Whirling dervishes perform at the Galata Whirling Dervish Hall, founded in 1491 by the Ottomans, in Istanbul, Turkey, on the second day of Muslims' holy month of Ramadan, late Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011. Sufi whirling performance of the Mevlevi order is part of a formal ceremony known as the Sama. The order was founded by the Persian-Turkish poet Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi, one of the greatest mystic poets of Sufism in Islam, born in 1207 in Balkh, then in the Persian province of Khorasan and now in Afghanistan, and died in 1273 in Konya, Turkey. - Photo by AP

KARACHI: Sufism is all about loving humanity and discovering one’s own self to reach or understand God. This was the crux of the arguments presented by speakers on the inaugural day of a two-day national conference on ‘Significance of Sufi poets in modern Pakistan’ organised by the department of Sindhi, Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science and Technology (Fuuast) in the institute’s Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan auditorium on Tuesday.

The introductory session of the moot was presided over by Prof Dr Muhammad Qaiser, former vice-chancellor of Fuuast, now the VC of Karachi University.

Chairman of the Sindhi department Prof Dr Inayat Hussain Laghari informed the audience (who had turned up in a small number because of the transport strike in the city) about the conference’s objectives. He said Sufism taught us to love humanity, something which could help us in difficult, violent times.

The keynote address was delivered by Prof Dr Nawaz Ali Shoq.

He suggested that there should be a Shah Latif chair at Peshawar or Punjab university and a Bulleh Shah chair at Karachi University to promote national integration. He said Sufis were not just poets; they were scholars too. They preached love of God, of His prophets and of humanity in general. He said according to the Sufis, offering prayers and keeping fast were important aspects of faith, but human beings needed to go beyond that – they should serve and love their fellow creatures.

To illustrate his point, Dr Shoq quoted quite a few incidents from some known Sufis’ lives. For example, he narrated a story related to Baba Farid Ganj-i-Shakar. Once a man came to Baba Farid and tried to gift him a knife (the village he belonged to was famous for making knives). The Sufi saint refused to accept the gift and said to him that he would rather accept a needle, because he was in the world to bring people closer to each other (sui ki tarha jorney ke liyey dunia mein hoon), not to separate them (chhuri ki tarha kaatne ke liyey nahin).

Dr Shoq rounded off his address by telling the gathering that in Sufis’ eyes it was very important for man to keep his heart pure.

He read out the couplet: Her tamanna dil se rukhsat ho gaee Ab to aa ja ab to khalwat ho gaee A scholar from Balochistan, Prof Dr Abdul Razzaq Sabir, said people thought Sufis led a secluded life; it was not so, they raised their voice against oppressors and tyrants. He said there was a need for revisiting Sufis’ lives and works.

Throwing light on contemporary times, he quoted Prof Karrar Husain who once said that while different languages were getting merged into each other those who spoke those languages were drifting apart. Dr Sabir added we should learn to accept one another and then read a few beautiful lines by Baloch poets, including Jawan Saal Bugti.

Prof Dr Seemi Naghmana went back in time when the British held sway over the subcontinent. She commented that even at that time Sufis had a sense of the political situation and rebelled against the British in their own way.

Prof Dr Ali Akbar and Prof Dr Sulaiman D. Mohammad also spoke. In his presidential address Prof Dr Qamarul Haq lauded the efforts of the Sindhi department in holding the event.

The second and first formal session of the day was presided over by Dr Dur Mohammad Pathan. Allah Bachayo Arisar was the first speaker who shed light on the Sufi element in Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai’s poetry. He also touched on the allegorical (tamseeli) side to stories such as Noori and Jaam Tamachi’s in Bhitai’s poems.

Sumaya Qazi read out a paper on the life and work of Shah Karim.

She said he was fond of mehfil-i-sama and often organised such gatherings.

Ramzan Bamari spoke on Mast Tawakkuli.

He said people had confined Sufism to Islam; they were more than that. Sufis were above the concepts of cast, creed or colour, and though Sufis did not care much about themselves, they loved their motherland. He said Mast Tawakkuli was fond of a girl named Sammi. He often used her as bigger metaphors.

He took issue with the title of the conference and remarked that Sufis existed even before Pakistan came into being. He also talked about the tortured bodies found in Balochistan on a regular basis and argued such things made one rebellious.

He iterated the Sufis’ message was to love humanity, particularly the oppressed. He pointed out that every university had a chair, but there were no Baloch poet chair at any university.

Prof Dr Khurshid Abbasi shed light on Faqeer Qadir Bakhsh Bedil and told the audience he penned no fewer than 23 books.

Dr Abdul Aziz Sahir’s topic was Pir Meher Ali Shah Golra Sharif while Prof Nasir Abbas delivered a speech on the importance of studying Sufism so that history could be better understood.

In his presidential address Dr Dur Mohammad Pathan remarked Sufis were normal human beings and should be treated like that.

Dr Kamal Jamro conducted the event.