis were devout Muslims, yet they differed from the orthodox Muslims. Interestingly, the encounter of Sufism with Hinduism and Buddhism gave a birth to a Sikhism which was totally new religion. Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism was much inspired by Sufis. Therefore he broke Hinduism due to its caste System and founded new Sikh religion by borrowing the concept of one God from Islam in the 15th century.
Sufi orders of Pakistan
First Islam came to the Indus valley in present Pakistan and then spread to whole south Asia from this region. Even all Muslim invaders, Arabs, Persians, Afghans, Turks and Mongols entered from this land to conquer the subcontinent. So with Muslim rulers, Sufi orders also migrated to the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. Therefore all Sufi orders are almost the same in Pakistan and India. The following are a few of the Sufi Orders which are still established today, each with its own predominating characteristics. Seekers and disciples can be members of one or more of the Sufi Orders, as indeed they often follow more than one spiritual master.
The Chishti Order
Chishti order was founded by Khwaja Abu Ishaq Shami Chishti and the name of this order was derived from the village of Chisht in Afghanistan, which is located thirty miles away from the modern city of Herat. The Chishti order is one of oldest and most spreading Sufi movement in Indo-Pakistan. The most outstanding representative of this order in Indo-Pakistan is Moinuddin Chishti, born in Sistan and part-time disciple of Abu Najib Suhrawardi. He reached Dehli in 1193, and then settled in Ajmer. Moinuddin Chishti reduced his teachings to three principles, which had been formulated first by Bayazid Bostami: a Sufi should posses “a generosity like that of the ocean, mildness like that of the sun, and modesty like that of the earth.”
The teachings of Moinuddin turned Ajmer into nucleus for the Islamization of the central and southern parts of India. The Chishti order soon got popularity among Indian masses and spread rapidly. This order attracted Hindus, especially lower casts, and even members of lower scheduled castes into conversion of Islam. According to Chishtiya Ribbat, “following the path of the other Sufi Tariqah (orders), the Chishtiyyah order later ramified – treelike – into a number of different orders. The sub-orders tend to be named after a saint of that particular Silsilah, who was instrumental in further developing the methodology or principles of the order, and who was responsible for taking it in a different direction based on the needs of the time. The division of the Chsihti order into two major sub-orders occurred with the development of the Nizami (after Khwaja Nizam Uddin Auliyah) and the Sabri (after Makhdom Alla ad Din Sabir) orders. Both were the two major disciples (Khulafah) of Baba Farid Uddin Ganj-e-Shakar.”
There are many Sufi Shrines of this order in the subcontinent where not only Muslims but Hindus and Sikhs also frequently visit to gain spiritualities. This most influential order of the subcontinent never went beyond its border.
The Suhrawardiyya Order
This order was founded in Baghdad by Abu Najib Suhrawardi and developed by his nephew Umar Suhrawardi. This order migrated from Baghdad to the subcontinent through several disciples of Umar at the beginning of the thirteenth centaury. Jalaluddin Tabrizi, who went to Bengal and Bahauddin Zakariya Multani were influential Sufi saints of this order. They contributed a lot to spread this order in this region.
The Sufi saints of this order mixed freely with the members of ruling classes, just as Umar Suhrawardi himself had served the caliph an-Nasir same as Bahauddin Zakariya Multani attached himself with rulers of Dehli Sultanate. Shaikh Ruknuddin also contributed considerably in popularizing the Suhrawardi Order. In fact the Sultans of Delhi, such as, Alauddin Khilji and Muhammad Tughlaq highly respected him. This order became remained well accepted in the provinces of Uchch, Gujarat, Punjab, Kashmir and even Delhi. The Suhrawardi Order also became popular in Bengal, at a later period. Apart from the above mentioned great Sufi saints of Suhrawardi Order, some of the other saints and philosophers like Shaikh Sharfuddin Yahya Manairi and Shihabuddin Yahya as-Suhrawardi also made their own contributions to the development of the Suhrawardi Order.
As far as the practices of Suhrawardi Order are concerned these vary from the production of mystical ecstasy to the completely quiescent exercise for ‘perception of Reality’. The legends or works of fiction have laid the foundation of the instructional materials of the Suhrawardi Order. However, they contain some materials to the devotees and the materials are essential for preparing the ground for the experiences which the disciple must eventually undergo. It is believed that without those materials, there is a possibility that the disciple may simply develop altered states of mind that make him unfit for ordinary life.
Suhrawardis actively associated themselves with the government and accepted the posts of Shaikh-ul-Islam and Sadr-i-Wilayat. They exhorted their followers to be nearer to the kings who are the chosen of God, the Almighty. Under no conditions, showing disrespect to them or disobeying their orders is permitted or proper in Shariat. One of the Suhrawardi saints Shaikh Rukn-ud-din Multani was of the view that it was essential for a Shaikh to have money, learning or scholarship besides spiritual attainments to satisfy the variety of people who visited him.
The Naqshbandi Order
The Naqshbandi Order takes its name from Shaykh Baha ud-Din Naqshbandi of Bukhara ( 1390). It is widely spread in central Asia, the Volga, the Caucasus, the north-west and south-west of China, Indonesia, the Indian sub-Continent, Turkey, Europe and North America. This is the only known Sufi Order which traces the genealogy of its lineage of transmission of knowledge back through the first Muslim ruler, Abu Bakar, unlike the rest of the known Sufi Order which trace their origins back to one of the Shi’ite spiritual leaders, and therefore through Imam Ali, and so to the Prophet Muhammad.
This is a sober order, eschewing artistic performance, mainly Music and Sama and the center of this Naqshbandi education is the silent dhikr (remembering of God), as opposed to the loud dhikr, which musical accompaniment, that attracted the masses to the other orders. The second noteworthy characteristic is Subhat, the intimate conversation between master and disciple conducted on a very high spiritual level.
The order was extremely successful in Central Asia as it played a major role in Central Asian states during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries while in Subcontinent, the Naqshbandiyya gained a strong hold before 1600 after the failure of the Mughal Emperor Akbar’s experience of The Din-i-Ilahi (religion of God), intending to merge the best elements of the religions of his empire, and thereby reconcile the differences that divided his subjects. At that time, Khawja Baqi Billah attracted a number of disciples who were interested in law-bound mystical life and opposed the sweeping religious attitude that prevailed in the circles surrounding Akbar.
The other prominent Sufi of this order was Ahmad Sirhindi, who was the disciple of Baqi Billah. Sirhindi had great influence on Mughal Emperors, and he gave counter doctrine of Sufism known as Wahadt ul Sahood while this order also played a vital role in inventing the new language in the subcontinent known as Urdu, which has now become official language of Pakistan. Mir Dard, the mystical poet of Delhi and advocate of Urdu language belonged to this order.
While Shah Waliullah is one of the true Muhammadin and belonged to this order, he played his role as a bridge between the followers of two different doctrines of Sufism. In fact Sirhind’s theory of Whadat ul shahood was hostile to the other orders that followed the wahadt ul Wajood. Shah Waliullah filled the gap between these theories with his extraordinary explanation and teachings. He translated the Quran into the Persian language so that Muslims can easily understand the message of Allah. He also invited the Afghan king to save Muslims from the Sikh and Mahratta’s aggression.
The Qadri Order
Shaykh Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani (1166) from Gilan in Persia, later settled in Baghdad, founded the Qadri order. After his death, his Sufi Order was propagated by his sons. The Qadri Order has spread to many places, including Syria, Turkey, some parts of Africa such as Cameron, the Congo, Mauritania and Tanzania, and in the Caucasus, Chechnya, as well as the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent.
The Qadri order is very prominent in Pakistan and India but history is not very clear about the migration of this order from Iraq to this land. There are different opinions about who brought the Qadiriyya Sufi Order first to the Indian subcontinent, but it seems to be sure that the Qadiri Order was spread in India two centuries after the death of its founder. Muhammad Enam ul-Haq claims in his work, “A History of Sufism in Bengal, Dhaka 1975”, that the Qadiriyya was brought to India first by the Sufi Abdulkarim al-Jili in the year 1388. It is certain that Al-Jili came to India in these years and stayed there for some years. Muzammil Haq does not completely agree with this. He says that Al-Jili might have been in India at this time but that the sources do not give any information about his attempts to find new members or to propagate the teachings of the Qadiriyya in India.
In other investigations Shah Nimetullah Wali (1331-1431) and his children are mentioned to be the first missionaries to Qadiriyya in Indo-Pakistan. According to the traditions, Shah Nimetullah (born in Syria) made after the death of his Pir Abdullah Al-Yafii, travels to North Iran, Samerkand, Herat and Yazd. He then stayed in the Persian town Mahan (district of Kirman) and became after short time the mystic leader of the region and founded the first Shia tariqat, the Nimetullahiyya. Later the Nimetullahiyya was spread in Dakkan as a result of the friendship between Nimetullah Wali and Sultan Shabaddin Ahmad I. (1422-1436). But it seems to be problematic to consider this Tariqat as an affiliate of Qadiriyya.
Arnold emphasizes the role of the humble and gentle Muslim missionaries spreading Islam among the Indian people. He says: “The most important of these missionaries was the grandson of the famous saint Abdul Qadir Jilani, Seyyid Yusuf ad-din. Seyyid Yusuf got in his dream the order to leave Bagdad and to go to India in order to invite the Indian people to Islam. Thereupon he immigrates to Sind in 1422 and after an effort of 10 years he reaches to invite more than 700 families out of the caste of Lohana to convert to Islam.”
In the second part of the 15th century a Qadiri dergah was founded in Uch Sharif nearby Multan. The founder was Shaikh Bendegi Muhammad Gavs, a grandson of Abdul Qadir Jilani. Shaikh Muhammad Gavs came to Multan 1482 together with his family and group of murids (disciples). They settle in this area where the Suhrawardiyya is active too. Seyyid Muhammad Gavs is the first one to establish the Qadiri order in the subcontinent and the later generations strengthened it and carried it to other parts of the country. After the death of Muhammad Gavs, his son and Khalifah Abdulqadir Sani (1533) takes his place. For his great efforts for the Order he got the title Sani (the second Abdulqadir). He went on inviting people to tariqat and reached the conversion of a large Hindu group to Islam and to strengthen the belief of the weak Muslims. So the Qadiriyya was spread in Sind, Panchup and Kashmir.
Sufism under attack
As it is mentioned above that exploiters and mainstream Muslim scholars with in Islam staged many fronts against Sufism and many Sufi saints and their followers were killed throughout the history of Islam. But now in present time, situation is going to be worst day by day in Muslim world. Unfortunately, mainstream school of thought wants to use religion as a tool to achieve their vested interests and mystical dimension of Islam has become force of resistance within Islam. Therefore they waged a full scale war on Sufism. All over the world Sufi shrines were bombed and their followers were killed. Even some hard core scholars propagated the believers of Sufism as non-Muslims.
In fact the ideology of Sufism has become main hurdle in the use of Islam for vested interests. Sufis always opposed to use of Islam for geopolitical objectives.
In other words Sufism has become loud and clear opposition for extremist ideology within Islam among Muslim masses. Extremist ideology accelerated by Islamist hard-cores had given birth to Mujahidin, Taliban, Al-Qaida and now Islamic State. All these groups of Islamic militant created for only geopolitical objectives. The founders and creators of these terrorist organizations faced a lot of criticism from the followers of mystic (Sufism) Islam. As a result from Syria to Pakistan, Sufism has become the victim of these terrorist organizations.
Islamic hard-liners attack on Sufism in Pakistan
Historically, the land of Pakistan was peaceful and full of tolerance but unfortunately, it has become the land of terrorism. In fact Terrorism came in Pakistan during the Zia regime through toppling elected government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto with the support of the USA and Saudi Arabia. After hanging Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a popular elected prime minister, in 1979, Zia ul Haq launched a vigorous drive to change the liberal nature of the constitution of Pakistan. For the creation of Islamic militants, he introduced Islamic laws and opened up thousands of extremist religious seminaries across the country. He deliberately inducted Islamic hard-cores into the judiciary, bureaucracy and the army and state institutions and educational department aimed to replace Pakistan’s Sufi image with Islamic hardliners. As a result Islamic extremists that were created by General Zia-ul Haq in the 1980s to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan are now they are killing our own countrymen and while the peaceful state image of Pakistan was forcefully changed by Zia regime that used religion to grab the power to run state affairs smoothly.
Today’s Pakistan is a reflection of Zia-ul Haq’s extremist religious policies, and day by day situation is becoming worse. Not only state machinery, but mosques, Sufi shrines and tombs are under attack. The sympathizers of hard-core militants are everywhere in state institutions therefore despite the military operation, Pakistan has failed to eliminate terrorism from the country. Now the growth of Islamic State in Pakistan has become alarming. Recently, ISIS attacked the shrine of Shah Noorani in Balochistan, as a result more than 52 devotees were killed.
In fact the Sufi message of tolerance, peace and love is a counter narrative against extremism. That’s why terrorists want to depress Sufism with their brutal attack. In this scenario, it is the need of the time that the state should adopt a national narrative of tolerance, peace and interfaith harmony to defeat the ideology of terrorism.
Sufism and the Multipolar world
As mentioned above that Sufi’s interpretation of Islam teaches tolerance and love with the message of universal brotherhood. All conflicts and problems were created by Muslim exploiters/rulers. They used Islam for their vested interests. In this modern era, we can easily analyze that America with the help of Al Saud created Islamic hardcore militants for its geopolitical objectives. For this purpose Pakistan was made the experiment factory where through regime change, they created Mujahidin against USSR during the Afghan war. They brought Muslims from all over the Islamic world to train them for Jihad in Afghanistan.
After the Afghan Jihad, they launched Jihad against legitimate government of Syria. As a result they created a new form of Islamic militancy known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. As once Taliban bulldozed historical and ancient Stupas of Buddha in Afghanistan, ISIS did the same with the ancient Palmyra site. In short, the USA will use every effort to use mainstream (hardcore) Islam for its geopolitical objective. Now it’s time for the multipolar world to use a counter narrative to defeat unipolar ambitions in Muslim world.
For this purpose, the leaders of the multipolar world; Russia and China, should have to promote the ideology of the Sufism among Muslim states through creating interfaith harmony and multipolarity to defeat extremist ideologies.
Once Syria and Iraq were the center of mystical Islam (Sufism) but now they have become the factories of Islamic hard-core militants. Sufism is only way within Islam to defeat these evils. Russia, using the military option has had success in liberating Syria from these hardliners Islamic militants, but now it has time to counter the extremist ideology through promoting mystical Islam among Muslim masses, especially in Muslim conflict areas.
Religion and Reality written by G.M.Syed
Mystical Dimensions of Islam written by Annemaire Schimel
The life of Sarmad, the martyr written by Maluana Abdul Kalam azad