Tuesday, March 21st, 2023 19:46:16

Sufism: A Liberal View Of Religion

Updated: July 6, 2013 12:53 pm

Without going much into the detail of long history of Sufism in the world and the etymological definition of the word ‘Sufi’, it will be sufficient to underline that the concept of Sufism was to focus the mystic power on the spiritual dimension of Islam with a view to shielding the believers from the outwardly and unrealistic dogma of the faith. Sufis adopted rather a liberal view in propagating the religious order of Islam suitable to the cultural and social environment of the land. It is in fact a mission of higher religious order of any faith, which disdains strife and conflict in any form. Joy of self-realisation being the essence of religion is experienced after a long spiritual practice. The mystics of Sufism discard outward form of religion once they attain such joy. India had Sufi and Bhakti (devotion) traditions in Islam and Hinduism respectively. Both Sufism and Bhakti traditions were based on respect for different religions. The poorer and lower caste Hindus and Muslims were greatly influenced by these traditions. Unlike Ulemas and Brahmins the Sufi and Bhakti saints were highly tolerant and open to the truth in other faiths. They never adopted sectarian attitudes and were never involved in power struggles. They kept away from power structures.

Nizamuddin Awliya, a great Sufi saints of 13-14th century, saw the times of five Sultans but never went to court of a single one. When the last Sultan of his life sent a message requesting him to come to the court, he refused. Then he sent the message that if Nizamuddin does not come to my court, I (the Sultan) will come to his hospice. He replied that there are two doors to my hospice; if Sultan enters by one, I will leave by the other. Such was the approach of Sufis and Saints to power structure of their time.

Sufism, with its teaching of the unification of man and God, played an important role in the development and expansion of Indian-Islam. The adherents of Sufism softened the orthodox views of Islam, with its exclusionary monotheism, and actively promoted coexistence between Muslims and Hindus. They are known for the contributions in furthering the spread of Islam into regions where other religions had heretofore predominated. Their role in the spread and establishment of Islam in India is particularly well known. This was in other words a Philosophy of Religious Reconciliation.

Sufism is to be called a path of spiritual advancement. By a process of purification, Sufi practices allow light to enter our hearts and our faculties of perception. This may lead to the development of the innate spiritual and intuitive abilities, in the same way that when one opens a window to a dark room light floods in and he can suddenly see more. Thus the practice of Sufism leads to an expansion of consciousness—an increase in our self-awareness and our awareness of the universe we live in. The Sufi practitioner becomes less prone to acting and thinking in conditioned ways. This in turn leads to a self-transformation a transformation in the way he conducts himself and interacts with the world.

To awaken from this spell, the hidden powers are supposed to be activated that lie dormant within inside and make them operative in the daily lives. The technique used in the process consists of a special form of meditation (muraqaba) involving a process called ‘transmission’ (nisbat). Through this practice of meditation we can attain intuitive insight which enables us to begin to see all things in their true perspective.

It opens up a new way of thinking, freeing us from the anxieties and fears and in its place it gives a greater sense of happiness and tranquility. This freedom empowers us to experience positive feelings and thoughts towards ourselves and with it the power to love others. It, in fact, reveals the powerful inter-relatedness of human existence and the universe by creating a mediating space between the conflicting egos. If closely analysed, the Sufis are the men of the highest morality. They are the people who behave according to the need of the time. The shackles of rituals and customs do not bind them. Religion for them is important only so long as it does not hinder spiritual progress. The greatest religion for them is the love for the humanity and not to hurt anyone’s feelings. As the famous Sufi saint Bulleh Shah says:

Destroy the mosque!

Destroy the temple!

Destroy whatever you please.

Do not break the human heart,

For God Dwells therein!

According to a popular saying of Sufism “Knowledge without action is like water without wetness”. The practice of Sufism and the performance of its rituals are full of theatricality, which is closely associated with their mystic philosophy and the life style. Their objective being to evolve as a complete man by improving one’s character and conduct and the principles and practices adopted by them revolve around these central ideas and are to be seen in this light. A Sufi seeker has to complete his journey to self-realisation. People generally consider religion as a matter of devotion and faith where reason or argument has no role to play. Sufism does not consider it the right attitude. In fact, faith can be considered that state of mind where one considers the matter put before him to be right in all respects. It could be possible that one may not be able to comprehend all aspects of that matter but supported by conjecture or inference one believes in its truth. Faith, therefore, can be said to be based on reasoning and analysis. The objective of the religion is to enhance human experiences so that the principles they have been following to guide their lives should gradually lead them to realisation and their lives be based on
the truth.

The methodology of Sufi practice was given by Abdul Khaliq al-Ghujdawani, who was one of the greatest Sufi Masters of the Naqshbandi Sufi Order. In his book Faslul-Kitab, Shaikh Muhammad Parsa, a friend and biographer of Shah Naqshband, said that the method of Shaikh Khwaja Abdul Khaliq al-Ghujdawani in dhikr and the teachings enunciated in his Eight Principles were embraced and hailed by all the forty tariqats (Sufi Orders) as the way of attaining truth and loyalty. These eight principles further added with three more by Muhammad Baha’uddin Shah Naqshband are the important moral guidelines for the human being but, at the same time, they consist the elements of theatricality in themselves. The inherent theatricality motivates the follower or the performer of the ‘Sufi’ rituals for a dramatic behaviour. The theatrical force of these stages of practice is so powerful that even the spectator cannot resist himself from being moved.


These principles are:

(i)   Hosh dar Dam (Conscious Breathing): The true seeker should always be alert that he does not take any breath devoid of God’s remembrance. He must remain in God’s Presence with every breath.

(ii)  Nazar bar Kadam (Watch Your Step): Each step moved forward should be taken consciously i.e. one should not do anything which may drag him down or which may obstruct his spiritual progress. It also means that one should avoid looking here and there aimlessly as the mind by seeing forms impression. This is why Sufi saints ask their followers to look at their feet while walking.

(iii) Safar dar Watan (Journey Homeward): This means that the seeker must move from the world of creation to the world of Creator. Moving away from worldly desires and human weaknesses and acquiring godly characteristics is known as Safar
dar Watan.

(iv) Khilawat dar Anjuman (Solitude in the Crowd): ‘Khilawat’ means seclusion, both external and internal. External seclusion requires the seeker to be away from people, staying by himself and spending his time in the remembrance of God. This helps in gaining control over sensual perceptions and reaching the state of internal seclusion. The internal seclusion means whether amidst a crowd, walking or doing anything else, one should constantly have his mind attuned to the Almighty.

(v) Yad Kard (Essential Remembrance): ‘Yad’ means remembrance and ‘kard’ means essence of remembrance. To keep oneself continuously engaged in reciting the ‘japa’ (the internal practice as directed by the Master) and in such a manner that the seeker starts feeling the presence of the Master or the Almighty in his heart is the essential remembrance.

(vi) Baj Gasht (Returning): The literal meaning of ‘Baj Gasht’ is to return back to the origin. In its true sense, however, it refers to developments during internal practice when the seeker may come across different experiences such as sighting of light, activation of the mystique centres, acquisition of miraculous powers etc. These experiences may often result in the downfall of the seeker due to arousal of the ego.

(vii) Nigah Dasht (Attentiveness): The seeker should always keep an eye on his internal condition so that no doubt or ill thought ever arises and he constantly keeps on remembering the Almighty.

(viii) Yad Dasht (Recollection): It means continuous remembrance. When the seeker through practice becomes so apt that the remembrance continues in the heart effortlessly on its own, it is called Yad dasht.

(ix) Wakoof Zamani (Awareness of Time): The seeker must watch that the time at his command is spent in the remembrance of the Almighty and he must make all efforts to make progress on the path of spirituality. The seeker must recount his actions and deeds and seek His forgiveness for the wrong doings.

(x) Wakoof Adadi (Awareness of Numbers): The real meaning of Wakoof Adadi, however, appears to be that the Almighty is One and He likes Oneness. It perhaps also means that one should remember the Almighty alone.

(xi) Wakoof Kulbi (Awareness of the Heart): The seeker should always have an eye on his heart (kulb) so that his attention is always towards the divine presence and it may not be diverted elsewhere.

Having a close look at these principles of Sufi training methodology one cannot deny their similarity with Stanislavsky’s method of learning acting, or the concept of four types of acting given by Bharata and the principles of practicing Yoga, which means a proper and balanced alignment of the body and the mind.

The theatrical elements and the social impact of Sufism as a strong source of rituals and its religious connotations, reflected in the popular theatre of India, are commonly seen not only in the religious performances but also in the mainstream theatre of the country, as well as in the popular films of the Bollywood. The journey of the Sufi performer (whether Qawwal or Dirvish) has always proved a potential motivation to an actor in order to develop and become the character into the worlds of imagination, an inner journey into the psyche to find those aspects, which correspond to the people and actions of the play in the perspective of socio-religious theatre, proving itself a real mediating voice of Indian culture in general and the performing arts in particular.

In a multi-cultural country like India, the mediating streams have acquired a multi-layered importance in recent history. The second half of Indian post-colonial era has witnessed a regular chain of some conflicting religio-political waves arising from various sectarian camps in the country, which have compelled the counter forces to activate for keeping the spirit of composite cultural ethos alive at one hand and to mediate between the countless religio-ethnic streams for restating their melting identities,
if not in a concrete way, then, at least to regain the losing belief. Sufi performance is one such mediating voice which is very active and alive throughout the length and width of the country continuouslybridging the gap between various religious factions.

By Ravi Chaturvedi

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