WordForPeace.com Editorial Note:
There have always been a variety of ways of looking at the Qur’an within different cultural and historic contexts spanning the classical and modern period in the Islamic history. Mystic theologians like Rumi were trying to explain and appropriate the Qur’an relevant to modern times, and at the same time espousing a very critical approach towards the organised clergy vs. the scriptures. In general, Sufi reflection on the Quranic texts has frequently resulted in rich philosophical thoughts, which can be gauged in both classical and modern periods. Indian Islamic scholar and academician of Persian language, Dr Hafeezur Rahman, explains the relevance of Rumi as Theologian and Qur’an Commentator and reason for his influence on Sufi orders in South Asia..
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Rahman, who also authored, Rumi – The Guide and Philosopher, and is the founder and president of Sufi Peace Foundation, explains the multi-dimensional personality of Rumi.
Anadolu Agency (AA): What is the relevance of Mevlana Jalaludin Rumi in South Asia? What actually led you to research on a Sufi saint who has never lived in South Asia?
Hafeezur Rahman (HR): In 2005, I was invited to visit Istanbul in the month of March and I attended a whirling dervish Sema. That was when I decided to work on Rumi and his impact on the thoughts of Indian scholars. Yes, it is true, that he was born in Persia, studied in Damascus, was buried in Turkey. Apparently, there is no connection with South Asia, but Rumi rules in the hearts and minds of people in the Indian subcontinent.
To your first question, it is actually Rumi’s approach of love and compassion in his works, irrespective of race, religion, and gender that makes him popular. At this time when the entire world is suffering from hate in the name of race, religion and gender, Rumi’s universal appeal based on humanity and unity is appealing.
AA: How have his teachings affected or influenced the Sufi order in South Asia?
HR: Rumi is a multidimensional personality. He is an Islamic scholar, a jurist, theologian, a master commentator of Holy Quran and Hadith, a linguistic, poet, philosopher and mystic.
He influenced Sufi orders in different ways. Among Chishtiya order he is popular for his mystic poetry sung by Qawwals. His concept of love and harmony appeals to Chishtiya order. For Qadriya, Naqshbandia and Soharwardia orders, his appeal stems from his way of life as a true follower of the Quran and prophet. Rumi claims that for him mysticism is nothing, except following the Quranic teaching and prophet.
Sufi orders in South Asia
AA: What are the different Sufi orders in the Indian subcontinent? And how do they differ from each other?
HR: In the Indian subcontinent or South Asia, we have all the four major Sufi orders Qadriya, Chishtiya, Naqshbandia and Soharwardia.
The majority of people follow the Chishtiya order, because it was introduced by Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti (1142–1236), responsible for preaching Islam in North India. It is believed that some 9 million people converted to Islam in the subcontinent because of his teachings of unique brotherhood and harmony irrespective of cast, gender and belief. He also initiated the Qawwali, a form of devotional music. The idea behind it is adopting and accepting local traditions and using them as tools to make people aware about Islamic teachings.
Qadiriya order was introduced by dependents of Shaikh Syed Abdul Qadir Jilani of Baghdad who migrated to India. This order is more confined to focus on Shariah traditions. They do not permit Qawwali or Sema like Chishtiya. It is the second largest tradition, since Maulana Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi was also a strict follower of Qadriya order. He popularized it. Till then, it was the abode of elite Muslims.
Naqshbandia order is admired by the clergies of Delhi, Lahore, Hyderabad and Kashmir. It was introduced by Hazrat Khwaja Baqi Billah of Delhi but was made popular by his disciple Imam Rabbani Shailh Ahmed Farooqui Sarhindi, during Mughal emperor Jahangir’s time in the 17th century.
Following Naqshbandia order is not an easy task for a common man because of its strict discipline and commitment to follow shariah in letter and spirit. Sohardwardia order is prevalent in Afghanistan and Bangladesh. But has limited disciples in India and Pakistan.
AA: When you said that in the Indian subcontinent, the order of Sheikh Syed Abdul Qadir Jilani of Baghdad and Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti prevails, how has Rumi succeeded to find a space?
HR: The uniqueness of Rumi’s order is that it is hidden among both of them. His idea of Wahdat ul Wujood (unity of being), Sema, poetry, whirling dervish, love and companionship toward humanity, are in some way hallmark of the Chishti order as well. In a way, Rumi’s order is a combination of Chishtiya and Qadirya. He is followed by different orders in different ways because of his philosophy and work. We cannot limit him in any particular Sufi order. He has emerged an ambassador of peace, therefore, his appeal is universal.
Theory of Wahdat ul Wujood
AA: Rumi’s philosophy of Wahdat ul Wujood has generated a fierce debate over the centuries. What is this philosophy and why has it been so controversial?
HR: Actually, the idea of Wahdat ul Wujood was propounded by Imam Hussain ibne Ali for the first time in his book Mirar ul Arifeen. He wrote this book, in response to questions from his son Imam Zainul Abedin about Surah Fatiha, the first chapter of the holy Quran. He interpreted the philosophy of Wahdat ul Wujood. It was rediscovered by Shaikh Mohiuddin Ibne Arabi and then reintroduced by Rumi. The concept got popularity in South Asia, as it found followers like Shaikh Muhibhulah Allahbadi, Sarmad Shaheed and Prince Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Mughal emperor Shahjahan.
Rumi himself has emphasized that mysticism is nothing except following Quranic teachings and the prophet’s life. He was a true follower of Ibne Arabi who was the greatest exponent of this philosophy. In India, sufis have drawn their ideological and spiritual strength from the pantheistic doctrines to build an ideological bridge between Islam and Hinduism. It is a way to entice Hindus to study and attract them toward Islamic teachings.
One Persian couplet of famous poet Saadi Shirazi, Bani Adam Azai ek Digarand ( All sons of Adam are limbs of each other) or Rumi’s universal appeal toward humanity are the better examples to understand the true meaning of Wahdat ul Wujood.
Rumi and Iqbal
AA: Famous poet and philosopher Muhammad Iqbal has mentioned Rumi as his spiritual guide. What is so common between the two and the influence of Rumi on Iqbal’s poetry?
HR: In South Asia, Bu Ali Shah Qalandar was the first who introduced Rumi’s name and his philosophy in the 13th century. Perhaps Bu Ali had met Rumi. Iqbal reached the highest position as true follower of Rumi. Besides Rumi, Iqbal has quoted other philosophers like Attar, Sanai, Khusro and Syed Jamaluddun Afghani as well, but he has stayed closest to Rumi. Iqbal wrote his magnum opus Javed Nama in response to western philosophy.
Iqbal in his prayers has asked for dynamism of Rumi, and said that [his spiritual] Master Rumi has transformed him from dust to alchemy and changed his body into an effulgent one.
The fundamental aspect of the entire philosophy of Iqbal is the realization of Khudi or self. This highest spiritual state can be attained by observing the idea of love as divine ecstasy that elevate man to a higher spiritual level. Rumi attached special importance to love at the very beginning of his Masnavi which Iqbal followed in his book Asrar-e khudi.
AA: What is actually is the secret that Rumi’s poetry which despite being in Persian has transcended linguistic and physical boundaries?
HR: There are several ways which made Rumi the master beyond boundaries. Among that his most popular one-liner is:
Tu barai wasl kardan amadi,
Neh barai fasl kardan amadi.
You (the sufis and saints) have been sent to unite, not to divide.
As I told you Rumi’s appeal is universal. He believes in unity of being and universal brotherhood. He has joined hearts. His Masnavi joins the soul. He said:
“Love, be it real or metaphorical, ultimately takes humans to God.”
And that is his basic idea which transcended Rumi beyond physical and linguistic boundaries.