Friday, March 24th, 2023 05:08:25

Reviving The Sufi/Bhakti Tradition

Updated: September 13, 2014 2:21 pm

History may not repeat itself, but it can be misused at times to propagate causes that are not exactly in tune with the requirements for global peace and security. The examples that come to one’s mind in this regard are China as a country and the Islamic fundamentalists as a group. As my friend Prof. N M Pankaj reminded me through Facebook the other day, the Chinese have a great sense of history. He wrote, “To understand ‘the average Chinese mind’, we need to refer to some aspects of the inherited consciousness of the Chinese people, represented to some extent by the Confucian world view. However anti-Confucian in their rituals and rhetoric the power elites of China may be, they invariably invoke the Confucian precepts to authenticate their political imagination about the Chinese past. Premised on the primacy of the Celestial Empire in a hierarchical world order, the Confucian historiography emphasized the significance of China as a moral exemplar and political overlord of the constellation of barbarian states on its border. No matter, how nominal and tenuous the tributary ties between China and its contigual kingdoms were in history, the Chinese mind reckoned those lands as parts of the Chinese territory.”

This explains why the Chinese demand islands in South China Sea and East China Sea as their territories. It is on this basis that China has grabbed Tibet. Indeed, so expansive are China’s claims nowadays that many Asians are wondering what will satisfy China’s desire to expand its territories. It lays its territorial claims everywhere on the spurious logic that once upon a time some Chinese or the other had put his feet and left with some Chinese goods there. It claimed Tibet on the ground that Tibet became a part of the Chinese empire when the great Mongol Genghis Khan annexed Tibet (most parts of it) in the early 13th century. It is a strange logic, because taken to its logical conclusion, one could argue that China is a part of Mongolia and does not deserve to exist as an independent nation! Be that as it may, on the basis of history of Genghis Khan, the Chinese can even claim a quarter of Europe, Russia and the whole of West Asia (Middle East) and Central Asia since these also constituted the Mongol empire of Genghis Khan.

Similarly, though much more dangerously, the Islamic fundamentalists think that for about 1000 years centuries until 19th century, the Muslims ruled over or dominated much of the “civilised world”. It was of course a fact that the Islamic civilisation was once the greatest, richest, and most powerful in the world for many centuries. It decayed gradually and found itself defeated or outranked in every significant field of human endeavour, principally by a Christian/Jewish or Western civilisation. The Islamic fundamentalists hate the West, particularly the United States, precisely because of this. As late Osama bin Laden saw it, “The war with the United States is part of a struggle between the house of belief and the house of unbelief, which has been going on for 14 centuries. For the last couple of centuries, nonbelievers have been dominant, winning every battle—on the battlefield, in the marketplace, in the schoolroom. Now our time has come to turn the tables.”

In a large sense, the Partition of India was also a reflection of this mindset among the Indian Muslims. They were just not reconciled to the fact that the end of British colonialism in the Indian subcontinent would not lead to the restoration of the Muslim rule but usher in a democracy that would make the Hindus politically powerful. So they needed a separate country for themselves. As I have consistently argued, the problems in Kashmir reflect even the same trend. The separatists, all believing in fundamentalist Islam, are promoting the rapid Islamisation of the Valley by replacing the Kashmiriyat that talked of peaceful coexistence among Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Obviously they want to join Pakistan and their fundamentalist brethren there. In fact, it is a huge myth propagated by our so-called liberals and peaceniks that Pakistan will live peacefully once the Kashmir issue is settled. Let there be no illusion that Pakistan will ever rest at peace until and unless India is broken into more than 10 parts and the Pakistani flag is hoisted on our historic Red Fort. The Islamic fundamentalists and many Army personnel in Pakistan openly say that Delhi legitimately belongs to the Muslims who ruled the subcontinent from here for centuries.

Against this backdrop, I am not really surprised to see why some Indian Muslims are supporting the creation as well as activities of the ISIS, which has created a “Caliphate” in parts of Iraq and Syria. Some Indian students from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have reportedly joined the ISIS forces. But what is more worrisome, the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, through editorials in its mouthpiece, Dawat, is saying that “the ISIS Caliphate Is Binding on All Muslims”. It is asking Indian Muslims to support and glorify ISIS and Boko Haram of Nigeria (a rabidly fundamentalist outfit that has also declared the formation of a Caliphate, run by Sharia).

One Abdul Aleem Islahi wrote in Dawat in its 22 August 2014 issue the following: “Islamic caliphate is the aspiration of every Muslim and there has never been a disagreement on the issue among the Muslims in any period of history. Even Shias consider Islamic caliphate their ideal…. We should pray in favour of the ISIS…Ignoring the superpowers, the ISIS has declared the unnatural and inhuman borders of countries null and void, irrespective of whether the borders are temporary or permanent, short or long. It cannot also be denied that the ideology of political affairs of Islam has got a new lease of life and it will surely encourage Islamists because after hundred long years of Islamic caliphate a workable slogan has come forward in the world. That is, Islamic concept of Caliphate has become a topic of discussion in practical life.”

As we know from the recent news reports, the likes of ISIS and Boko Haram glorify violence, and that too in a most despicable manner (kidnapping, beheading, burying and burning live people), against non-Muslims. They have given the Islam, supposedly a religion of peace, altogether a new name. As a Nigerian journalist has written recently, “Now, from my own experiences, it appears peace, in Islam, means a situation where non-Muslims must not offend Muslims in any way, even if Muslims offend them”. In fact, in a highly perceptive essay, titled “Islam’s Religious War with Everyone” on April 22, 2014 in US-based FrontPage Magazine, Daniel Greenfield argues, “When it comes to Islam, non-Muslims are expected to take its goodwill on faith. If you believe your eyes and ears, Islam and violence go together like peanut butter and jelly. But if you believe Muslims and their spin doctors with academic degrees, Muslims are the victims of other religions. If Muslims fighting Christians, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists are the victims of non-Muslims, what are we to make of Muslims fighting other Muslims in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq? Religious civil wars make it hard to believe that Muslims are the victims of other religions instead of the authors of their own violence.”

Why are extremists killing Hindus, Christians and Buddhists in Pakistan and Bangladesh? Here, they are not persecuted. Greenfield writes, “Ten of the fifteen most religiously intolerant countries in the world are Muslim. There is no way to square that with the claim that Muslims are the victims of religious intolerance, rather than its perpetrators. Muslims engage in religious conflicts both as majorities and minorities. They engage in religious conflicts with both minorities and majorities. They persecute other religions regardless of whether they are old or new, even if there is no existing history of conflict. They are motivated by a relentless xenophobia. It doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as your belief differs from theirs. You can believe in nothing at all. You cannot even believe in another version of Islam…Islamic terrorism is not a protest movement; it is a new wave of religious conquests, spreading fear and death into the lands to be conquered. Into the Dar-al-Harb. The House of War. A Muslim bombing is not a cry for help by the oppressed, it is a demand that the bombed submit to their new Muslim oppressors.”

Mercifully, overwhelming majority of Indian Muslims do not subscribe as yet to the above extremist ideology, thanks to our Sufi/Bhakti tradition in an overall Hindu way of life that talks of pluralities, peace and coexistence. Let us not forget that in the 16th century during the Mughal emperor Akbar’s time, the curriculum in Indian Madrasas blended the teachings of Islam and Hinduism. Hindu and Muslim students studied together the Koran (in Arabic), the Sufi poetry of Sa’adi (in Persian), and the philosophy of Vedanta (in Sanskrit), as well as ethics, astronomy, medicine, logic, history and natural sciences.

The likes of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, Hurriyat leaders in Kashmir and perverted Hindu-bashing secularists in the country want the Sufi/Bhakti tradition to die in India, something that is painfully happening these days in Bangladesh and Pakistan. It should be a major challenge for the Modi government not to let that happen.

By Prakash Nanda

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