By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi
In an article published in The Guardian dated, 23 October 2014, Jason Webster explained how Sufism runs as 'a natural antidote to fanaticism'. Sufism-inspired discourses on peacemaking and counter-extremism and deradicalisation have created interesting debates, enlarging the ambit of modern approaches to peace, pluralism and non-violence. Obviously, a Sufi is not much of a social scientist or a strategist, the pluralistic Sufi concepts and mystically-inclined Islamic narratives of peace and counter-extremism are worth deliberating.
In 2003, Stephen Schwartz wrote a groundbreaking book "Two Faces Of Islam: Saudi Fundamentalism and Its Role in Terrorism" in which he explained that Sufism is a "mystical branch" of Islam- the second largest religion of the world which has been conflated in sections of the media and academia, over a period of time, with violent extremism, exclusivism, puritanical fundamentalism, xenophobia and religo-facism. Given this, he hypothesised that an objective analysis of the mystical narrative of peace and counter-extremism and its ideological underpinnings in Islam will trigger an avid interest both in media and academia.
In the wake of the 9/11 bombings, a considerable corpus of literate was devoted to explain how peculiar and idiosyncratic elements of religion can motivate both violence and non-violence. Scholars well-versed in the sociology of world religions reproduced holistic analyses of the different, vibrant and myriad spiritual theories of peace and non-violence that emanate from the mystical interpretations of all religions. In the case of Islam, Sufism emerged as the spiritually-inclined version of faith helping in peacemaking and eradicating violence and extremism. Case studies of different religions and populations of faith adherents have been examined as practical applications of religions' spiritual resources for counter-extremism.
On the contrary, the radical Islamist ideologues of the sectarian hue worked out a complete theology of anti-pluralism seeking to justify extremist thoughts and actions, sectarian conflicts, faith-inspired violence, wanton killing of civilians and suicide-bombing.
In this backdrop, a rational and consistent narrative of peace and counter-extremism within an Islamic framework was called for. Therefore, noted Sufi scholars, not only in India but 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.
The first research-based Sufi activism in this ideological field can be traced back to the post-9/11 outburst of views and debates on khilafah (caliphate), jihadism, hijrah (migration to lands of Islam), hakimiyah (divine rule on the earth) and other drives of religious extremism propounded by the radical Wahhabism. Since then, Sufi leaders and scholars have been seen in the global media as well as academia countering the violent extremism, intolerance, xenophobia, religio-fascism and other supremacist and exclusivist thoughts.
Remarkably, the first focus on this energetic facet of Sufism was carried out by Idries Shah around 50 year ago. Entitled "The Sufis", his book had the renowned western writer Robert Graves writing a foreword for it. It was praised as "a seminal book of the century" by The Washington Post. Since then, much of the work on the similar lines has been carried out.
Of late, 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. A considerable number of seminal research works on this subject have been accomplished in many peer-reviewed academic journals. Equally important is the increasing number of books and monographs on these themes as produced in the academic arena.
A recently-published book "State and Nation-Building in Pakistan: Beyond Islam and Security" mentioned that the former Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf needed to reinforce Sufi liberal attitudes to mitigate the sectarian conflicts in the country. "He (Musharraf) launched the concept of Enlightened Moderation at the 2002 Organization of the Islamic Conference meeting in Malaysia and emphasized Sufi teachings as a counter to extremism. In November 2006, he launched a National Sufi Council amidst great fanfare". Government efforts ensured that the Sufi-oriented religious scholars of the Pakistani Education Board, Tanzimul Madaris discourage and rebut the twisted ideas leading to acts of terror and suicide bombing.
Until recently, Sufi Islam was not fashionable for many Pakistani Muslims. Rather, it was shunned not only by the upper class, government, military, and bureaucrats but also by academic and intellectual circles. But a reversing viewpoint is emerging now. Both academicians and bureaucrats are beginning to actively support Sufism as a much more tolerant version of Islam that can better equip them 'to counter the rise of Islamic extremism in Pakistan'.
A ground-breaking work entitled "Re-Appropriating Sufi Authorship in New Media" clearly asserts that "Different factions of upper- and upper-middle-class Pakistani society-including politicians, intellectuals, filmmakers, and celebrities-have joined together to raise their voices in opposition to the extremist threat by reaffirming Sufism" (Cynthia Chris, David A. Gerstner, 2013).
At a time when Muslims are faced with the present-day cancer of growing sectarianism looming large in the global Islamic societies, Sufism is looked up to as a panacea for these ills.
Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS and all other terrorist organizations and un-Islamic elements have destroyed the brotherhood of mankind that was once established by the Sufi hospices. They go to the extent of brutal and bloodthirsty massacre of common civilians and non-combatant innocent Muslims as in Iraq and Syria in particular. At this juncture, Sufism comes as a rescue to the oppressed, because it rejects all extremist ideas and actions outright. Sufis were vehemently opposed to the brazen violation of human rights enshrined in Islam and exhorted the Muslim youth to shun takfiri indoctrination and wrong interpretations of the Quran and Hadith that go against the consensus of the Ummah. Even today, they denounce- in the harshest words- the wanton killing of civilians, destruction of property and wealth, rebellion against the government, accusing Muslims of kufr (Takfirism), demolition of shrines on both local and global levels. In clear and categorical words, it rebutted all intellectual, social, religious, political and economic or ideological terrorism.
While affirming the importance and the need of reviving Sufism, there is greater need to inculcate universal and egalitarian values-brotherhood of humankind, compassion, acceptance and tolerance, social affinity and national harmony. This is impossible in the Muslim society without promoting the tolerant, spiritual and moderate version of Islam.
However, the Sufi divines would do a great help to Indian Muslims if they do not merely reiterate "reformist Sufism" in the name of revival of Sufism. They need to support the non-conformist form of Sufism which is in full accordance with the universal prophetic traditions and in complete synergy with the spiritual and saintly righteous Muslims. We never endorse ignorance or illiteracy in the name of Sufism. Anything in the name of Sufism that doesn't reflect itself in accordance with the Quran and Sunnah is null and void. Therefore, along with the revivalist Sufism, we strive to stress the need for the reformist Sufism.
Going by history, this is an eternal fact that Islam in India owes much of its existence to Sufi Mashaikh, Saints and Dervishes. In the 13th century, Khwaja Ghareeb Nawaz came to India and his arrival in India is regarded a great milestone in the path of love, equality, spirituality and peaceful Dawah work.
Hazrat Khwaja Ghareeb Nawaz (r.a) pioneered the composite culture in India which still remains well-spirited, widely accepted and appreciated by the majority of Indian people. After Khwaja Ghareeb Nawaz, Khwaja Qutbuddin Bhaktiyar Kaki, Baba Farid, Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya, Makhdum Sayed Ashraf Jahangir Simnani and Ameer Khusro took this cause of eternal salvation ahead. They devotedly taught and promoted unconditional love, peace and all-embracing spirituality. Mere the reality that the shrines of these saints are still captivating people from all faith traditions, even after 800 years is self-explanatory that Sufism is a vital help in the current situation of hatred and malice.
In the backdrop of this, modern Sufis have come all out of their conclaves and hospices. They are declaring that the evils of ideological terrorism and extremism, materialism and opportunism can only be wiped out from the society through the restoration of Sufism, propagation of its peaceful massages, humane nature helping in the cessation of extremist thoughts and hardcore philosophies.
On the other hand, many anti-Sufism movements reared their head in the Muslim societies in the 19th century. They began to disparage Sufis as pseudo-Islamic spiritual masters. Though pacifist by nature, some well-spirited and energetic Sufis retorted this accusation calling it a tide of ideological extremism deep-rooted in the Muslim history. They link it with the ideology of Kharjism which basically emerged in the caliphate of Hazrat Ali (r.a), and was propagated among the Muslim fringes on the pretext of Qur'an and hadith, Prophetic sayings. In this beginning, Sufi divines remained confined to their shrines. As a result, particular Islamsit factions started adopting extremism, hatred, takfirism and wanton killing. This is, they view, is something that has brought the wider Muslim world and Middle East in particular to a grim and gory situation.
World Sufi Forum is going to begin in New Delhi at 7 pm on Thursday and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to begin his speech at around 7.30 pm. Click here to know more about the World Sufi Forum.