Prayers Cannot Atone For Hate, Sufism Thrives at Chishti's Tom
Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti's shrine at Ajmer
The patron saint of Hindustan, Khwaja Gharib Nawaz Mu’in-ud-Din Chishti’s 803rd Urs, or death anniversary, falling on 6 Rajab 1436 / 26 April 2015, is being observed at his Dargah at Ajmer in Rajasthan, with the place bursting at its seams at present with lakhs of pilgrims, rich and poor alike, descending from all over and seeking blessings and benediction for a variety of purpose. Ritual Sufic chadars have been presented, as a matter of routine, by all the political who’s who in India, and the highlight of this year was the one offered by the US President, Barack Hussein Obama, with prayers for peace and tolerance in a world marred by political violence in the name of religion.
The widespread veneration of Sufi figures like the Khwaja of Ajmer stems from the fact that they rose above traditional religious rituals and discriminations to speak in the language of love and tolerance for the whole of mankind. As the Sufis would say, everything is from God, whom they considered a friend, and since everything is God’s creation, there is an aspect of God in everything – a position articulated in the doctrine of wahdat-ul-wujud, or unity of existence. Viewed from this perspective, a little bit of love and respect for all of God’s creations can take care of much of the difficulties in the world around us.
In his lifetime, Mu’in-ud-Din Chishti preached that the best form of prayers included: listening to the grievances of the suffering people; helping the needy; and feeding the hungry. The Khwaja would also say that people with the following three characteristics could legitimately be considered as friends of God: river like generosity; affection like that of sun; and modesty and hospitality of earth (occasional thunder underneath notwithstanding!). None of them discriminate in what they have to offer. Not for nothing people from all walks of life and above narrow religio-political boundaries continue to flock to his Dargah for eight hundred years now, and even when there may be so much distaste for political violence in the name of Islam.
Complete submission to the will of their beloved God helped Sufis combat adversities – social, economic or natural. In a miracle story attributed to the Khwaja as early as the middle of the 14th century, it was reported that a Sultanate official, Malik Ikhtiyar-ud-Din Aibak, went to meet Mu’in-ud-Din Chishti and offered a cash grant, which the Sufi Sheikh refused to accept. Malik Ikhtiyar-ud-Din was shocked to see that the Baba was sitting on a carpet, under which a whole canal of gold coins was flowing! He was told to take away his nazrana or gift which had no value for the Khwaja.
In the above anecdote, there were several considerations, which were hedged through a miracle, or karamat, a typical trope in Sufi practices: first, questions regarding halal / haram nature of Ikhtiyar-ud-Din’s income; second, medieval muftis and muhtasibs, conscience-keepers of the time, were much more ruthless than the modern-day income tax commissioners; third, Sufis took pride in their poverty than being embarrassed by their new-found richness; fourth, the Sufi may not be sure whether his family of several sons would be able to handle this, gracefully.
In a similar incident, one of the Khwaja’s spiritual successors, Hamid-ud-Din, who had settled down in nearby Nagaur, rejected a huge cash grant from another Sultanate official. Before doing so, Hamid-ud-Din had consulted his wife and the venerable lady confirmed her Sufi-husband’s apprehensions by saying they were happy, despite their poverty, which they were able to handle through cultivation of a small portion of land and spinning a few yards of clothes – both were sufficient for their creature comfort.
Sufis were sharply critical of the hypocrisies, especially involving religious rituals. For them, natural calamities like earthquakes and plague and terror-attacks of the kind led by Changez Khan in the 13th century (who by the way was not a Muslim) were punishments sent from above for the wretchedness of the men on earth. In such situations, when people would rush seeking help from Sufis they would be told it was too late to intervene and save them from the disaster. They should run for their lives, praying to God for help, and prayers may not work either for people’s niyat was not good and that is why the punishment.
This was summed up in a Persian quartet. Ruba’i, quoted by another famous medieval Chishti Sufi master, Hazrat Nizam-ud-Din Auliya:
Giram ke namazhai bisyar kuni
Wa-z-rozai dahar beshumar kuni
Ta dil na kuni za ghussai wa kine tahi
Sad man gul bar sare yak khar kuni
(Agreed that you perform a lot of namaz
And also keep fast for many days
Yet if your heart isn’t cleansed off anger and hatred
It’s like dumping a hundred mounds of flowers on top of a thorn).
Speaking in such a critical language for the need for reform within and just a little bit of humanism or compassion, Mu’in-ud-Din and a series of his successors – Qutb-ud-Din Bakhtiyar Kaki (shrine at Mehrauli, south Delhi), Farid-ud-Din Ganj-i-Shakar, more popularly known as Baba Farid (buried at Pak Patan, Ajodhan, in Punjab, now in Pakistan), Nizam-ud-Din Auliya (Dargah in central Delhi) and Nasir-ud-Din Chiragh Dilli (tomb in south Delhi) – created a whole sacred geography of Islam in the Indian subcontinent, with the successors and disciples of each of these saints spreading and creating a network of popular piety that has stood the test of time for centuries together.
This practice of spiritually-oriented Islam is in sharp contrast to political Islam which thrives on violence and terror, despite the fact that Islam is supposed to be a religion of peace. Sufi saints have shown, through their practice, that this claim of peace with all is not an empty rhetoric.
(Raziuddin Aquil teaches History in Delhi University).