Muslims in India are as diverse as India herself. Islam in India – a movie in two parts by Prashun Bhaumik.
Kaagaa sab tan khaiyo, chun chun khaiyo maans,
Do nenan mat khaiyo, mohe piyaa milan ki aas
(O crow eat my body and every morsel of my flesh
But pray eat not my eyes for they wait for the sight of the Beloved)
– Hazrat Baba Farid
The above composition by Hazrat Fariduddin Ganj-i Shakar fondly called Baba Farid, a sufi from Punjab and a disciple of Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, captures in one couplet the soul of Sufism. It is said that once Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, asked Baba Farid, to go into 40-day seclusion while hanging upside down in a well. Baba Farid hung motionless in meditation, mistaking him for a corpse the crows began to gather around him, that was when he composed the above lines.
Sufism or tassawuf can be simply defined as the mystical dimension of Islam. It is one of the greatest schools of mysticism which has not only survived the test and tribulation of time but continues to flourish today in all its infinite shades. Sufism, like a flowing river, defies description. To know it, one must experience it: drink its waters, swim in it and drown in it to eventually merge with the Ocean.
Sufism has emerged out of the esoteric significance attached by an important section of Muslims to the words of the Quran. The elevated feeling of Divine apprehension of which the Prophet often spoke, the depth and passion of his ecstatic rapture which characterised his devotions constitute the foundations of Sufism. The Islamic doctrine of ’inward light’ inspired the early Muslim ascetics to lead a contemplative life, devoted to a higher yearning after the Infinite. Sufism is based on the idea among nobler Muslim minds that there is a deeper and more inward sense in the verses of the Quran. This belief did not arise from the wish to escape from the rigour of ‘texts and dogmas’ but from a deep conviction that the words of the Quran mean more, not less, than the popular expounders supposed them to convey. The word Sufism originally called Tasawuff in Arabic and Urdu, is derived from the word ‘suf’ which means ‘wool’ in Arabic, alluding to the coarse woollen garment worn by the first generation of Muslim ascetics .
Artist’s impression of Baba Farid [Photo: Sikhiwiki.org ]
Sufis believe that they live in this world but are not of it: they posses nothing and are possessed by nothing. However following the basic tenets of the Quran and the service of fellow humans are an integral part of Sufism .The Path to God, according to the Prophet, is threefold: the sharia (the words of the Prophet), the tariqa (his actions), and haqiqa (his interior states. According to the Sufis, the seeker of Truth by intensive inwardness and communion with God can rise by successive stages of adoration to a state of consciousness when she can actually have a vision of the divine essence. The various steps or stages along the path are known as maqam (pl. maqamat). The first step along the Path is for the adept to form the niyat (the resolve or intention); followed by tauba (repentance and renunciation). She is now on the firmly on the Path, this stage is called mujahadah (striving and struggle with the carnal self). After a prolonged mujahadah the ecstatic soul appears in the Presence still veiled, this stage is called muhazara. The next maqam is the lifting of the veil of ignorance (mukashafa) and finally when God becomes revealed to the devotee’s heart and she begets divine Vision this stage is called mushahada .
SUFI ORDERS (SILSILAS)
In the later years, brotherly love began to be emphasised in the social discourse of the Sufis reflecting the Prophetic tradition of ‘Al-mu’min mir’at al-mu’min’ (the faithful is the mirror of the faithful). When a Sufi notices a weakness in his neighbour he is supposed to correct this very weakness in himself. Brotherly love was to be extended not just to other Sufis but to whole of humanity. Since service of humanity also included aiding in their spiritual upliftment Sufis started expanding their groups and spreading their spiritual message to all levels of population and by early 12th century Sufi fraternities or orders (silsilas) began to emerge each with a distinct tariqa (set of practices and beliefs) that each founder had evolved to attain the Infinite. By the 14th century fourteen Sufi orders had crystallised. The Suhrawardiyya, the Qadariyya, the Kubrawiyya, the Shadhiliyya and the Badawiyya were some of them. Sufi masters (called sheikh, pir, or murshid) began to send their disciples (murids) to distant lands to spread their teachings. Many prominent Sufis travelled to India.
Several hundred years before any Muslim invader set foot on the Indian subcontinent, Muslim traders had been coming to the western ports of India extending from Gujarat to Kerala. The first Muslim army to reach India was led by an Arab conqueror – Muhammad bin Qasim in 711 who occupied the regions from Sind to Multan. The first Sufi to come to India was Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj (d.222). He travelled in the lands conquered by the Arabs and discussed theology with the saints of this region. The second wave of Muslim conquest was in the year 1000 and was led by the Gaznawids, and it was Mahmud Ghazni’s conquest of Punjab that is believed to have led a number of prominent Sufis to settle in this region. Lahore became the first centre of Persian-inspired Muslim culture and it was in this city that Abu’l-Hasan’Ali bin ‘Usman al-Hujwiri(d.ca.1071), known as Data Ganj Bakhsh (~Distributor of Unlimited Treasure) composed his famous Kashfu’l-mahjub, in Persian. This treatise gives the biographies, thought and practices of Sufis from the time of the Prophet to his own time. However Sufism’s full impact began to be felt in the late 12th and early 13th century after the formation of main Sufi orders in the Muslim countries and the most outstanding contributor to this movement was Hazrat Mu’inuddin Chishti (d.1236). Islam in most parts of India spread not at the point of sword of the Muslim invaders but by the power of the Sufi saints like Mu’inuddin Chishti and his disciples whose simple preaching and practise of love of God and one’s neighbour impressed many Hindus, especially those belonging to the so called ‘lower castes’.
While the Sufis of Middle East and North African countries flourished in lands that had already been Islamised, the Sufis in the Indian subcontinent were faced with the challenge of spreading their message among people belonging to an ‘alien’ faith. This was their biggest challenge and this was their biggest triumph and in this respect they stand above their brethren who served in other parts of the world.
Indian Sufism owes it uniqueness to its great power of selective assimilation of local culture, folk tales and symbology. While it protected itself from any considerable or overwhelming external influence, it included whatever struck and impressed it and in the act of inclusion transformed it in harmony with its own Essence. In this process Sufism in the Indian subcontinent has developed its own flavours and shades. Apart from contributing to the spiritual upliftment of rulers and ruled alike, two of the greatest contributions of the Indian Sufism have been: the creation of syncretic traditions in the Indian subcontinent thereby creating communal harmony among followers of diverse faith; and the creation of exquisite and divine music, prose and poetry that further enriched the astonishingly diverse culture of this subcontinent.