Sufi dargahs draw Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs not to offer namaz (prayers) as people do in mosques and as prescribed by the tradition set by the Holy Prophet (sunnah), but to beg for favours: the sick want to be treated, women beg for a happy married life and children, while some even beg for success in cases pending before the courts.
A clear evidence of this phenomenon is the offering of an ornate chadar (sheet) to drape the grave and the red strings tied on marble trellis around tombs as mannat (wish) with promises of giving in charity — the most popular being provision for a langar (a community kitchen) to feed the hungry, free of cost.
As a result, Sufi dargahs all over India draw more worshippers than mosques which are meant for congregational prayers on every Friday or religious occasions like Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Zuha or other such days.
A visit to the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishtri, Gharib Nawaz (patron of the poor), will show huge cauldrons in which rice and lentils are cooked to feed thousands of poor. Unlike the mosques, the dargahs draw huge crowds on Thursday afternoons and evenings when qawwalis accompanied with spontaneous dancing and people passing out in a hal (trance) are a common sight.
Orthodox Muslims of the Wahabi or Deoband belief disapprove of qabar parasti (worshippers of tombs) as un-Islamic. Dargahs are built around the graves of Sufi saints where names are invoked by seekers of favours. It is no wonder that Muslims like to be buried close to their patron saints. In Delhi the two largest graveyards are around the tombs of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki. It is commonly believed by Muslims that on the Day of Judgement their pir (spiritual mentor) will intercede on their behalf with Allah, the God.
Sufi masters are called ahl-e-dil (people of the heart) who teach that religion has no meaning unless warmed by emotions of love and interpret Sufism as being the heart of Islam.
The author of this book hails from an illustrious Dehlvi family of Delhi noted for bringing out the Shama magazine. Her grandfather not only brought out Shama, but added eight more magazines, thus establishing one of the leading publishing houses of the time. Sadia attempts to explain how Islam and Sufism are inseparable. She says that while the Quran informs that Islam is not something that began with Prophet Muhammad since 1,400 years ago but with the tradition of the universe in which Adam was the first Prophet, in comparison Sufism is the timeless art of awakening the higher consciousness through submission to the Divine Will. “The Sufi doctrine goes beyond history and is rooted in the primordial covenant all unborn souls made with their Creator,” says Sadia Dehlvi.
Orthodox Muslims believe that Sufism is an innovation in Islam — a sinful practice that the Muslim ancestors picked up from Hindu idol-worshipping traditions. They reason that “since most of our ancestors were Hindus, some of us are still using pagan methods like singing to please the gods,” the author adds.
She is frank and realistic enough to admit that “like most Muslims in the subcontinent, my ancestors professed the Hindu faith. I have a family tree that goes right up to someone called Om Prakash Arora. My forefathers settled in Delhi during the mid-17th century when it was under Mughal rule.” The author adds that her ancestors belonged to a Saraiki-speaking community from the district of Bhaira, close to the city of Multan. According to her family legend, a group from the community was travelling to Hardwar for a dip in the holy Ganges. On the way they met Sufi Shamsuddin Tabriz who asked them would they accept Islam if he brought the Ganges right before their eyes? The miracle took place and each one of them converted to the Sufi faith.
Sufism essentially commits of a path that teaches how to free oneself from the ego and rise to higher spiritual levels. The Sufi way contains the method of guidance and transformation that is not an easy route.
The author laments that though verses of Rumi, Amir Khusrau and other mystic poets set to music with lilting voices, “offer temporary meditative moments, their spiritual philosophies are often lost.” She says mystics are people from religious traditions who are on a serious and intimate quest for communion with the Ultimate Reality. The experience of merging with the Divine force lies at the foundation of religion, an aspect that motivates those travelling along the mystic path. What the author wants to say is that though Sufism is similar to the mystic traditions, offering universal ethics and meditation practices, its internal spiritual current cannot be alienated from its outward Islamic dimensions. She clarifies, “One cannot aspire to become a Zen Maser without being a Buddhist, just as one cannot become a Sufi Master without adhering to the fundamentals of Islam.”
She explains the foundation and essence of Sufism besides the life of the early Sufis like Uwais Qarni, Salman Farsi, Hasal al Basri, Habib Ajmi, Ibrahim Ibn Adham and others, as also how the various orders came to be founded.
This reviewer found, more than the subject, the author’s style of presentation of text in a very simple, lucid and informative manner.
(HarperCollins Publishers India, A-53, Sector 57, Noida-201301.)