Sufi Islam: The harbinger of peace
28 March 2002
Asghar Ali Engineer
New Delhi: THE very fundamental doctrine of Sufi Islam is what is called sulh-i-kul i.e. peace with all. Maulana Rum, the great
sufi saint of 13th century whose Masnavi is considered as the Qur’an in Persian language says in one of its couplets that you
have come to effect union (bara-e-wasl amdi) and not for separating nay bara-e fasl amdi). Thus wasl (union) is the basic
motive of the sufi poetry.
Another great sufi saint Muhiyuddin Ibn-e-Arabi propounded the famous doctrine of wahdat al-wujud (Unity of Being) which is
revolutionary in many respects. The most important aspect of this doctrine is that real Being is One i.e. God and we all are His
manifestation. This implies that all human beings, whatever religion they follow, are creation of God and hence must be
respected. This doctrine demolishes all walls of separation and communal hatred.
Sufi Islam is love-oriented while theological Islam is law (shari’ah-oriented and this makes all the difference). The theologians
find it difficult to reconcile with those who deviate from the Shari’ah law whereas sufi Islam, being love-oriented, is not stickler
for shari’ah and lays emphasis on love, love of God and love of humanity. No wonder then that Muhiyuddin Ibn Arabi said that
my heart is centre of love and it is a mosque, a temple, a church and synagogue.
In India all major sufis belong to the Chishti school of tasawwuf (sufism) which followed Muhiyuddin Ibn Arabi’s doctrine of
wahdat al-wujud (unity of being) according to which belief and unbelief make no difference to God. Another distinction
between sufis and theologians has been that while sufis believed in adopting local culture and local customs and traditions, the
theologians always put emphasis on ‘pure Islam’ and fought against assimilation with local culture.
Baba Farid, a great sufi of 11th century Punjab, chose Punjabi for his poetry though he was a great scholar of Persian and
Arabic. He is, in fact, considered the founding father of Punjabi poetry. Guru Nanak has included 112 verses of Baba Farid in
his Adi Granth Sahib. The Sikhs have great respect for Baba Farid. Baba Farid is one of the senior most sufi saints of Chishti
Nizamuddin Awliyah, one of his disciples buried in Delhi was another great sufi saint of this liberal school. There is a famous
story about him that he saw some Hindu women bathing in the river Jamuna and worshipping sun. He then addressed his
celebrated disciple Khusraw and said these women are also worshipping God in their own way and he recited the verse from
the Qur’an, “And every one has a direction to which he turns (himself), so vie with one another in good works”. (2:148)
Thus the real message of the Qur’an is “to vie with one another in good deeds” and not to fight about the rituals. It is this
message which is emphasised by the sufi saints and it is for this reason that lakhs of people irrespective of their religion pay their
respects at the sufi shrines. Hamiduddin Nagori, the famous disciple of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, turned vegetarian in respect
of people around him and also always kept a cow with him and cultivated land like a Hindu peasant. He very strictly adhered to
Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti is the most popular sufi saint in India. Millions visit his shrine every year — Hindus, Muslims, Parsis
and Chistians. He also adopted cultural norms of the people around him. The langar (kitchen) in Khwaja’s shrine always cook
vegetarian food so that all can eat irrespective of their religion or caste. These sufi saints always kept their distance from the
powers that be.
It is said that Nizamuddin Awliya who saw period of more than five sultans refused to attend the court of any. When Jalaluddin
Khalji wanted to visit his hospice without informing him, his disciple Khusraw informed him and when the Sultan came to his
hospice, Nizamuddin left his place from another door so that he does not have to meet the Sultan. Iqbal, the noted Urdu poet
calls this shan-i-darweshi i.e. the state of indifference of these sufis to power wielders.
These sufis met people of all religion with equal respect and never harboured any grudge against them nor showed any favour
or disfavour to them on the basis of their caste or creed. This was one reason why people of lower castes who found no dignity
in the society around them flocked around these sufi saints and found not only respect as human beings but also great solace for
their troubled inner self.
The Sufi saints faithfully followed the Qur’anic verse which says, “Those who disbelieve in Allah and His messengers and desire
to make a distinction between Allah and His messengers and say: we believe in some and disbelieve in others; and desire to
take a course in between — these are truly unbelievers”. (4:150-51) The Sufi saints made no distinction between one prophet
of Allah and other prophets and believed that Allah had sent His prophets to India also. The sufis were truly harbingers of
peace and harmony.