sufism and Pakistan

Political, social and economic progress in human life depends upon the activities of dedicated persons guided by leaders of exceptional qualities. The ushering in of the greatest movement in history i.e. ‘Islam’ was possible and its success assured because of the sterling character, the imperishable faith and unfailing resolve of its leader, Prophet Mohammed, and his companions.

Muslim society has the distinction of initiating another unique movement in history which remains unparalleled by its wide-spread character covering the two continents of Asia and Africa; by the remarkable success it achieved in having its objectives fulfilled; by the enormous number of selfless workers it produced for the propagation of its ideals; by the depth of influence it exercised; by the revolutionary fervour it aroused, and by the indelible marks it left not only on Muslim society but on the Christian, Hindu and Buddhist societies as well. It provided nourishment to such an extent that Muslims were able to withstand the Mongol catastrophy, fight it back with renewed vigour on religious plane and then to expand its horizons beyond the Sahara in Africa, across the Indus in India and over the oceans into Indonesia. This movement is known as “Sufism”.

The beginning of sufi movement, its philosophy and the biographies of its leaders (saints) are too well-known, and dwelt upon at great length by a large number of scholars to be recapitulated here. Only those aspects which are relevant to the emergence of Pakistan are given here. An important point to bear in mind is that there would have been no Pakistan without the sufi movement.

Pakistan and sufism are inter-related, inter-woven and inseparable from each other. If Pakistan’s beginning is traced back to the conquest of this sub-continent by Muslims armies, as is erroneously done, then the whole sub-continent should have become Pakistan since Muslim arms were successful throughout the area. But Pakistan emerged only in those territories where sufism met with success. Pakistan, therefore, can be described as the fruit of sufi movement. “Pre-eminent among these problems relating to the life of the Muslim community in all regions since the twelfth century”, writes Professor Gibb, “is the activity and influence of the sufi shaikhs and orders. It was into the sufi movement that the life blood of the community flowed ever more strongly. No adequate history of Islam can be written until it, with all its causes and effects, has been studied patiently and with scholarly integrity, In no region, moreover, is this study more fundamental or more urgently required than in that of Islam in Indian subcontinent”. He further says: “From the 13th century A.D. sufism increasingly attracted the creative social and intellectual energies within the community, to become the bearer or instrument of a social or cultural revolution.”

In its early stages sufism was an individual affair confined to intellectuals and spiritualists with hardly any appeal to the masses. But with the passage of time it acquired new dimensions and began to deal with the mundane aspects of life as well. Its beginning, popularity and propagation have been attributed to many causes among which may be mentioned:

1. to free religious thought from the rigidity imposed by the ulema;
2. to emphasise in the Islamic teachings the element of God’s love and mercy for His creation rather than His wrath and retribution;
3. to practise what one professes and not merely indulge in slogans and soliloques;
4. to stress the essence of faith rather than mere observance of formalities;
5. to move away towards rural areas from the evil and debilitation effects of wealth, monarchy and bureaucracy concentrated in big cities;
6. to demolish the edifice of false values based on pelf and power and restore morality to its proper place in the niche of Muslim society;
7. to combat the fissiparous tendencies and centrifugal forces which were spreading their tentacles in the Muslim world;
8. to discourage parochial feelings and eliminate racial pride which had assumed primary importance in Muslim thinking relegating the ideal of brotherhood to a secondary place etc.

These factors which gave birth to organised sufism were indeed serious ailments which had afflicted Muslim society for some time and had assumed menacing proportions by the 12th century A.D. It was easily discernible that Muslim political structure was crumbling and its entire moral and social fabric facing extinction. The most redeeming feature of this dark and dismal period was that this challenge was successfully met by the Muslim society from its own resources and from its own inherent strength by employing its own moral and intellectual weapons. The answer to this grave challenge was the sufi movement. Sufism gave a new lease of life to the Muslims, provided them with a bright vision, opened up fresh vistas for them, and guided them towards unexplored horizons. It was a glorious and splendid performance, unparalleled and unsurpassed in human history.

Hundreds of devoted workers left their hearths and homes, spread out over unknown regions hazarding strange climes and conditions with hardly any material resources to aid and assist them. Poverty and privation stalked their efforts while distance and inaccessibility stood in their way. But undaunted and undeterred they marched forward demolishing the distances, breaking the barriers, conquering the climes. And lo! they succeeded. What was the secret of their success? They had both strength of character and courage of conviction, were selfless and devoted to a cause.

Sufism became organised, and adopted a form and institution in the 12th and 13th centuries A.D. The two great pioneers in this field were Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani and Hazrat Shahabuddin Suhrawardy. By introducing the system of ‘silsila’ which was a sort of association/order, and takia/khankha, a lodge or hospice, they invested the movement with a sense of brotherhood and provided it with a meeting place. The ‘silsila’ and the takia/khankha were the king-pins of the organization. With a stream of selfless workers available and with no dearth of devoted and assiduous leadership, the movement made swift progress and spread far and wide.

It is incorrect to state that the sufis followed the Muslim conquerors in the sub-continent. They were here, though in small numbers, and had started their work even before the arrival and triumph of Muslim armies. “We now know that a sufi, Sh. Abdur Rahman, had settled in Ajmer even before Khwaja Moinuddin, and was the author of the first work in Hindi.”(Indian Muslims, By Prof. M.Mujeeb.). At this time Ajmer was ruled by Rajput Rajas. Similarly, Shaikh Ismail Bukhari came to Pakistan before Mahmud Ghaznavi. Mohammed Alfi who came as early as Mohammadd Bin Qasim’s time began missionary work in Hindu-ruled Kashmir.

The character of sufi movement was such that if did not require official patronage or military protection. It succeeded without both in a number of countries such as Malaya, Indonesia and East and West Africa. The same is true of their work in Pakistan. In fact, power was a hindrance rather than a help to the progress of Sufi mission. This is amply borne out by the fact that sufis achieved least success near the seats of power in the sub-contintent and had greater appeal where they had to fall upon their own moral and spiritual resources in which they were not wanting.

“Shaikh Daud of Lahore declined to meet Akbar although the Emperor was anxious to benefit from his guidance and blessings. Eminent Khalifas of Shaikh Nizamuddin refused to consider a proposal made by Mohammad Tughlaq to coordinate missionary activity with political expansion.” (Indian Muslims, By Prof.M. Mujeeb.)

“Neither the succession of victories by Muslim armies nor the massacre of Hindu and the destruction of their temples brought many Hindus to the fold of Islam. On the contrary, as would be natural in the circumstances, conquest only built up Hindu resistance. The battles of Islam were won not by Muslim iconoclasts but by peaceful missionaries.”

Here we shall briefly narrate the work of sufis in Pakistan. Early in the 8th century A.D. when Mohammad Bin Qasim conquered Sind (which included most of Punjab) sufi movement had not taken any organised form, as already stated. In those days Islam was propagated mostly by merchants and individual preachers belonging to various trades. They were successful only to a limited extent; they did not spear-head a mass movement.

The first organised work in this region was started by Ismaili missionaries who achieved considerable success in Sind and southern Punjab where they gained political power as well by installing Ismaili rulers at Multan and Mansura. But the success of Ismaili missionaries was short-lived. Both Mahmud Ghaznavi (997-1030 A.D.) and, 150 years later, Mohammad Ghori (1175-1206 A.D.) defeated and smashed the power of the Ismaili rulers which resulted in the slow withering away of Ismaili Shiaism in Pakistan.

The Ghaznavid period was marked by the arrival in Lahore of the important spiritual figures of Hazrat Shaikh Ismail and Hazrat Ali Bin Osman Hujweri, popularly known as Data Ganj Baksh (died between 1072-79 A.D.) The latter was among the leading sufi philosophers of the day and since no organised ‘silsilas’ had started in his time, he did immense missionary work in an individual capacity and set an outstanding example for future generations.

Hazrat Shaikh Ali Bin Osman Hujweri during the time of Masud Ghaznavi and was highly successful in converting large number of Hindus to Islam.” (Tareekh-e-Sind By Ijazul Haq Quddusi.) He is reported to have converted Rai Raju, a Hindu General of the Ghaznavids, to Islam.

However, according to scholars, the general conversion to Islam in Pakistan started on a sizeable scale two hundred years later, from the 13th century, after the Ghorid rule. This period begins with the arrival of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in this sub-continent followed by a large number of Chishti and Suhrawardy sufis. This period also saw the expansion of Muslim power across the Sutlej into northern India. “Muslim mysticism reached India when it had entered the last and the most important phase of its history- the organisation of silsilas in the 12th-13th centuries A.D. In the early period, only Suhrawardy and Chisti silsilas started their work.” (Religion and Politics in India in the 13th Century A.D. By Khaliq Ahmad Nizami.)

“Sind claims the distinction of being the home of Indian sufism. According to Hasan Nizami, Suhrawardy sufis were the first to arrive in India and made their Headquarters in Sind. Suhrawardy order attained great influence in Pakistan under the leadership of Hazrat Bahauddin Zakaria of Multan. The famous Qadirya order entered India through Sind in 1482 A.D. Syed Bandagi Mohammad Ghouse, one of the descendants of the founder (Shaikh Abdul Qader Jilani 1078-1116) took up residence in Sind at Uch (now in Bahawalpur) and died in 1517 A.D.” (An Introduction to History of Sufism By A.J.Arbery.)

The great pioneers of this 13th century sufi movement in Pakistan were the four friends known as ‘Chahar Yar’: Hazrat Fariduddin Masud Ganj Shakar of Pak Pattan (1174-1266); Hazrat Syed Jalaluddin Bukhari of Uch-Bahawalpur (1196-1294); Hazrat Bahauddin Zakaria of Multan (1170-1267) and Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar of Sehwan (1177-1274). It is said that 17 leading tribes of the Punjab accepted Islam at the hands of Hazrat Fariduddin Masud Ganj Shakar. Among them were the Kharals, Dhudhyan, Tobiyan, etc. According to some , Wattu, a Rajput tribe was also converted by Baba Farid. Hazrat Jalaluddin Bukhari converted Sumras and Sammas of Sindh while Hazrat Zakaria and Shahbaz Qalandar attained great success in Multan and the northern areas of Sindh. Saqi Sarwar Sultan converted a large number of Jats and a group among them is still known as Sultani Jats.

But the Sufis did not do their work in a hurry. They first set an example of highest probity by their personal acts and explained the message of Islam in a simple, forceful manner without exerting any political or economic pressure so that the work of conversion continued for centuries throughout the Delhi Sultanate, through the Khilji, Tughlaq, Lodhi and Mughal periods down to the days of the British Raj. We learn that during the time of the Mughals a noted sufi, Shaikh Dawood of Chati (in Pakistan) was carrying on the work of conversion quite vigorously. The historian Badauni says: “Hindus to the number of 50 or more came each day with their families and relatives to pay their respects to the Saint (Shaikh Dawood) and under his spiritual influence embraced Islam.”

Other notable sufis of Pakistan were: Hazrat Shah Mohammad Ghouse who migrated from Sindh and settled down in the Punjab; Hazrat Mian Mir, who was born in Sindh and migrated to Lahore where he is buried. Hazrat Shah Jamal of Ichra, Lahore; Hazrat Shah Khairuddin Abul Maali of Lahore, Shaikh Ismail of Lahore; Hazrat Syed Yakub Zanjani (d. 604 H) Lahore, Hazrat Abdul Nabi Sham of Sham Chourasi who was originally a Hindu; Ruknuddin Rukne Alam of Multan who was grandson of Hazrat Bahauddin Zakaria whose family had also migrated from Sindh; Hazrat Jalaluddin Bukhari Makhdoom-e-Jahanian Jahan Gusht of Uch who was the grandson of Hazrat Jalaluddin Bukhari; Syed Ahmad Saqi Sarwer Sultan of D.G. Khan; Shaikh Yusuf Gardezi of Multan (1026-1152); Shaikh Safiuddin Haqqani of Uch; Pir Jalaluddin Qutub-al-Aqtab who died at Uch in 1293 AD converted the Mazaris and several other Baluch tribes to Islam; Channan Pir of Cholistan, Bahawalpur; Sharfuddin Bulbul Shah, Syed Ali Hamdani and Mir Syed Hasan Samnani of Kashmir; Shaikh Badruddin Suleman and Shaikh Budruddin Ishaque of Pak Pattan; Shaikh Sadruddin Arif, Shaikh Ruknuddin Abul Fatah and Shams Subzwari of Multan; Alaul Aque; Hazrat Khardari Baba Mulla Taher of Ziarat; Pir Hunglaj on the coast of Makran; Pir Shori in Bugti territory; Shah Bilawal in Lasbela; Pir Omar in Khuzdar; Zinda Pir in Lund area, Chatan Shah near Kalat, Sultan Shah in Zehri territory. Pir Baba of Swat, Kaka Sahib of Nowshera; Khwaja Makhdum Chisti, Sakhi Sultan (Mangho Pir) and Hazrat Abdullah Shah of Karachi; Syed Shah Ali Makhi, Ghazi Baba, Makhdoom Mohammad Nooh, Hazrat Mohiuddin Gilani, Shah Khairuddin Gilani and Hazrat Shah Inayat of Sindh.

These sufis were great intellectuals, well-read and widely travelled. Most of them were speakers of high calibre, men of letters and poets of eminence. Because of their merits and morals coupled with their spiritual attainments they succeeded in making a powerful impact on the life of the people among whom they settled. It was no mean achievement to change the religion and transform the entire social life of millions of people in this subcontinent.

The sufis performed a multitudinous role. Being proficient in learning, adept in medicine and steeped in spiritualism, they dispensed these possessions for the greatest good of the greatest number. Highest nobles of the state as well as lowest strata of society gathered in the Khankhas and the sufis showered their blessings upon them irrespective of rank and religion. They provided succour to the harassed and solace to the harrowed, made available food and shelter to the needy, preached against corruption, and admonished the harsh and oppressive rulers. There is hardly any social or moral crime against which the sufis did not raise their voice—-slavery, hoarding, black-marketing, profiteering, wine, etc. Barni remarks that as a result of their teachings “vices among men had been reduced”.

Hazrat Shah Baz Qalander’s success in his campaign against the oppression of the local raja and against the vices prevailing in Sehwan is well-known. When Khawaja Moinuddin Chisti was asked about the highest form of devotion, he replied that it was nothing but helping the poor, the distracted and the downtrodden. Infact Muslim mystics looked upon ‘social service’ as the supreme object of all their spiritual exercises. they did not believe in isolated, solitary life of contemplation. ‘Live in society and bear the blows and buffets of the people’ was the advice of most of them to their disciples.

Shaikh Ruknuddin Rukn-e-Alam of Multan is reported to have remarked that since all sorts of people visited a saint it was necessary for him to possess three things: 1. money; 2. learning; and 3. spiritual ability. With the first he could help those who needed monetary aid; with the second he could solve the problems of scholars and with the third he could provide spiritual guidance. It may be mentioned here that some of the sufis accepted gifts and donations from their rich disciples and distributed them among the poor visitors, thus serving as a media for fair distribution of wealth.

The sufis always advocated the path of peace and asked people to avoid rift and bloodshed. Shaikh Fariduddin Ganj Shakar of Pakpattan advised his disciples to placate one’s enemies. He once told a visitor: “Do not give me a knife; give me a needle. The knife is an instrument for cutting asunder and the needle for sewing together.”

Another aspect of sufi teachings was that they stressed God’s love rather than His wrath; treated their enemies softly, sympathetically and never abused other systems or creeds.

The sufis were so kind and considerate towards people of all cultures and creeds that they exercised profound influence on Hindu society. It was because of the sympathy and understanding shown by them to the Hindus, particularly of the lower strata, that in the 14th and 15th centuries AD the religious leadership of Bhakti movement rose from the lower sections. Never before in the long history of Hinduism, religious leaders had sprung from that strata of society to which Chaitanya, Kabir, Nanak, Dhannu, Dadu and others belonged. And what is more significant, there was hardly any leader of Bhakti school who had not passed some of his time in khankha.

Thus, khanqhas (hospices) not only brought non-Muslims and Muslims together but they also narrowed the gulf that divided the Muslims of foreign origin and local converts. Without sufis, most Muslim rulers of the early period would have remained isolated, lacking a broad base, always in danger of extinction.

As against the stiff, nonchalanat and contemptuous attitude of some Sultans towards converted Muslims, the sufis gave them a sense of pride and enhanced their social prestige by various means. They usually conferred on them such titles of nobility as Khwaja (also pronounced Khoja), Momin (Memon), Malik, Shaikh, Akhund, Khalifa, etc.

By adopting an attitude of river-like generosity, sun-like affection and earth-like hospitality, the sufis struck at the very roots of casteism and religious exclusiveness and paved the way for large-scale conversions to Islam.

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