Torchbearers of tolerance
Jaswant Singh

Sufis and Sufism: Some Reflections
edited by Neeru Misra.
Manohar, New Delhi.
Pages 160. Rs 400.

Sufis and Sufism: Some ReflectionsTheories connected with the origin of Sufism are varied, some even contradictory. Yet the most widely accepted version is that the movement grew as a reaction to the strict formality of orthodox Islam. It shows a spiritual path to mystic union with God. The movement reached its peak in the 13th century and now there are a number of Sufi orders all over the world, the best known among them being the Darveshes of Turkey.

The word Sufi is derived from the Arabic ‘suf’ (wool), referring to the woollen garments worn by Sufi preachers. Woollen clothing was regarded as a symbol of simplicity and also a silent protest against the growing luxuries of the world. Those who lived a simple life and were intoxicated with Truth in any form were called Sufis.

In a scholarly introduction, which runs into 36 pages, the editor traces the evolution of Sufism as complementary to Islam and also as an independent stream of thought which developed after the Prophet. The cornerstone of Sufi thought has been the ‘Pir-Murid’ (master-disciple) relationship in which the disciple, with implicit faith in the master, receives knowledge from him in the form of commandments and Dos and Don’ts.

Of course the Quran remains central to the Sufi approach which also propagates the esoteric significance of religious teachings, but gives them a deeper and wider meaning. The Sufis evolved a path for gaining nearness to God and achieving divine reality, shunning all dogmatic formulations and emphasising a disciplined life free from vice. Because of its simplicity and lack of formalism, Sufism engulfed the world faster than the political spread of Islam.

Muslim conquests of India brought in their wake a large number of Sufis. Originally, they accompanied the invaders and concerned themselves with consolidating Muslim power and converting the local population to Islam. Their patience, tolerance, sympathy and friendly spirit got them Hindu followers.

In later years, many Sufis gave up their evangelist zeal and devoted themselves to a comparative study of the religions and philosophies of India. The philosophical verses of the Sufis, marked by a native spiritual fervour, found instant acceptance by the masses and it became normal for the Hindus and the Muslims to congregate together at the shrines of Sufi saints and sing in chorus. The Sufis, inspired by the Islamic idea of equality, became the torchbearers of a liberal folk philosophy.

One of the earliest proponents of Sufism in North India was Sheikh Ismail Bukhari. The next prominent Sufi preacher was Sheikh Ali ibn-Osman, popularly known as Data Ganj Baksh. His dargah in Lahore still continues to be a highly revered spot. Khwaja Moinuddin, who later settled in Ajmer and became the symbol of Sufism in India and who also founded the Chishtiya sect, is said to have performed ‘spiritual purification’ at the dargah of Data Ganj Baksh.

For this book, the editor has selected nine papers on various aspects of Sufism and the life of some Sufi saints. Prof Mansura Haider, a former head of the Department of History, Aligarh Muslim University, evaluates various aspects of the life and message of Hazrat Ali and studies his multifarious personality. Abdolrahim Gavahi, a former Iranian Ambassador to India, traces the mystical relations between Iran and India with particular reference to Sufism. S. Liaqat H. Moini, Associate Professor, Department of History, AMU, provides an insight into the relationship between the teacher and the seeker.

An Indologist from Russia, Ninel Ghaffurova, describes the parallels in the philosophy of Kabir and Ramakrishna with regard to Sufism. Maksud Ahmad Khan, a lecturer in the Department of History, AMU, deals with the impact of the Sufi movement on the process of urbanisation. Iqbal Sabri, Lecturer in History, AMU, deals with the impact of Ibn Arabi’s thought on the Sufis of India, during the 16th century.

In another article, Maksud Ahmad Khan takes a peep into the life and times of Sheikh Akhi Jamshed Rajgiri of Uchh. Prof Mansura Haider had based her last piece on Mir Saiyed Ali Hamdani and the life and philosophy of this popular saint of his time.