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the Message Continues ... 10/127


Newsletter for March 2012


Article 1 - Article 2 - Article 3 - Article 4 - Article 5 - Article 6 - Article 7 - Article 8 - Article 9 - Article 10 - Article 11 - Article 12




Sufis spoke the language of love, not power

Asgher Ali Engineer

(excerpted from the author's article, " Salafism (Wahabism) and Sufism, is there a real conflict ?)


Spiritualism brings deeper convictions and inner solace and certitude that Qur’an calls imaan (faith). It needs both the heart and the mind to believe and hence, according to the Qur’an, those whose hearts are sealed can never believe. Belief has to be grounded in deeper spiritual forces and superficial rationality cannot achieve deeper conviction. The Sufis and mystics spend years fighting great impediments encountered in themselves and perfect their nafs through minimizing their desires and removing all traces of greed controlling acquisitive instincts.

Then they emerge as what we can call as role models for the masses of people in the society and gather around them large number of followers. One more social function of religion is to provide solace to troubled hearts and minds. No amount of material wealth can buy this inner solace and these Sufis become the source of inner solace for these troubled souls.

The Sufis and mystics use rich cultural resources to achieve this purpose. Poetry and its powerful symbolic language on one hand, and, music, on the other, provide spiritual tools which have great emotional appeal. Also, Sufis assimilate different cultural values and express themselves through cultural values and language of the region they situate themselves in. This again greatly enhances their appeal to the masses of people.

Thus, many great sufis happened to be from Iran and hence they wrote in Persian. Persian poetry was greatly enriched by the Sufis of Iran. They did not hesitate to use symbols like wine, a cup of wine or a sip bearer of wine saaqi for spiritual purposes giving it an entirely new meaning and significance. Also, the Sufis spoke the language of love, not of power. It is the language of love which has the emotional appeal, not the language of power which reflects ambition and exploitation.

Thus, it is rich cultural resources and language of love which tremendously enhances the appeal of sufi Islam. For example what Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi could achieve through his Mathnavia Ma’navi could not have been achieved through hundreds of toms written by great scholars in terms of emotional appeal. The Mathnavi was even called the Qur’an in Pehlavi language (i.e. Persian).

It is also important to note that Jalaluddin Rumi was as great a scholar of Arabic as of Persian. Arabic was the language of Islamic learning whereas Persian was the language of culture and administration and Maulana Rumi chose Persian for writing his Mathnavi precisely because it was the language of the people and their cultural expressions were in that language and it was this powerful cultural tool that made Mathnavi popular over ages.

The Indian Sufis, on the other hand, also wrote either in Persian or even in regional languages like Brij, Avadhi, Khari Boli, Bengali, Marathi and in Urdu and used symbolism of local culture. Also, since they spoke the language of love, there was no rejection of the other, only acceptance. But ideological puritans, on the other hand, speak the language of rejection, one who is not purist, is not acceptable. Thus, they narrow down their circle of followers. One who does not believe in their ideology is not a believer and hence a kafir.

Also, the Sufis, through assimilation of local cultural symbols, even rituals made it easy for the local masses not only to flock to them but also convert to Islam which became much nearer to their way of life. In India, the rituals around sufi mausoleums bear close resemblance to those of a Hindu shrine replacing the idol with a sufi grave. Conversion should not result in cultural rupture. Culture is much closer to one's heart than any intellectual belief.

There is another dimension which one has to take into account for origin, development and popularity of sufi Islam. Islam did not remain confined to the Arabian Peninsula with scarce cultural resources but spread to far and wide with highly developed cultures and civilizations like those of Iran and India, besides others. While Islam impacted on these cultures it was also in turn impacted by them and new composite strains of cultures developed in these regions. Both Iran and India developed highly enriched composite cultures due to the entry of Islam.

It was this composite and enriched culture which using all native and foreign cultural resources Sufis adopted unhesitatingly. Thus, it made easier for the people of those regional composite cultures to identify themselves with Sufis and their creative endeavors like poetry, music and in some cases even dancing in trance. Mehfil-e-samaa’ (the divine musical session) became an important institution in the sufi Islam. The ulama opposed it saying music is haram (prohibited) in Islam. However, for the masses it was an important means to be drawn towards the Sufis. Amir Khusro, Nizamuddin Awliya’s disciple made very rich contributions to the world of sufi music.






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