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Sufism – The essence of Indian Islam and its impact on the Muslim world

Indian Sufism Serves Today As the True Essence of the Pluralistic Indo-Islamic Heritage Which Is Increasingly Influencing the Islamic World At Large

WORD FOR PEACE

By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi

7 June 2023

Indian Sufism is well anchored in universal humanism, egalitarian values of brotherhood, peace and pluralism, and thus it remains the bedrock of the composite Indian culture with the common good (Khair) and goodwill (Khair-Khwahi) as its foundational principles…..

Major Sufi Orders were born outside the Indian sub-continent. However, they gained maximum momentum only in India with the Qadiriyya, Chishtiyya, Naqshbandiyya, and Suhrawardiyya emanating from Central Asia.

In contemporary India, the multi-faceted Chishti Sufi tradition reflects an essentially pluralistic and composite culture that connects the people of this country beyond barriers.

Chishti Sufi masters of India– right from Khwaja Gharib Nawaz of Ajmer Sharif to Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia left an everlasting and magnetic impact on the social fabric of the country.

India has been the land of both Hindu/Buddhist mystics and Sufi saints as a centre of ‘universal spirituality’. Indian Sufism is anchored in universal humanism, egalitarian values of brotherhood, peace and pluralism, and thus it remains the bedrock of the composite Indian culture with the common good (Khair) and goodwill (Khair-Khwahi) as its foundational principles. The core teachings of Indian Sufi saints are based on pluralistic traditions that are in sync with the notion of ‘unity in diversity’. Thus, they preached a multicultural, vibrant, progressive, and pluralistic Islamic tradition, which was the key reason behind its popularity in the land of Vedic spirituality.

Along with the Chishti tradition, numerous Sufi Silsilas (orders) like Naqshbandiyya, Suhrawardiyya, and Quadriyah were propagated by the Sufi saints in India. The major and most prominent Sufi Orders were born outside the Indian sub-continent. However, they gained maximum momentum only in India with the Qadiriyya, Chishtiyya, Naqshbandiyya, and Suhrawardiyya emanating from Central Asia. Within these Sufi Orders, numerous Indian-origin Silsilas and various new branches of Sufism sprang up in different parts of India. They were propounded and systematized by the Indian Muslim Mystics who were imbued with the local culture, indigenous spiritual traditions, and vernacular religious ethos. For instance—Silsilah Madariyya, Qalandariyya, Shattariyya, Safawiyya, and Naqshbandiyya-Mujaddidiyya are some of those Sufi Orders which emerged organically within the Indian-origin Sufism.

Notably, Ajmer Sharif is the prime Sufi shrine in India with its anniversary (Urs) being one of the largest spiritual congregations in the world. The 811th Urs of Ajmer Sharif recently concluded. On this occasion, followers of all faith traditions flock to the shrine of the 11th-century Sufi mystic who founded the Chishti Sufi order in India — Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, popularly known as Gharib Nawaz (benefactor of the poor). The annual occasion of Urs is observed to mark the death anniversary of the departed Sufi soul. But historically, the Urs of Ajmer Sharif has been seen as a congregation of followers of all religions who participate in the shrine visitation with equal veneration.

The annual Urs tradition in Ajmer Sharif began in 1236 when Gharib Nawaz, after praying in seclusion for six continuous days, met his Lord and thus achieved divine salvation. For Sufi Mystics like Khwaja Gharib Nawaz, death was their spiritual wedding; the divine union and therefore their lovers and followers have always celebrated it. Since then the annual Urs has been observed for six days as an occasion for spreading Khawaja’s core messages: love for all, hatred for none, social amity, communal harmony, and spiritual synergy. In fact, the Urs celebrations like the one in Ajmer Sharif greatly contribute to the strengthening of the mystical foundations on which the country’s composite culture rests. They reveal how different religions and cultures in India coexisted, exchanged, and accepted each other’s universal values in order to formulate a composite society.

In contemporary India, the multi-faceted Chishti Sufi tradition reflects an essentially pluralistic and composite culture that connects the people of this country beyond barriers. The most positive aspect of the shrine-based Chishti Sufism’s appeal in India is its inherent openness, wide embrace, tolerance, and its accommodating nature.

Chishti Indian Sufi masters right from Hazrat Khwaja Gharib Nawaz Moinuddin Hasan Chishti of Ajmer Sharif to Delhi’s Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki and Mahbub-e-Ilahi Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia to Chiragh-e-Dehli Khwaja Nasiruddin Chiragh Dehlavi; all these prominent proponents of the Chishti Silsilah left an everlasting and magnetic impact on the social fabric of the country.

Now let’s understand how Sufism as the true essence of Indian Islam is antidote to global radical and extremist Islamist movements.

In the wake of the 9/11 bombings, Sufism emerged globally as the alternative peaceful and spiritually-inclined strain of Islam helping in peace making and counter-extremism. Radical ideologues of pan-Islamism worked out a complete theology of anti-pluralism seeking to justify extremist thoughts and actions, sectarian conflicts, faith-based violence, wanton killing of civilians and suicide-bombing.

Against this backdrop, a rational and consistent narrative of peace and counter-extremism within an Islamic framework was called for. Therefore, noted Sufi scholars, especially in India as well as across the rest of the world brainstormed ways to tackle the onslaught of religious extremism catching the imagination of many young Muslim practitioners. In a bid to refute extremism on ideological grounds, they articulated a Sufism-inspired approach to peace and de-radicalization of the vulnerable sections of society. Thus, an Islam-based Sufi narrative of peace, counter-extremism and de-radicalization grounded in refutation of the extremist underpinnings was laid down within the framework of Indian Islam. Following this Indian model, rigorous Sufi activism aimed at finding concrete counterpoints to extremism has been geared up in the Middle East, Europe and America, South Asia and other parts of the world.

Until recently, Sufi Islam was not fashionable for many Muslim countries. Rather, it was shunned not only by the upper class, government, military, and bureaucrats but also by the Ulema, Islamic authorities, clergymen and religious experts. But a reversing viewpoint is emerging now in the Muslim world and several Arab countries. Both the states and Ulema of many Muslim countries are beginning to embrace Sufism as a much more tolerant version of Islam that can better equip them to counter the rise of radicalism and extremism in their own Islamic lands. This is an out-and-out impact of India’s counter-extremism efforts imbued with its deeply seated local traditions of Sufism.

This article was originally posted at NewAgeIslam.com

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4 Comments

  1. All these Sufi saints and orders were once part of our syllabus in social studies I don’t know whether this is still being taught in school…. I doubt children of this generation no anything about Sufi schools of thought.
    Anyway it is nice to read your article 👍🏼

  2. You should have a discussion on your channel with other scholars about the state of Sufism currently in India.

    Vaishali Bhanot Sharma

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