HomeNewsEnglish News Articles

In God’s name

Mohammed Wajihuddin | Oct 23, 2011, 02.50AM IST The original Sufis, celebrated in Indian culture, were men who lived frugally and shunned publicity,

Mohammed Wajihuddin | Oct 23, 2011, 02.50AM ISTTOI

The original Sufis, celebrated in Indian culture, were men who lived frugally and shunned
publicity, confining themselves mainly to meditation and sermonising. Their disciples couriered messages to distant, and often hostile, destinations. The Sufis connected with the creator and cleansed the society they lived in.
Times have changed, and so have the Sufis’ ways of opposing evil forces. Take last week’s denouncement of Wahabi Islam by the All India Ulema and Mashaikh Board, a Sunni Muslim group rooted in the Sufi traditions of Islam. At a mahapanchayat in Moradabad, UP, the Board’s general secretary Syed Mohammed Ashraf Kachochavi claimed that Wahabi-inspired outfits like the Deobandis, Jamiatul Ulema-e-Hind and Ahl-e-Hadees were radicalising
Muslim youth. The Deoband seminary rejected the charge as a “malicious” campaign by the Sunni clerics who, according to the Wahabis-Deobandis, are bidatis (those who indulge in ‘innovations’ not practised in the Prophet’s time) because they visit the mausoleums of Sufi saints.
The hardline attitudes of the Wahabis, who champion Saudi-backed petro-dollar Islam, apart, the supposedly Sufi-believing Sunnis (also called Barelvis) too are facing flak from Muslim liberals. The latter say that the Sunnis (who comprise around 80 per cent of Mumbai’s Muslims) are not as moderate as they claim to be. They may not practice extremist Islam like many Wahabis do, but they too are conservative, patriarchal and sometimes viscerally sectarian.
The behaviour of certain Sunni groups bears out this charge. A couple of months ago, the Raza Academy, a Sunni organisation, opposed the appointment of a woman officer at the male-dominated Haj Committee and petitioned the central government to keep the committee “clean of women”. More recently, some members of the Academy protested against the title of a Hindi film called Azaan on the grounds that it signified the call to the faithful for prayers and, therefore, was provocative and sacrilegious. In Mumbai, many Sunni mosques have shut the
door on Wahabis as well as Tablighis, the vagabond preachers who are also Deobandis.
“There are boards at Sunni mosques asking Wahabis and Deobandis not to pray there. Many Sunnis believe their mosques will get dirty and their namaz will be spoiled because of the presence of Wahabis. This is against the message of Sufism, which has no place for hatred and discrimination. Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti’s dargah is open to people of all faiths because he loved all human beings,” says Farid Batatawala, who has practised Sufism for over six decades. Of late, the Sunnis have started barring Deobandis from funerals as well. “I was stunned to hear a Sunni imam asking Deobandis to leave a funeral congregation recently,” recalls a prominent Sunni in the city.
Sufi-Pandit Ghulam Dastagir, a Sanskrit scholar who also manages the mausoleum of a Sufi saint called Junglee Peer in Worli, says that such conduct is unbecoming . “True practitioners of Sufism would not have protested or petitioned the court against naming a film Azaan.
They would have sorted it out through dialogue and, if the film-maker had stuck to his stand, they would have prayed to Allah to forgive those who, according to their perception, insulted His words,” he explains. Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan adds that there are hardly any real Sufis today. “Great souls like Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, Hazrat Bakhtiar Kaki and Nizamuddin Aulia were real Sufis who practised and propagated tolerance and inclusiveness,” he says. “Today most of those who claim to be practising Sufism are actually donning
a facade.”
Sunnis in Pakistan have gone one step beyond in the intolerance game. The Sunni Ittehad Council, a Karachi-based organisation established in 2009 with the avowed aim of fighting “the growing Talibanisation of the country”, last year rose to oppose the death sentence handed out to Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of Punjab governor Salman Taseer. In the name of Namoos-e-Risalat (preservation of the Prophet’s prestige), many Sunni ulema justify the brutal killing of Taseer who had opposed Pakistan’s draconian Blasphemy Law. So are Sunnis too becoming intolerant? “I would not like any Muslim to be intolerant and extremist. Islam will be endangered if blasphemy,
especially by fellow Muslims, is not contested,” says Allama Qamruzzaman Khan Azmi, secretary general of the London-headquartered World Islamic Mission, who is in Mumbai to participate in the three-day Sunni meet at Azad Maidan.
A Faizur Rahman, secretary-general of the Chennai-based Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought among Muslims, points out that original Sufi scholars have defined Sufism as the spiritual union between man and God achieved without any intermediaries. “Real Sufis in history have led almost ascetic lives, distancing themselves from physical lusts and worldly desires,” he says. “If at all they had a public life, it was dedicated and confined to the service of humanity.” If only the self-proclaimed Sufis of today would heed this credo.