By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi
A mystic, moralist and excellent calligrapher of the Quran, Malik bin Dinar was the earliest Sufi saint in South India. He was reportedly among Prophet Muhammad’s noble companions who reached the coastal areas of Malabar. The advent of Islam in South India is attributed to these early Muslim mystic’s arrival in the region in the Prophet’s lifetime. It is believed that the first mosque in India known as “Malik Dinar Masjid” was built by Malik bin Dinar in 603 AD. Notably, this first Islamic structure in India beautifully incorporated a pure Keralite style of architecture.
Remarkably, Malik, the foremost Muslim mystic in India, wielded a major influence upon the early mystics of Islam in Arabia, like Hasan Basri and Rabia al-Adawiyya, as recorded in the Islamic history. He is particularly noted for propounding and promulgating the Sufi view of the “inner jihad” (struggle against one’s baser instincts and wicked desires). One of the Arabic anecdotes attributed to Malik is: jaahidu ahwa’akum kama tujahidun a‘da’akum, meaning: struggle against your mundane desires just as you defend yourselves against your enemies.
Malik showed great veneration to all faith traditions in India. He was immensely inspired by the spiritual ideals of the Prophet Isaa (Jesus Christ). He mastered the various popular commentaries of the Quran and exegesis of other religious scriptures like the New Testament.
An authentic oral traditionalist in the Islamic theology, Malik bin Dinar is reported to have said: I have seen in the heavenly scriptures that Allah has bestowed two blessings upon the mankind that were not destined even for the angles. The first blessing is what God tells us in the Quran: “Remember me and I will make remembrance of you.” And the second bounty is what your Lord says: “Call upon me; I will respond to you.” This has been further elucidated in a hadith, the Prophetic tradition as reported in Musnad Ahmad that Allah says: “Whoever makes remembrance of me to himself, I make remembrance of him to my self. And whoever makes remembrance of me in a gathering, I make remembrance of him in a gathering better than his gathering.”
The 12th century Sufi theoretician and poet Sheikh Fariddun Attar who had a lasting influence on the prominent Persian Sufi poets like Rumi writes in the famous book Tazkirah-e-Awliya (memoir of the saints): A person asked Malik bin Dinar: what is the thing you consider the most destructive? Malik replied: It is the death of a heart, which is borne out of a baser instinct or mundane desire.
He is also reported to have said that, an alim (scholar) remains a knowledgeable person as long as s/he believes that over every possessor of knowledge, there is always one more knowledgeable. The day s/he harbours a feeling of being the most knowledgeable himself/herself, s/he turns a jahil (ignoramus).