For A More Peaceful World (Part 1) – The Sufis And Their Culture…
The contribution of Rumi, the great Sufi scholar, to mankind’s upliftment, was celebrated by UNESCO by naming 2007 as the Year of Rumi. Rumi’s famous line, “If a drop of water can become the ocean by joining its expanse, why would it choose to become a pearl in a shell?” has enlightened many hearts. Sufi poetry has fascinated millions of Indians for centuries and even inspired many Bollywood songs and dances as well as TV programmes. To a great extent, the spirituality of Hindu and Muslim saints welded so well, that some of the most famous Dargahs of Sufi saints in India are visited by millions of Hindus, Muslims and people belonging to all other religions.
By Vimla Patil
According to researchers, the word Sufi came into vogue a little before the expiry of the second century Hijri or 822 AD. After the death of the Holy Prophet, ‘companions’ was the title adopted by the people of that age. They needed no better title, for companionship was unanimously regarded to be the highest and the best. Those who associated with the ‘companion’ were called Tabe’yin or followers. ‘Followers of the followers’ was the title conferred upon those who sat at the feet of the learned ones. When the Prophet’s lifetime was over, the passion of the followers weakened for a while and a number of systems and orders came to be. Each order was further divided into sects. Seeing this, those who adored God, separated themselves and devoted themselves to the recollection and remembrance of God, the only supreme power according to them. These people were later called the Sufis. They were cut off from the mundane world – for they believed in clean hearts, meditation and spirituality. In their eyes, gold and dust had equal value. Abu Ali al-Rudhbari has defined a Sufi in the following manner: “One who wears wool over his purity, gives his lusts the taste of tyranny, and having overthrown the world, journeys in the pathway of the chosen one i.e. the Prophet.”
The various definitions of Sufism say that this movement teaches how to purify oneself, improve one’s morals and build up one’s inner and outer life in order to attain perpetual bliss. Its subject matter is the purification of the soul and its aim is the attainment of eternal felicity and blessedness. Prominent Sufis who contributed to the stream of philosophy and its growth in many countries of the world were: Imam Qushayri, the author of the great Sufi compendium Rasa’il; Abu Hujaifa; Imam Ghazzali who wrote Al Munquidh min al Dalal; Abu Ali Quazwini; Abu Sahl Sa’luki; Abu Muhammed al Jurayri and Muhammad bin al Qassab. According to these great Sufis, their path is nothing but the purification of the senses and will. It is the effacement of one’s desires in the will of God. It is the building up of a solid wall between the pure self and the vain passions and desires of mankind. Sufism is a purely Islamic discipline which builds up the character and inner life of a Muslim by imposing certain ordinances and duties, obligations and impositions which may not be abandoned in any way by any man.
Sufis, in time, came to designate a group who differentiated themselves from others by emphasis on specific teachings and practices of the Quran and the Sunnah. By the 9th century, the word ‘Tasawwuf’ meaning ‘being a Sufi’ became firmly entrenched in the Arabic language. Sufi orders represent one of the most important forms of piety and social organisation in the Islamic world. The order is called Tarique which is the Arabic word for path or way.
Sufi orders or Tariques include both prayer and service in Muslim history and society. Over the centuries, various Sufi orders developed:
1. Chistiya: Founded by Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti of Ajmer (d. 1142). Its influence prevailed in Central and South Asia. His tomb is in Ajmer, Rajasthan. The spiritual guide of Emperor Akbar was Salim Chisti, whose tomb is venerated in Fatehpur Sikri, near Agra, India.
2. Qadariyah: Founded by Abdul Qudir Jillani (d.1166). This is the most widely recognised order.
3. Shadhiliyah: Founded around Abu al Hasai at Shadhili (d.1258)
4. Surhawadiyah: Based on the teaching of Abu al Najib at Surhawardi (d. 1168).
5. Junaidiyah: Based on the teachings of Abu Qasim at Junaid (d. 910). This order is well known in India.
6. Bistami: Based on the teachings Abu Yazid al Bistami (d. 874)
7. Rifahiyah: Founded by the tariquah of Ahmad al Rifai (d. 1182).
8. Bakkaiyah: Formed around the teachings of Ahmed al Bakkai at Kunti (d.1504). This is popular in West Africa.
This information has been collected in an interview I had with Prof. Zeenat Shaukat Ali, Professor of Islamic Studies, St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, India.
Did you know?
Neil MacGregor, Director, British Museum, recently came to India on a lecture tour. His subject was apt for this age of diversity in human society: “One of the striking aspects of our contemporary world is the ever growing number of centres of power, wealth and influence. It is clearly not possible anywhere now to think of history as the narrative of only one culture engaging with others. As people of different traditions live more and more frequently together, they need to explore the different traditions that they and others carry with them. Looking at objects from different periods and different places lets us travel into many strange worlds of thought and imagination, discovering not just a particular moment in the past but allowing us to explore areas of human experience familiar to us all. The population of the whole world can be found in London today,”
Funnily, MacGregor, on his recent visit to Mumbai, said something we Indians don’t notice or cherish enough. “I had the extraordinary pleasure of discovering India,” he said in an interview, “Silly things were surprising. How much people laugh for instance. That’s not what you hear about other countries.” Coming from one of the world’s most respected art experts, this is a rare compliment for India and Indians!Tagged with: Dargahs • Sufi Culture
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