Sufism [Muslim mysticism] in the aftermath of havoc played by the emergence of political Islam is being flaunted as soothing merchandise that is thought to be capable of calming the frayed political nerves.

Political Islam as a notion was manufactured by political thinkers and fine-tuned by military strategists in the capitals of the advanced world in 1960s to stall the thrust of communism, real and imagined.

The Soviet Union’s [erstwhile USSR] invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 to save the so-called Saur revolution helped the notion to put into practice which immediately initiated a process of active and armed resistance in the name of faith against a fledgling Afghan communist regime which owed its existence to a coup d’état rather than grass root politico-social transformations in a highly primitive and tribally fragmented society.

Reverberations of devastation caused by this brand of militant Islam continue to be heard across the Muslim countries.

Sponsored militancy, prompted terrorism, faith-inspired extremism with thick layers of sectarian hatred have destroyed social equilibrium, fostered intolerance, unhinged traditional political institutions, killed hundreds of thousands people and have inflicted indescribable miseries on the survivors.

The ugly dogs of manufactured wars are running amok for instance in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. Pakistan is still wrestling with the fallout of the war it started against the ‘communist infidels’ in 1979 at the behest of the USA and its allies in the West and East.

With the erstwhile Soviet Union dissolved, Muslim societies badly battered and world peace imperiled by the spectre of terrorism, war mongers of the dominant West in the guise of peacemakers are now desperate to find a panacea which in their opinion can cure the self-inflicted woun ds that plague the post-cold war Muslim world.

The initiative is not altruistic at all. Sporadic acts of terror in the USA and Europe by the clones of those fundamental Islamic forces that were unleashed by the West against the progressive sociopolitical forces and Soviet Union in Afghanistan have forced the movers and shakers of the world to come up with some sort of solution to achieve a modicum of stability in Muslim societies and ward off terrorist activities across the globe.

A number of devastated Muslim societies in the words of poet Brecht are ‘like the man who took a brick to show how beautiful his house once used to be’. In such a context Sufism as a notion and practice comes handy. It as a notion espouses individuals’ direct experience of the divine at existential level and as practice emphasizes the generally non-violent individual and collective existence at social level.

Sufism in our society has historically been defined by two distinct features: defiance of oppressive and exploitative social structures by some while acceptance of the existing institutions by others with a view to influencing the official decision making in support of Muslim rulers.

Baba Farid Shakar Ganjh for example represents the former while Bahauddin Zakariya Multani is the exponent of the latter. Baba Farid sought ‘blissful poverty’, lived like an ordinary mortal among poor peasants, empathized with them and expressed their sufferings and dreams in his poetic expression. This larger than life poor saint had an immensely powerful spiritual and cultural presence with a huge following but deliberately shunned the rich and contemptuously refused to hobnob with the royalty of his time which was too eager to seek his ‘guidance’. He was genuinely a people’s saint who shared their miseries. His ‘Khanqah’ [mystic hut] was open to all and provided free education and instruction as is evident from the available historical material.

Bahauddin Zakariya, on the other hand, was a man of immense material resources and lived like a king. His high table was the envy of many a royal. He was a proud member of royal establishment, raised troops for it and supported rulers to the hilt. Qazi Javed in his book ‘Punjab Kay Sufi Danishwar’ wrote that when Bahauddin Zakariya was confronted by a lowly mystic as to why his [Bahauddin’s] Khanqah and sprawling seminary had their doors closed to the poor, he famously said that it wasn’t the poor but the students from aristocratic background and upper classes who needed proper education as they were the guys that would be responsible for managing the affairs of Muslim kingdom in India. So his concern was the rulers rather than the ruled.

Despite all his piety and knowledge he loved being close to the high and mighty because of his passion for power.

A majority of the Sufis/Mashaikh belongs to these two categories mentioned above regardless of their ‘Maslak’ [school of thought]. Shah Hussain and Bulleh Shah followed the trail blazed by Baba Farid while Sultan Bahu, Pir Meher Ali and Khawaja Ghulam Farid were practically closer to the path treaded by Bahauddin Zakariya.

With the passage of time consistent efforts have been made to appropriate the Sufis with their anti-status quo vision and the ruling clique to a large extent has blunted their revolutionary edge. The only honourable exceptions are Shah Hussain and Bulleh Shah whose way of life and poetry are still a red rag to the established order. The secret of their being able to resist co-option lies in their uniquely iconoclastic vision, organic link with the people and contempt for affluenza.

They always heard what was whispered to the mighty Roman emperors; memento mori. What helped them to have freedom to do they chose was their rejection of traditionally settled family life. —

Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2018