Sufism: a peaceful path

All religions – whether they are the three ‘revealed’ religions or any other – have two historical tendencies. First is that once the message has been received (from God or through introspection, philosophy, contemplation, etc.) and then spread widely, it tends to become organised religion. There are the examples of the Jewish establishment, the Christian Church, the Buddhist order, the Muslim clergy, the Hindu pundits, etc. When a critical mass is achieved, religion becomes ritualised. A mere form of the actual message remains, but the real message gets lost. The second tendency is to counterweight the rituals and the hollowing out of the message by opposing them. The opposition to ritualised, formalised, organised religion in the light of the real message is the basis of Sufism.

A Sufi’s message is love, tolerance, inclusiveness, acceptance, transcending the material world and universal brotherhood. The beautiful message cuts across the grain of religious exclusiveness. The exclusionary aspect of religion only produces conflict, as the idea of being exclusive makes people wear a mantle claiming themselves to be the ‘chosen people’. Sufism, contrary to some beliefs, is not exclusive to Islam. The basic idea is to merge with the Almighty. The Sufi practices teach one to realise oneself in this lifetime – Sach Khand in Sikhism, Moksha in Hinduism, Nirvana in Buddhism and Gnosis, etc., are all various forms of Sufism. The messengers of all three revealed religions received the Divine Message only after introspection, meditation and contemplation. The Sufis believe that the message of all religions is universal and therefore, they aim for a syncretism. The Sufi message controverts extremism.

In the Muslim world, the emotive resonance of the word ‘jihad’ used by politically-motivated clerics has brought about immense destruction throughout the world. Pakistan is no exception. The state-sponsored jihadist movement in the 1980s has led to the rise of extremism in this part of the world. Therefore, it is a welcome change to see the Pakistan government promoting the peaceful message of Sufi thought and culture. Platforms such as the Punjab Institute of Language, Arts and Culture (PILAC), the Iqbal Academy and the recently formed Sufi Council under the patronage of the federal government have taken some good initiatives in encouraging Sufism. The government’s policy thrust seems to be in the right direction as the message of Sufism explained above is very enlightened and extremely moderate. But the government needs to tap the genuine resources of Sufi thought by inviting scholars in the field to such platforms and engaging with them. There is no doubting the commitment of those heading these platforms, but just being in agreement with the philosophy of Sufism and not practicing it is not enough. Genuine scholars, real practitioners and thinkers of Sufism should lead this movement. Otherwise there is great danger that the pure concept of Sufism would be maligned by politicising it, as was the fate of jihad. The concept of ‘jihad’ was distorted to such an extent that today the word 'jihad' is synonymous with ‘terrorism’. The concept of Sufism is the dialectical opposite of this so-called jihad; therefore, its promotion might eventually lead to peace.

In the words of Maulana Shibli Nomani, “One who dies for the love of the material world, dies a hypocrite. One who dies for the love of the hereafter, dies an ascetic. But one who dies for the love of the Truth, dies a Sufi.”

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