Indian Sufism: An Antidote to global radical Islamism

Story by  ATV | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 06-06-2023
Dargah of Khawaja Moinuddin Chishty at Ajmer, Rajasthan
Dargah of Khawaja Moinuddin Chishty at Ajmer, Rajasthan


Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi 

There has been a long-felt need for an overhaul in the global Muslim society to rethink and rejuvenate Islam as a narrative of peace, pluralism, inclusiveness, moderation, reason, and rationality. Concerted efforts towards achieving this goal have been rendered globally, especially after the 9/11 terror attacks by the most radical Islamist extremist network al-Qaeda. Against this backdrop, several Western, Arab, and Muslim countries sought to promote the 'moderate' versions or variants of Islam in their Muslim societies as an antidote to global radical Islamism. The "Middlemost Islam" (al-Islam al-Mu'tadil) in Jordan, the "Humanitarian Islam" (al-Islam al-Insani) in Morocco, the "Democratic Islam" in Tunisia and Islam Nusantara (localization and vernacularisation of universal values and essential messages of Islam) in Indonesia are some the glaring examples of this creative rethinking (ijtihad) within the Islamic world. 

In India too, there has been brainstorming and rigorous exercises both at an academic, intellectual, and policymaking level. Indian Islam has already been a counter-narrative to religious extremism and radicalism because of its inherent ideological force –Sufism - deeply seated in this land of age-old mysticism. 

In the wake of the 9/11 bombings, Sufism emerged globally as the alternative peaceful and spiritually-inclined strain of Islam helping in peacemaking and counter-extremism. Regrettably, global radical ideologues of political Islamism worked out a complete theology of anti-pluralism seeking to justify extremist thoughts and actions, sectarian conflicts, faith-based violence, wanton killing of civilians, and suicide-bombing.

Against this backdrop, a rational and consistent narrative of peace and counter-extremism within an Islamic framework was called for. Therefore, noted Sufi scholars, especially in India as well as across the rest of the world brainstormed ways to tackle the onslaught of religious extremism catching the imagination of many young Muslim practitioners. In a bid to refute extremism on ideological grounds, they articulated a Sufism-inspired approach to peace and de-radicalization of the vulnerable sections of society. Thus, an Islam-based Sufi narrative of peace, counter-extremism, and de-radicalization grounded in the refutation of the extremist underpinnings was laid down within the framework of Indian Islam. Following this Indian model, rigorous Sufi activism aimed at finding concrete counterpoints to extremism has been geared up in the Middle East, Europe, America, South Asia, etc.

Until recently, Sufi Islam was not fashionable in many Muslim countries. Rather, it was shunned not only by the upper class, government, military, and bureaucrats but also by the Ulema, Islamic authorities, clergymen, and religious experts. But a reversing viewpoint is emerging now in the Muslim world and several Arab countries. Both the states and Ulema of many Muslim countries are beginning to embrace Sufism as a much more tolerant version of Islam that can better equip them to counter the rise of radicalism and extremism in their Islamic lands. This is an out-and-out impact of India's counter-extremism efforts imbued with its deeply seated local traditions of Sufism. 

At a time when many Muslim countries were faced with the scourges of radicalism, Takfirism, and sectarianism, Indian Sufism came to their rescue as a spiritual panacea for ideological ailments.

Global radical Islamist outfits and terror organizations such as Al Qaeda and ISIS, with their brazenly un-Islamic actions, have destroyed the image of Islam as a harbinger of universal brotherhood. These terror outfits went to the extent of brutal massacre of common civilians and non-combatant innocent Muslims in Iraq and Syria. At this juncture, Sufism came as a rescue to the oppressed, because it rejected all extremist ideas and actions outright. Indian Sufis in particular were vehemently opposed to the brazen violation of human rights enshrined in Islam and exhorted the Muslim youth to shun takfiri indoctrination and wrong interpretations of the Quran and Hadith that contradict the ijmaa e Ummat (consensus of the Ummah). In clear and categorical terms, all Sufi shrines of India, in unison, denounced the wanton killing of civilians, destruction of property and wealth, rebellion against the government, accusing Muslims of kufr (Takfirism), demolition of shrines on both local and global levels. On the other hand, noted Indian Sufi scholars and Ulema rebutted the theological underpinnings of radical Islamism and intellectual, social, religious, political, and ideological bases of terrorism in the name of Islam. 

Classical Islamic scholars of the Sufism-oriented seminaries in India systematically refuted the twisted extremist postulates such as takfir (declaring others infidel), jihadism (violent misuse of Jihad), khilafat (governing by Sharia), al wala wa al bara (loyalty to Muslims and disavowal towards others), dar-ul harb (religious classification of non-Muslim countries), etc. Point by point and clause by clause, they rebutted the extremist theological arguments of the books that have been written to indoctrinate the radical Islamist ideology among Muslims around the world.

While affirming the significance and the vital relevance of Sufism to counter radicalism, they laid greater emphasis on Islam's universal and egalitarian values such as Ukhuwaat e Insani (brotherhood of humankind), Rasool e Rahmat (Prophet as Mercy for all Mankind), Wasatiyyah and E'tidaal (moderation and balance in Islamic principles) Tasamuh (toleration and acceptance for other views), Muwasaat (empathy and social affinity) and Qaumi Yakjahati (national integration and harmony). This was impossible in Indian Muslim society without promoting the tolerant, spiritual, and moderate values of Sufism.

However, the Indian Sufi scholars and Ulema would do great help to world Muslims if they do not merely reiterate "reformist Sufism" in the name of the revival of Sufism. They need to support the non-conformist form of Sufism which is in full accordance with the universal prophetic traditions and complete synergy with the spiritual and saintly righteous Muslims. We must never endorse ignorance, irrationality, or illiteracy in the name of Sufism. Anything in the name of Sufism that doesn't reflect the universal values and essential messages of the Qur'an is pointless. 

Historically, Indian Islam owes much of its existence to Sufi Mashaikh, Saints, and Dervishes. The 13th-century Sufi saint and founder of the Chishti Sufi order in India Moinuddin Chishty also called Khwaja Gareeb  Nawaz, came to India from Madina where he served as a Master and teacher in Islamic sciences. His arrival ushered in an everlasting era of Sufiam in the subcontinent. 

Khwaja Ghareeb Nawaz pioneered the composite culture in India which remains well-spirited, widely accepted, and appreciated by the majority of Indian people. After him, Khwaja Qutbuddin Bhaktiyar Kaki, Baba Farid, Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya, Makhdum Sayed Ashraf Jahangir Simnani, and Ameer Khusro took the cause of eternal salvation ahead. They taught and promoted unconditional love, peace, and all-embracing spirituality. The reality that the shrines of these saints are still visited by people of all faith traditions, even after 800 years , is a testimony that Suufism can be a tool to deal with the current situation of communal hatred.

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It augurs well not just for India but the Muslim world at large. Inspired by Indian Sufism, many Sufi divines around the world have come out of their Khanqahs, conclaves, and hospices to fight the menace of radicalism and extremism. There's a growing consensus among Muslim countries that radicalism can only be wiped out from their societies through the restoration of Sufism and the propagation of its peaceful messages and human values. Thus, Sufism, a beautiful product of India's age-old ties with the Muslim world is greatly helping in the cessation of extremist thoughts and hardcore Islamist ideologies from the world today. 

The author is the Editor-in-Chief of an independent online journal, World for Peace