Khwaja Chishti's wisdom

Sufi Way


Even as the 797th annual ‘Urs’ or congregation of Gharib Nawaz Hazrat Khwaja Mounuddin Chishti concluded some time ago in Ajmer, it is such a contrast to find the world cleaving into Islamic and non-Islamic domains.

Growing up in the walled city of Delhi means a childhood spent learning about the healing attributes of the Sufi order and never looking into another person’s eyes to see a Hindu or a Muslim, just a human being. In the old city, religion never came in the way of forging friendships between Hindus and Muslims and the fellow feeling was not lost even during the rare communal riots.

Sufism or tasawwuf (as mystic consciousness is known in Persian) advocates the peaceful co-existence of all faiths. It is differently defined by various writers. The Sufis taught about the practice of virtue, purification of the soul and divine love. Thereby, they raised their lives from the mundane to spiritual. They emphasised the inward nature of things rather than the outward.

In his essay  ‘Sarmad Shaheed’, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad described Sufism as synonymous with love, boundless goodness, philanthropy, tolerance and humility. Writing about a Sufi teacher, he wrote, “Even a cursory glance at his life can show that his chief mission was to heal lacerated hearts and to join together the separated souls.” He went on say that for Sufis “discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, colour or creed is un-Godly. Sufis provided an acerbic critique of hypocritical and oppressive religious dogmas. They facilitated intellectual development and creativity in the cultural sphere.”

The sense of receiving a tutorial on spiritualism is reinforced by that other key aspect of Sufism — its tradition of pir-murid or guru-shishya. The pir teaches the murid as he or she struggles to achieve union, like a lover with the beloved, in this case God, according to eminent Islamic scholar Maulana Wali Rehmani of Khanqah-e-Rehmania, Mongeyr, Bihar.

An ‘urs’ is a congregation for a Sufi saint’s death anniversary. It’s not an occasion to be sorrowful but to re-energise oneself. This is the process in which self becomes fana or effaced, acting as a source of baqa or eternity.

Both Hindus and Muslims remember Chishti as Khwajaji. Both revere him. Both claim him. Both listen and frequently quote his words of wisdom. Writer Aziz Burney says, “Since Gharib Nawaz has been the symbol of national integration and interfaith concord for the last 797 years, vegetarian food is served at his shrine to all visitors and the rose flowers placed on his mazaar (mausoleum) come from Pushkar, a revered Hindu shrine.” It might almost illustrate the words of famous Sufi Persian poet Hafiz: “Hafiz, if it’s salvation you desire, then, be in peace with all. Say Allah, Allah when with a Muslim, Ram, Ram when with a Hindu!” The early Sufis practised asceticism and denounced the display of pomp and pursuit of pleasure of the Khilji or Tughlaq feudal aristocracy. Those were troubled times. The power of the sword had driven Hindus to take cover.

For Renuka Narayanan, author of The Little Book of Indian Wisdom and firm believer in the Sufi-Shaivite tradition of Sheikh Nooruddin Wali (Nund Rishi), the Sufis’ culture of khidmat-e-khalq or service to mankind, humility, generosity and selfless devotion brought thousands to embrace Islam.

One can be a Sufi even today. It does not require rejection of the world in the sense of abandoning high fashion and fun. But it means acceptance of what comes to him and refusing to hoard it. Real happiness, according to Sufis, lies not in accumulating money but in giving and spending it on others, especially those who deserve. As Wordsworth put it in “The world is too much with us…Getting and spending we lay waste our powers/ little we see in nature that is ours.”

The Ajmer Urs shows that the young are receptive to Sufism. Youth constitutes a major chunk of the congregation —20-30 lakh people. Young people around the world — the US, Morocco, Iran and India — are seen to be increasingly drawn to Sufism because of its tolerance, right interpretation of the Quran, rejection of fanaticism and the way it embraces modernity.

In the US, Sufi poet Rumi’s popularity is greater than ever before. In Morocco, young men and women find that the Sufi principles of ‘beauty’ and ‘humanity’ allow them to enjoy a balanced lifestyle that includes the arts, music and love without abandoning their spiritual, social and religious obligations.

According to Ahmed Kostas, an expert on Sufism and director of Morocco’s ministry of religious affairs, “Progress and change are the basic tenets of Sufi philosophy making this old spiritual tradition so popular among youth. Sufis distance themselves from fundamentalists, whose vision of Islam is a strict emulation of the orthodox and the fundamentalists giving a lopsided version of Islam.”

Sufis neither condemn unveiled women nor censure modern means of entertainment. For them, the difference between virtue and vice is determined by intent, not appearances, says Rida Haider, a student of Delhi’s Modern School. She feels that there should be stories on Sufis in the school curriculum.

Relates Maulana Wali Rehmani Mongeyri  that is this fusion of spiritualism and modernity, which creates that unique aesthetic experience so attractive to today’s young as they reject extremism and uphold the values of shared humanity. In the words of Urdu poet Afzal Manglori, “I am far better than those hypocrite preachers who have sold their souls for material gains”.

Today, images of gun-toting kids, bombs and preachers of hate flash across the mind when speaking of violence-torn Kashmir and the Swat valley. But Kashmir, abode of Sufi saints such as Nund Rishi, Lalleshwari, Dehat Bibi, was once a great centre of Islamic culture and learning with Charar-e-Sharif shrine.

The question to be asked of those who propagate Islam as a belief system based on hate is that if the tenets of this faith really propagate violence and destruction, how could it possibly have given birth to something so beautiful, tolerant and modern as Sufism?

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