Can Sufism save Sindh?

Published February 2, 2015
Pakistani security officials gather at the Shikarpur Imambargah after the blast on January 30. —AFP
Pakistani security officials gather at the Shikarpur Imambargah after the blast on January 30. —AFP

Sindh is under attack.

The land of Shah Latif bleeds again.

The seven queens of Shah Latif’s Shah Jo Risalo – Marui, Sassui, Noori, Sorath, Lilan, Sohni, and Momal – have put on black cloaks and they mourn. The troubles and tribulations are not new for the queens.

After the sack of Delhi, Nadir Shah (Shah of Iran), invaded Sindh and imprisoned the then Sindhi ruler Noor Mohammad Kalhoro in Umarkot fort. Shah Latif captured it in the yearning of Marui for her beloved land when she was locked up in the same Umarkot fort.

If looking to my native land
with longing I expire;
My body carry home, that I
may rest in desert-stand;
My bones if Malir reach, at end,
though dead, I'll live again.

(Sur Marui, XXVIII, Shah Jo Risalo)

The attack on the central Imambargah in Shikarpur is as ominous in many ways as it is horrendous and tragic.

The Sufi ethos of Sindh has long been cherished as the panacea for burgeoning extremism in Pakistan. Sufism has been projected lately as an effective alternative to rising fundamentalism in Muslim societies not only by the Pakistani liberal intelligentsia but also by some Western think-tanks and NGOs.

But the question is, how effective as an ideology can Sufism be in its role in contemporary societies?

To begin with, Sufism is not a monolithic ideology.

There are several strains within Sufism that are in total opposition to each other, thus culminating into totally opposite worldviews. The most important of them is chasm between Wahdat al-Wajud (unity of existence) and Wahdat al-Shahud (unity of phenomenon).

The former professes that there is only One real being not separated from His creation, and thus God runs through everything. While Wahdat al-Shahud holds that God is separated from His creation.

Take a look: Shikarpur blast: SHO suspended, investigation underway

While the distinction between the two might seem purely polemical, it actually leads to two entirely opposite logical conclusions.

Wahdat al-Wajud sees God running through everything. Thus apparent differences between different religions and school of thoughts vanish at once. In diversity, there lies a unity thus paving way to acceptance of any creed, irrespective of its religious foundations.

Ibn al-Arbi was the first to lay the theoretical foundations of Wahdat al-Wajud and introduce it to the Muslim world.

On the other hand, the Wahdat al-Shahud school of thought was developed and propagated by Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi, who rose to counter the secular excesses of Akbar. He pronounced Ibn al-Arbi as Kafir and went on deconstructing what he deemed as heresies.

Wahdat al-Shahud in its sociopolitical context leads to separation and confrontation. The staunch anti-Hindu and anti-Shia views of Ahmed Sirhindi are just a logical consequence of this school of thought. Ahmed Sirhindi is one of the few Sufis mentioned in Pakistani textbooks.

Historically, Sufis in today’s Pakistan have belonged to four Sufi orders: Qadriah, Chishtiah, Suharwardiah, and Naqshbandiah.

It is also interesting to note that not all of these Sufi orders have been historically anti-establishment.

While Sufis who belonged to the Chishtiah and Qadriah orders always kept a distance from emperors in Delhi and kept voicing for the people, the Suharwardia order has always been close to the power centres. Bahauddin Zikria of the Suharwardiah order enjoyed close relations with the Darbar and after that leaders of this order have always sided with the ruler (either Mughals or British) against the will of the people.

Explore: Old Sufis, new challenges

Sufism in the subcontinent in general and Sindh in particular, emerged and evolved as a formidable opposition to the King and Mullah/Pundit nexus. Not only did it give voice to the voiceless victims of religious fanaticism, but also challenged the established political order.

To quote Marx it was ‘the soul of soulless conditions’.

A case-in-point is Shah Inayat of Jhok Sharif, who led a popular peasant revolt in Sindh and was executed afterwards. Shah Latif wrote a nameless eulogy of Shah Inayat in Shah Jo Risalo.

However, the socio-political conditions that gave rise to Sufism in the subcontinent are not present anymore. The resurrection of Sufism as a potent resistance ideology is difficult if not impossible. Sufis emerged from ashes of civilizational mysticism, independent of organised religion and political powers.

Today, however, the so-called centres of Sufism known as Khanqahs are an integral part of both the contemporary political elite and the all-powerful clergy. On intellectual front self-proclaimed proponents of contemporary Sufism – Qudratullah Shahab, Ashfaq Ahmad, Mumtaz Mufti, et al – have been a part of state apparatus and ideology in one form or another.

Sufism is necessarily a humanist and universal ideology. It is next to impossible to confine it to the boundaries of modern nation states and ideological states in particular, which thrive on an exclusivist ideology.

Mansoor al-Hallaj travelled extensively throughout Sindh. His famous proclamation Ana ‘al Haq (I am the truth) is an echo of Aham Brahmasmi (I am the infinite reality) of the Upanishads. There are striking similarities between the Hindu Advaita and Muslim Wahdat al-Wajud. These ideologies complement each other and lose their essence in isolation.

Punjab has been a centre of The Bhakti Movement – one of the most humanist spiritual movements that ever happened on this side of Suez – but all the humanist teachings of the movement could not avert the genocide of millions of Punjabis during the tragic events of the Partition.

The most time-tested peace ideology of Buddhism could not keep the Buddhists from killing Muslims in Burma.

Such are the cruel realities of modern times that can overshadow the viability of any spiritual movement.

Sufism in Sindh exists today as a way of life and not an ideology.

It is an inseparable part of how people live their daily lives. In Pakistan, however, to live a daily life has come to be an act of resistance itself.

Also read: Upsetting Sufis

Sindh bleeds today and mourns for its people and culture that are under attack. Bhit Shah reverberates with an aggrieved but helpless voice:

O brother dyer! Dye my clothes black,
I mourn for those who never did return.
(Sur Kedaro, III, Shah Jo Risalo)



Debt trap
Updated 30 May, 2024

Debt trap

The task before the government is to boost its tax-to-GDP ratio to the global average by taxing the economy’s untaxed and undertaxed sectors.
Foregone times
30 May, 2024

Foregone times

THE past, as they say, is a foreign country. It seems that the PML-N’s leadership has chosen to live there. Nawaz...
Margalla fires
30 May, 2024

Margalla fires

THE Margalla Hills — the sprawling 12,605-hectare national park — were once again engulfed in flames, with 15...
First steps
Updated 29 May, 2024

First steps

One hopes that this small change will pave the way for bigger things.
Rafah inferno
29 May, 2024

Rafah inferno

THE level of barbarity witnessed in Sunday’s Israeli air strike targeting a refugee camp in Rafah is shocking even...
On a whim
29 May, 2024

On a whim

THE sudden declaration of May 28 as a public holiday to observe Youm-i-Takbeer — the anniversary of Pakistan’s...