Peace with All, Love for All and Malice towards None: Peaceful Messages Conveyed By Indian Sufis


Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, Word for Peace Editorial

Sufi Mystics of India were harbingers of sulh-e-kul (peace with all), a Sufi term that essentially means: equal respect for all. Love for all and hatred for none was the legacy of Sufis, as enshrined by the pioneer of Chishti Sufi order in India, Khwaja Moinuddin Chisthi of Ajmer, popularly known as Gharib Nawaz (the benefactor of the poor). This legacy greatly impacted their attitude towards other faith traditions. In keeping with its age-old spiritual tradition fostering interfaith harmony, India has been the land of mystics and Sufi saints.

Sufism is anchored in humanism, universal brotherhood, peace and pluralism, compassion, goodwill and tolerance, in perfect harmony with the composite culture of this country. Sufi teachings are based on pluralistic traditions in full synergy with the notion of unity in diversity. Muslim mystics, dervishes and faqirs reached out to every section of society and preached moderate, progressive, multi-cultural and pluralistic Islamic tradition. They achieved popularity by adopting musical recitations called sama orqawwali to create a mood of nearness to God. More interestingly, they often chose Hindi verses so that they could make a greater impact on the composite culture and society of India.

This was the sole reason behind the wide spread of Sufism in the land of Vedic culture. Thus, the essential and egalitarian values of Islam upheld by Sufis–peace, pluralism, equality, social justice and brotherhood of mankind– attracted countless numbers of Indians.

The true Sufis should have no room for retrogressive precepts and ritualistic practices in the name of Islam. Among all the mystical movements and spiritual interpretations of Islam, the common cause was walking away from the priestly domination and obsession with false rituals and dogmas.

Before beginning with the subject matter, we should elaborat the basic concepts of Sufism such as tawheed (oneness of God), wahdatul wujud(unity of existence), ilmul yaqeen (knowledge with firm faith), zikr(incantation), muraqaba (meditation), observance of taqwa (God-consciousness) and tawba (repentance on sins), ikhlas (sincerity), tawakkul (contentment), sidq (truthfulness), amanah (trustworthiness), istiqamah(uprightness) and shukr (thankfulness). It is only after mastering these higher spiritual traits that a Sufi draws closer to the Almighty and deserves to be called Wali Allah (friend of God).

With special reference to the contemporary India, the impact of Sufism can be seen through the prism of arts and culture in the country. The multi-faceted Sufi tradition reflects an essentially pluralistic and composite culture that connects people of this country beyond a great many barriers. The most redeeming features of Sufism’s appeal in India, as anywhere else, are its inherent openness, wide embrace, tolerance and its accommodating nature. Therefore, Sufism is rightly considered a completely peaceful, non-confrontationist and inclusive spiritual trend in India. No wonder then, a great many Indian Sufis, like Khwaja Gharib Nawaz Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer, Baba Fariduddin of Pakpattan and Delhis Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia and Chiragh Dilli left an everlasting and magnetic impact on the elite and common masses alike.

As a result, they were loved and admired by all and sundry. Kings and commoners, elites and laymen, intellectuals and illiterate ones and the poor and the rich were equally enchanted by the immense sincerity and simplicity in their lives. What actually appealed to all, regardless of caste and creed, was the Sufi saints humanism. It was upheld by their shrines and khanqas running across the country as seminaries (madrasas) of mystical learning, experience and enlightenment. The curriculums of those madrasas were so broad and inclusive in their worldview that students and disciples from all backgrounds were cordially welcomed. In such Sufi khanqas and madrasas, devotional songs were composed in different vernacular languages and Sufi music (sima) was considered a manifestation of complete submission to Allah.

One of the most glorious impacts of Sufism on Indian society is the widespread phenomenon of social integration and day-to-day interactions between common Muslims and non-Muslims. Not long ago, many non-Muslim brethren, particularly from among Hindus and Sikhs, chose to become Murid (disciples) of great Sufi saints. It was the mystical impact of Sufism on composite Indian culture that inspired the Bhakti movement in southern India first and then in northern India. Even Sikhism preached by Guru Nanak was greatly influenced by the Islamic mysticism (tasawwuf) due to its emphasis on monotheism and rejection of caste system.

However, at the end of this discussion, the question arises: whether Sufis preached their peaceful messages with intent to convert others to their own faith? In reply to this, I would say that Sufis were hardly interested in converting followers of other faiths; rather they were actively engaged and keenly interested in conveying their messages without trying to convert the audience. However, later on, many families and groups of Muslim converts attributed their conversion to the good wishes or blessings of these saints.

Nevertheless, I regret that the true spirit of Sufi culture and tradition in the country is now beginning to wean off. It has been reduced to only occasional Shrine visitation, spiritual consultation or observance of particular routine rituals and festivals, he said. Today’s fakirs and pirs seem to have done away with their effort to keep alive the Sufism-inspired mystical culture of pluralism and moderation. Though they still engage in their occupations in the mazars (Sufi shrines), that outnumber even mosques and madrasas in some areas, they have almost lost an impacting legacy that continued to preach peace and moderation down the ages. Now their business is merely providing spiritual consultation to the shrine visitors and devotees, who look up to them as their peer-o-murshid (spiritual gurus) and seek consultation in relation to their mundane worldly affairs.

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