A Cultural Journal

    THE RELIGIOUS 'OTHER' IN THE SUFI WORLDVIEW

    Written by: Tanvir Anjum - Posted on: September 23, 2013 | Post your comment here Comments | 中文 (Chinese)

    Google Translation: اُردو | 中文

    THE RELIGIOUS 'OTHER' IN THE SUFI WORLDVIEW

    Mysticism or spirituality is a universal phenomenon, which runs through many great religious traditions of the world, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In Islam, this spiritual or esoteric tradition is referred to as Sufism. The affiliate of this movement is called a sufi, a person who treads on the path of seeking the Divine Truth by cleansing and developing his/her inner self. The origin of Sufism can be traced back to the sacred scripture of Islam—the Quran—as well as the practices of its founder, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), but as a distinct movement it acquired its specific contours at a later stage. During the ninth and tenth centuries, the Sufi movement grew more popular, and its doctrines and practices were institutionalized. The sufis established their lodges in many parts of the Islamicate, including South Asia.

    Sufism is often defined as ‘the way of love,’ since the sufis believe in the notion of universal cosmic love. The love for the Absolute, or God, or intimacy with God, is one of the core principles of Sufism. The Sufi notion of love embraces the entire universe and the creation; in fact, according to the sufis, it is the cosmic love which is the cause behind all causes. It is cosmic love which brings out all existence out of nothingness. The universe and the entire creation have been created by God for the purpose of His Self-disclosure. Therefore, the quest of a sufi is to unveil the mysteries of the creation and the Creator, and seek His proximity through love. Through their works, the great Sufi masters like Rabiah of Basrah, Junaid of Baghdad, Ibn al-Arabi of Andalusia, Jalal al-Din Rumi of Konya, Abd al-Rahman Jami, Muin al-Din Chishti of Ajmer, Baba Farid and Nizam al-Din Auliya of Delhi propagated the notion of divine love and its varied manifestations.

    The multi-faceted notion of divine love among the sufis imparts openness for recognizing multiplicity of views and accommodation of differences. Philosophically speaking, the sufis consider the ‘Universal Truth’ or the ‘Reality’ as essentially one, expressed and articulated in multiple ways by the adherents of varied religious traditions. That is why sufis view the entire humankind as the family of God, and believe in serving them without discrimination on the basis of caste, color, creed or gender. Any kind of ‘othering’ in the social, cultural or religious sense is discouraged. In particular, the ‘religious other’ in the Sufi worldview is revered like a co-religionist.

    Demographically, the premodern South Asia had an overwhelming non-Muslim majority, comprising of the Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Zoroastrians, and the Sikhs. Though the Muslim kings ruled the Indian sub-continent for more than a millennium, and Islam as a faith won converts from among the native folks, the Muslims remained a small minority. So in a multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic Indian society, the sufis belonging to various groups or Sufi orders created an environment of tolerance, harmony and mutual respect. It was only in a climate of ideological and religious pluralism that the adherents of multiple faiths could peacefully live together. The fourteenth-century sufi Baba Farid was once offered a pair of scissors as a gift, to which he replied: “Instead of scissors, give me a needle, as scissors cut and divide, while a needle draws together and unites.” This figurative expression, which has now become proverbial, demonstrates the Sufi worldview regarding global unity and harmony.

    The sufis in South Asia helped the people transcend religious exclusivism, and inculcated an inclusive and non-communal approach, particularly towards the people professing other faiths. They preached conciliatory attitudes towards other religious philosophies and systems, and propagated reverence for all sacred scriptures, arguing that all the world religions share a common divine origin. They advocated for universal respect for the priests and spiritualists belonging to other religious traditions. They held regular discourses and exchanged knowledge with them.

    The sufis did not merely believe in tolerating the others; rather they went a step ahead, and believed in accepting and celebrating diversity, as Saiyyid Ali Hujwiri, the eleventh-century sufi of Lahore, popularly known as Data Ganj Bakhsh, declared that tolerance is merely the concealment of one’s biases against others. One should whole-heartedly and sincerely accept others. It is for this reason that Sufism has been referred to as the ‘soft side of Islam,’ a variant of Islam that represents its non-dogmatic, non-violent and accommodative face.


    The views expressed in the article reflect those of the author.



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