Past present: Why Sufism? By Mubarak Ali

To counter the emergence of fundamentalism in Pakistan, the ruling classes as well as intellectuals are advocating the revival of sufism. However, it is evident that ideas and the system cannot be revived because fundamentalism is a product of a certain time and space and fulfills the needs of that age.

Secondly, the very idea of revivalism indicates intellectual bankruptcy and lethargy of our intellectuals who are either not ready or do not have the capacity to understand the very phenomenon of religious extremism and its advent as a result of social, economic and political changes in society. A number of myths are associated with sufis. One of the arguments being that they converted non-Muslims and are responsible for the spread of Islam through the subcontinent. To portray them as missionaries discredits them as an impartial community. To convert someone means that they initially did not believe in the truthfulness of other religions. If this view is correct, it does not explain how they could create goodwill among people belonging to different religions.

Moreover, historical evidence shows that they did not make any attempt to convert people. Most of the great sufis lived in northern India where the Muslim population was a minority. Islam spread in Punjab, Sindh, and East Bengal where Brahmins were weak and the tribal system was powerful. Therefore, there are negative impacts of the glorification of sufism. We all know that the successors of the sufi saints exploited their ancestors’ stature and took undue benefits.

The shrine culture has always been opposed by the puritans as irreligious and as an attempt to pollute the purity of religion. In the subcontinent this conflict is evident between Deobandis and Barelvis. Revenge attacks on the shrines of some sufi saints has created a gulf between these two sects.To the Taliban, who adhere to the Deobandi creed, it is idolatry to visit shrines and to pray for the fulfillment of wishes. Some liberal intellectuals support it as an expression of cultural unity of different religions where Hindus and Muslim gather in respect of the saint.

Considering the whole phenomenon as popular culture according to the anthropological and historical point of view, every society has an elite class that enjoy music concerts, dancing, art, restaurants, clubs and other places for recreation. On the other hand, the masses enjoy popular culture which provides them an opportunity to forget the daily routine of life and indulge in some leisure time at popular festivals.

They visit shrines which are easily accessible to them and here they can pray to the saint to provide them with a cure for their ailments, to find them jobs, to save and protect them from evil forces and to make them materially successful in life. Women have their own specific wish list which includes a desire to bear children, to safeguard their marriage and have a loving relationship with their husband. It indicates the helplessness of not only women but also men.

When the state and society leave them without any service, the ordinary man has no option but to go and pray to a saint, to mediate between the individuals and God for fulfilment of their wishes.

As a majority of people live in poverty and misery, they are threatened by insecurity. Visiting a sufi shrine to pay homage to the saint gives them a sense of satisfaction.

Courtesy » DAWN.COM

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