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The allure of Sufism

Published Sep 07, 2012 03:53am


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SOME friends often ask why I so strongly support Sufi Islam when many Muslims not only disapprove of it but even call it deviation from Islam.

My simple answer is that Sufis love Allah, not fear Allah. Love is the central doctrine for them. Sufis like Muhiyeddin Ibn Arabi who espoused the school of Wahdat al-Wujud demolished all walls of separation between one faith and another and made love of all human beings the base of their religion. Ibn Arabi went to the extent of saying “hubbi deeni wa shari’ati” i.e. love is my religion and my Sharia.

It is a very meaningful statement for those who believe in humanity and want to build human civilisation on love, not hatred. Love not only leads to tolerance but also demolishes all movements based on extremism and exclusive truth. One who loves all of humanity always adopts an inclusive approach and feels the truth cannot be the monopoly of some exclusive group.

Sufis in that sense are far more democratic with their pluralist approach. They feel Allah has created diversity and we must respect diversity as Allah’s creation. One who has a doctrinaire approach believes in exclusivity and disparages diversity as for him diversity negates the concept of exclusive monopoly of truth by one group. And if the truth is not an exclusive monopoly, no one community can be privileged as possessor of the truth.

Moreover, Sufism is based on a deep spiritual approach and on looking into one’s inner self. Spirituality is like an ocean and narrow identities are like small rivers bounded by banks and their course predetermined. Spirituality is therefore far more inclusive. In fact it is inclusive of several rivers which all merge into oblivion. Only the ocean remains. Maulana Rumi, when asked what his identity was, replied “love” as love is inclusive of all identities.

Now the question arises, what is love? Often we think we possess the one whom we love. In fact such sense of possession is the very negation of love. We must respect the dignity and integrity of the one we love and that is possible only when we concede full freedom to that person. Where there is a sense of possession we deny freedom to that person. Thus when a man thinks he loves a woman his love cannot be genuine unless he allows her full freedom and respects her dignity and integrity.

For Sufis too, love of humanity is based on these principles and they respect the dignity and integrity of all faiths which are sincerely held by any human being or a community of human beings provided these faiths are sincerely held.

Also, love cannot be genuine unless it is pure and purged of all traces of selfishness and personal desires. All selfish desire has to be renounced to make love genuine and hence Sufis talk of tark (renunciation) and the highest degree of this is described as tark-i-tark (renunciation of renunciation).

Thus a Sufi renounces his material comforts and selfish desires for the sake of Allah whom he/she loves intensely. Sarmad Shaheed was beheaded by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb as he would not recite the Islamic kalima, La ilaha il lallah (there is no god but God) but only La ilaha (there is no god). Before his beheading he was asked why he didn’t recite Il lallah (except one God). He replied “how can I say Il lallah when so many gods of desire are still in my heart?”

In so doing, Sarmad maintained that when so many idols of desire were still in his heart, how could his love of Allah be sincere and genuine? Hence a true believer or lover of one God has to purge all idols of desire installed in one’s heart.

The lowest degree of love is one which is polluted by selfish desires and the highest degree is one which is purged of all desires. Thus great Sufi saints who renounced all desires (though living in this world and involved in all its affairs) managed to achieve the purest form of love.

Some people reject Sufi Islam saying they disapprove of invoking Sufi saints for achieving some personal desire and overcoming troubles. But I am not concerned with this invocation or intercession. I accept Sufi Islam for its adherence to love in its truest form and selfless love of entire humanity in all its diverse cultural manifestations.

Invocation of Sufi saints or seeking their intercession can be seen as a human weakness. In fact Sufi saints believe that total submission to Allah — the beloved — is part of their love of Allah. They also call it tawakkul i.e. total trust in Allah as He does whatever He does, for the good of His servant. A lover has to accept the will of his/her beloved having full faith in the latter.

One may say there is a contradiction here. Well, human behaviour has to bring about reconciliation in what appears to be a contradiction. Submission here does not mean submission without efforts. Amal (action, effort) is a vital part of human existence and one has to make constant efforts to overcome contradictions and conform to the fundamental values of one’s faith.

One has to make constant efforts to uphold values and curb desire, anger and greed. It is an absolute requirement of love and of relating to the beloved.

The writer is an Islamic scholar who also heads the Centre for Study of Society & Secularism, Mumbai.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (47) Closed

Muhammad Farooq Sep 08, 2012 11:16pm
Peace lies in sufism,devote yourself wholly for GOD and consider the love superior of all
Mazher Arayin Sep 08, 2012 04:51am
Ghamidi is just a pseudo scholar, nothing more than it. Ghamidi has extremely wrong beliefs, he is there to make liberals happy.
doraha Sep 08, 2012 09:18am
Islam teaches Love to Humanity and Holy Prophet of Islam (PBUH) teaches dignity of human beings. Sufis did the same, the writer has to be commended to write truly his emotions and sentiments about sufi islam. I salute you,Sir. Rumi talks about Love and Rumi sings for growth and evolution. Kun hoa gaya fayakoon hota hee raheyga. The religion is LOVE LOVE to HUMANIT.
kamaljit Singh Sep 07, 2012 02:55pm
Yes, I cannot agree more.
mohammad hamza Sep 07, 2012 09:34am
Nothing could be more misleading than the convoluted reasoning in the narrative. It is better for the writer to read up Javed Ahmad Ghamdi.s views on Sufism who after having been born into it decided to renounce it as a great charade
Hasan Sep 07, 2012 08:03pm
What? The writer is an Islamic shcolar? If he were, he would at least have read Quran. He has many narratives in direct contradiction to plain words of Quran.
claude Sep 07, 2012 09:31am
Just read Bhakti movement of hinduism in place of Sufism. It won't make any difference.
Majority Sep 07, 2012 07:34am
I wish more people would read articles like this and take some time to think it over. Thank you Mr. Ali for sharing yet another jewel.
shamim iqbal Sep 07, 2012 07:40am
Its the requirements for love and peace.
Rationalist Sep 08, 2012 04:41am
You are right. Ghamidi converted from Sufism to Sunni Islam. But, let's also recognize that he spoke against blasphemy laws.
Capt C M Khan Sep 07, 2012 07:15am
Excellent article. We would still have the Mughal Empire only if Aurangzeb would have ruled like Akbar. Akbar treated all with love, Aurgaanzeb wanted strict Islam which isolated him and was the downfall of Mughal Empire. HUMANITY and LOVE are the fundamentals of all religions and faiths, if you just love yourself then you are on following our religion.
Zia Ahmed Sep 08, 2012 09:56pm
Compared to the universe this earth of ours is smaller than a grain of sand on the seaside. Why create divisions by claiming monopoly of truth? Far better to plead loyalty to the Creator and promote human solidarity. We should embrace diversity, show tolerance and try to improve the welfare of all mankind. If you are not a good human being how can you be a good Muslim or a good member of any other religion?
Azharuddin Sep 08, 2012 02:49am
Mr.Asghar Ali has been trying very hard to turn the Muslim world away from the core tenets of Islam. In his opinion, Islam's core and the modern world are in conflict. So the only respectable way out for a muslim so that he can save both his face and islam is to embrace sufism. He envisions that over few decades, Muslims can then tout Sufism as the only true Islam and bury their conflicted history. Good plan Mr.Ali. But I doubt it will work at all.
kamaljit Singh Sep 07, 2012 03:00pm
So true.
Naieem Sep 08, 2012 02:59am
Sufis are ascetic's much like the Christian Monks of old, as was Buddah who gave up his royal life in search of God
Syed Sep 08, 2012 07:20pm
Who can believe in love of Allah and then that love reflecting in love of humans and all living beings. Better than mohammad (pboh).no still can claim that so rather than following the followers follow the leader that is mohammad and study his life then you will be on the right don't stray by following sufis.
Rationalist Sep 07, 2012 11:39pm
You are right. All the philosophy, spiritualism and mysticism of Sufism have been borrowed from Hindu Vedantic principles. There is no support or reference to mysticism, spirituality or abstract philosophy in the Quran. In that sense, This is the reason that most traditional islamic school reject Sufism as part of Islam. Thus, there is more to the rejection of sufism by traditional Islam than saying "Some people reject Sufi Islam saying they disapprove of invoking Sufi saints for achieving some personal desire and overcoming troubles.".
Pramod Srivastava Sep 08, 2012 12:25pm
Beautiful and beautifully written. That is the way!
Tushar Ranjan Mohanty Sep 08, 2012 09:33am
Sufism is the beautiful manifestation of eternal Love and peace....
aaa Sep 07, 2012 12:28pm
I do hope you write more article not only on sufism but teachings as well. Its is the dire need of time. I do wish someone would off and on write different couplets from different sufis and give our younger generation the insight into this thinking. Recently i was listening to arif lohar's interview and he comes up with so many couplets it was a great experience to even watch that interview.
V. Sreenivas Sep 07, 2012 09:54pm
Man at a lower level needs a God whom he fears and fear is his motivating factor to follow a rightous way of life. But a more advanced person does lead a virtuous life knowing it is for his own good and loves God who has provided so many opportunities for us to be happy in this world. Unless one advances in spirtuality one cannot love God and needs the whip to keep him in line.
True follower Sep 07, 2012 09:13pm
Missguiding article and comments. All you need to know basics of Emaan please?
yousuf Sep 08, 2012 05:59am
kamaljit Singh Sep 07, 2012 02:59pm
Even majority of Hindus and Sikhs in Punjab love sufism. That is why the most popular Punjabi singer Gurdass Mann is so popular for the last 30 years . When he sings at the Mazarsof Sufi saints in Madaali ( near Jalandhar) people shower money over his head like it is raining money. Just watch any of his performance on You tube. Sufism is the Universal Religion.
amrit Sep 07, 2012 07:48pm
What a total irony... It's another way and not the only way
ilmanafasih Sep 08, 2012 10:32pm
Very well simple terms, a concept I have always found beyond a non spiritual self..
H L Sep 07, 2012 07:22pm
Sufism is some sort of mystism having its own rules. Having no solid basis in any religion what so ever. They follow everything in the name of love and mincing words e.g. "tark-i-tark (renunciation of renunciation)". What does this even mean in true action?. Yes, its a beautiful thing to reject the worldly things and move away from them. This raises many questions such as why are we in this world? What is our purpose? What happens when we die? To answer these questions religion comes in action. That is what Sufism lacks and people who think sufisim is deviant sect are probably right (in my humble opinion).
deck Sep 07, 2012 07:00pm
Please listen to "la ileha il lallah" mentioned in para. 8 by Shafaqat Ali and Sanam Marvi. GO to and search under Safaquat Ali and Sanam Marvi.
Cyrus Howell Sep 07, 2012 06:37pm
Sharia Law must be balanced with Mercy. If you love people, justice will be tempered with Mercy If you hate others, there will be No Mercy.
FRA Sep 07, 2012 04:00pm
"...We must respect the dignity and integrity of the one we love and that is possible only when we concede full freedom to that person..." You love God but seek favours from those created by Him. Does contradiction come to mind?
Truth Hurts Sep 07, 2012 05:59pm
Reported Jabir (R.A), the Messenger of Allah (Salala ho alahay wasalum) said: The best speech is the Book of Allah and the best guidance and example is that of Muhammad (salala ho alahay wasalum). And worst of all things are the newly invented things, for every innovation is error and misguidance (Saheeh-narrated in Saheeh Muslim) And another narration, Every newly invented matter is bid'ah and every bid'ah is dalalah (going astray) and every dalalah is in the Fire (Saheeh - narrated by Tirmidhi) Fear Allah O mankind Allah has completed Islam within the life of His Messenger (salala ho alahay wasalum) and documented that in His Words (the Noble Quran). All these vague talk is innovation/bid'ah and is in vain
Anum Sep 07, 2012 09:13pm
Interesting article. Indeed Sufi's like Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani Rehmatullah and Imam Ghazali Rehmatullah were revolutionaries of their time. They brought people closer to Allah Subhana wa Tala by bringing them to practice their Deen of Islam with the feelings of the heart not just mere prostrations empty of love. Deep understanding of tasawwuf and the company of the true Mashaykh can change a person's heart from heedlessness to guidance.
Khalid H Khan Sep 07, 2012 01:18pm
My moto "Love for all, hatered for none"
Ashfaque Ali Sep 07, 2012 06:21am
very nice..........
AB Sep 07, 2012 06:27am
Earlier i was doubtful. Now im sure he is a deviant :p
imran Sep 07, 2012 10:35am
who says majority of muslim disapproves of it... i believe majority of muslim in pakistan approves it and loves it and those who disapprove it r ignorant
Mohni Sep 07, 2012 10:33am
We need lesson in love to root out scourge of hate, extremism and intolerance. Let's spread the message of love.
Naseer Sep 07, 2012 04:28pm
Main difference between Sufi Islam and the rigid (so called) Islam followed by the terrorists is love and humanity. The Sufi's are respected by Muslims as well as non Muslims. They set a very good example of Muslims and that is the main reason why there are so many Muslims in India. compare this to the Muslims who ruled Spain for over 400 years and today you do not find any local Muslims there. The claim that all the Muslims were killed is not true, in 400 years, Muslims should at least have made friendship with a big portion of the local population through good behavior and justice. But this is against Talibaan idelody, who say "my way or no way".
Preet Kahlon Sep 07, 2012 04:42am
Air amazing article .. Sufism is only way to God
sami Sep 07, 2012 05:19pm
Sufism is a kind of approach to life and fundamental questions related to "presence of life and universe". It may be linked with Islam because many "declared" muslims follow this approach. Similar apporaches can be find in other people that were linked with other religions. We should not link this with the teachings of Islam and consider this as a separate "Ideology".
True Pakistani Sep 07, 2012 12:40pm
- man by nature is an EVIL entity. take the blinders off and look around what is happening in pakistan, afghanistan, iraq, syria,kashmir in africa, latin america, south east asia . . . at any given time it is reported that there are 20 wars, big and small, going on around the world. sufis will not suggest education, research . . . etc, rather they want you to love some thing you cannot even see. how unnatural?
FRA Sep 07, 2012 04:02pm
So you don't love those who disapproves it? Is your LOVE complete by calling other ignorant?
Shiv Kumar Sep 07, 2012 04:58am
sufi islam is natural and not imposed dogma. dogmas are in every religion but more pronounced in islam which does not tolerate dissent. for islam to evolve sufism is the only way
ArifShah Sep 07, 2012 06:47am
It is Good for World's Peace.
pankajdehlavi Sep 07, 2012 06:02pm
Akbar didn't die as muslim. During his whole life, he was disciple of Khwaja of Ajmer. He renounced Islam and made his own religion based on love and truth. Name of his religion was "Deen-e-Ilahi". During his entire life-time, he didn't allow arabic sunni islam to even enter in India. And whoever tried to talk about it, was sent to Arab only.
Falcon Sep 07, 2012 12:42pm
@hamza - Ghamdi is a very respectable figure, but he is only one of the scholars of the time. If you scan history, you will find many like the legends of Imam Suyuti and Imam Ghazali who have been sufis (many of them having been critics of it in the early parts of their lives). Any one who has ever been in a self-less love has higher propensity towards sufism because love is a myth buster in the realm of spirituality.
deicider Sep 07, 2012 06:53pm
Captain sorry but as a student of history I know that Aurangzeb was atleast as good an administrator as Akbar and manged a far bigger empire with much aplomb.Also his hatred for religious minorities is quite trumped up as most of his loyal courtiers were Rajputs who came into the Mughal fold during Akbar's reign and saw no reduction in dignity during Aurangzeb's time.Akbar was great (true to his name) but Aurangzeb really wasn't as much a villian as people make him out to be.He definitely was very paranoid and suspicious but also the only king who earned his own living (quite literally).