Reflections on Islam, Sufism, the Upanishads…

By Sumit S Paul

The recent bombing by a female IS supporter of the great Sufi shrine Sehwan Sharif in Pakistan, killing 72 innocent Sufis and injuring 150, is a stark sign that Sufi Islam is increasingly at the receiving end of religious fundamentalism. The rigid and puritanical Sunni Islam never approved of Sufism because the former finds the latter to be closer to Vedantic and Upanishadic Hinduism (refer to John Baldock’s ‘Essence of Rumi’). But to quote the English scholar of Arabic and Quranic studies, Sir Hamilton Gibb, ‘Thanks to Sufism, Islam is still alive.’ The so-called heretics and apostates (murtad in Arabic) perpetuated the pristine essence of Islam and Upanishadic teachings of Hinduism. Sufism is where the most sublime manifestation of Islam finds its foothold. I’ve gone beyond namaaz, 5-time Islamic prayers, and mosque/I don’t even give importance to roza, Islamic fast/My heart is a home to god/I just know, how to spread love in all directions,’ Hakim Sanai’s Pahalavi quatrain illustrates Sufi love (contrary to the general view that Central Asian mystics like Rumi, Hafiz Shirazi, Attar, Sanai, Khaqani, Jami among others wrote in Persian, they mostly penned their mystic verses either in archaic Persian, known as Pahalavi, or in Dari, the Afghan variant of Persian).

The non-ritualistic Sufism has been at the loggerheads with the puritanical Islam right from its inception. Persian mystic Mansoor Al-Hallaj was excoriated in the 10th century for his Upanishadic proclamation: Anal-Haqq (Aham Brahmasmi- I’m the god or absolute/infinite reality- in Sanskrit). Even the great Jalaluddin Rumi unwittingly invited the ire of the fundamentalists of his time and his putative master Attar was called a ‘zahmeen’ (Persian for a rabid atheist and an enemy of god)!

‘All are in my embrace/Regardless of country, religion and race’, said Hafiz Shirazi nearly a millennium ago. Sufism doesn’t prescribe a fixed pattern of worship. It’s not even rigidly and unyieldingly monotheistic, the fundamental parameter of being a Muslim. Many of the Sufis never went for Haj (Islamic pilgrimage). Wrote Fariduddin Attar, ‘Polytheists, monotheists, atheists, fire and idol worshippers, all are in my fold/The only condition is to have a heart of gold.’

Though Sufis belonged to an inexorably rigid monotheistic religion (Islam) like the other two Semitic faiths, viz., Christianity and Judaism, Islamic Sufism borrowed heavily from the Eastern religions like Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. Sufis were moved by Upanishadic exuberance and expansiveness. They were also influenced by the early monotheistic Hinduism. When Jami says, ‘Don’t fight/All could be right’, one’s reminded of the Syadvaad or Anekatvaad (Pluralism) of Jainism.

When Khaqani says, ‘Tareefat atavim‘ [Compassion is the root in Pahalavi], Buddha’s ‘Compassion is the key’ comes to the mind. This syncretism of Sufism is its kernel and here lies its universal appeal which hardcore Islam finds to be incongruous with its illiberal interpretation of Islam and Quaranic teachings. It’s time, the message of Sufism got disseminated everywhere and the fundamentalists understood the universality of Sufi teachings and its all-encompassing love. Just because early Hinduism cast a positive shadow over Sufism, the latter must not be on the radar of Islamic fundamentalism. To quote Rabindranath Tagore, ‘The world needs a mystic’s universal and inclusive love, not the exclusive love of a faithful.’ So very true. Are the zealots listening?

First posted on milligazette

 

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