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Where have all the Allah walay gone?


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By the time the British left the sub-continent most of the proponents of Sufism had become Sajjada Nasheen feudal. – Dawn File Photo

Sufism in the Indian subcontinent that started from 12th century and diminished by the early twentieth century cannot be resurrected in its previous form as a dimension of religious paradigm.

Without getting into a fastidious debate, one can summarise that Sufism was born and evolved while the feudal state and organised religion were taking root. It was a counter-ideology to dictates and formalism of the organised religion and a response against repression by the feudal state based on the sweat of the masses. As a matter of fact, as S. Sharma, a renowned historian, elaborated, the feudal state originated with land grants to religious institutions and to people of high priest cast, Brahmans or Pundits, in the subcontinent. It was not different from Europe where the clergy was feudal and part of the state’s ruling institutions. Therefore, the organised religion and repressive feudalism were always hand in gloves.

However, we should not confuse Sufism with classical Punjabi poets, because neither all Sufis were poets nor all poets were Sufis. Therefore, the current reverence for Punjabi poets, some of whom were Sufi, is an appreciation of literature, whereas, Sufism itself is an ideology or philosophy with diverse and sometimes conflicting offshoots.

With Muslim invasions, as explained by famous historian Al Beruni in Al-Hind, Pundits were pushed out of Punjab during Mahmud Ghaznvi’s conquest. A similar pattern was probably repeated (i.e. pushing Pundits southward) for the most part of Northern India. The potential feudal class of Pundits was cleansed and, hence, one does not see any prominent role played by Pundits in Punjab after 12th century like they did in the south.

Feudalism evolved a bit differently during Muslim period, however, the religious land grants to monasteries continued and expanded throughout the Muslim era. The British changed the laws of land-owning, resulting in consolidation of the heirs of monasteries taking feudal roles. That is why we see so many Syed feudals in Punjab and Sindh.

Sufism, idealised as a liberal, progressive, and all-inclusive humanist ideology, was limited to a few orders, while the others were closer to organised religion and allied with the Delhi court. In the earliest Muslim period, the Chishtia order was an anti-establishment (anti-organised religion and feudal state) followed by Qadarias in the later periods. The Suharwardia order, led by Baha-Ud-Din Zikria Multani, was closer to a formalistic religion and for about 800 years, the sect’s leaders have allied with the rulers whether they were Muslim monarchs or British Viceroys. Therefore, when we talk of a progressive Sufi ideology, we should know that it is a discussion of Chishtias, Qadrias and a few others.

The progressive Sufis adhered to some religious practices of Islam like prayer and fasting (most of them never preformed Hajj) but mostly tried to synthesise all religions in the subcontinent for the down-trodden people of lower casts who have been oppressed for thousands of years. They were also addressing millions who were pushed into slavery by Muslim invaders: Lahore and Ghazni had become thriving slave markets where the supply was so abundant that the price of slave and a goat were the same.

Humanist Sufis pushed the following points that one calls them their agenda for the convenience:

1.      They attacked the Mullah-monarch and Pundit-Raja alliance in asserting that organised religion is nothing more but a collection of rituals to serve the clergy and control the masses for the protection of feudal state. They preached that God or Bhagwan loves his creatures and no one needs intermediaries (Mullahs or Pundits) to please them. No one should fear the Creator: the Mullah/Pundit scare believers of dreadful hell or nark (hell) or temptations of heaven. And, since no one needs intermediaries for the Creator, the Shaaria or Munno’s rules (for Hindus) of organised religion are irrelevant. Furthermore, if religion is a private affair between humans and the Creator, worldly matters should be left to human-made rules. This is how they, indirectly, preached secularism.

2.      Since the Sufis’ interest was to promote people’s cause and unite them in a humanistic ideology, they adopted, rather pioneered the people’s languages. Therefore, it is no wonder that pioneers of Punjabi, Hindi and other North India languages were all Sufi poets from the progressive sects that we have mentioned above. They also synthesised the art (music, painting etc) with the indigenous traditions. Consequently, great singers and artists were produced under their patronage and influence.

However, with the passage of time the progressive thrust of enlightened Sufi orders started waning. When the Chishtia order’s fifth Khalifa, Mahmud Charagh Dehlvi, refused to nominate anyone as his heir, it meant the spirit of this order was coming to a close. However, the same spirit continued in various forms producing greatest poets of Punjabi language like Bulleh Shah, Waris Shah and Khawaja Fareed. However, during the Mughal era and even in Ranjaeet Singh’s empire, Sufi monasteries continued getting land grants.

By the time the British left the sub-continent most of the proponents of Sufism had become Sajjada Nasheen feudal. Just count the number of legislators in the National assembly, Senate and provincial assemblies and you may be surprised that the Syeds may outnumber all other casts or will be among the top. These Syeds are all descendents of Sufis but presently take their due share in the corruptions and other crimes. Overall, the so-called traditional Sufi sects are ritualistic just like Mullahs. They are all incorporated in Sunni Tahreek and their actions are hardly different from Salafis.

Sufism being a product of a multi-religious society cannot be resurrected in Pakistan where Islam is a monolith, casting shadows over the small patches of minority religions. During the middle and early modern era religion was the only ideology: Even an ideological opposition was possible through a counter-religious ideology such as Sufism. This was the limit of human thought process at a certain point in time. However, now the goals of progressive Sufis, equity, art, culture or promotion of people’s languages can be achieved through other ideologies. Let me give you a hint with this episode.

Pathany Khan, not popular yet, used to visit a progressive group in the Punjab University, Lahore, who promoted him and helped him to get on TV and other platforms. Someone asked him, being a strong devotee singer of Sufis, why does he stay with these non-religious people and he replied “Sain eeh bare Allah wale lok hun!” (Sir, these are really men of God!).

Dr. Manzur Ejaz is a poet, author, a political commentator and a cultural activist. He is a Doctor of Economics and currently lives in Washington DC.

Comments (31) Closed

Asif Siddiqui Aug 19, 2011 06:39pm
It is not enough to resurrect sufism. We must take a honest and critical look at Islam as a whole including the actions and words of Prophet Muhammad and then decide if we must accept past teachings or improve on them. Polygamy, unequal rights for women, talaaq etc have no place in modern Islam.
AnisAqeel Aug 19, 2011 07:23pm
A well researched article and a refresher course to the history of Sufism in the Indian Sub-continent. Where are these Allah walley now! probably moved to USA.
Surinder Singh Kade Aug 19, 2011 08:16pm
De.Ejaz Thanks a lot for the article. Even President Thomas Jeferson said that Religious rituals interpretations wer devised by the Clergy to control the masses and stiffle the logic and reasoning. Looking forward to your next article Surinder Singh Kade New Yprk
Arun Aug 19, 2011 08:30pm
Brahmins/Pundits as feudals is an amazing analogy, for unlike the barons of Europe who raised militia or the Church which had militant orders, the Brahmins never had a military dimension. The history of India is constantly distorted by force-fitting it into a European framework, as though it cannot be understood on its own terms.
Khuram Aug 19, 2011 09:04pm
True - these land grants have created Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, Peer Pagarrah, and a lot more.
Prem Singh Kahlon Aug 19, 2011 09:49pm
Dr. Manzur Ejaz Ji: I have enjoyed and respected your thoughts on various subjects over the years. I was wondering if it is possible to discuss and compare Sikhism/Sufism purely on philosophical point of view. Apart from calling themselves Muslims or Sikhs, is there ant fundamental difference in philosophy of Guru Nanak and Baba Farid? If it is too hot to discuss in public, can you please educate me on this issue. I have been trying to find the difference in their philosophy if there is one. Prem Singh Kahlon
mohammed siddiqui Aug 19, 2011 10:09pm
Respected sir: maulana shah ahmed noorani, peer ahmed saeed kazmi,perr karam shah, maulana abdul qayum hazarwi, peer allauddin siddiqui, peer meher ali shah, maulana madni ashrafi. to name a few>
saad Aug 19, 2011 10:29pm
excellent article...the rich history of the region should be resurrected..the whole worlds heritage can not compare with the heritage of the region its true culture and mysticism and identity....May the Spirit of Sufism and its saints revive the region and the world!
saad Aug 19, 2011 10:31pm
There is a field beyond good and bad I will meet you there- Rumi Sufis are people who are beyond heaven and hell and sin and reward so therefore live from the heart and not the minds judgement and limitations. Mullahs worship the idols of their own minds not Almighty. For Almighty is beyond reach of the minds ideas.
Asim Butt Aug 19, 2011 10:45pm
great article... wish there was a way to resurrect progressive sufism (Allah walay)in Pakistan... and finish feudalism...
Pradeep Aug 20, 2011 05:30am
Very interesting for me. 1. Your point 1 essentially reminded me of the schism that happened in Christianity with the advent of Martin Luthar who essentially said the same thing that no one needs an intermediary to "speak" to God. 2. Re the fact that the Syeds in Pakistan are now a "power group", I became aware of it, after reading recently a book by Anatol Lieven: Pakistan - A Hard Country. 3. I guess your article then begs the question in conclusion: Does Sufism have a role going forward as a voice of reason as the U.S is apparently trying to promote it to curb the influence of the Salafist or Deobondi traditions.
jay Aug 20, 2011 05:37am
A GOOD STUDY.SIR WHEN THEY LEFT THE STUDY OF QURAN,THAT IS WHERE THE PROBLEM CREPT IN .Even in today's Islamic countries,the QURAN is out of their school system,their country's Constituation,so the islamic society is in turmoil so when you leave the Miracle[the QURAN] there are no ALLAH WALAY left any more. everything else is just a passing Dream
Rana Aug 20, 2011 08:38am
Sufism is love and generosity absence of self constraints. They have been present since the beginning of Islam in all geographical areas including Arabian countries, Turkey, Persia, Afghanistan and not just Indo Pakistan. They have been seeking the truth and in the process will continue teaching people love for all and common ground. There is a difference between a true Sufi and those who are not Sufi and are materialistic. A Sufi is a state of mind. One does not have to be living in the past centuries or living in a wild to be a true Sufi. One can perform the same functions as past Sufi did, to spread love, care for humanity, to seek truth, to find common grounds, to talk less and listen more. Anyone can perform this duty by being just and truthful. I think we are all Allah Walay, we just have forgotten our duty. Allah Walay are still here, living with us, they just forgot to take the responsibility.
Khaleek Zaman, USA Aug 20, 2011 10:51am
Bold and matter of factly write up by Doctor Ejaz. Thank you. If I may, sufis, of the late middle ages had one thing in common, their ministries thrived during the time of grave tumult. Eg. Nizamuddin Auliya of Dehli saw Sultans come and go often violently, and there was no let up by Mongol hords attacking the subcontinent. Yet the sufi grand master had a profound affect on the society. His vision of the world was marked by a highly evolved sense of secularity and kindness. It is claimed by the 14th century historiographer Ziauddin Barni that his influence on the Muslims of Delhi was such that a paradigm shift was effected in their outlook towards worldly matters. People began to be inclined towards mysticism and prayers and remaining aloof from the world. Pakistan today is probebly witnessing the worst period of voilence in the history of subcontinent. Like Dheli and Multan of 1200s!!. So really, where are the Allah waley!!
Faheem Ayub Aug 20, 2011 11:12am
There are two pre requisites for any sufi (as written by Hazrat Ali Hajveeri Data Gang Baksh) first knowledge of shariah second practice of shariah. we do see first in few cases but second is almost gone. This is am saying about self proclaimed Peers and Sufis. So there are no more there. However, you can still find keep in mind two conditions said by Data Sahib
YM Aug 20, 2011 12:05pm
Sufism corrupted beauty of Islam.
Fayaz Aug 20, 2011 01:13pm
Muhammad Aug 20, 2011 02:56pm
Lahore and Ghazni, slave centers? Never heard it put it this way. I am not a history major or a social scientist. Where can I find more details on this subject?
ghulam asghar Aug 20, 2011 03:26pm
I think Dr.Manzur is historically misled. The very faith of sufiasm lies back in the strating history of the sacred religion of the ISLAM. And for his kind information, the Sufism is pioneered by the 4TH GREAT CALIPH OF Islam Hazrat ALI who led his life extremely simply and so did the sufees . Therefore, criticizing a philosophy that is acceptable through all the corners of the Islam is the simple waste of the time and and an ageless debate to the one's sectatarian appetite.
SJ Aug 20, 2011 03:32pm
Analysis regarding how the families of earlier sufis in this region became feudal is correct....however it is quite apparent that the author lacks the understanding of the realms and boundaries of sufism and shari'a portraying them as two forms which are at odds with each other the author is displaying the same mistake most pseudo scholars make...sufism and shari'a are 2 separate Islamic sciences with separate spheres and roles in a Muslim's life...sufism has to do with the person's internal spiritual purification and growth e.g. overcome malice, greed, corrupt thoughts, etc...while shari'a law defines how the worldly affairs should be managed according to the commands of Allah swt and sunnat of Nabi saw e.g. laws of inheritance, trade, etc...they go hand in hand in making a better Muslim and a better society at large...
Ejaz Aug 20, 2011 04:14pm
I wonder why all the big sufis like Kwaja Moinuddin Chishti, Nizamuddin Aulya, Data Saheb etc didnot marry and had no children at all. Didn't they read the Hidth that A muslim should marry becuase it is sunnat and who doesnot marry is not among us.
Ejaz Aug 20, 2011 04:41pm
Dear Saad Our ideal is Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and if a sufi or any other muslim adopts his way of living he is on the roght path. Ou prophet always preached that we are being examined and we will be awarded by Allah. Sin and good deeds done in this life will be be awarded by Allah. So if any one be it sufi says against it he is not a true muslim.
hasan Aug 20, 2011 05:29pm
alllah wale should have to go for work,,, n i think where they have already gone. Dont only be religious evertime. As a muslim boy i request you to compitate with india and their economy.
V Rojapu Aug 20, 2011 05:53pm
Dr Ejaz ji, thank you for the wonderful write-up. Many thanks to Rana for the comment above, as well. Dr Ejaz ji, please do consider writing more about Sufism in the entire Indian sub-continent (including India and Bangladesh)- its past and present. A series of articles on the subject would be very welcome indeed.
In my own skin Aug 20, 2011 06:17pm
Well written, well thought out. I am saddened by some of the extremist views in the responses. Life is so short, people should be allowed to choose how they live it. If you would like to live as a 'pious', orthodox muslim, go right ahead. And if others choose to live as humanist sufis, then please let them do so as well. I fully agree with the sentiment: man-made laws, for this worldly existence. I for one am fighting back against this hijacking of my heritage!
Agha Ata Aug 20, 2011 06:37pm
A modren man doesn't want to be passive, neither he seeks cure of diseases and solutions of his problems in shrines. Besides, allahwales are all gone, all what we have now are their graves we call shrines. Are these shrines safe?
Preet Kahlon Aug 20, 2011 10:13pm
Sufism is only way to reach God all mighty
Rajeev Aug 21, 2011 12:35am
"So if any one be it sufi says against it he is not a true muslim."... May be yes. But he still remains a lover of God, and of everything else, he is least worried about.
Asif Aug 21, 2011 09:36am
Baba Farid of Pakpatan did marry and had sons who in their turn became very important leaders of the Chistia order.
Asif Aug 21, 2011 09:48am
Prem Singh Saheb, you you know the answer to your question quite well. There is no difference. All you have to do is to read their poetry.
Ejaz Aug 22, 2011 03:08pm
Hazrat Ali was never a sufi. He was Caliph of Islam. And passed all his life strugling and fighting (jihad) with rebalion muslims. For Example; Jang Safeen and and jang Jamal. A sufi will never fight with sowrd. So Ali was a practical and true muslim and not like sufis or prohits (sadhus).