Ibn al-Arabi, Spain’s brightest Muslim mystic, also known as “Shaikh-e-Akbar” (the greatest Sufi master), wrote Tarjuman al-ashwaq (Translation of Desires) in his sacred book in Arabic:
“My heart is capable of every form; it is a pasture for gazelles and a monks’ convent, a temple for idols and the Ka’ba for pilgrims, and the Torah and Qur’an tables. I follow the religion of love everywhere its caravans go. Love is my religion, and love is my law.”
In addition, mystics like Ibn al-Arabi, who harbored the egalitarian and pluralistic spirit of Sufism, preserved the soul of Islam. They professed and practiced Islam (muhabbat-e-a’am) as the religion of unconditional love. Both their deen (faith) and shariat (law) have been translated into a love of inclusiveness. Therefore, within Islam, the extremist forces frowned upon their shrines and spiritual traditions, challenging their exclusive philosophies. Recently we have witnessed the atrocity of terror against the Sufi shrines, such as that of the beloved saint of Sindh, Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan. Popularly known as “Jhulelal,” Shahbaz Qalandar was an Islamic mystic and poet from the 13th century, who founded Sindh’s Sufi tradition. He was also an devoted follower of the course of unconditional love for everlasting redemption practiced by Ibn al-Arabi. But religious extremists today are striking against the entire spiritual legacy of Qalandar in the region. It reminds us of the different similar historical tragedies which offer us a deeper insight into the dilemma.
Another subcontinent muslim mystic, Hazrat Bulleh Shah, a Punjabi Sufi, also faced similar torment from the religious clerics during his life. Regrettably enough, even as he took his last breath he was being abused. The fanatic clergy did not allow Bulleh Shah’s dead body to be buried on the Muslim cemetery. After his death, three days passed but his remains had not been buried. Finally, they were for burial to be taken outside the city limits.
It’s crystal-clear why Bulleh Shah had to go through this painful suffering. He questioned the theological ideology of fanatism and persecution of all religions and got into trouble with his time’s militant clergy. In addition, this Punjabi Sufi professed and gave the namaz-e-ishq (prayer for love), which in puritan Islam is often punished as deviance. In reality, Islam’s musically inclined perceptions went beyond the head of the literalist Islamist clergy, who sentenced Sufis to death with the charges (fatwas) that proclaimed their writings and utterances anti-Islamic shariah. Some Sufis were proclaimed apostates (murtad) because of their non-conformist beliefs like the notion of Wahdatul Wajud (unity of existence). They were punished and persecuted for being falsely accused by the Shariat (Islamic laws) of “deviation” (inhiraf).
But in fact, in our daily lives, the mystic traditions of Sufis have been very helpful , particularly in overcoming the static, desiccated and monolithic religious narratives that have fallen into our society. At a time when human life is being bartered for small-scale theological polemics driven by political interests, the fundamentally universal, non-conformist and ultimately mystical worldview can only save us from this religion-dressed crisis.