|Refractions of Islam in India; Carl W Ernst; SAGE/Yoda Press; Pp 520; Rs 995|
The essays explore Sufism as it developed in the Indian subcontinent and revealing unexpected insights into the lives, practices, and trace the history of Muslim engagement with Indian religious and cultural practices
Dr Pramod Pathak
The book under review is a collection of scholarly articles by the author Carl W Ernst published over many years. All these deal with the growth and status of Sufis in Bharat. Sufism in Bharat dates back to about seven centuries when a migrant from Bukhara, Mas’udBakk was put to death during FiruzShah’s reign (1387 AD). Since then there have been many cases of the followers of Sufism put to death by various Muslim rulers irrespective of their origin in or outside Bharat. Sufi cult followers too accepted it as a fait accompli in the face of opposition of the Muslim Royals and masses for their un-Islamic spiritual pursuits. They drew their inspiration for martyrdom from the earliest Sufi, al Husaynibn Mansur al-Hallaj put to death in Baghdad (d. 922). The reason for putting him to death, as Ernst puts it, “Hallaj, with his ecstatic utterances, had become a symbol of the intoxicated saint and martyr, in contrast to the standard Islamic hagiographic paradigm, based on adherence to legal and ethical norms” (Pg 4).
Opposition to Sufis arose from the fact that they transgressed the hollowed position of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) identifying themselves with Allah, God Himself by way of saying ana al-Haqq, I am the truth. Ernst refers to the utterances of another famous Sufi BayazidBistami, who proclaimed, subhani“Glory be to me” but ShaykhLashkar (d. 1585 AD)as a compromise modified it to subhanahu“Glory be to him”.As against the Islamic tradition, there is sanction for sainthood for female saints in Sufism. Bistamitold this to his daughter BibiRasti, a Sufi saint in her own right (Pg 89). The conflict arises from the basic tenets of Islam which have emotionless, dry relationship of limited to give and take with Allah, ‘He who works an atom’s weight of good will see its reward. And he who works an atom’s weight of evil will see its reward’ (Pg 57). Spirituality is beyond this give and take business. It is full of love and universalism, experienced by individuals belonging to any religion or faith. It also encompasses the experience of unity with The Supreme that is proclaimed by Yoga and in Upanishads. It was and still remains anathema for common Muslims who continue to treat this as blasphemy. The case here is of famous Sufi saint Ahmad Sirhindi (d. 1624). “Sirhindi became controversial for certain claims that he made regarding his spiritual status, which according to some, came close to disrespect for the Prophet Muhammad” (Pg 97).It is on these grounds that Sufis were persecuted and executed in Bharat as well as outside. A complete article “Persecution and Circumspection in the Shattari Sufi Order” (Pgs 76-96 ) is devoted to this topic. Some Sufis reached a compromise and continued with traditional Koranic and Hadithic lore. Still, their inner spirituality attracted the mass following.There are many Sufi shrines in many countries which continue to draw hoards of devotees.
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Driven: The Virat Kohli Story (Paperback); Vijay Lokapally; Bloomsbury India; Pp 216; Rs 399
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There are articles which deal with the interaction of Yogis with Sufis. Ernst has painstakingly edited widely acclaimed bookHawdma’al al-Hayat or The Pool of the Water of Life, which was a translation of the Sanskrit text Amarkundaor Pool of Nectar. It was translated into Arabic way back in 1210 in Bengal. Although the original Sanskrit text is no more traceable, but many copies of translations into Arabic and Turkic languages are available. It became a standard text for Sufis from many countries. Famous encyclopaedic author al-Biruni (d. 1010) translated Patanjali’sYogasutra into Arabic. Ernst narrates the translations of many other Sanskrit texts under the Mughal rule and name of Mughal Prince DaraShikuh invariably features many times. In course of time, many of the concepts of Yogachara were Islamised. It is interesting to read how the concept of 64 Yoginis in the yogic tradition and related literature has undergone changes while being adopted by the Sufi tradition, “by linking the summoning of Indian goddesses to well-known Middle Eastern occult practices involving planetary spirits” (Pg 208).
The book also refers to many anecdotes related to the myth of Sufi saints which reflects on the proselytisation of idolaters. A person in the age of Prophet Moses was idolater who lived for four hundred years. He once got a headache. He could not be cured by his idol. He kicked the idol. He was instantly cured the moment he uttered, ‘O God of Moses’. He then repented with Moses. For a Hindu this story will mean, that the God willed for His devotee to come out of devotion to Saguna Brahma and turn to Nirguna Brahma, however for a mediaeval Sufi saint it was accepting an infidel into Islamic order. There is an anecdote about Mughal tyrant Awarangzib who went to the Darbar of Sufi ascetic Raz –I Ilahi. There are two contrasting versions of what happened then (pg 91).
The book is scholarly, annotated with copious notes, typically
research-oriented, however readable. It describes the socio-spiritual moorings of the mediaeval times and deals
extensively on the Yoga culture and its assimilation in the Sufi order. There are a few points of differences regarding the Yoga basis of the Sufi teaching, but it would be a matter of detailed
analysis. Overall the book is worth reading and a reference book for the scholars of Sufi ways.