What is Sufism? | A.G. Noorani

The article was originally published in The Frontline in its print edition- November 28, 2014.

In popular discourse in India, Sufism has ceased to be what it has always been—a quest for the Divine within man. It has instead become commerce. Mountebanks and tradesmen make it a form of entertainment in which music is interspersed with vague, meaningless invocations which are passed off as Sufi teachings. Performers are imported from Turkey and Egypt to regale audiences as dancing dervishes. We have also been treated to Sufi Kathak. Not all Sufis approved of music. Those who did, regard it as a form of prayer in which the man loses consciousness of his own existence and reaches out to become part of the Self from which he has been separated. Music is a form of prayer; it is not a substitute for it. The debasement of qawwali by Bollywood and by others eager to win some publicity and make a fast buck is revolting.

Sufism has suffered at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists as much as those of tradesmen. In times like ours, it is extremely relevant. Sufism is rooted in the Quran. The Sufi is an uncompromising monotheist who makes common cause with non-Muslims who share this belief. There is a rich record of interaction between Sufis and Hindus, a large number of whom believe in Advaita (non-duality). The Sufi abhors state patronage and lives in dire poverty unlike the rich godmen whom our politicians patronise. He hates violence.

The correct name is tasawuf. The great scholar Louis Massignon discusses Sufism under this head in his essay in The Encyclopaedia of Islam (Brill, Leiden, 1984). The Quran is replete with verses of profound mystic significance and Sufism draws heavily on the Holy Book. Louis Massignon noted: “It is from the Quran, constantly recited, meditated, practised, that Islamic mysticism proceeds, in its Origin and development. Based on the frequent re-reading and recitation of whole of a text considered as sacred, Islamic mysticism derived therefrom its distinctive characteristics.”

The Quran exhorts man to read the signs and use his reason. But it says also: “It is not the eyes that are blind but the hearts” (22:46). This lies at the heart of the Sufi outlook and tradition. The great Sufi martyr Mansur al-Hallaj said in a poem: “I saw my Lord with the Eye of the Heart. I said ‘Who art thou?’ He answered ‘Thou’.”

However, the Quran is read by the erudite as well as the lay person; by the mufti as well as the Sufi. A famous verse often half-quoted in its latter part is reproduced here in full: “It was We who created man, and We know what dark suggestions his soul makes to him: for We are nearer to him than his jugular vein” (50:16). Allah not only created man but also “breathed into him of My spirit” ( 15:29).

There is one verse in particular which poses a challenge to human understanding: “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His Light and within it a Lamp: The Lamp is enclosed in Glass; The glass as it were a brilliant star: Lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the East nor of the West, where Oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce torched it: light upon Light! Allah doth guide whom He will to His Light: For Allah doth set forth Parables for men: and Allah doth know all things” (24:35). Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s comment, in his English translation of the Quran, is apt: “The spiritual Truth has to be filtered through human language or human intelligence to make it intelligible to mankind.” The Lamp is “the core of the spiritual Truth”. The Glass is “the transparent medium through which the Light passes” (24:35).

The salik (wayfarer) trods the Sufi path, tariqa, which has different stations (muqams). He seeks to acquire ma’rifah (gnosis) and feeling (hal). It is different from intellectual awareness or learning (ilm). The great Rumi remarked: “It is reason which has destroyed the reputation of the Intellect.” The three main and most famous stations on the journey are mentioned in the Quran. They centre around the conquest of the nafs (the passions), which obscures aql (reason). The Quran refers to that nafs “and as for him who fears to stand before his Lord and restrains himself from low desires” (79:40). He has to resist the proddings of shaitan (the devil).

The three stations are: 1. Nafs al-ammarah: “Surely (man’s) self is wont to command evil, except those on whom in Rab has mercy. Surely my Rab is Forgiving, Merciful” (12:53). 2. Nafsal lawwama “the self-accusing spirit” (75:2). The conscience which urges repentance (tauba). 3. Nasfs-al-mutmainnah “Oh soul thou art at rest, return to thy Rab, well meaning, well-pleasing.” So enter among My servants, And enter My Gardens (89:27-30). This is the highest stage of the spiritual development of man; he enters Allah’s Grace.

It is love of the Divine and his faith in Him that sustains the Sufi. But, Allah also seeks his creature’s return to Him. “Deemed ye then that we had created you for naught, and that ye would not be returned to us?” (22:115). Rumi wrote: “Not a single lover would seek union, if the beloved were not seeking it” (Masnavi; 3:4394). Hallaj put it differently: “I call Thee, no; Thou callest me unto Thee.” It is best summed up in Rumi’s picturesque metaphor: “Not only the thirsty seek the water; the water as well seeks the thirsty” (Masnavi; 1: 1741).

Great Sufis of old

The great Sufis of old were men of deep erudition and left behind works of deep insight. The great Sufi saint Ali bin Usman al-Jullahi al-Ghaznawi al-Hujwiri, whose grave in Lahore has drawn millions to pay respects to Data Ganj Baksh, wrote a magnificent work Kashful-Mahjub (The Unveiling of the Veiled), which Professor Reynold A. Nicholson translated. (The Kashful Mahjub: The Oldest Persian Treatise on Sufism, translated by Reynold A. Nicholson; Taj Company, Delhi; 1982.) In Chapter III “On Sufism”, Hujwiri makes a pointed remark, which is all too true of our times: “Today Sufism is a name without a reality, but formerly it was a reality without a name, i.e., in the time of the Companions and the Ancients—may God have mercy on them!—this name did not exist, but the reality thereof was in everyone; now the name exists, but not the reality. That is to say, formerly the practice was known and the pretence unknown, but nowadays the pretence is known and the practice unknown.”\

Islam spread thanks to the Sufis. Annemarie Schimmel’s definitive work Mystical Dimensions of Islam (The University of North Carolina Press, 1975) is a veritable encyclopaedia on the subject. She records: “The [Sufi] orders were adaptable to every social level as well as to the several races represented in Islam. Orders are found in the strangely mystically oriented Indonesian archipelago and in Black Africa as a civilising and Islamicising force, though the mystical life manifests itself quite differently in each setting.” Of India, she holds that “the Islamisation of the country was achieved largely by the preaching of the dervishes, not by the sword” (ibid.; page 346). For this the credit goes largely to the founder of the Chishti order Moinuddin Chishti, one of the greatest mystics of all time, who is buried in Ajmer.

Sufis did not lead a life of isolation in self-abandonment. They were astonishingly organised with a recognised silsilah, a chain that traced a spiritual lineage to the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him). In this way, every Sufi order (tariqah) was descended from him. The novice initiated himself into a tariqah headed by a pir, who presided over a khanqah.

Glorious tradition

It is a glorious tradition spread over centuries with unparalleled continuity. To trace it is a daunting task. What follows is a sketchy and inadequate survey based on many works to which the writer is indebted.

Hasan of Basra (642–728) was the son of a freed slave who received the blessing of the second Caliph, Hazrat Umar. He is referred to as one of the Four Masters. Rabiah Basri (717–801) was a towering figure. A lifelong celibate, she is one of the first Sufis to give ecstatic voice to Divine Love through her short poems, the first of their kind in Sufi literature (see John Baldock, The Essence of Sufism; Arcturus, 2006; pages 91-94 for an excellent survey of her life and poems). Dhu’l–Nun (796-861) was also acclaimed as a Sufi poet. Junayd (d. 910) has been called “the very greatest of their number” by Martin Lings (What Is Sufism; page 107). One of his sayings goes thus: “Sufism is that God should make thee die away from thyself and live in Him.”

Abn Hamid Muhammady al-Ghazali (1058–1111) was a scholar and a great teacher who turned to Sufism in sheer despair. He was a prolific writer and his influence on Islamic thought cannot be exaggerated. The first Sufi silsilah was that of the Suhrawardy’s. The others were Qadaria; Naqshabandi; Maulawi, after Maulana Rumi; and the Chishti Silsilah founded by Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer, Gharib Nawaz—patron of the poor.

Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti

In the galaxy of Sufi saints, his star shines the brightest. Gharib Nawaz died in 1236. Shaikh Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, his heir, died in 1235 and is buried in Mehrauli, on the outskirts of Delhi. Another pupil, Hamiduddin Sufi Suwali (d.1276), a vegetarian, worked in a rural area, Nagaur in Rajasthan. Baba Fariduddin Ganj-i-Shakar (d.1265) is buried in Pakpattan in Pakistan. He was greatly influenced in his youth by Shaikh Qutbuddin. Delhi can claim two more Chishti saints—Shaikh Nasiruddin, Chiragh-e-Delhi (lamp of Delhi; d.1356) and the legendary Nizamuddin Auliya (d.1325). The most celebrated pupil of Chiragh-e-Delhi was Muhammad Hussain Gesu Deraz of Gulbarga. The silsila, the spiritual succession, ran thus: Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer named Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki of Mehrauli as his successor; he, in turn, nominated Fariduddin Ganj Shakkar of Pakpattan, who appointed Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi as his khalifa, while he, on his part, named Nasiruddin Chiragh-e Delhi as his heir.

The Chishti Sufi order was originally founded in Central Asia. Moinuddin was the first one to introduce the Chishtiya way of life in India, where he lived for over four decades. His disciples Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, Baba Farid Ganj Shakkar, Mubarak Hamiduddin Nagauri, Nizamuddin Auliya and Khwaja Nasiruddin Chiragh-e-Delhi, later went to different parts of the Indian subcontinent.

They were worthy successors to the masters like Suhrawardy, who lit the torch in Iran, Iraq, Turkey and elsewhere.

Muhyi Din Ibn Arabi, an Andalusian, was called ash-shaykh al-Akbar, “the greatest master”. His influence on the general development of Sufism “can scarcely be overrated”, Annemarie Schimmel holds (page 263). She writes: “Ibn Arabi’s entire system is generally designated by the term wahdat al-wujud, ‘unity of being’. The correct translation of this expression provides the key to most of his other theories. His concepts have evoked numerous discussions about the ‘pantheistic’ or ‘monist’ trend in later Islam. Marijan Mole has put his finger on the difficulty of translating wujud correctly: Arabic, like other Semitic languages, has no verb to express ‘to be’. The term wujud, which is usually translated as ‘being’, ‘existence’, means, basically, ‘finding’, ‘to be found’, and is, thus, more dynamic than mere ‘existence’. ‘At the end of the Path only God is present, is ‘found’. Thus, wahdat al-wujud is not simply ‘unity of being’, but also the unity of existentialization and the perception of this act; it sometimes becomes quasi-synonymous with shuhud, ‘contemplation’, ‘witnessing’, so that the terms wahdat al-wujud and wahdat ush-shuhud, which were so intensely discussed by later mystics, especially in India, are sometimes even interchangeable.”

Perfect lover of God

For centuries, the name of Mansur al-Hallaj has been remembered as the perfect lover of God. He was the one who went to the gallows proclaiming in ecstasy that he was Him, “Ana’l-Haqq” (I am the Truth). Let alone the indignant rulers and jurists of Baghdad, even the Sufis of the time could not accept his theory that man is “Huwa Huwa” (Exactly He), a personal and living witness of God. Still less could they condone his defiant proclamation, “Ana’l-Haqq”. After a trial of sorts for blasphemy, Mansur was executed. His body was burnt and the ashes strewn on the Tigris.

Husain Ibn Mansur al-Hallaj, to give his full name, was born in A.D. 858 in Bayda, in the Fars province of Iran. At the age of 16, he went to Tustar to study with a noted Sufi, Sahl. The two years he spent with Sahl left a lasting stamp of penitential asceticism on his mind. He moved on to Basra, then one of the intellectual capitals of Islam, and was initiated into Sufism by Amr Al Makki. The association came to an abrupt end when Mansur married another’s daughter. In the years to come, Abu Yaqub Aqta was to denounce his son-in-law for heresy. Mansur went to Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid empire, to consult the master among Sufis, Junayd; but, as it turned out, he was a prudent man.

Mansur went to Mecca on Haj and spent a year there. On his return to Baghdad, he found a hostile Junayd. The story goes that when he knocked at Junayd’s door, the master asked, “Who is there?” Mansur replied, “Ana’l Haqq.” Annoyed, Junayd remarked, “What gallows will you stain with your blood?” Mansur retorted with another prediction: “The day I redden the gallows with my blood, you will put on the cloak of the formalists.” Mansur took a boat to India in 905. He travelled through Gujarat, Sind, Punjab and went right up to the northern frontier of Kashmir. He returned to Baghdad but left again for Mecca for a two years’ stay. It was his third and last Haj. The defiant mystic could not long be ignored. There began a search for legal sanctions against him. Even the Sufis abandoned him. Eventually, a fatwa was obtained from a jurist, Ibn Daud: it “was lawful to put him [Mansur] to death”.

Mansur danced in his fetters as he was led to the execution. He noticed his friend Shibli in the crowd that had gathered and asked him if he had his prayer rug with him. Shibli spread out the rug. Among the Quranic verses Mansur recited in the namaaz were these: “Give good tidings to the patient, who, when they are struck with a misfortune, say: we belong to God and to Him we shall return. It is upon them that blessings and mercy from their Lord descend and those—they are Rightly Guided” (2:155-57).

“What is Sufism?” Shibli asked his friend at this hour. “It’s the lowest degree you are witnessing now,” Mansur replied. “And its highest degree?” he asked and was told, “That you cannot reach; however, tomorrow you will see what will happen. For, I witness it in divine mystery where it exists and where it remains hidden to you.”

As the spectators began to throw stones at Mansur, Shibli threw a rose. Mansur uttered a sigh. “You did not sigh when struck by all these stones. Why did you sigh because of a rose?” Mansur replied, “Because they do not know what they are doing. It comes hard to me from one who knows.” Though a rose, it was nonetheless a gesture of association with the mob.

The next day, on March 26, 922, he was beheaded. The trunk was soaked in oil and burnt. The ashes were thrown into the Tigris. Mansur’s martyrdom has been celebrated at the expense of his intellectual contribution. Mansur was a devotee of the Prophet. His Kitab at-Tawasin contains hymns in his yearning for union with the Beloved.

Mansur devoted a substantial part of Kitab at-Tawasin to discuss the significance of Satan. When God invited the angels to bow before Adam, all obeyed. Satan alone refused to adore “another than God” and declared, “I am worth more than Adam.” He fell and was banished. The pharaoh claimed divinity and was drowned in the Red Sea. Mansur was conscious of the irony and discussed his predicament with remarkable lucidity. Satan’s pride preferred separation to prostration at the behest of God. The pharaoh saw only himself and lost God. Annemarie Schimmel recalls how the distinction was perceived by one mystic after another. Muhammad Saeed Sarmad shocked people with this couplet: “Go, learn the ways of devotion from Satan: Choose one Kaaba and do not prostrate yourself before anything else.”

Like Mansur, Sarmad was also beheaded, in 1661, near the Jama Masjid in Delhi, and buried there. His grave to the north-east of the Masjid is a standing testimony to Aurangzeb’s intolerance. Sarmad went about naked and recited only the negative part of Kalima—“La ilaha” (There is no God). Scholarship has yet to do this Hallajian full justice. His rubais alone proclaim his genius.

Mansur’s explanation of the mystery of life defies improvement: “Before the creation, God loved Himself in absolute unity and through love revealed Himself to Himself alone. Then, desiring to behold that love-in-aloneness, that love without otherness and duality, as an external object, He brought forth from non-existence in an image of Himself, endowed with all His attributes and names.”

Annemarie Schimmel makes the perfect comment on his fate. Mansur’s name became, in the course of time, a symbol not only for suffering love and unitive experience, “but also for a lover’s greatest sin: to divulge the secret of his love”.

Fariduddin Attar was born in Nishapur in north-east Iran and died in 1220. His work in prose and poetry continues to inspire, especially his epic poem The Conference of the Birds.

Jalaluddin Rumi

It is not easy to write of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273), the greatest mystical poet of Islam. He had a spiritual affinity with Attar and was influenced by Mansur. Literature on him fills shelves in libraries, inspiring works of high scholarship. To R.A. Nicholson and his pupil A.J. Arberry, we owe the English translation of his works. Nicholson translated the Masnavi, the six-volume miscellany of the mystical life. His friend and pupil discovered the Discourses and translated them (Discourses of Rumi; A.J. Arberry; Samuel Weiser, New York, 1961).

Born in Balkh in Khorasan, Nicholson records, Rumi spent his life in turbulent times. “In 1244 a wandering dervish, known to posterity by the name of Shamsu’l-Din of Tabriz, arrived at Konia. Jalalu’l-Din found in the stranger that perfect image of the Divine Beloved which he had long been seeking. He took him away to his house, and for a year or two they remained inseparable. Sultan Walad likens his father’s all-absorbing communion with this ‘hidden saint’ to the celebrated journey of Moses in company with Khizr (Koran, xviii, 64-80), the Sage whom Sufis regard as the supreme hierophant and guide of travellers on the Way to God. Meanwhile the Maulawi (Mevlevi) disciples of Rumi, entirely cut off from their Master and bitterly resenting his continued devotion to Shamsu’l-Din alone, assailed the intruder with abuse and threats of violence. At last Shamsu’l-Din fled to Damascus, but was brought back in triumph by Sultan Walad, whom Jalalu’l-Din, deeply agitated by the loss of his bosom friend, had sent in search of him. Soon, a renewed outburst of jealousy on their part caused Shamsu’l-Din to take refuge in Damascus for the second time. Finally, perhaps in 1247, the man of mystery vanished without leaving a trace behind.”

“The Diwan-Shams-I Tabriz (Lyrics of Shams of Tabriz) is an immense collection of mystical odes composed by Jalalu’l-Din in the name of Shamsu’l-Din and dedicated to the memory of his alter ego. The first verse does not confirm, but may have suggested, the statement of some authorities that grief for the loss of Shams-I Tabriz caused Jalalu’l-Din to institute the characteristic Mevlevi religious dance with its plaintive reed-flute accompaniment” (R.A. Nicholson; Rumi: Poet and Mystic, Unwin Paperbacks; 1978; pages 19-20). It is this religious dance which is now performed in India by imported professionals for a fee under the auspices of the traders of Sufism.

Dr Navina Jafa, director of Indian Cultural Heritage, is deeply devoted to heritage preservation, a task which requires scholarship, which she carries lightly. She also performs Kathak as a concert artist. Her book focusses on the idea of the living exhibit and demonstrates how creative and academically invested heritage walks are (Performing Heritage: Art of Exhibit Walks; Sage; 215 pages; Rs.550). Presenters at heritage walking tours have to be well equipped. Their power to persuade the audience to focus on certain themes is considerable. Of one at Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi, she writes:

“Referring to the Sufis, the presenter observed that what was even more remarkable was the fact that the Sufis’ strategy was defined by public service and they were thus able to win the trust and goodwill of the large non-Muslim population. Indigenising itself, the Sufi centre attracted common people by giving barkat (blessings), serving free pure vegetarian food to all, and offering Sufi music performances (sama). Even today, over 65 per cent of the daily pilgrims to Sufi centres, especially the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin, are non-Muslims. The Sufis conquered, but without the ‘sword’. The Sufis were able to introduce Islam at the grass roots in India before the political arrival of Islam in the 12th century and, even today, it manifests itself as popular Islam.”

In his magisterial two-volume work A History of Sufism in Islam (Munshiram Manoharlal, 1978), Dr Saiyid Abbas Rizvi devotes two whole chapters to “The Interaction between Hindu Mystic Traditions and Sufism” and “The Sufi Response to Hinduism”.

It is particularly marked in Kashmir “The Lalla-Vakyani”, or the “Wise Sayings of Lal Deed of Lalla”, had a strong effect on local Sufis. A Kashmiri Shaivite, popularly known as Lal Ded, Lal Didi, and Ma’I Lal Diddi, Lalla is also known by her Sanskritised names, Lalla Yogishwari or Laleshwari. Her family were Brahmans from Pompur and she appears to have been born sometime in the middle of the 14th century. As was the custom of her caste, at an early age Lalla was suitably married to a member of another Brahman caste; however, spurning family life, she became a Shaivite yogini.

“Lalla began wandering around Kashmir in the typical garb of a mendicant. According to legend she met Mir Saiyid Ali Hamadani on several occasions and modern scholars such as R.C. Temple and Muhibbu’l Hasan have mistakenly sought to prove a Sufi influence on Lalla’s verses composed while in a state of ecstasy. These, however, so strongly express the teachings of the Kashmiri Shaivites that such a theory seems implausible. Her themes include such beliefs that the Supreme Reality, identified as Shiva, underlies the Changeless Reality and that He is Eternal and Infinite, All-Pervading and All-Transcending” (see also Sufism in Kashmir from the 14th to the 16th century by Abdul Qaiyum Rafiqi; Bharatiya Publishing House, New Delhi, and Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Wali (1377-1438) by G.N. Gauhar, Sahitya Akademi; 1988). Sheik Noor-ud-din Wali is also known as Nund Rishi and is a founder of the Rishi Order in Kashmir.

Hindu and Muslim mysticism

Annemarie Schimmel notes that “Under the influence of the theory of ‘Unity of being’, some mystics might see points of correspondence between Sufi thought and the Vedanta system of Hindu philosophy and attempt to bring about an approximation between Muslim and Hindu thought—a current that was viewed with great distrust by the orthodox. The question of the probability and extent of mutual influence of Muslim and Hindu mysticism has been discussed often by Oriental and Western scholars. India had, indeed, been known as the country of magical practices—Hallaj even went there ‘in order to learn magic’, according to his detractors.” The Bhakti movement was reinforced by Sufism. K.M. Sen of Santiniketan notes in his study Hinduism (Penguin, 1969) that “Hindu and Muslim mysticism influenced each other”.

The distinguished scholar Prof. Jagan Nath Azad rendered a service by dispelling a false notion about Iqbal’s views on Sufism and on Hindu philosophy. “For him resignation to the Will of God coupled with bold action is the essence of Islamic Sufism; and resignation to the Will of God, if it means a passive resignation and mere fatalism, is according to Iqbal un-Islamic. Judging from this standard while he refers to the teachings of Sheikh Mohy-ud-Din ibn-i-Arabias un-Islamic, he describes the teachings of Lord Krishna as extremely close to the Islamic way of life. In the preface to the Asrar-i-khudi (Secrets of the Self) he writes: ‘In the intellectual history of mankind Lord Krishna would always be remembered with esteem and regard as this great personality has examined in a very attractive manner the philosophic traditions of his country and nation and brought out this reality and passivity does not mean renunciation of Action, as Action is inherent in human nature and forms the base of life. Renunciation, according to Lord Krishna, means that one should remain unconcerned with the results of Action. After Lord Krishna Shri Ramanuj followed the same path but unfortunately Shri Shankaracharya’s charming logic undid what Lord Krishna and Shri Ramanuj wanted to establish. Lord Krishna’s nation was, thus deprived of the fruits of this exposition of ancient philosophy.

‘In West Asia Islam brought a great message of Action, believing that ‘Ego’, is a self-created quality and can be immortalised through Action. But so far as observation on theory of ‘Ego’ is concerned there appears to be a strange resemblance between the intellectual history of Muslims and that of the Hindus.’” On one point Iqbal was right—There could be no compromise or tauhid-e-ilahi, the Oneness of God. His rejection of pantheism was total.

How times have changed. Time there was when Sir Rustam P. Masani published an English translation of an abridged edition of Farid-ud-Din Attar’s Montiq ut-Taye (The Conference of Birds, OUP, 1924; reprinted in 2009 by Asian Educational services; New Delhi and Chennai). All this on a ship which took him from Bombay to Venice. In his scholarly “Note on Persian Mysticism”, he asks: “how, then, does this strong, separate individuality gradually vanish in the mist? Whence emerges the mystic identification of the divine and the human? Whence the commingling of the One and the Manifold/ Whence the Ana al-Haqq of Mansur? Whence the world-soul-am-I of Jalal-ud-din? The latter-day speculations of the old Sufistic theosophy have embodied such foreign concepts of an undifferentiated and impersonal unity, that some even compare the Truth (Haqq) of Persian mysticism to the Sat of the Upanishads; and no wonder, for what is Ana al-Haqq if not an echo, a clear and distinct, though distant, echo of the following words of Shri Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita: ‘Victory I am and Action! And the goodness of the good, And Vasudeva of Vrishni’s race, and of this Pandu brood Thyself, yea my Arjuna, thyself; for thou art Mine!’”

Gita in Urdu

Around a quarter of a century ago, Khwaja Dil Mohammad published a translation of the Bhagwad Gita in Urdu verse (Azad Book Depot, Amritsar). It was entitled Dil ki Geeta (The Heart’s Geeta), and won a prize from the Government of Punjab.

Dargahs of the great Sufi masters continue to draw throngs of devotees across the religious divide. They spoke the truth to power and reached out to all regardless of any distinction. The distinguished scholar Tanvir Anjum has meticulously documented their rebellions approach in her erudite work Chishti Sufis in the Sultanate of Delhi 1190-1400: From Restrained Indifference to Calculated Defiance (Oxford University Press, Karachi, 433 pages, Rs.1,200).

She records: “Sufis were noted for their voluntary poverty as well for their censure of the rulers of their day for their excessive worldliness and pursuit of power. Ibrahim ibn Adham even gave up his kingdom and joined the ranks of the Sufis. Several other Sufi silsilahs sprang up around this time, acting in an organised manner and establishing Sufi dwellings or khanqahs for their disciples, who would join in for the purpose of leading/living a communal life for their spiritual development.”

Sufis inspired their followers to organise the khanqahs. They lived among the people and taught by precept as well as example. On two points they never compromised—the Unity of God and the fraternity of Man.

Sufism will live so long as man seeks the Divine within him. This, he assuredly will until the end of time. Because the urge resides within him. None summed up that urge better than Junayd: “Sufism is that Allah makes thee die to thyself and become resurrected in Him.” This theme is not unknown to us. One of our greatest poets, Ghalib, expressed it in a couplet which attracts little attention these days: Na tha kuch to Khuda tha; kuch na hota to Khuda hota/Duboya mujhko hone ney, na hota mein to kya hota? (God there was when there was nothing: If there was naught, He would still have been/My existence has drowned me in disgrace. If I did not exist, what would I have been?). That is a question every mortal must answer for himself. Few, if any, dare to ask it, still less answer it boldly.

Courtesy: Frontline (The Hindu Group)

A. G. Noorani

A. G. Noorani

Abdul Gafoor Abdul Majeed Noorani, known popularly as A. G. Noorani, (born 16 September 1930) is an Indian lawyer, historian, political analyst and author. He has practiced as an advocate in the Supreme Court of India and in the Bombay High Court.