Showing posts with label faith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label faith. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why are they targeting the Sufis?

Why are they targeting the Sufis? Richard Schiffman, New Internationalist blog, Oct 23 2012

Afghanistan in 2001? The Taliban destruction of these massive archaeological monuments dating back to the sixth century has become emblematic of the cultural and religious intolerance of radical Islam.What is less well known is that fanatical elements have done equal damage to Islam’s own religious heritage. Not only have Shi’a and Sunni partisans bombed each other’s mosques in countries like Iraq, Syria and Pakistan, but Sufi places of worship are under attack throughout the Islamic world.

In September, the world was shocked to learn that the US ambassador and three other Americans had been killed in an attack on a US Consulate in Libya. Few heard of the other violent events there later that month, which included the destruction of Sufi shrines in three Libyan cities.

In Tripoli, security forces watched passively as militants with bulldozers levelled the shrine of al-Shaab al-Dahmani, a venerated Sufi saint, in broad daylight. In Benghazi, on the other hand, locals fought back, killing three of the militants who were assaulting a holy place.

Perhaps we don’t hear much about these incidents because attacks on Sufis and Sufi sites have become routine, not just in Libya, but throughout the Islamic world. This past summer, Islamic militants in Mali demolished historical mausoleums, universities and libraries in the ancient Saharan trading town of Timbuktu, several of which were on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites. Sufi worship halls have also been turned to rubble in Iran, where the Islamic government has reportedly jailed and tortured thousands of Sufi practitioners for their unorthodox views. And in Egypt since the fall of Mubarak Sufi shrines have been torched and the Sufi chanting ritual called zhikr has been banned in some locations.

The deadliest attacks to date have occurred in Pakistan, including last year’s bombing of the Sakhi Sarkar shrine during the annual festival of the Sufi saint, in which 41 worshippers were killed. Meanwhile, in the former Soviet Republic of Daghestan, the Sufi leader Effendi Chirkeisky, along with six of his followers, was assassinated at the end of August by a female suicide bomber. Chirkeisky, a critic of Muslim extremism, had ironically been working to broker peace between warring Islamic factions.

For many here in the US, Sufism is associated with the ecstatic verse of the 13th-century mystic, Jalaluddin Rumi, whose poetry in translation sells more copies than any living US poet. Rumi’s popularity derives in part from the fact that he taught that religion is less a matter of external observance than an intimate, personal relationship with God. This undoubtedly appeals to our American ideal of individualism and free-form seeking.

What many contemporary fans of Rumi may not realize is that Sufism in practice is more of a communal affair than a lonely quest. Moreover, the philosophy of Rumi and his fellow Sufis is very much alive today. It has spread to the distant corners of the Islamic world and beyond, and comprises many different orders, each with their own teachings and modes of practice.

Historically, Sufism was one of the great wellsprings of Islamic philosophy, and deeply influenced luminaries like the great Muslim theologian Abu Hamid al-Ghazali and the 13th-century mystic thinker, Ibn Arabi. Some have credited Sufism’s open-minded approach to knowledge with the development of Islamic medicine and other sciences in the Middle Ages. Sufism’s influence on the literature, music, art and architecture of Islam is also immense, and it was a potent force in many of the political and social reform movements in the 19th century.

While nobody can say with certainty how many Sufis there are, they undoubtedly number in the millions in countries like Iran, Indonesia and Pakistan, and untold hundreds of millions of Muslims take part in Sufi ceremonies and festivals.

‘In the Islamic world,’ according to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University, ‘Sufism is the most powerful antidote to the religious radicalism called fundamentalism, as well as the most important source for responding to the challenges posed by modernism.’

This pervasive influence may be why Sufis have been targets of the fundamentalist, who see their kinder, gentler form of Islam as a standing challenge to their own rigid orthodoxy. Sufi practices, such as the famous whirling of the Mevlevi dervishes in Turkey, first practiced by Rumi himself, employ music, dance and spiritual recitation to awaken the God who Sufis say is asleep in the human heart. Nothing could be further from the grim-faced puritanism of the Islamic fundamentalists who accuse the Sufis of being ‘idolaters’ and ‘pagans’. Sufis reply that they are hearkening back to the roots of Islam, which means ‘peace’.

I can attest to the power of Sufi practices to provide a glimpse of the ‘peace which passeth understanding’ which is at the core of all religious experience. For several years I attended the weekly zickr of a Turkish Sufi order in New York City. The chanting in Turkish and Arabic was co-ordinated with our movements and the flow of the breath to create a trance-like state which I found to be both subtler and more powerful and enduring than the drug experiences which I had pursued during college. Equally remarkable was the feeling of deep affection and fellowship which was served up along with the tea and Turkish sweets after the ceremony.

The Sufism that I know, while deeply Islamic in form, is universal in spirit. I think often of what our Sheikh, Muzzafer Effendi, told his Turkish followers when they asked him why he didn’t convert more American dervishes to Islam. ‘There are more than enough Muslims already,’ he replied. ‘What the world needs is more lovers of God!’

I would love to say this to the extremists who are bombing holy places and attacking Sufi practitioners.

Richard Schiffman is an American dervish in the Jerrahi order of Sufism. He is also the author of two religious biographies, and a poet and journalist whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, Reuters, the Guardian and on NPR.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Can Sufism Defuse Terrorism?



[Please note that although this article was written in 2009 it is included here today as it is still of relevance].

Can Sufism Defuse Terrorism? Time, Ishaan Tharoor, July 22, 2009 

In recent years, the dominant image of Islam in the minds of many Westerners has been one loaded with violence and shrouded with fear. The figures commanding global attention — be they al-Qaeda's leadership or certain mullahs in Tehran — preach an apocalyptic creed to an uncompromising faithful. This may be the Islam of a radical fringe, but in an era of flag-burnings and suicide bombings, it is the Islam of the moment.
And that is why some lament the decline of another, older and more tolerant Islam. For centuries many of the world's Muslims were, in one way or another, practi-tioners of Sufism, a spiritualism that centers on the mystical connection between the individual and the divine. Sufism's ethos was egalitarian, charitable and friendly, often propagated by wandering seers and storytellers. It blended with local cultures and cemented Islam's place from North Africa to the Indian subcontinent. (Read "An Islam of Many Paths.")
Yet amid the hurly-burly of 19th century empires, Sufism lost ground. The fall of Islam's traditional powers — imperial dynasties such as the Mughals and the Ottomans — created a hunger for a more muscular religious identity than that found in the intoxicating whirl of a dervish or the quiet wisdom of a sage. Nationalism and fundamentalism subdued Sufism's eclectic spirit. In the West, Sufism now usually provokes paeans to an alternative, ascetic life, backed up perhaps by a few verses from Rumi, a medieval Sufi poet much cherished by New Age spiritualists. But there was nothing fringe or alternative about it. "In many places, Sufism was the way whole populations expressed their Muslim identity," says Faisal Devji, an expert on political Islam at Oxford University. "In South Asia, it was the norm."
Some analysts think that historical legacy can still be exploited. A 2007 report by the Rand Corp., a U.S. think tank, advised Western governments to "harness" Sufism, saying its adherents were "natural allies of the West." Along similar lines, the Algerian government announced in July that it would promote the nation's Sufi heritage on radio and television in a bid to check the powerful influence of Salafism, a more extreme strain of Islam that is followed by al-Qaeda-backed militants waging a war against the country's autocratic state.
But can Sufism really bend terrorist swords into plowshares? The question is most urgent in South Asia, home to more than a third of the world's Muslims and the cradle of Sufi Islam. Shrines of Sufi saints are ubiquitous in India and Pakistan and still attract thousands of devotees. Yet the Taliban in Pakistan have set about destroying such sites, which are anathema to their literalist interpretation of the Koran. "Despite our ancient religious tradition," says Ayeda Naqvi, a writer and Sufi scholar from Lahore, "we are being bullied and intimidated by a new form of religion that is barely one generation old." (See pictures of the Taliban on LIFE.com.)
Still, Naqvi, Devji and other academics doubt that governments can use Sufism to fight their political battles. As in the past, foreign meddling would likely do more harm than good. "What is needed today, more than the West pushing any one form of religion," says Naqvi, "is a propagation of the underlying values of Sufism — love, harmony and beauty." This is not easy, especially in Pakistan, where poverty, corruption and the daily toll of the global war on terrorism simmer together in a volatile brew. Set against this, the transcendental faith of Sufi mystics seems quaint, if not entirely impotent.
But there is more to the allure of Sufism than its saints and sheiks. In 2001, one of the first things to happen after the Taliban was chased out of Kabul was that the doors of the Afghan capital's Bollywood cinemas were flung open to the public. The language of cosmic love that animates Bollywood music and enchants millions of Muslims around the world, even if sung and acted out by non-Muslims, is a direct legacy of centuries of Sufi devotional poetry. At Sufism's core, suggests Oxford University's Devji, is an embrace of the world. "It allows you to identify beyond your mosque and village to something that can be both Islamic and secular," he says. "It's a liberation that jihadis could never offer."
Nevertheless, it has also been Sufism's fate to fall afoul of more narrow-minded dogmas — even during an earlier golden age. The tomb of Sarmad the Armenian, a storied Sufi saint, sits close to Delhi's Great Mosque. Sarmad looked for unity within Muslim and Hindu theology, and famously walked the streets of Lahore and Delhi naked, denouncing corrupt nobles and clerics. In 1661, he was arrested for heresy and beheaded under the orders of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, a ruler admired now by Pakistani hard-liners for his championing of an orthodox Islam and the destruction of hundreds of Hindu temples. As Sarmad was led to his execution, he was heard to mutter lines of poetry: "There was an uproar, and we opened our eyes from eternal sleep," intoned the Sufi. "Saw that the night of wickedness endured, so we slept again." For many, Sufism's slumber has lasted far too long.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Balance at the Heart of Islam: A Message from Medina in light of Benghazi

 Balance at the Heart of Islam: A Message from Medina in light of Benghazi
Claire Alkouatli, Huffington Post 9/16/2012

Claire Alkouatli
Balance was the first thing that attracted me, a decade ago, to the Islamic deen--the comprehensive spiritual and practical life system of Islam. Balance between worldly structure and beautiful essence.
When you step into the Prophet Muhammad's mosque in Medina--at the heart of the Islamic world, shoulder to shoulder with people of every ethnicity on earth--the deep subtle brilliant beauty is resounding. Everything is in perfect balance.
Yet, out there, in the world, balance seems nowhere to be found. Muslims are either extremists or secular. Salafis or Sufis. Sunnis or Shiites. And the non-Muslims? Many observe in fearful incomprehension; others act and react negatively.
Recently, I got a message from a friend from Medina--a clear outline of the balance intrinsic to the deen. I was simultaneously amazed that such clarity continues to emanate from this illuminated city and inspired by the reminder that we all have the potential to attain the ultimate balance: being mindfully present in the world, with our hearts immersed in the Divine. Balance within is the place to begin if we want to contribute to a world in balance.
So, at a time when the world is hurting from the actions of the unbalanced ones, I wanted to share this inspired reminder:
"Our deen is built on three rocks. The first rock is the 'technical rock. It deals with the details of daily life starting with the five pillars of Islam, the oneness of God, the prophethood of Muhammad, the five daily prayers, the zakat, fasting during Ramadan, and performing Hajj for the capable. It also covers economic and social rulings, such as trading, marriage/divorce and inheritance. A person who is deeply knowledgeable about this rock is traditionally called a faqih. The most famous faqihs in our history are the four Imams of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence (madahib). The majority of Muslims (no less than 95% in every era) follow one of these madahib in their daily routines.
The second rock is the 'faith' rock. It deals with the details of the unseen starting with the six corners of faith (iman), to believe in God, His angels, His books, His messengers, the Day of Judgment, and that fate, both good and bad, is from God. The creed that clarifies these articles of faith is called aqida. The most famous scholars of aqida in our history are Al-Ash'ari and Al-Maturidi. The majority of Muslims (no less than 95% in every era except for some blips in our history) believe in this creed.
The third rock is the 'self-improvement' rock. It deals with the ways of elevating the human condition to become true to God and treat all His creatures with Prophetic standards. The knowledge of how to get one's self to these standards is called the knowledge of tazkiyah, the process of transforming the self from ego-centeredness through various spiritual stages towards the level of purity and true submission to the will of God. It is also called tasawwuf, or sufism. The person who comes close to reaching the pinnacle of these standards is called a sufi. The most famous scholars of tazkiyah in our history are Al-Ghazali, Al-Junaid, Ibn Arabi, and Al-Jilani. With the exception of the past 60 years or so, tazkiyah was part of every type of education in the Islamic world.
These rocks are academic classifications that have helped Muslims, since the third or fourth century, develop the sciences of turning human beings into Prophetic beings; those who Prophet Muhammad longed for when he said, "I wish I could have seen my brothers..."
As time progressed, these sciences matured and kept connecting new generations to the salaf, which refers to, in the traditional sense, the people who lived during the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and the next two generations, through unbroken chains of scholars. So a 'salafi' is someone who projects the essence of these early Muslims.
Additionally, scholars cannot excel in their own rock without achieving a masterful command of the sciences behind the other rocks too. So, a master salafi is a master sufi, is a master scholar, is a master faqih. In other words, at the level of mastery, the words 'salafi,' 'sufi,' 'scholar,' and 'faqih' are essentially synonymous. And they all point to the essence of the Prophet Muhammad.
Turbulence has occurred, throughout our history, when someone decides to raise a flag of deen that is based on an incomplete, or deformed, set of rocks. Or, when people see these rocks as independent competitive camps instead of seeing them as parts of a whole. Both occurrences happen, exclusively, because of breaks in the chains of scholars.
The groups that have a solid first rock but a deformed, or missing, second and third rock, for example, tend to be detail oriented, dry, argument oriented, narrow, and sometimes violent.
On the other side of the spectrum, groups that have a solid third rock but a deformed, or missing, second and first rock tend to be mellow, perceptive, tolerant and lost.
The first extreme of the spectrum explains the "kill first, judge later" jihadi, the politically obsessed shiite, the "My way or you're doomed" salafi (which is also the wahabi mentality), and the power hungry Muslim brotherhood. The other extreme of the spectrum explain the disenfranchised Muslim liberal, the "above the need for obligation" sufi, and "let's keep the deen only in the heart" advocate.
This is why we ask God, at least 17 times in our daily prayers, to "Guide us to the Straight Path, The way of those whom You have favored; Not of those who have incurred Your wrath. Nor of those who go astray."
So in short, given the proper definitions, it is my wish to be a salafi, my dream is to become a sufi, my hope to be a faqih--and I would love to see, follow and kiss, every footstep, expression and deed of the beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.
But, instead, I'm still stuck at trying to achieve a moment, let alone an hour, let alone a lifetime, of what the masters call Al Khalwa fil Jalwa. Which means being, both at once and without contradictions, fully involved with the world with your heart completely immersed with God.
May God give us a taste of that, followed by enough servings to get back Home. Safely.
Salaams,
M.
P.S. Kindly notice that the deen-hijacking criminals who kill treacherously, demean women and children, destroy mosques, dig up graves, and behead people were not mentioned in the spectrum above. Because they are beneath it. They call themselves many things--from salafis, to messiahs, to cowboys--but these behaviors do not belong to any Divine deen."

Friday, August 10, 2012

Nazareth's Sufis bullied by fellow Muslims

Nazareth's Sufis bullied by fellow Muslims Haaretz  Saturday, August 11, 2012 Av 23, 5772 By Lauren Gelfond Feldinger, Aug.10, 2012

Sufi sitar

 For decades, the mystical Sufis in Nazareth have celebrated Islam through music and poetry without considering themselves in danger.But nowadays, local Salafis, who practice a more conservative and coercive Islam, bully and beat Sufi leaders to deter them from their practices, Muslim community leaders told Haaretz. "We visit tombs of holy peoples and they say it is forbidden; we chant and they say it is forbidden to use instruments; I say there should be dialogue with Israelis and Jews because the prophet Muhammed received delegations of Jewish tribes," but Salafis object, said Nazareth Sheikh Ghassan Menasra, 44, a leader of the Qadiri Sufi Order of the Holy Land.
Menasra says he and two of his five sons have been beaten in Nazareth and Jerusalem and his wife, an Islamic educator for women, was pushed. Shaken by threats and having tear gas thrown into his home, he spent two weeks in meditation to avoid the fate of Jerusalem Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari, who suffered similar attacks and died of a heart attack in 2010 at age 61.
Such incidents may reflect a growing regional trend of clashes between progressive Muslims and their more fundamentalist brethren. Egyptian Salafis have razed Sufi shrines, Tunisian Salafis injured dozens in riots over work of art and political analysts blame Salafi Jihadis for the bloodshed in Syria.
But Salafis and Sufis are both tiny minorities here, with Salafi activity funded by countries like Saudi Arabia, Menasra says. According to research by Middle East expert professor Khaled Hroub of Cambridge University, the small Palestinian Salafi element includes violent radicals whose interpretation of Islam is linked to Saudi Wahabism, but most are nonviolent moderates focused on conservative social and religious programs.
Sufis are famed as whirling dervishes, but the Nazareth Sufis do not practice this tradition. They observe Islamic law, but also include reverent prayers, chanting (zikr), instruments and poetry in their worship. They are often compared to Jewish Kabbalists. The greatest jihad of Islam, according to the Qadiri order that Menasra and his father Abdel-al Salaam head, is overcoming ego, hatred and violent speech and behavior. 
Critics condemn them as "heretics" for their practices, which also include having women teach Islam.
They particularly attack them as "collaborators" for associating with Jews. Menasra is involved with numerous interfaith programs, joins rabbis for meetings with international political leaders and performs Sufi chants with Jewish musicians such as Yair Dalal. Menasra argues that interfaith cooperation was the Prophet Mohammad's way and later was the tradition of Muslim and Jewish mystics in Medieval Cairo, Baghdad, Damascus and Morocco. Interacting with other faiths also helps Arabs, he said.
"We need to talk [with Jews] about the problems of Arab rights in Israel and Palestinian rights," he said. "Muslims can also teach Jews the cultural codes of peacemaking in Islam – politics alone cannot build trust."
The threats started a decade ago, after 10 Nazareth Sufis reached out to other Muslims, teaching "moderate Islam" through op-eds and classes on Islamic text and tradition, led by Menasra, who holds a master's degree in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies, a bachelor's degree in Arabic literature, a teaching certificate in Islamic family law and ordination as a sheikh by the renowned Jerusalem Sheikh Baghdadi.
As they gained followers and began including Jewish communities, threats turned to violence.
Anat Lev-Or of Central Israel, a Jewish teacher of Sufi and Jewish philosophy, says two years ago she witnessed a mob beat Menasra's teenage son, while he shielded his younger brother.
Imam Mahmoud Abukhdeir, spiritual leader of an east Jerusalem mosque, condemned Salafi violence in Nazareth and Jerusalem.
"To many Muslims, the Sufi way is not acceptable, but in Islamic law, such violence is forbidden," he said. "Salafis are against many groups, not just Sufis. They beat everyone--they think they are the only real Muslims."
It is not clear how widespread the Sufi-Salafi conflict is in Israel, because Sufis say they would not report Salafi leaders to the police or Higher Arab Council for fear of retribution. Despite repeated inquiries, Haaretz was unable to locate a Salafi leader to respond. The Salafi movement in Israel is not centralized, but Itzhak Weismann, a professor and Sufi expert at Haifa University, says most Islamist movements subscribe to Salafi principles and consider Sufis "deviators from Islam."
But he noted, "Sufism is based on Islamic texts and tradition. Sufis are part of Islam since the beginning."
"We will not stop"
Scholars date Sufis in the Holy Land to eighth-century Ramle and Jerusalem, with centers developing later in Safed and Hebron. Jerusalem was always an important site of pilgrimage, and several dozen Sufi shrines and graves remain in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Today in Israel there are a few hundred Sufi disciples and thousands of supporters who worship in their homes or houses of prayer, primarily in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Acre, Umm al-Fahm and Baqa al-Gharbiyye.
Sufism, with its many orders and varying customs, is not widespread in Israel because of the exile of Muslim leaders after the 1948 war, Weismann says.
"Since 1967, when communications resumed between Muslims in Israel with relatives in West Bank and Gaza, there was a renewal," he said.
In Nazareth, Sufis face not only the threat of extremists, but also difficult living conditions because of government prejudice against development in Arab neighborhoods, said Sufi teacher Khalid Abu Ras. Israel's largest Arab city, with nearly 74,000 residents – 69.5 percent of which are Muslim – is plagued by unemployment, overcrowding, lack of green spaces and, says Abu Ras, inadequate municipal services.
Despite struggles with poverty, threats and violence, the Sufis of Nazareth say that they will carry on as usual.
On a recent evening, twenty family and community members gathered in the Menasra home to break the Ramadan fast. After dinner, the older son played classical Egyptian oud, including works from Umm Kulthum and Mohamed Abdel Wahab. The elder community members chanted traditional songs about the prophet Mohammad. An infant moved with his arms to the music and a grandfather beat an oversized tambourine. The elder Menasra, wearing a traditional tunic and head covering, danced slowly into the inner circle, extending his arms to bless the guests.
Days later, on the Jewish day of mourning Tisha B'Av, several of Menasra's Jewish colleagues who were also fasting joined his family to break the fast.
"Our activity does not make us weaker -- it makes us strong," Menasra said.
There are three kinds of religious people, he explained, quoting Rabia al-Adawiya, a female Sufi saint: "Slaves who worship through fear, merchants who worship for profit and free people who worship through love – this is the way," he said. "The radicals think that they need to stop us in any way, but we will not stop."

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The 191st annual Urs of great Sufi Hazrat Sachal Sarmast

191st Annual Urs of great Sufi Hazrat Sachal Sarmast begins today
Radio Pakistan August 3 2012
The annual Urs of great Sufi Hazrat Sachal Sarmast begins at Daraza Sharif in Khairpur district on Friday
The 191st annual Urs of great Sufi Hazrat Sachal Sarmast begins on Friday at Daraza Sharif in Khairpur district. A large number of devotees from all over the country will participate the celebrations.
Sindh cultural department has arranged a National Litrary Conference on the occasion in which scholars and writers from all the country will speak about the poetry and philosophy of Hazrat Sachal Sarmast.sufi_01

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Rishi of the Valley

Rishi of the Valley The Hindu August 5 2012
Young Kashmiri researcher Abir Bazaz tells Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty what made him go in search of Kashmiri Sufi Nund Rishi

Learning to live: Abir Bazaz in Shimla. Photo: Akhilesh Kumar 
Like many young Kashmiris today, Abir Bazaz too is a product of a society in turmoil. Violence and death became a part of his life, compelling him to make a short film Paradise on a River in Hell in 2002. But with the chaotic present bearing scant hope for any great future, the obvious choice in front of Abir was to turn to the past. He wanted answers. Primarily to the Hindu-Muslim dissonance that has engulfed the Valley.
So, quarrying on the history of Kashmiri life, he asked: were we always like this? Was there any attempt at concord between the two? Can we never have a paradigm bedded on peace and harmony? The past didn’t disappoint Abir. He found his answer in Sheikh Nooruddin Noorani, better known as Nund Rishi who walked on Kashmiri soil in the 14th and 15th centuries and showed his people a workable paradigm for coexistence.
In a language that people understood, Rishi went on to institute Sufism in the Valley by successfully establishing an idiom that coupled Hindu and Buddhist thoughts with the real spirit of Islam. He used local idioms, “For example, the Islamic word for divinity is ‘devo’ in his teachings; Allah is called ‘bhugi’ which is Kashmiri for ‘bhagwan’… Nund Rishi’s was one of the few indigenous Sufi Orders of India because other Orders were not born in India but in Persia. Even though rishis of Kashmir have some thoughts in common with the Chistia Order, Chistis were originally from Afghanistan,” Abir found.
Pulled by this great past of his people, Abir, for the last five years — as a fellow with the University of Minnesota — has been researching the Rishi Order and “increasingly realising what were actually the foundations of Kashmir… One of the fundamental concerns of the Order was to avoid violence between the two communities,” points out Abir during a conversation in Shimla. He was there to present a paper on the poetry of Nund Rishi at the 11th Conference on Early Modern Literatures of North India, which is being held for the first time in India.
Abir revealed that Nund Rishi’s teachings were a serious critique of the society then. “His loyalty was with the Kashmiri peasantry, the poor lot. His shrueks (taken from the Sanskrit word slokas) consistently attacked the caste system. It was on the lines of the Bharti poets though his approach was more cautious because of the times he lived in.”
Unlike Kabir, whose teachings were a criticism of Islam and Hinduism, Nund Rishi affirmed both. “His approach was unique because he affirmed his relations with both the Koran and Hindu-Buddhist thoughts. His structure of thought tried to look at a universal shared language, how one community can live together with another,” said Abir.
Nund Rishi emerged at a time of great political crisis in Kashmir. Trying to draw a parallel with today, the paper Abir has written for the conference — hosted by the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies — studies the relations between the negative theology of Nund Rishi and the thinking of death in Sufism
“Here I look at his idea about life and death. Learning to live is also learning to die,” says Abir. Nund Rishi also holds importance in the Valley’s history because he was the first to write in Kashmiri. “Before him, the writings were either in Sanskrit or in Persian.” Today though, he is more or less a forgotten name in Kashmir. “There are contestations now about what Rishism means. Young people don’t really know much about him, some have only heard of him from their parents or grandparents,” says Abir. During his research, he says, “One big problem was that his poetry and texts written about him were in Kashmiri language.” Ironically, Kashmiri is not taught in schools there, so Abir had to teach himself how to read and write his own language. Since some texts about him were in Persian, he learnt that language too.
His research work on Nund Rishi is far from over but he adds hopefully, “At some point I would like to put all of these in book form.”
(Abir Bazaz presented the paper “Die before you Die: Negative Theology, Death and Politics in the Poetry of Nund Rishi (1378-1440)” at the 11th International Conference on Early Modern Literatures in North India that concludes today in Shimla.)

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Path to Sufism could lead to global peace, says Qaim

Path to Sufism could lead to global peace, says Qaim International The News, Saturday, August 04, 2012

RANIPUR: The world can benefit from the philosophy of Sufism as it holds the means to overcome the social and economic issues confronting the globe.

This was stated by the Chief Minister of Sindh, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, as he laid a floral wreath on the mausoleum of Hazrat Sachal Sarmast at Daraz Sharif in Ranipur town of Khairpur on Friday on the occasion of the 191st Urs celebrations of the Sufi poet.

The chief minister, while addressing a ceremony on this occasion, said that love, peace, equality and tolerance had been the hallmark of Sachal Sarmast’s message. He said that the mystic poets had played a vital role in spreading the spirit of Sufism.

Shah paid rich tribute to the scholars and poets who had been spreading the message of Sufism. He said that the present PPP government had been following in the footsteps of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto by paying attention to the renovation and maintenance of the shrines of Shah Latif Bhitai, Sachal Sarmast and Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.

The chief minister, while taking notice of the complaints against grabbing of the shrine’s land, ordered the DIG of Sukkur to get the land recovered from the possession of the land mafia. He also asked the police official to launch a crackdown on the drug peddlers.

Shah also ordered installation of tubewells in the area as well as an inquiry into the alleged siphoning off of funds worth millions of rupees meant for repairing the existing tubewells. Meanwhile, Sindh Auqaf Minister Dr Rafique Ahmed told the ceremony that the Auqaf Department by virtue of the 18th Amendment had been devolved to the Sindh government.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Something Sufi about this comic!

Daily News and Analysis Published: Friday, Jul 27, 2012  By Shilpa Bansal
Some months ago, Sufi comics were promoted at Comic Con International San Diego — one of the biggest comic conventions in the world. And now, Mocha TRIP, in association with Comic Con, is presenting an exclusive workshop with Sufi Comics this weekend. The authors, the Vakil brothers will share their experience of participating at Comic Con San Diego 2012 and will give the audience a sneak peek into the stories from their upcoming book and an exclusive preview of the book’s miniature art and calligraphy.
What more? Also, participate in exciting script writing and drawing competition to win fabulous prizes!
What adds to this whole Sufi experience is the venue, Mocha TRIP, always known for its ambience. And this time, it just perfectly blends with the theme. Be it comics, comedy, music, books or cycling— Mocha Trip as the young Bangaloreans call, is the place where you can do the things you love and share stuff with others who share the same interest as yours.
Go ahead, go on a Sufi trip!
Be at Mocha, 577, Kalyana Mantapa Road, 80ft Road, 8th Block, Opposite to Bethany High School, Koramangala Main Road, Koramangala, on July 28, 12pm onwards, call 30224711

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ahad Bab: Mystique of a Mystic

Book review by Muhammad Maroof Shah

Author: Syed Habib, Publisher: Shifa Publications, Year: 2012, Pages: 203

Greater Kashmir, SRINAGAR, MONDAY, 18 SHAABAN 1433 AH ; 09 JULY 2012 CE
The book under review is by far the best book on mysticism by any Kashmiri scholar. It has succeeded in celebrating one of our greatest mystics in a language that is worthy of the great man it seeks to bring to public gaze. Publication of the book is an event that should lift the spirits of all devotees of mysticism. It brings about the mystery and profundity of a man whom many knew only through hearsay but who commanded great respect. It highlights beauty of the man whom many knew and feared as a jalali mystic only. It introduces some pages of the great life that lighted the mystical horizon of Kashmir for decades. This book will make its author, like its hero, immortal in the history of mystics and mystical literature of the subcontinent. Exquisitely and cryptically designed to represent the beautiful and profoundly symbolic life and work of much misunderstood or unknown spiritual genius – the glory of Sopore and Kashmir – the book is destined to be a classic piece of spiritual biography.
Habib is not merely a biographer but a poet and a scholar of mysticism who lives and breathes spirituality. He may not be very exact academic at times –  he confounds nafs and ruh, misreads the question of transcendence in relation to evil that is best approached at metaphysical plane with the tools of a metaphysician and occasionally may not hesitate to use some terms loosely –  but he has mastered both the tools and the qualifications required to write on a  complex and sensitive issue in a style that may occasionally overuse alankaras but generally moves, transports and overpowers the reader with its sheer brilliance and magic. Deftly using his tools and resources he succeeds in creating an ambience that helps us appreciate the wonder and the sublime heights and depths of the man who had mastered the art of concealment as malamitis or qalandars often do.
I have been highly impressed by Ghulam Hasan Nahvi’s  biography on Merrak Saeb. But I think Ahad Bab has found, in the form of Habib, a greater man and a superior medium to speak to us from the other shore. As Khalil Jibran had attempted to offer the best he could in the form of The Prophet, Habib, as a mark of respect and love for the great Bab, has given us his best – his life blood – in the form of the book. He has exposed many and hinted at many more great secrets of the great man whom many of us loved only from a distance fearing to approach the spiritual dynamite that blasted the egos of many brave and fortunate souls to lift them into empyreal realms.  Almost every sentence is chiseled and much of the book appears to be simply inspired and I would  characterize it as yet another posthumous karamat of Bab.
Bab’s life has been an open miracle – he was weather proof, usually unprovokable, never using takya or support for sitting, never extending his legs on floor, had great power of mind reading and scanning of hearts besides precognizance and helped to heal all kinds of diseases – witnesses of  these and many other “stories” can be found in almost every nook and corner of Kashmir. The book recounts in a style that can only be envied but hardly imitated Bab’s long and hard period of spiritual apprenticeship, his almost superhuman adventures in jungles, his abandoning of family house and sacrifice of family interests for the sake of larger human family as he spent 11 years outside his home at a stage when his children were very young and the family had great economic hardships,  his jihad against nafs and world, his spiritual exploits despite the rigour of police nokri, his visits to peers and qalandars of all sorts, his family background that gave him solid spiritual base, symbolism of his “slangy” language, spiritual connections of his family and his inheritors, his love and compassion for his visitors and the unique ways he used to communicate with the insiders and even outsiders, his moral virtues like doing his own work himself, his love for children, his fascination with Sufi music, the misery of flesh fed by worms but the grandeur of the soul that had supreme confidence in himself and his mission, his refined aesthetic sense coupled with deep sensitivity to art and culture and access to perception of metaphysical symbolism and transparency of natural phenomena, his wonderful acumen as an interpreter of the Quran and unique methods of teaching lessons to his disciples, his extreme humility that prevented him to spread his legs on floor and many more inspiring and revealing hues of his colourful personality that many mistook for simply a majzoob among other majzoobs (For his devotees he was more conscious than those who are proud of their sobriety). This gripping narrative helps us to better appreciate the depths and heights of this spiritual genius from Sopore.
The book is studded with profound insights and Sufi interpretation of scripture and history. The fact that the Prophet of Islam received soothing winds from India is interpreted as his recognition of the treasures of gnosis in India.  There are cryptic allusions to a host of verses which defy usual commentators and are best understood through Sufi exegesis.
For Habib Ahad Bab is everything as Shams Tabriz was for Rumi – he uses the choicest metaphors and epithets for him. He is Shahanshah, the king of kings who rules the hearts of not only his thousands of mureeds but aam kashmiri. Darbar-i-Ahad used to be a great meeting hall where all and sundry would come and go and Bab disbursed his spiritual blessings. No king of Kashmir can dream of such a darbar where people from all walks of life would come and stand in absolute awe of the great man.
Sahib knew hearts and minds of all and sundry and helped countless people in his own way. He showers his praise and devotion on almost every aspect of his personality. He interprets his conceding the wishes of visitors or sayils who implored him to sit in their cars or visit them or sick persons as a variety of mujahida. Even in cars he used to sit in a typical posture that involved tucked  up legs perhaps indicating humility.
 Almost all pages have powerful passages that deserve to be quoted in full and as there are too many I can’t reproduce even one but hope our magazines/newspapers carry them on weekly basis. That would be a contribution to Kashmir literature, art and mysticism. It is treat to read his long prose “odes” to Sufi music, to nun chai, to local craftsmen, to love, to moral and spiritual beauty of Bab.
Ahad Bab is a legend and the book has admirably presented the same for us. After reading it one comes to appreciate the mystery and beauty of the man with which Sopore shall be proudly identified forever. The book is a gift to Kashmiris in general and the people of Sopore in particular. The author has put his everything in it and that explains why its price has been kept open or optional. There can be no price for devotion and love that has been poured in writing and designing this book. It is a privilege to read it and readers can understand only to the extent that they can participate in the great cosmic dance, the dance of the soul that the life of Bab symbolizes. The book throws a lot of challenges to scholars or critics who want to approach mystical literature or mystical life. The appropriations of mystical literature which include author’s own moving and beautiful poetry and Quranic verses that help to elucidiate life and work of Bab add to the rich tapestry of soul’s journey – the journey of you and me, of all the children of Adam – that the book tries to depict.  The book is a spiritual biography of modern Kashmir and the way it comments upon diverse cultural expressions from samawar and nun chai to pashmeen sazi or Islamic architecture it appears to be a unique contribution to both aesthetics and mysticism of Kashmir. A letter to Samawar and musings on nun chai, for instance, shows how mysticism can be aesthetically read in cultural expressions.
 It is not easy to write on mysticism and that too on such mystics as Ahad Bab whose very name or presence sent shivers in many  souls. Bab is a spiritual dynamite with which feeble minds or weak souls can’t afford to play. One has to observe all the aadab of a salik to write it. The book is dedicated to Bab in a touching manner. It reads “laghye waendith.”
The book is feast for the senses as well as the soul. It is recommended  for reading to all those interested in Kashmir and its mysticism, its literature and its culture. For those whose third eye has opened to certain extent it is a tabarruq. The book is also recommended for all those for whom Ahad Bab life’s was a “scandal” of spiritual propriety as they will come to understand something from the other side or inside of the sanctuary to which only few had access though all were invited. The point of certain mainstream Sufis/ulama regarding the manners of visiting apparently intoxicated souls who don’t care for clothes and don’t talk “decently” deserved more nuanced and detailed treatment.
Habib combines virtues and qualifications of a rare scholar of mystic literature with a rare command over Urdu language and huge poetic talent  besides the key qualification of discipleship and thus being an insider – bapeer – allowing him to do justice to a topic which deserves not only great scholarship or academic credentials but also grace from the great Bab. The author is a good translator also as shown by his Urdu rendering of many important Persian and Kashmiri verses in the book. He deserves our gratitude. Urdu literature is richer after the event of this publication.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Centre for Sufis

By Saeed Al Batati, *Studying Islam amid the strife in Yemen* - Gulf News - Dubai, UAE; Saturday, March 17, 2011

Studying Islam amid the strife in Yemen: Thousands from all over world pursue religious interest in the country

Mukalla: Despite fierce fighting between Yemen rivals during the political crisis in Yemen, Indonesian man Faiz has never thought of leaving Yemen and going home. He is among hundreds of foreign students who prefer Yemen as a place for studying Islam.

"I feel safe here," he told Gulf News. "I'm studying in Hadramout province because it is the source of knowledge that spreads all over Indonesia. I also feel at home here. [Islamic] scholars are faithful."

Faiz, 39, is a postgraduate student at local private university in the port city of Mukalla. "The last time I visited Indonesia was in 1999. I will only go home when I finish my PhD."

While Yemen students travel abroad to seek knowledge, many foreign students see this poverty-stricken country as an ideal place for studying Islam.

During the recent crisis in Yemen, only a few overseas students left the country. Foreign students who particularly come to Yemen for religious studies are spread all over the country. Foreign students can be found at Iman University in Sana'a, Dar Al Hadeth in Sa'ada, and others. However, the southern province of Hadramout has taken the lion's share of foreign students.

A diplomat in the Indonesian embassy in Sana'a told Gulf News that there are approximately 1,800 Indonesian students still studying in the province.

"The majority of our students are studying in Hadramout. The place is calm. Students who were studying outside Hadramout had been asked to leave the country during the crisis."

Religious hub

Tarem, a small city in the centre of Hadramout's long valley, has been known for centuries as a centre for Sufis. Supporters of the Sufi school in Hadramout proudly say that their grandfathers played a great role in spreading Islam in Asia and Africa.

Hadrami missionaries and traders interacted with host communities and convinced millions of people to embrace Islam. Local people in Tarem say that the grandchildren of early missionaries were sent back to Tarem and this explains why the city is awash with hundreds of students from different countries.

"I believe Western students prefer to study in Tarem because of the spiritual tranquillity that characterises the region," said Walead Mosaad, an American student who studies in Tarem.

"Most of us come from bustling metropolises where the intrusion and abrasiveness of modern life is hard to escape. Additionally, scholars from Tarem have an authentic chain back to the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and thus faithfully reflect his teachings without the interference of extremist ideologies and political agendas," he added.

In Tarem, there are many Islamic institutes that follow the traditional method of teaching through circles and recitation. Dar Al Mustafa, Ribat Tarem, and the college of Sharia are the main places that attract foreign students.

After graduating from Tarem schools, Walead thinks the Hadramout Sufi school of thought is an example of the normative teachings of Islam along with the teaching of Azhar in Egypt, of the Qarawiyyin in Morocco, and of the Umayyad mosque and traditional centres in Syria.

Special classes

"We believe that the school of Hadramout as well as the schools mentioned above reflect authentic understandings of the Prophet Mohammad's (PBUH) teachings, and therefore, are entirely incompatible with extremist ideologies," said Walead.

New foreign students have special classes that train them in Arabic, after which they can join the normal student body that is fluent in Arabic.

"The main teachings here revolve around three themes: Knowledge [which includes Quran, hadith, spiritual purification, and dawa [understanding of Islamic teachings engagement and dissemination]," he said. "There is a sister school close to Dar Al Mustafa called Dar Al Zahra that exclusively teaches female students."

Far from the city of Tarem, we visited another educational establishment that teaches foreign students. Mukalla-based Ahgaff University was established in 1994. The university's College of Sharia has graduated hundreds of foreign students.

"There are many Muslim students from outside Yemen studying at Ahgaff university," said Zain Bin Aqeel, the director of foreign student department at the university.

"We don't call them foreigners. They are Muslims. Most of them study Islamic studies at Sharia in Tarem. A few of them are also studying other scientific majors like computers and business. Studying Islamic studies at the university is free of charge."

"The university aims to create a bridge of communication between Hadramout and countries in Asia and Africa to send the moderate soul of Islam."

Precautionary measures

To ensure no foreign students leave the university and join local terrorists groups in Yemen, the university has imposed many preventive conditions.

"We don't accept any student unless he/she gets a letter of recommendation from our partner institutions in his/her homeland. We have strong links with many clerics and moderate Islamic institutions in Indonesia and Africa."

Only students of those clerics are admitted to Zain's university. "If the student was accredited, he should also fulfil other normal requirements like having a high school certificate, is healthy and pays fees [for scientific majors].The student should deposit an amount of money for buying a return ticket in case of emergency. The university also keeps the student's passport."

Upon arrival, the university informs the student's embassy, ministry of higher education and security services in Yemen. "We do our best to keep our students away from terrorists. But in the age of globalisation, we can't fully guarantee immunity from extremist ideology."

Zain doesn't have an accurate figure of the foreign student who graduate from his university, but he put the number at thousands.

"Thanks to Allah, thousands of foreign students graduated from our university and all returned to their countries, bearing the moderate thought of Islam. We have students from Malaysia, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, but most of students are from Indonesia."

Now, there are approximately 800 students at Ahgaff university.

"Unlike Yemen students, foreigners are given special courses to clear out some misconceptions about Islam that the students may have acquired from the media."

In other parts of Yemen, foreign students have to pay a heavy price for living in a troubled area. When Shiite rebels besieged, in October last year, a local Salafi school in the northern troubled province of Sa'ada, foreign students got drawn into the fighting with the rebels. Local human right activists said that dozens of French, Indonesian, Indian, British, Ethiopian, Somali, Sudanese, Algerians and other nationalities have been killed in Sa'ada sectarian battles.

Not monitored by government

Hamoud Al Hitar, the former Minister of Endowment and Preacher, told Gulf News that Yemen has been known for centuries as an Islamic hub and students from all over the Islamic world come to the country to study Islam in Zabed, Tarem, Sa'ada, Jebala and Taiz.

Despite the influx of foreign students, Al Hitar said Yemen's religious schools were not fertile ground for terrorism and the surge of foreign students in Yemen had nothing to do with the spread of Al Qaida.

"Yemen schools have moderate views. We shouldn't be concerned over the radicalisation of foreign students. Those who fight with Al Qaida have been recruited outside Yemen."

He admitted these schools were not carefully monitored by the government. Hamoud Al Hitar claimed that in 2007, when he was in office, the ministry suggested sharing the responsibly of monitoring Islamic centres in Yemen with the ministry of education.

"We agreed that we create a department in the ministry of Endowment to solely observes the schools in terms of curricula, teachers, and sources of income. When the proposal was sent to the cabinet, security parties stepped in and killed it in the cradle. They want these schools remain out of our eyes."

Picture: Students at Tarem city in Hadramout province,the epicentre of Islamic education. Photo: Saeed Al Batati/Gulf News.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Well-being, Autonomy, Responsibility

By Tariq Ramadan, *Contemporary Muslims are in need of spirituality* - Gulf News - Dubai, UAE; Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Contemporary Muslims are in need of spirituality: Islamic societies are bereft of serenity, coherence and peace. The time has come for a religious emancipation

As far as Islam is concerned, it must be noted that Arab and Muslim majority societies are seriously lacking in spirituality. There is not a deficit of “religion” but of spiritual life. It can be encountered among Islamists, as well as among secularists and ordinary citizens.

Religion refers to the framework, to the structure of ritual, to the rights and obligations of believers and, as such, lies at the heart of social and political debate. In the classical Islamic tradition, framework, reference and practices can — like all religions and spiritual traditions — be best seen in the light of their relation to meaning (here, to the Divine), to a conception of life and death, to the life of the heart and mind.

Contemporary Islamic discourse has, however, too often lost its substance, which is that of meaning, of understanding ultimate goals and the state of the heart. Increasingly, it has been reduced to reactivity, preoccupied with the moral protection of the faithful, based on the reiteration of norms, rituals and, above all, prohibitions. But spirituality is not faith without religion; it is the quest for meaning and peace of heart as the essence of religion.

Viewed in this light, Muslim majority societies are profoundly bereft of serenity, coherence and peace. The time has come for a spiritual and religious emancipation.

The decline of Islamic civilisation, followed by colonialism, has left its mark, as has the experience of political and cultural resistance. The way in which religion, and the Islamic reference, are understood was gradually adapted to the requirements of resistance: for both traditional Muslim scholars (ulama) and Islamist movements (which often began with mystical aspirations) moral norms, rules pertaining to food, dress and strict observance of ritual have come increasingly to the fore as means of self-assertion, in direct proportion to the danger of cultural colonialism and alienation perceived and experienced in Arab societies.

Caught up in political resistance, Islamist movements have gradually focused their attention on questions of a formal nature, setting aside the spiritual core of religious practice. Between the rhetoric of traditional religious authorities and institutions, and that of the Islamists, whether narrowly rigorous in outlook or hypnotized by political liberation, ordinary citizens are offered few answers to their spiritual pursuit of meaning, faith, the heart and peace.

A yawning void has opened up; mystical (Sufi) movements have re-emerged, some of them respectful of norms, some fraudulent, in what is often an approximate answer to popular aspirations. The Sufi movements or circles are diverse, and often provide a kind of exile from worldly affairs, in contrast to ritualistic traditionalism or to Islamist activism. Focus upon yourself, they urge; upon your heart and inner peace; stay far away from pointless social and political controversy.

A specific feature of mystical circles is that they bring together — though in physically separate groups — educated elites in quest of meaning as well as ordinary citizens, including the poorest, who feel a need for reassurance that verges on superstition. Their teachings are, more often than not, general and idealistic, far removed from the complexities of reality; politically, they sometimes voice passive or explicit support for ruling regimes, even dictatorships.

Furthermore, a substantial number of Sufi circles yield to the double temptation of the cult of the personality of the shaikh or guide (murshid) and the infantilisation of the initiates (murîd): the latter may be highly educated, hold high rank in the social hierarchy, yet at the same time place their hearts, minds and even their lives in the hands of a guide who, it is claimed, represents the ultimate path to fulfillment.

This culture of disempowerment strangely echoes the fashions of the day: a combination of withdrawal from the world and living in a kind of existential confusion between emotional outpouring (the spectacle of effusiveness towards and reverence for Sufi elders can be disturbing, disquieting and dangerous) and a demanding spiritual initiation. Such initiation should be liberating, open the door to autonomy through mastery of the ego and lead to coherence between the private and public life. But what emerge instead are parallel lives: a so-called Sufi spirituality allied to egocentric, greedy, self-interested and occasionally immoral social and political behavior. Arab elites and middle classes find such behavior to their advantage, as do socially fragile sectors of the population.

Between the overbearing ritualism of official religious institutions and the obsessive politicisation of Islamist leaders the thirst for meaning, which finds its expression in cultural and religious references, seeks for ways to express itself.

Mysticism sometimes provides the solution. But careful thought should be given to the real-life impact of such phenomena as they relate to the crisis of spirituality and therefore of religion. In every case, the teachings propounded do not encourage the autonomy, well-being and confidence of human beings in their everyday individual and social lives.

In their formalism and concentration upon norms, the traditional institutions that represent or teach Islam reproduce a double culture of prohibition and guilt. The religious reference is transformed into a mirror in which the believers are called upon to judge themselves for their own deficiencies: such rhetoric can generate nothing more than unease. The Islamist approach, which seeks to free society from foreign influence, has in the long run brought forth a culture of reaction, differentiation and frequently of judgment: who is a Muslim, what is Islamic legitimacy, etc. It sometimes casts itself as victim; even in the way it asserts itself against the opposition. Social and political activism prevails over spiritual considerations; the struggle for power has sometimes eclipsed the quest for meaning.

By way of response to this void, the majority of mystical movements and circles have called upon their initiates to direct their attention inwards, towards themselves, their hearts, their worship and their inner peace. Around them has arisen a culture of isolation, social and political passivity and loss of responsibility, as though spirituality were somehow necessarily opposed to action.

Still, it must be noted that a large number of Sufi circles do speak out on social and political issues, and actually encourage their followers to speak out on social and political matters, and to become actively involved in society. Between the culture of prohibition and guilt and that of reaction and victimisation, between abandonment of responsibility and isolationism, what options remain for the Arab world to reconcile itself to its cultural, religious and spiritual heritage? What must be done to propound a culture of well-being, autonomy and responsibility?

There is a need to rediscover and reclaim the spirituality that permeates Eastern cultures, and that lies at the heart of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions, a consideration that today’s social and political uprisings can ill afford to neglect. For there can be no viable democracy, no pluralism in any society without the well-being of individuals, the citizens and the religious communities.

Tariq Ramadan is professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University and a visiting professor at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Qatar. He is the author of Islam and the Arab Awakening.

Picture: Illustration by Ramachandra Babu/Gulf News

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Gist of Sacrificing

By Kerim Balci, *Feast of Proximity* - Today's Zaman - Istanbul, Turkey; Wednedsay, November 9, 2011

English-speaking Muslims prefer to use Arabic names for Muslim rituals and feasts. Turks have from the very beginning preferred to use Persian equivalents.

Arabs and English speaking Muslims use “salat” for daily prayer, whereas Turks and Persians use “namaz.” The Arabic Eid al-Adha is translated into English as the Feast of the Sacrifice. Turks, Persians, Urdu-speaking nations, and Balkan Muslims on the other hand call this feast Kurban Bayramı (this final vowel missing in some locations), which can be translated as Feast of Proximity.

This is not a simple issue of nomenclature. Different names used for the same meaning attest to different worldviews, in this case, to a difference between the Orthodox Islam of the Arab core and the Sufi Islam of the peripheral Muslim nations.

Generally speaking, the Arabic names of Muslim rituals and feasts are names of acts themselves. They name “what is being done.”

On the other hand the Turko-Persian naming relates rather to the question “why.” A good example is the Eid al-Adha and Kurban Bayramı pair.

Eid and Bayram both mean a feast, festival or holiday. Adha is the plural of the Arabic Dahiya and is the name of the sacrificial animal that is acceptable religiously to be sacrificed. Dahiya is an animal with special qualities sacrificed on the days of Eid al-Adha by a free, non-travelling, well-to-do Muslim with the intention of fulfilling the duty of sacrifice.

The qualities of the Dahiya are such a sophisticated issue that downgrading the issue to the level of animal rights can sound disgusting to a Muslim. Anyhow, the Arabic naming of the feast revolves around the kind of animal that can be sacrificed, the intention of slaughtering as a sacrifice to Allah, and the economic and political situation of the Muslim person who will sacrifice the animal.

In the Turkish case Kurban Bayramı is rather about “Kurbiyet” with meanings related to proximity in feeling, approaching, appealing, affinity, and befriending.

Thus, the Feast of Proximity is a feast when Muslims try to realize and feel the closeness of their Creator through their devotion proved by the symbolism of sacrificing animals.

For peripheral Sufi Muslim traditions the gist of sacrificing is not about the animal but about the relationship between Allah and man. For this reason Turkish Muslims stress the memory of Patriarch Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son Ishmael (or Isaac as the Judeo-Christian tradition says, or both) to Allah.

For this reason Turkish Muslims attach more importance to feast visits between relatives and neighbors as the proximity between the believers connotes a proximity to Allah.

For this reason also Turkish Muslims have added dimensions of candy distribution, giving pocket money to children, buying presents for close friends and paying visits to the houses of otherwise neglected poor families during Kurban Bayramı.

Since in the Turkish understanding proximity is not restricted to those who sacrifice an animal, Turks are ready to share their feelings of closeness and affinity with their non-performing Muslim and non-Muslim neighbors also.

The feast is a Feast of Proximity for all, and sacrifice is only one particular dimension of that proximity. It is indispensable; but it is not all.

The issue of proximity is a major part of the Muslim cosmology. In fact all states of the human condition in this world are measured according to proximity and remoteness (kurb-bu’d) from Allah.

The psychological states corresponding to these two poles are openness and eclipse (bast-kabz).

During times of proximity, as in the days of the Feast of Proximity, we are open to inspirations, we are happy, and our souls are satisfied, wheras on days of remoteness we are lost in the wilderness of this world with our unsatisfied souls looking for a port of tranquility.

All of the Beautiful Names of Allah correspond to these two cosmological conditions: Cemil (beautiful) looks to proximity, whereas Celil (glorious) looks to remoteness; Ahad (one) looks to proximity and Wahid (sole one) looks to remoteness and so on.

Gravitational force relates to the proximity and centrifugal force relates to remoteness. Love connotes proximity, and hatred connotes remoteness.

Hence we feel countless levels of proximities during the Feast of Proximity ranging from the level of most intimate human feelings to supernatural cosmological events.

[Picture: The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio (1590-1610; Oil on canvas; Uffizi, Florence, Italy). Photo: Wiki]

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

No Bar in Islam

By Vidya Subrahmaniam, *Deoband's fatwa against birthday bashes raises Sufi hackles* - The Hindu - India; Thursday, November 10, 2011

Deoband's fatwa against birthday bashes raises Sufi hackles. Sufi strand points out that the Prophet's birth anniversary is celebrated world over

New Delhi: The Deobandi and Sufi sects of Islam are again on a collision course — this time on holding birthday bashes. In response to a specific question last week, Darul Uloom Deoband issued a fatwa against celebrating birthdays, saying it was a western practice that had no sanction in Islam. Darul Uloom Vice-Chancellor Abul Qasim Naumani pointed out that the seminary did not celebrate even the Prophet's birth anniversary.

Reacting sharply to the fatwa, the All-India Ulama & Mashaikh Board (AIUMB) — a Sufi strand that recently took on the Deobandi branch, accusing it of propagating hard-line Wahabism — said there was no bar in Islam on celebrating birthdays. Indeed, the Prophet's birth anniversary was celebrated the world over with as many as 54 countries, including India, observing the day as a national holiday. The two notable exceptions were Saudi Arabia and Israel, the AIUMB said.

“The fatwa is proof that Deoband would like to impose the foreign ideology of Saudi Arabia and Wahabism on India,” said AIUMB general secretary Maulana Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichauchhawi.

Far from seeing it as un-Islamic, Indian Muslims had always celebrated the birth of the Prophet by taking out “‘Julus-e-Mohammadi' (processions), lighting candles and celebrating Milaad across the country,” the Maulana said.

The celebrations were valid, because the “birth of the Holy Prophet is the greatest favour of Allah Almighty on humanity. That is why the Muslim community celebrates the birth anniversary of the Holy Prophet with traditional zeal and zest on the 12th of Rabi-ul-Awwal,” he said.

Maulana Kichaucchawi cited chapter and verse from the Koran and ‘Sunnah' to buttress his claim. “The Holy Koran singles out the birthday as an important event. In ‘Surah Maryam,' Allah tala [God] commands us to send salaam on the day Sayyidina Yahya was born.”

Opinion divided

Muslim intellectual opinion seemed divided on the issue, though by and large there was no support for the ‘fatwa'. Ateeque Ansari, coordinator of the Varanasi-based Committee of Arabic Madrassas, said Islam was emphatic in defining ‘farz' (duty) and ‘haraam' (wrong). “‘Farz' has to be observed at all times and ‘haraam' has to be avoided at all times.”

However, a birthday came in neither category, and had to do more with culture than religion: “It is definitely not anti-Islamic but it is clear from the life and times of the Prophet that he himself never participated in any birthday celebrations.”

Mr. Ansari saw the issue as an “unnecessary complication arising from people asking for ‘fatwas' and Deoband deciding to give ‘fatwas.' Is this important? Why are they creating confusion?”

Deoband resident Badr Kazmi was caustic. “This is a complete non-issue. People didn't wear stitched clothes 1400 years ago. So do we go back to doing that? The idea behind celebrating the Prophet's birthday is to remind people to see him as a role model. This is not wrong. But it has nothing to do with religion or fatwas.”

Editor of Nai Duniya Shahid Siddiqui refused to be drawn into the Deoband-Sufi discussion, arguing that both strands were of comparatively recent origin. While a large section of Muslims did celebrate the Prophet's birth anniversary, for Muslims in general the death anniversary was far more important. “What is really celebrated is Urs — the day of one's reunion with God.” Mr. Siddiqui said he was not against birthday celebrations but he did see the practice “as a very recent, western-inspired phenomenon.”

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Between Guru and Disciples

By Abrar Haris, *In the heart of Sufism: Wali`s tomb as place of pilgrimage* - The Jakarta Post - Jakarta, Indonesia; Friday, September 23, 2011

Nestled in the heart of Islam, Mecca is the center of a pilgrimage obligatory for devout Muslims who are spiritually and economically ready to perform it. But in the global religious context, Muslim people have developed particular religious pilgrimages of their own that unfortunately are often misunderstood.

Stretching as far as North Africa passing Central Asia and arriving at Southern Asia’s shores, the daily prayer and Koranic recital have been gradually enriched by pilgrimages to sacred tombs and the mausoleums of holy figures.

It is a long and winding journey to sacred places from the grave of Pir Muhammad Barkhudar Gilani Qadri, a Pakistani Sufi figure in Sillanwali, to Ulakan Syeikh Burhanuddin Mosque in Pariaman, West Sumatra, Indonesia. In those burial complexes, ordinary people experience the “conversion” of life.

In the landscape of Islamic faith, the tomb-pilgrimage tradition emerges as a central issue. Islamic authorities denounce this practice as heresy for they fear the pilgrims are seduced by the tomb’s power or karomah to grant their worldly prayers rather than worshiping God.

Crossing the whole bias, tomb pilgrimage actually constitutes the continuation of teachings once so close and intimate between guru and disciples.

India, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries have thousands of stories of Sufi over more than 1,000 years. In Indonesia, Wali Songo or Nine Holy Preachers accompanied by their faithful disciples walked from coastal villages and stepped into the Javanese court teaching God’s unity. As centuries passed, the land walked over has been consecrated by faith in God and his Prophet.

Some wali even initiated a revolution by founding religious schools. Text books adopting a Western style were printed and the students, fired by the spirit of the dynamic era, began political mapping that would change the socio-cultural landscape of every region they entered.

By doing so, the primeval wali cemented a preliminary sense of nationalism and religious identity which years to come would help indigenous people fight Western colonialism and inspire Asian nations to break free in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In this context, we see that Sufi figures are not stereotypic wandering men in self-ecstasy. Indonesian people can fairly say that men like pedagogic Ki Hadjar Dewantara who founded Taman Siswa College during the Dutch occupation, freedom fighters Tuanku Imam Bonjol, Prince Diponegoro and other Indonesian heroes and heroines and even non-Muslim independence fighters are Sufi.

They did not hide in solitude but led their people to sovereignty. I assume in their ziyarat or long struggle, while waging guerilla war behind mountainous villages, men like Imam Bonjol or Diponegoro used many religious practices to maintain morale among their followers. They would have recited zikir or religious contemplative chants in circle pattern, performed muraqaba or meditation by using their own cultural musical instruments (sama) to achieve self-peace and self-conviction in their fight against the
invaders.

In the end, everybody will admit the employment of ziyarat, zikir, muraqaba or sama constitute Sufistic practices, completing the image of Indonesian national heroes and heroines as gurus and their followers as disciples.

Sunan Kalijaga, a Javanese wali, is admired for his tolerant and artful preaching methods by adopting the existing Hindu and Buddhist cultures. He composed a Javanese suluk titled “Ilir-ilir”; a song in praise of God and Islam. Not to mention approbation of his strong syncretistic master pieces in craft arts, wayang (puppet show) and sekatenan (Prophet Birthday celebration).

His genius reached the architectural world where he adapted the Hindu-style city landscape of palace and alun-alun (open square) guarded by two banyan trees, perfected with the combination of Java-Hindu terraced roofed royal mosques instead of Arabian domes.

In Pariaman, West Sumatra, pilgrims have visited their sheikh-committal complex in Ulakan village since the 17th century, where they spend their nights reading the Koran and contemplating. These Minangkabau pilgrims believe the physical visit and homage to the guru’s tomb is essential.

In this context, the inevitable heretic behavior in burial complexes must be strictly understood as sociologic paradigm rather than allegations of faith perversion.

Anthony Reid, an expert on Southeast Asia, writes in his book Southeast Asia in the Early Modern Era: “The most early Sufi sects in Southeast Asia world seemingly had no strict structure in comparison with the rest of the Muslim world but they possessed a huge respect for the figures and these burial complexes confirm their role in imposing the enormous change in this region”.

Without the presence of wali, Sufi, nameless heroes and heroines, the Islamic Southeast Asian civilization would never have been shaped as it is now.

The writer is indigenous culture researcher with the Bureau of History and Traditional Values Preservation at the West Sumatra office of the Culture and Tourism Ministry, Padang.

[Picture: Map of Indonesia. Photo: Wiki.]

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Colours of Harmony

By Staff Reporter, *Devotees flock to Jannati Darwaza at Ajmer dargah* - The Times of India - Jaipur, India; Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Ajmer: The city of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti here wore colours of harmony on Wednesday with people from various communities celebrating Eid-ul-fitr.

Devotees flocked to Idgahs in and around the city but it is the shrine of the Sufi saint where a large crowd was seen from early morning to enter the Jannati Darwaza, which was opened for the devotees on the occasion.

In Ajmer, Eid is celebrated not only by the Muslim community but also by different communities offering prayers and greeting each other with 'Eid Mubarak'.

"Before offering namaz [prayer] in a masjid [mosque], we have to see that no poor is left hungry and it is the duty of every devotee that he should ask them for their needs," said S F Hussein Chishti, a khadim [custodian] at the dargah.

Many people were seen giving out 'firka', a tradition to give food and money to the poor.

People from Hindu, Jain and Christian faiths went to the dargah in their best clothes to offer prayers and wish their Muslim colleagues. "Since time immemorial, it is a regular tradition that people of our area came out, gather near the dargah to welcome and celebrate Eid with our Muslim friends," Avinash Kane of Kaserganj sabji mandi said.

P K Shrivastav, a resident of Nala bazaar, said, "It is a custom that we all wear new clothes and went to the homes of our Muslim friends along with our families to wish them a happy Eida. My five-year-old son is liking his new cap for the occasion."

A special attraction for kids is the traditional toy shops outside different masjids where items made from clay and woods are sold. "The bazaar which came up for a day, made us remember our old days when we ask our father after the namaz to buy these toys," Mohammad Ayub of Ramganj said.

On the occasion, most houses and shops were decorated with lights and different colour of paints. The dargah was illuminated with decorative lights in the evening.

[Picture: The Jannati Darwaza (Gate to Paradise). Photo: Dargah Ajmer Sharif.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Takbir Could Be Heard

By SMN Staff Reporter, *Eid Celebrated in Ahlu Sunna Administrated Central Areas* - Shabelle Media Network / All Africa - Mogadishu, Somalia; Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dhusamareb: Under the order of Somalia's moderate Sufi group, people in parts of central Somalia on Wednesday celebrated the festival of Eid Al Fitr.

The carnival Ahlu Sunna marking the end of fasting holly month of Ramadan comes a day after Muslims in many regions of Somalia and around the Muslim celebrated yesterday.

In the districts of Dhusamareb, Abudwak and other areas in Galgudud region under the control of moderate Sufi group, Takbir (Allah Is The Greatest, Allah Is The Greatest, Allah Is The Greatest) to mark the first of Eid Al Fitr could be heard echoing from the mosques there.

With glee and dressed in new pretty colthes, people mainly children and women could be seen the streets in parts of central Somalia.

After performing the Eid prayers, the newly elected Ahlu Sunna chairperson, Pro. Hirsi Mohamed Hilowle congratulated all Somalis and those in central Somalia in particular in celebrating the carnival of Eid Al Fitr.

Picture: Muslims in Mombasa say prayers for Eid (file photo). Photo: Gideon Maundu/Nation.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Inner Peace


By Asghar Ali Engineer, *Causes and spread of Islam* - Two Circles Net - Boston, MA, USA; Friday, June 10, 2011

Islam spread so quickly that before it completed 100 years of its origin it had reached right up to China in the east and up to Europe in the west. It had conquered, one can say, a large part of the globe shattering two most powerful empires of the time i.e. Persian empire on one hand, and, Byzantine (Easter Roman Empire) on the other. No other religion had achieved such feat before.

Here in this essay we want to explore the causes of such quick spread of Islam. One has to explore political, historical, economic and sociological causes. Many people have analyzed these causes but most of them have, especially Muslims, assign success of Islam to sincere commitment of Muslims in those days to Islam and even Mohammad Iqbal, well known poet whose powerful poetry arouses emotions of South Asian Muslims, also feels that as long as Muslims were sincere and adhered to teachings of Islam, they continued to achieve success after success but once they ceased to be good Muslims, the Muslim society began to stagnate. I think such an approach is flawed and begs the question.

In order to comprehend the real causes of tremendous success of Islam, one has to take into account all the factors and draw proper conclusion. Of course the idea is not to ignore importance of sincerity and commitment of followers but to be more objective and scientific in understanding external causes in assessing the reasons for surprisingly quick spread of Islam.

Hijaz: from tribal to commercial

In this connection it is important to note that Islam originated in urban area which was an international centre of commerce and finance. But the two greatest empires surrounding Hijaz (what is now called Saudi Arabia and where Islam originated) were mainly agricultural and of feudal structure. Commercial civilization is far more liberal and progressive than one which is based on agriculture. The horizon of agricultural civilization remains quite restricted in vision.

But the sociological background of Mecca was not as simple as we tend to assume. In fact it was much more complex. A commercial society was emerging from tribal society. Meccan society was, in fact, half way between tribal and commercial. However, both tribal and commercial societies are more open and liberal than agricultural society though tribal society is far more equal than commercial society. Commercial society is far more unequal than both agricultural and tribal one.

It is true that Islam imbibed positive qualities of both tribal and commercial society of Mecca. Like tribal society it took its equality and from commercial society it took its dynamism as tribal society after all is not dynamic though it is equal. In tribal society there is not much emphasis on knowledge but in commercial society knowledge is a must. The Arabs had deep imprint of tribal values and even centuries after Islam came into existence they (Arabs) were not attracted towards knowledge. For them knowledge of their ancestry remained of prime importance.

Thus we see that equality is fundamental value in Islam. Unlike feudal society there was no concept of any hierarchy among Arabs. The Qur’an, therefore, made equality as a value and said that only those who are most pious are most honourable in the sight of Allah. This was very progressive and futuristic value of Islam.

All societies like those of Iran, Eastern Roman Empire and others were highly hierarchical and in these societies what mattered were ones status and place in social hierarchy and also the family in which one was born. It was ironical that when Islamic societies also were feudalized, the status and family in which one was born became very important. In Islam only a’mal-i-salihah i.e. good deeds which mattered and nothing else.

Now apart from ‘good deeds’ social status and family became more important a person was thought to be sharif (noble) if he/she was what used to be called najib al-tarfain i.e. whose both parents came from high status families. His own good deeds mattered less. But the Qur’anic ideal had nothing to do with social status or even with riches one possessed. For example, Abu Dhar or Salman al-Farsi, both came from ordinary and poor families and tribes of poorer status and yet both were considered very close to the Prophet (PBUH) and Prophet used to praise them highly and showed high degree of respect for them.

In commercial society too it is riches which matter rather than individual dignity. And the Meccan society, as pointed out above, was becoming a commercial and financial society giving great importance to being rich. Those opposing the Prophet (PBUH) were rich and powerful because the Prophet (PBUH) was orphan and came from a poor family. Thus Islam went beyond commercial society and gave importance to equality and individual dignity which is most modern and democratic concept. Thus the Qur’an says that all children of Adam enjoy dignity irrespective of their birth, tribe, nation or status.

Radical form of equality

No one could even think of such radical form of equality. Thus Islamic teaching went beyond all other forms of equality. Even slaves, who had no rights whatsoever, came to acquire rights. They also began to have sense of dignity. This in itself was a great revolution. Women and slaves were among the lowest rung of society and both slaves and women acquired rights and sense of dignity. The case of Bilal Habashi i.e. Bilal of Habasha can be cited as an illustrious example.

Bilal was a slave who was liberated by Hazrat Abu Bakr who owned him. The Prophet (PBUH) gave him highest status. He asked him to give azan i.e. call to prayer for which many eminent companions of the Prophet aspired but the Prophet (PBUH) gave that honour to a slave to demonstrate that all human beings are equal before Allah. There was no such precedent of such radical equality anywhere else in history until then.

People of other countries had come to know of Islamic teachings before Islam reached there through conquest or otherwise. Thus the slaves and other weaker sections of society were greatly attracted towards such teachings of Islam. Thus we read in history that when Muslims attacked these countries where there were slave-owning or hierarchical societies these people of lowly origin welcomed them and even opened the doors of forts so they could enter without bloodshed. We find several such accounts in early historians like Tabari and Baladhuri’s Futuh al Buldan

Conquests

Before we discuss all this in detail first we would like to throw some light on as to why Arab Muslims invaded these countries? Did they go there to convert others to Islam with the help of swords as is often alleged? Or did they go there to impose their rule over non-Arab societies? Or there was any other reason. In those days unfortunately there was no such discipline in modern sense as history. History was mere record of events rather than analysis of events.

We know about the Prophet (PBUH) that he did not invade any country or even other Arab tribes to establish his domination or to establish control over their resources. Mostly, with one exception, he fought when he was attacked. Thus he fought defensive battles. Even Abu Bakr, the first Caliph did not attack any other country as he was mostly engaged in putting down war of riddah (i.e. rebellion against Caliph’s rule as these tribals had not had any idea of governance by urban people and to pay taxes to them.

These tribes had no objection to practice Islam as a religion but were not ready to pay zakat (tax) to a government and to submit to them. These tribes were highly independent and resented submission to those who were mainly from urban settled areas. They had never done so during the course of their history. Hazrat Abu Bakr had to quell this rebellion known as war of riddah i.e. war against those who turned back on their Islam.

However, major conquests began with the 2nd Caliph Hazrat Umar. Parts of Roman Empire (Palestine, Syria) and Iran were conquered during his time. The wars of conquest began from his time. Why Hazrat Umar launched on these conquests? Was there any provocation from those countries? Apparently there was no such provocation. Then why did he attack? There is no clear answer.

One reason which was economic in nature could be cited. After destruction of Ma’arib dam which is mentioned in Qur’an too, the fertility of Yemen was destroyed and people of Yemen had begun to migrate towards the fertile north. This caused social tension between the Quraish of Mecca and Arabs of Yemen. People of Yemen were seen as intruders. Also, before Islam, the Bedouin tribes of desert survived by invading each other and running away with animals and women of conquered tribes.

Since by the time of Hazrat Umar all Bedouins had embraced Islam and all Muslims were declared as brothers of each other (what the Qur’an calls muwakhat) it was no longer possible for one Muslim tribe to attack the other Muslim tribe and run away with their animals and women, survival became a problem in desert. A way had to found out for survival which was not easy.

Thus pressure of migration from Yemen and question of survival of Bedouin tribes together created a difficult situation and since both Byzentine empire and Iran were located in fertile areas (the area comprising Palestine-Syria etc.) was known as ‘fertile crescent’ it has lot of productive potential and Arabs from south were eying it.

Economic reasons

Thus economic pressure was one important factor in launching campaign for conquests. Baladhuri in his Futuh al-Buldan (Conquests of Countries) tells us that before every war an announcement was made that those who want to fight in the way of Allah and those who want to benefit from war (naf’i) should join the army. Thus some joined the army to fight in the way of Allah and some for pure economic benefit.

Now one can well understand the category of people joining fighting forces for economic benefit but it is little puzzling that those who wished to fight in the way of Allah also were invited to join. If we examine the treaties whose text is mentioned by Baladhuri we rarely find mention of conversion to Islam. Generally the treaty is about how much food grains, clothes, slave men and slave girls the conquered country would supply to Islamic army and at times even cash is mentioned. This was negotiated jizyah extracted from conquered people. Thus there was no fixed amount for jizyah but it was negotiated with conquered people in lieu of military service.

Since there is no mention of conversion why some people joined as FIGHTER IN THE WAY OF Allah? What was the logic behind it? Was there any intention to colonize the conquered countries or establish Islamic domination? We are also reminded here about the controversy in Russia about whether revolution can be consolidated in one country or revolution in one country is not possible until revolution takes place in all surrounding countries, if not all countries?

The last possibility is ruled out in a way because Islamic revolution was socio-religious and not merely economic revolution. Islam did emphasize human equality but it was so more in the sense of human dignity than economic equality. Of course the Meccan Qur’anic verses strongly condemn accumulation of wealth and one Qur’anic verse also exhorts Muslims to give away in the way of Allah what is surplus i.e. more than one needs. But this is more of moral exhortation. The concept of halal earning is much wider in concept and not merely limited to private property.

Thus the question of Islam in one country or international Islamic revolution did not arise. But it is also a fact that Islam being religion and universal in nature it is not territorially limited. Most of the theologians and ulama maintain that Islam does not recognize any territorial limits and hence there is no concept of nationhood in Islam. This needs to be discussed in greater detail but not here.

Yet one more factor could be fear of invasion by foreign forces like Iranian or Byzantinian. Roman Empire had always wanted to bring Arab territory under its control since it amounted to controlling profitable trade route from Yemen to Palestine. It had tried once by making an Arab a king under its own control. He was seen as a stooge and Arabs rejected him as a king. Thus Romans had not succeeded in controlling the Arab land. Arabs were fiercely independent and would not submit to any authority.

But we do not find mention of any such fear among the causes of invasion. It seems various factors counted including establishing Islamic domination over these lands, economic pressure as these wars of conquests brought tremendous wealth and also some kind of fear of attack. After Islamic revolution, also, lot of fertile land was captured in these wars of conquest. Arabs, many of whom had not known counting beyond 100, became owners of millions. Some of them accumulated so much that they had to use spades to gather dirham and dinar together.

Even some of the companions of the Prophet accumulated so much wealth that Abu Dhar had to recite the Qur’anic verses against accumulation of wealth to warn them of the severe punishment awaiting them in the after-life. Inb Khalladun, the noted historian gives names of some of the companions of the Prophet who lost count of their wealth. Also these conquests created Arab domination zone right up to Central Asia in the East and up to Europe in the west. Thus these conquests benefited Arabs in number of ways.

Spread of Islam

One more question to be answer is how did Islam spread so fast when the main objective of the conquest (as alleged by some prejudiced historians that Islam spread with sword in one hand, and, Qur’an in the other) was not spread of Islam. Again there are many reasons, in fact complex web of reasons. Some of them will be discussed here:

Firstly, from very beginning of Islam two trends became prominent i.e. political Islam which was more about power and enforcement of shari’at law and as it happens power became main objective of conquests and led to great deal of bloodshed among Muslims themselves and enforcement of shari’ah law threw up the tribe of ‘ulama which Qur’an had not proposed. These ‘ulama established their monopoly and their opinion in any sphere of life became central.

The second trend was that of Sufism. Sufism, as opposed to political Islam was mainly spiritual and put equal or more emphasis on tariqat (a spiritual way or set of spiritual exercises) and kept itself aloof from political power struggles. They led, like the Prophet (PBUH), utterly simple life and they put more emphasis on inner peace and inner security.

Of these two trends the rich and powerful opted for political Islam and were involved in power struggle and never had inner peace and security. The masses of people, on the other hand, were attracted towards Sufism in search of inner peace. The Sufis gave them feeling of dignity and respect unlike ruling classes who despised them. Thus people of lowly origin found not only inner peace and solace but also feeling of dignity and hence were attracted to Islam through these Sufis,

Even in 20th century one finds poverty stricken masses from Algeria in the west to Indonesia in the east, having embraced Islam and this is one reason why Islamic world has remained so backward and poor. Even most of the Arabs in Gulf countries until discovery of oil was quite poor and even today those Arabs living in Egypt, Algeria and other Arab countries without oil remain quite poor.

Thirdly, many former non-Muslim power elite, in order to retain their position among new power elite, converted to Islam and through them many of their dependents too embraced Islam. Thus in conquered countries both poor and a section of rich embraced Islam. Sufism remained very widespread throughout Islamic world. It was only rise of Wahabi Islam in what is now called Saudi Arabia that Sufi Islam was suppressed by use of force and slowly lost its influence.

Sufi Islam is still remains highly popular in various parts of Islamic world, especially in non-Arab Islamic world. In South and South East Asia Sufi Islam remains a predominant trend and influence of Sufi saints extends beyond Muslims to non-Muslims as well. Thus in India several Sufi saints are revered by Hindus, Parsis and Christians. They are mostly seekers of inner peace and solace.

Thus it is sheer political myth spread by western imperialists that Islam spread through sword. History does not bear it out. At best it is, what I call, ‘super-simplistic approach to a very complex problem and not without political motives. Those who believe in such myths never take trouble to study history and either become victims of political propaganda or indulge in such false propaganda in order to achieve their political motives.

For the poor, Islam came as a liberator as its doctrine of equality and human dignity greatly attracted them and for power elite it became a source of power and riches and these rich broke every precept and moral conduct of Islam which enemies of Islam ascribed to Islam. In fact power elite break the spirit of morality in every religious tradition, not only among Muslims. The powerful can get away with anything. Thus the basic doctrine of Islam is peace but the power elite, in order to fulfill their lust of power ended up projecting Islam as religion believing in violence and spreading through violence. However, it was the spiritual side of the religion or Sufi Islam which saved the day.

Picture: Asghar Ali Engineer. Photo: Wiki.
Showing posts with label faith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label faith. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why are they targeting the Sufis?

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Why are they targeting the Sufis? Richard Schiffman, New Internationalist blog, Oct 23 2012

Afghanistan in 2001? The Taliban destruction of these massive archaeological monuments dating back to the sixth century has become emblematic of the cultural and religious intolerance of radical Islam.What is less well known is that fanatical elements have done equal damage to Islam’s own religious heritage. Not only have Shi’a and Sunni partisans bombed each other’s mosques in countries like Iraq, Syria and Pakistan, but Sufi places of worship are under attack throughout the Islamic world.

In September, the world was shocked to learn that the US ambassador and three other Americans had been killed in an attack on a US Consulate in Libya. Few heard of the other violent events there later that month, which included the destruction of Sufi shrines in three Libyan cities.

In Tripoli, security forces watched passively as militants with bulldozers levelled the shrine of al-Shaab al-Dahmani, a venerated Sufi saint, in broad daylight. In Benghazi, on the other hand, locals fought back, killing three of the militants who were assaulting a holy place.

Perhaps we don’t hear much about these incidents because attacks on Sufis and Sufi sites have become routine, not just in Libya, but throughout the Islamic world. This past summer, Islamic militants in Mali demolished historical mausoleums, universities and libraries in the ancient Saharan trading town of Timbuktu, several of which were on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites. Sufi worship halls have also been turned to rubble in Iran, where the Islamic government has reportedly jailed and tortured thousands of Sufi practitioners for their unorthodox views. And in Egypt since the fall of Mubarak Sufi shrines have been torched and the Sufi chanting ritual called zhikr has been banned in some locations.

The deadliest attacks to date have occurred in Pakistan, including last year’s bombing of the Sakhi Sarkar shrine during the annual festival of the Sufi saint, in which 41 worshippers were killed. Meanwhile, in the former Soviet Republic of Daghestan, the Sufi leader Effendi Chirkeisky, along with six of his followers, was assassinated at the end of August by a female suicide bomber. Chirkeisky, a critic of Muslim extremism, had ironically been working to broker peace between warring Islamic factions.

For many here in the US, Sufism is associated with the ecstatic verse of the 13th-century mystic, Jalaluddin Rumi, whose poetry in translation sells more copies than any living US poet. Rumi’s popularity derives in part from the fact that he taught that religion is less a matter of external observance than an intimate, personal relationship with God. This undoubtedly appeals to our American ideal of individualism and free-form seeking.

What many contemporary fans of Rumi may not realize is that Sufism in practice is more of a communal affair than a lonely quest. Moreover, the philosophy of Rumi and his fellow Sufis is very much alive today. It has spread to the distant corners of the Islamic world and beyond, and comprises many different orders, each with their own teachings and modes of practice.

Historically, Sufism was one of the great wellsprings of Islamic philosophy, and deeply influenced luminaries like the great Muslim theologian Abu Hamid al-Ghazali and the 13th-century mystic thinker, Ibn Arabi. Some have credited Sufism’s open-minded approach to knowledge with the development of Islamic medicine and other sciences in the Middle Ages. Sufism’s influence on the literature, music, art and architecture of Islam is also immense, and it was a potent force in many of the political and social reform movements in the 19th century.

While nobody can say with certainty how many Sufis there are, they undoubtedly number in the millions in countries like Iran, Indonesia and Pakistan, and untold hundreds of millions of Muslims take part in Sufi ceremonies and festivals.

‘In the Islamic world,’ according to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University, ‘Sufism is the most powerful antidote to the religious radicalism called fundamentalism, as well as the most important source for responding to the challenges posed by modernism.’

This pervasive influence may be why Sufis have been targets of the fundamentalist, who see their kinder, gentler form of Islam as a standing challenge to their own rigid orthodoxy. Sufi practices, such as the famous whirling of the Mevlevi dervishes in Turkey, first practiced by Rumi himself, employ music, dance and spiritual recitation to awaken the God who Sufis say is asleep in the human heart. Nothing could be further from the grim-faced puritanism of the Islamic fundamentalists who accuse the Sufis of being ‘idolaters’ and ‘pagans’. Sufis reply that they are hearkening back to the roots of Islam, which means ‘peace’.

I can attest to the power of Sufi practices to provide a glimpse of the ‘peace which passeth understanding’ which is at the core of all religious experience. For several years I attended the weekly zickr of a Turkish Sufi order in New York City. The chanting in Turkish and Arabic was co-ordinated with our movements and the flow of the breath to create a trance-like state which I found to be both subtler and more powerful and enduring than the drug experiences which I had pursued during college. Equally remarkable was the feeling of deep affection and fellowship which was served up along with the tea and Turkish sweets after the ceremony.

The Sufism that I know, while deeply Islamic in form, is universal in spirit. I think often of what our Sheikh, Muzzafer Effendi, told his Turkish followers when they asked him why he didn’t convert more American dervishes to Islam. ‘There are more than enough Muslims already,’ he replied. ‘What the world needs is more lovers of God!’

I would love to say this to the extremists who are bombing holy places and attacking Sufi practitioners.

Richard Schiffman is an American dervish in the Jerrahi order of Sufism. He is also the author of two religious biographies, and a poet and journalist whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, Reuters, the Guardian and on NPR.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Can Sufism Defuse Terrorism?

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[Please note that although this article was written in 2009 it is included here today as it is still of relevance].

Can Sufism Defuse Terrorism? Time, Ishaan Tharoor, July 22, 2009 

In recent years, the dominant image of Islam in the minds of many Westerners has been one loaded with violence and shrouded with fear. The figures commanding global attention — be they al-Qaeda's leadership or certain mullahs in Tehran — preach an apocalyptic creed to an uncompromising faithful. This may be the Islam of a radical fringe, but in an era of flag-burnings and suicide bombings, it is the Islam of the moment.
And that is why some lament the decline of another, older and more tolerant Islam. For centuries many of the world's Muslims were, in one way or another, practi-tioners of Sufism, a spiritualism that centers on the mystical connection between the individual and the divine. Sufism's ethos was egalitarian, charitable and friendly, often propagated by wandering seers and storytellers. It blended with local cultures and cemented Islam's place from North Africa to the Indian subcontinent. (Read "An Islam of Many Paths.")
Yet amid the hurly-burly of 19th century empires, Sufism lost ground. The fall of Islam's traditional powers — imperial dynasties such as the Mughals and the Ottomans — created a hunger for a more muscular religious identity than that found in the intoxicating whirl of a dervish or the quiet wisdom of a sage. Nationalism and fundamentalism subdued Sufism's eclectic spirit. In the West, Sufism now usually provokes paeans to an alternative, ascetic life, backed up perhaps by a few verses from Rumi, a medieval Sufi poet much cherished by New Age spiritualists. But there was nothing fringe or alternative about it. "In many places, Sufism was the way whole populations expressed their Muslim identity," says Faisal Devji, an expert on political Islam at Oxford University. "In South Asia, it was the norm."
Some analysts think that historical legacy can still be exploited. A 2007 report by the Rand Corp., a U.S. think tank, advised Western governments to "harness" Sufism, saying its adherents were "natural allies of the West." Along similar lines, the Algerian government announced in July that it would promote the nation's Sufi heritage on radio and television in a bid to check the powerful influence of Salafism, a more extreme strain of Islam that is followed by al-Qaeda-backed militants waging a war against the country's autocratic state.
But can Sufism really bend terrorist swords into plowshares? The question is most urgent in South Asia, home to more than a third of the world's Muslims and the cradle of Sufi Islam. Shrines of Sufi saints are ubiquitous in India and Pakistan and still attract thousands of devotees. Yet the Taliban in Pakistan have set about destroying such sites, which are anathema to their literalist interpretation of the Koran. "Despite our ancient religious tradition," says Ayeda Naqvi, a writer and Sufi scholar from Lahore, "we are being bullied and intimidated by a new form of religion that is barely one generation old." (See pictures of the Taliban on LIFE.com.)
Still, Naqvi, Devji and other academics doubt that governments can use Sufism to fight their political battles. As in the past, foreign meddling would likely do more harm than good. "What is needed today, more than the West pushing any one form of religion," says Naqvi, "is a propagation of the underlying values of Sufism — love, harmony and beauty." This is not easy, especially in Pakistan, where poverty, corruption and the daily toll of the global war on terrorism simmer together in a volatile brew. Set against this, the transcendental faith of Sufi mystics seems quaint, if not entirely impotent.
But there is more to the allure of Sufism than its saints and sheiks. In 2001, one of the first things to happen after the Taliban was chased out of Kabul was that the doors of the Afghan capital's Bollywood cinemas were flung open to the public. The language of cosmic love that animates Bollywood music and enchants millions of Muslims around the world, even if sung and acted out by non-Muslims, is a direct legacy of centuries of Sufi devotional poetry. At Sufism's core, suggests Oxford University's Devji, is an embrace of the world. "It allows you to identify beyond your mosque and village to something that can be both Islamic and secular," he says. "It's a liberation that jihadis could never offer."
Nevertheless, it has also been Sufism's fate to fall afoul of more narrow-minded dogmas — even during an earlier golden age. The tomb of Sarmad the Armenian, a storied Sufi saint, sits close to Delhi's Great Mosque. Sarmad looked for unity within Muslim and Hindu theology, and famously walked the streets of Lahore and Delhi naked, denouncing corrupt nobles and clerics. In 1661, he was arrested for heresy and beheaded under the orders of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, a ruler admired now by Pakistani hard-liners for his championing of an orthodox Islam and the destruction of hundreds of Hindu temples. As Sarmad was led to his execution, he was heard to mutter lines of poetry: "There was an uproar, and we opened our eyes from eternal sleep," intoned the Sufi. "Saw that the night of wickedness endured, so we slept again." For many, Sufism's slumber has lasted far too long.
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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Balance at the Heart of Islam: A Message from Medina in light of Benghazi

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 Balance at the Heart of Islam: A Message from Medina in light of Benghazi
Claire Alkouatli, Huffington Post 9/16/2012

Claire Alkouatli
Balance was the first thing that attracted me, a decade ago, to the Islamic deen--the comprehensive spiritual and practical life system of Islam. Balance between worldly structure and beautiful essence.
When you step into the Prophet Muhammad's mosque in Medina--at the heart of the Islamic world, shoulder to shoulder with people of every ethnicity on earth--the deep subtle brilliant beauty is resounding. Everything is in perfect balance.
Yet, out there, in the world, balance seems nowhere to be found. Muslims are either extremists or secular. Salafis or Sufis. Sunnis or Shiites. And the non-Muslims? Many observe in fearful incomprehension; others act and react negatively.
Recently, I got a message from a friend from Medina--a clear outline of the balance intrinsic to the deen. I was simultaneously amazed that such clarity continues to emanate from this illuminated city and inspired by the reminder that we all have the potential to attain the ultimate balance: being mindfully present in the world, with our hearts immersed in the Divine. Balance within is the place to begin if we want to contribute to a world in balance.
So, at a time when the world is hurting from the actions of the unbalanced ones, I wanted to share this inspired reminder:
"Our deen is built on three rocks. The first rock is the 'technical rock. It deals with the details of daily life starting with the five pillars of Islam, the oneness of God, the prophethood of Muhammad, the five daily prayers, the zakat, fasting during Ramadan, and performing Hajj for the capable. It also covers economic and social rulings, such as trading, marriage/divorce and inheritance. A person who is deeply knowledgeable about this rock is traditionally called a faqih. The most famous faqihs in our history are the four Imams of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence (madahib). The majority of Muslims (no less than 95% in every era) follow one of these madahib in their daily routines.
The second rock is the 'faith' rock. It deals with the details of the unseen starting with the six corners of faith (iman), to believe in God, His angels, His books, His messengers, the Day of Judgment, and that fate, both good and bad, is from God. The creed that clarifies these articles of faith is called aqida. The most famous scholars of aqida in our history are Al-Ash'ari and Al-Maturidi. The majority of Muslims (no less than 95% in every era except for some blips in our history) believe in this creed.
The third rock is the 'self-improvement' rock. It deals with the ways of elevating the human condition to become true to God and treat all His creatures with Prophetic standards. The knowledge of how to get one's self to these standards is called the knowledge of tazkiyah, the process of transforming the self from ego-centeredness through various spiritual stages towards the level of purity and true submission to the will of God. It is also called tasawwuf, or sufism. The person who comes close to reaching the pinnacle of these standards is called a sufi. The most famous scholars of tazkiyah in our history are Al-Ghazali, Al-Junaid, Ibn Arabi, and Al-Jilani. With the exception of the past 60 years or so, tazkiyah was part of every type of education in the Islamic world.
These rocks are academic classifications that have helped Muslims, since the third or fourth century, develop the sciences of turning human beings into Prophetic beings; those who Prophet Muhammad longed for when he said, "I wish I could have seen my brothers..."
As time progressed, these sciences matured and kept connecting new generations to the salaf, which refers to, in the traditional sense, the people who lived during the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and the next two generations, through unbroken chains of scholars. So a 'salafi' is someone who projects the essence of these early Muslims.
Additionally, scholars cannot excel in their own rock without achieving a masterful command of the sciences behind the other rocks too. So, a master salafi is a master sufi, is a master scholar, is a master faqih. In other words, at the level of mastery, the words 'salafi,' 'sufi,' 'scholar,' and 'faqih' are essentially synonymous. And they all point to the essence of the Prophet Muhammad.
Turbulence has occurred, throughout our history, when someone decides to raise a flag of deen that is based on an incomplete, or deformed, set of rocks. Or, when people see these rocks as independent competitive camps instead of seeing them as parts of a whole. Both occurrences happen, exclusively, because of breaks in the chains of scholars.
The groups that have a solid first rock but a deformed, or missing, second and third rock, for example, tend to be detail oriented, dry, argument oriented, narrow, and sometimes violent.
On the other side of the spectrum, groups that have a solid third rock but a deformed, or missing, second and first rock tend to be mellow, perceptive, tolerant and lost.
The first extreme of the spectrum explains the "kill first, judge later" jihadi, the politically obsessed shiite, the "My way or you're doomed" salafi (which is also the wahabi mentality), and the power hungry Muslim brotherhood. The other extreme of the spectrum explain the disenfranchised Muslim liberal, the "above the need for obligation" sufi, and "let's keep the deen only in the heart" advocate.
This is why we ask God, at least 17 times in our daily prayers, to "Guide us to the Straight Path, The way of those whom You have favored; Not of those who have incurred Your wrath. Nor of those who go astray."
So in short, given the proper definitions, it is my wish to be a salafi, my dream is to become a sufi, my hope to be a faqih--and I would love to see, follow and kiss, every footstep, expression and deed of the beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.
But, instead, I'm still stuck at trying to achieve a moment, let alone an hour, let alone a lifetime, of what the masters call Al Khalwa fil Jalwa. Which means being, both at once and without contradictions, fully involved with the world with your heart completely immersed with God.
May God give us a taste of that, followed by enough servings to get back Home. Safely.
Salaams,
M.
P.S. Kindly notice that the deen-hijacking criminals who kill treacherously, demean women and children, destroy mosques, dig up graves, and behead people were not mentioned in the spectrum above. Because they are beneath it. They call themselves many things--from salafis, to messiahs, to cowboys--but these behaviors do not belong to any Divine deen."
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Friday, August 10, 2012

Nazareth's Sufis bullied by fellow Muslims

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Nazareth's Sufis bullied by fellow Muslims Haaretz  Saturday, August 11, 2012 Av 23, 5772 By Lauren Gelfond Feldinger, Aug.10, 2012

Sufi sitar

 For decades, the mystical Sufis in Nazareth have celebrated Islam through music and poetry without considering themselves in danger.But nowadays, local Salafis, who practice a more conservative and coercive Islam, bully and beat Sufi leaders to deter them from their practices, Muslim community leaders told Haaretz. "We visit tombs of holy peoples and they say it is forbidden; we chant and they say it is forbidden to use instruments; I say there should be dialogue with Israelis and Jews because the prophet Muhammed received delegations of Jewish tribes," but Salafis object, said Nazareth Sheikh Ghassan Menasra, 44, a leader of the Qadiri Sufi Order of the Holy Land.
Menasra says he and two of his five sons have been beaten in Nazareth and Jerusalem and his wife, an Islamic educator for women, was pushed. Shaken by threats and having tear gas thrown into his home, he spent two weeks in meditation to avoid the fate of Jerusalem Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari, who suffered similar attacks and died of a heart attack in 2010 at age 61.
Such incidents may reflect a growing regional trend of clashes between progressive Muslims and their more fundamentalist brethren. Egyptian Salafis have razed Sufi shrines, Tunisian Salafis injured dozens in riots over work of art and political analysts blame Salafi Jihadis for the bloodshed in Syria.
But Salafis and Sufis are both tiny minorities here, with Salafi activity funded by countries like Saudi Arabia, Menasra says. According to research by Middle East expert professor Khaled Hroub of Cambridge University, the small Palestinian Salafi element includes violent radicals whose interpretation of Islam is linked to Saudi Wahabism, but most are nonviolent moderates focused on conservative social and religious programs.
Sufis are famed as whirling dervishes, but the Nazareth Sufis do not practice this tradition. They observe Islamic law, but also include reverent prayers, chanting (zikr), instruments and poetry in their worship. They are often compared to Jewish Kabbalists. The greatest jihad of Islam, according to the Qadiri order that Menasra and his father Abdel-al Salaam head, is overcoming ego, hatred and violent speech and behavior. 
Critics condemn them as "heretics" for their practices, which also include having women teach Islam.
They particularly attack them as "collaborators" for associating with Jews. Menasra is involved with numerous interfaith programs, joins rabbis for meetings with international political leaders and performs Sufi chants with Jewish musicians such as Yair Dalal. Menasra argues that interfaith cooperation was the Prophet Mohammad's way and later was the tradition of Muslim and Jewish mystics in Medieval Cairo, Baghdad, Damascus and Morocco. Interacting with other faiths also helps Arabs, he said.
"We need to talk [with Jews] about the problems of Arab rights in Israel and Palestinian rights," he said. "Muslims can also teach Jews the cultural codes of peacemaking in Islam – politics alone cannot build trust."
The threats started a decade ago, after 10 Nazareth Sufis reached out to other Muslims, teaching "moderate Islam" through op-eds and classes on Islamic text and tradition, led by Menasra, who holds a master's degree in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies, a bachelor's degree in Arabic literature, a teaching certificate in Islamic family law and ordination as a sheikh by the renowned Jerusalem Sheikh Baghdadi.
As they gained followers and began including Jewish communities, threats turned to violence.
Anat Lev-Or of Central Israel, a Jewish teacher of Sufi and Jewish philosophy, says two years ago she witnessed a mob beat Menasra's teenage son, while he shielded his younger brother.
Imam Mahmoud Abukhdeir, spiritual leader of an east Jerusalem mosque, condemned Salafi violence in Nazareth and Jerusalem.
"To many Muslims, the Sufi way is not acceptable, but in Islamic law, such violence is forbidden," he said. "Salafis are against many groups, not just Sufis. They beat everyone--they think they are the only real Muslims."
It is not clear how widespread the Sufi-Salafi conflict is in Israel, because Sufis say they would not report Salafi leaders to the police or Higher Arab Council for fear of retribution. Despite repeated inquiries, Haaretz was unable to locate a Salafi leader to respond. The Salafi movement in Israel is not centralized, but Itzhak Weismann, a professor and Sufi expert at Haifa University, says most Islamist movements subscribe to Salafi principles and consider Sufis "deviators from Islam."
But he noted, "Sufism is based on Islamic texts and tradition. Sufis are part of Islam since the beginning."
"We will not stop"
Scholars date Sufis in the Holy Land to eighth-century Ramle and Jerusalem, with centers developing later in Safed and Hebron. Jerusalem was always an important site of pilgrimage, and several dozen Sufi shrines and graves remain in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Today in Israel there are a few hundred Sufi disciples and thousands of supporters who worship in their homes or houses of prayer, primarily in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Acre, Umm al-Fahm and Baqa al-Gharbiyye.
Sufism, with its many orders and varying customs, is not widespread in Israel because of the exile of Muslim leaders after the 1948 war, Weismann says.
"Since 1967, when communications resumed between Muslims in Israel with relatives in West Bank and Gaza, there was a renewal," he said.
In Nazareth, Sufis face not only the threat of extremists, but also difficult living conditions because of government prejudice against development in Arab neighborhoods, said Sufi teacher Khalid Abu Ras. Israel's largest Arab city, with nearly 74,000 residents – 69.5 percent of which are Muslim – is plagued by unemployment, overcrowding, lack of green spaces and, says Abu Ras, inadequate municipal services.
Despite struggles with poverty, threats and violence, the Sufis of Nazareth say that they will carry on as usual.
On a recent evening, twenty family and community members gathered in the Menasra home to break the Ramadan fast. After dinner, the older son played classical Egyptian oud, including works from Umm Kulthum and Mohamed Abdel Wahab. The elder community members chanted traditional songs about the prophet Mohammad. An infant moved with his arms to the music and a grandfather beat an oversized tambourine. The elder Menasra, wearing a traditional tunic and head covering, danced slowly into the inner circle, extending his arms to bless the guests.
Days later, on the Jewish day of mourning Tisha B'Av, several of Menasra's Jewish colleagues who were also fasting joined his family to break the fast.
"Our activity does not make us weaker -- it makes us strong," Menasra said.
There are three kinds of religious people, he explained, quoting Rabia al-Adawiya, a female Sufi saint: "Slaves who worship through fear, merchants who worship for profit and free people who worship through love – this is the way," he said. "The radicals think that they need to stop us in any way, but we will not stop."
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Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The 191st annual Urs of great Sufi Hazrat Sachal Sarmast

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191st Annual Urs of great Sufi Hazrat Sachal Sarmast begins today
Radio Pakistan August 3 2012
The annual Urs of great Sufi Hazrat Sachal Sarmast begins at Daraza Sharif in Khairpur district on Friday
The 191st annual Urs of great Sufi Hazrat Sachal Sarmast begins on Friday at Daraza Sharif in Khairpur district. A large number of devotees from all over the country will participate the celebrations.
Sindh cultural department has arranged a National Litrary Conference on the occasion in which scholars and writers from all the country will speak about the poetry and philosophy of Hazrat Sachal Sarmast.sufi_01
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Sunday, August 05, 2012

Rishi of the Valley

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Rishi of the Valley The Hindu August 5 2012
Young Kashmiri researcher Abir Bazaz tells Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty what made him go in search of Kashmiri Sufi Nund Rishi

Learning to live: Abir Bazaz in Shimla. Photo: Akhilesh Kumar 
Like many young Kashmiris today, Abir Bazaz too is a product of a society in turmoil. Violence and death became a part of his life, compelling him to make a short film Paradise on a River in Hell in 2002. But with the chaotic present bearing scant hope for any great future, the obvious choice in front of Abir was to turn to the past. He wanted answers. Primarily to the Hindu-Muslim dissonance that has engulfed the Valley.
So, quarrying on the history of Kashmiri life, he asked: were we always like this? Was there any attempt at concord between the two? Can we never have a paradigm bedded on peace and harmony? The past didn’t disappoint Abir. He found his answer in Sheikh Nooruddin Noorani, better known as Nund Rishi who walked on Kashmiri soil in the 14th and 15th centuries and showed his people a workable paradigm for coexistence.
In a language that people understood, Rishi went on to institute Sufism in the Valley by successfully establishing an idiom that coupled Hindu and Buddhist thoughts with the real spirit of Islam. He used local idioms, “For example, the Islamic word for divinity is ‘devo’ in his teachings; Allah is called ‘bhugi’ which is Kashmiri for ‘bhagwan’… Nund Rishi’s was one of the few indigenous Sufi Orders of India because other Orders were not born in India but in Persia. Even though rishis of Kashmir have some thoughts in common with the Chistia Order, Chistis were originally from Afghanistan,” Abir found.
Pulled by this great past of his people, Abir, for the last five years — as a fellow with the University of Minnesota — has been researching the Rishi Order and “increasingly realising what were actually the foundations of Kashmir… One of the fundamental concerns of the Order was to avoid violence between the two communities,” points out Abir during a conversation in Shimla. He was there to present a paper on the poetry of Nund Rishi at the 11th Conference on Early Modern Literatures of North India, which is being held for the first time in India.
Abir revealed that Nund Rishi’s teachings were a serious critique of the society then. “His loyalty was with the Kashmiri peasantry, the poor lot. His shrueks (taken from the Sanskrit word slokas) consistently attacked the caste system. It was on the lines of the Bharti poets though his approach was more cautious because of the times he lived in.”
Unlike Kabir, whose teachings were a criticism of Islam and Hinduism, Nund Rishi affirmed both. “His approach was unique because he affirmed his relations with both the Koran and Hindu-Buddhist thoughts. His structure of thought tried to look at a universal shared language, how one community can live together with another,” said Abir.
Nund Rishi emerged at a time of great political crisis in Kashmir. Trying to draw a parallel with today, the paper Abir has written for the conference — hosted by the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies — studies the relations between the negative theology of Nund Rishi and the thinking of death in Sufism
“Here I look at his idea about life and death. Learning to live is also learning to die,” says Abir. Nund Rishi also holds importance in the Valley’s history because he was the first to write in Kashmiri. “Before him, the writings were either in Sanskrit or in Persian.” Today though, he is more or less a forgotten name in Kashmir. “There are contestations now about what Rishism means. Young people don’t really know much about him, some have only heard of him from their parents or grandparents,” says Abir. During his research, he says, “One big problem was that his poetry and texts written about him were in Kashmiri language.” Ironically, Kashmiri is not taught in schools there, so Abir had to teach himself how to read and write his own language. Since some texts about him were in Persian, he learnt that language too.
His research work on Nund Rishi is far from over but he adds hopefully, “At some point I would like to put all of these in book form.”
(Abir Bazaz presented the paper “Die before you Die: Negative Theology, Death and Politics in the Poetry of Nund Rishi (1378-1440)” at the 11th International Conference on Early Modern Literatures in North India that concludes today in Shimla.)

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Saturday, August 04, 2012

Path to Sufism could lead to global peace, says Qaim

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Path to Sufism could lead to global peace, says Qaim International The News, Saturday, August 04, 2012

RANIPUR: The world can benefit from the philosophy of Sufism as it holds the means to overcome the social and economic issues confronting the globe.

This was stated by the Chief Minister of Sindh, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, as he laid a floral wreath on the mausoleum of Hazrat Sachal Sarmast at Daraz Sharif in Ranipur town of Khairpur on Friday on the occasion of the 191st Urs celebrations of the Sufi poet.

The chief minister, while addressing a ceremony on this occasion, said that love, peace, equality and tolerance had been the hallmark of Sachal Sarmast’s message. He said that the mystic poets had played a vital role in spreading the spirit of Sufism.

Shah paid rich tribute to the scholars and poets who had been spreading the message of Sufism. He said that the present PPP government had been following in the footsteps of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto by paying attention to the renovation and maintenance of the shrines of Shah Latif Bhitai, Sachal Sarmast and Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.

The chief minister, while taking notice of the complaints against grabbing of the shrine’s land, ordered the DIG of Sukkur to get the land recovered from the possession of the land mafia. He also asked the police official to launch a crackdown on the drug peddlers.

Shah also ordered installation of tubewells in the area as well as an inquiry into the alleged siphoning off of funds worth millions of rupees meant for repairing the existing tubewells. Meanwhile, Sindh Auqaf Minister Dr Rafique Ahmed told the ceremony that the Auqaf Department by virtue of the 18th Amendment had been devolved to the Sindh government.
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Monday, July 30, 2012

Something Sufi about this comic!

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Daily News and Analysis Published: Friday, Jul 27, 2012  By Shilpa Bansal
Some months ago, Sufi comics were promoted at Comic Con International San Diego — one of the biggest comic conventions in the world. And now, Mocha TRIP, in association with Comic Con, is presenting an exclusive workshop with Sufi Comics this weekend. The authors, the Vakil brothers will share their experience of participating at Comic Con San Diego 2012 and will give the audience a sneak peek into the stories from their upcoming book and an exclusive preview of the book’s miniature art and calligraphy.
What more? Also, participate in exciting script writing and drawing competition to win fabulous prizes!
What adds to this whole Sufi experience is the venue, Mocha TRIP, always known for its ambience. And this time, it just perfectly blends with the theme. Be it comics, comedy, music, books or cycling— Mocha Trip as the young Bangaloreans call, is the place where you can do the things you love and share stuff with others who share the same interest as yours.
Go ahead, go on a Sufi trip!
Be at Mocha, 577, Kalyana Mantapa Road, 80ft Road, 8th Block, Opposite to Bethany High School, Koramangala Main Road, Koramangala, on July 28, 12pm onwards, call 30224711

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Ahad Bab: Mystique of a Mystic

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Book review by Muhammad Maroof Shah

Author: Syed Habib, Publisher: Shifa Publications, Year: 2012, Pages: 203

Greater Kashmir, SRINAGAR, MONDAY, 18 SHAABAN 1433 AH ; 09 JULY 2012 CE
The book under review is by far the best book on mysticism by any Kashmiri scholar. It has succeeded in celebrating one of our greatest mystics in a language that is worthy of the great man it seeks to bring to public gaze. Publication of the book is an event that should lift the spirits of all devotees of mysticism. It brings about the mystery and profundity of a man whom many knew only through hearsay but who commanded great respect. It highlights beauty of the man whom many knew and feared as a jalali mystic only. It introduces some pages of the great life that lighted the mystical horizon of Kashmir for decades. This book will make its author, like its hero, immortal in the history of mystics and mystical literature of the subcontinent. Exquisitely and cryptically designed to represent the beautiful and profoundly symbolic life and work of much misunderstood or unknown spiritual genius – the glory of Sopore and Kashmir – the book is destined to be a classic piece of spiritual biography.
Habib is not merely a biographer but a poet and a scholar of mysticism who lives and breathes spirituality. He may not be very exact academic at times –  he confounds nafs and ruh, misreads the question of transcendence in relation to evil that is best approached at metaphysical plane with the tools of a metaphysician and occasionally may not hesitate to use some terms loosely –  but he has mastered both the tools and the qualifications required to write on a  complex and sensitive issue in a style that may occasionally overuse alankaras but generally moves, transports and overpowers the reader with its sheer brilliance and magic. Deftly using his tools and resources he succeeds in creating an ambience that helps us appreciate the wonder and the sublime heights and depths of the man who had mastered the art of concealment as malamitis or qalandars often do.
I have been highly impressed by Ghulam Hasan Nahvi’s  biography on Merrak Saeb. But I think Ahad Bab has found, in the form of Habib, a greater man and a superior medium to speak to us from the other shore. As Khalil Jibran had attempted to offer the best he could in the form of The Prophet, Habib, as a mark of respect and love for the great Bab, has given us his best – his life blood – in the form of the book. He has exposed many and hinted at many more great secrets of the great man whom many of us loved only from a distance fearing to approach the spiritual dynamite that blasted the egos of many brave and fortunate souls to lift them into empyreal realms.  Almost every sentence is chiseled and much of the book appears to be simply inspired and I would  characterize it as yet another posthumous karamat of Bab.
Bab’s life has been an open miracle – he was weather proof, usually unprovokable, never using takya or support for sitting, never extending his legs on floor, had great power of mind reading and scanning of hearts besides precognizance and helped to heal all kinds of diseases – witnesses of  these and many other “stories” can be found in almost every nook and corner of Kashmir. The book recounts in a style that can only be envied but hardly imitated Bab’s long and hard period of spiritual apprenticeship, his almost superhuman adventures in jungles, his abandoning of family house and sacrifice of family interests for the sake of larger human family as he spent 11 years outside his home at a stage when his children were very young and the family had great economic hardships,  his jihad against nafs and world, his spiritual exploits despite the rigour of police nokri, his visits to peers and qalandars of all sorts, his family background that gave him solid spiritual base, symbolism of his “slangy” language, spiritual connections of his family and his inheritors, his love and compassion for his visitors and the unique ways he used to communicate with the insiders and even outsiders, his moral virtues like doing his own work himself, his love for children, his fascination with Sufi music, the misery of flesh fed by worms but the grandeur of the soul that had supreme confidence in himself and his mission, his refined aesthetic sense coupled with deep sensitivity to art and culture and access to perception of metaphysical symbolism and transparency of natural phenomena, his wonderful acumen as an interpreter of the Quran and unique methods of teaching lessons to his disciples, his extreme humility that prevented him to spread his legs on floor and many more inspiring and revealing hues of his colourful personality that many mistook for simply a majzoob among other majzoobs (For his devotees he was more conscious than those who are proud of their sobriety). This gripping narrative helps us to better appreciate the depths and heights of this spiritual genius from Sopore.
The book is studded with profound insights and Sufi interpretation of scripture and history. The fact that the Prophet of Islam received soothing winds from India is interpreted as his recognition of the treasures of gnosis in India.  There are cryptic allusions to a host of verses which defy usual commentators and are best understood through Sufi exegesis.
For Habib Ahad Bab is everything as Shams Tabriz was for Rumi – he uses the choicest metaphors and epithets for him. He is Shahanshah, the king of kings who rules the hearts of not only his thousands of mureeds but aam kashmiri. Darbar-i-Ahad used to be a great meeting hall where all and sundry would come and go and Bab disbursed his spiritual blessings. No king of Kashmir can dream of such a darbar where people from all walks of life would come and stand in absolute awe of the great man.
Sahib knew hearts and minds of all and sundry and helped countless people in his own way. He showers his praise and devotion on almost every aspect of his personality. He interprets his conceding the wishes of visitors or sayils who implored him to sit in their cars or visit them or sick persons as a variety of mujahida. Even in cars he used to sit in a typical posture that involved tucked  up legs perhaps indicating humility.
 Almost all pages have powerful passages that deserve to be quoted in full and as there are too many I can’t reproduce even one but hope our magazines/newspapers carry them on weekly basis. That would be a contribution to Kashmir literature, art and mysticism. It is treat to read his long prose “odes” to Sufi music, to nun chai, to local craftsmen, to love, to moral and spiritual beauty of Bab.
Ahad Bab is a legend and the book has admirably presented the same for us. After reading it one comes to appreciate the mystery and beauty of the man with which Sopore shall be proudly identified forever. The book is a gift to Kashmiris in general and the people of Sopore in particular. The author has put his everything in it and that explains why its price has been kept open or optional. There can be no price for devotion and love that has been poured in writing and designing this book. It is a privilege to read it and readers can understand only to the extent that they can participate in the great cosmic dance, the dance of the soul that the life of Bab symbolizes. The book throws a lot of challenges to scholars or critics who want to approach mystical literature or mystical life. The appropriations of mystical literature which include author’s own moving and beautiful poetry and Quranic verses that help to elucidiate life and work of Bab add to the rich tapestry of soul’s journey – the journey of you and me, of all the children of Adam – that the book tries to depict.  The book is a spiritual biography of modern Kashmir and the way it comments upon diverse cultural expressions from samawar and nun chai to pashmeen sazi or Islamic architecture it appears to be a unique contribution to both aesthetics and mysticism of Kashmir. A letter to Samawar and musings on nun chai, for instance, shows how mysticism can be aesthetically read in cultural expressions.
 It is not easy to write on mysticism and that too on such mystics as Ahad Bab whose very name or presence sent shivers in many  souls. Bab is a spiritual dynamite with which feeble minds or weak souls can’t afford to play. One has to observe all the aadab of a salik to write it. The book is dedicated to Bab in a touching manner. It reads “laghye waendith.”
The book is feast for the senses as well as the soul. It is recommended  for reading to all those interested in Kashmir and its mysticism, its literature and its culture. For those whose third eye has opened to certain extent it is a tabarruq. The book is also recommended for all those for whom Ahad Bab life’s was a “scandal” of spiritual propriety as they will come to understand something from the other side or inside of the sanctuary to which only few had access though all were invited. The point of certain mainstream Sufis/ulama regarding the manners of visiting apparently intoxicated souls who don’t care for clothes and don’t talk “decently” deserved more nuanced and detailed treatment.
Habib combines virtues and qualifications of a rare scholar of mystic literature with a rare command over Urdu language and huge poetic talent  besides the key qualification of discipleship and thus being an insider – bapeer – allowing him to do justice to a topic which deserves not only great scholarship or academic credentials but also grace from the great Bab. The author is a good translator also as shown by his Urdu rendering of many important Persian and Kashmiri verses in the book. He deserves our gratitude. Urdu literature is richer after the event of this publication.
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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Centre for Sufis
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By Saeed Al Batati, *Studying Islam amid the strife in Yemen* - Gulf News - Dubai, UAE; Saturday, March 17, 2011

Studying Islam amid the strife in Yemen: Thousands from all over world pursue religious interest in the country

Mukalla: Despite fierce fighting between Yemen rivals during the political crisis in Yemen, Indonesian man Faiz has never thought of leaving Yemen and going home. He is among hundreds of foreign students who prefer Yemen as a place for studying Islam.

"I feel safe here," he told Gulf News. "I'm studying in Hadramout province because it is the source of knowledge that spreads all over Indonesia. I also feel at home here. [Islamic] scholars are faithful."

Faiz, 39, is a postgraduate student at local private university in the port city of Mukalla. "The last time I visited Indonesia was in 1999. I will only go home when I finish my PhD."

While Yemen students travel abroad to seek knowledge, many foreign students see this poverty-stricken country as an ideal place for studying Islam.

During the recent crisis in Yemen, only a few overseas students left the country. Foreign students who particularly come to Yemen for religious studies are spread all over the country. Foreign students can be found at Iman University in Sana'a, Dar Al Hadeth in Sa'ada, and others. However, the southern province of Hadramout has taken the lion's share of foreign students.

A diplomat in the Indonesian embassy in Sana'a told Gulf News that there are approximately 1,800 Indonesian students still studying in the province.

"The majority of our students are studying in Hadramout. The place is calm. Students who were studying outside Hadramout had been asked to leave the country during the crisis."

Religious hub

Tarem, a small city in the centre of Hadramout's long valley, has been known for centuries as a centre for Sufis. Supporters of the Sufi school in Hadramout proudly say that their grandfathers played a great role in spreading Islam in Asia and Africa.

Hadrami missionaries and traders interacted with host communities and convinced millions of people to embrace Islam. Local people in Tarem say that the grandchildren of early missionaries were sent back to Tarem and this explains why the city is awash with hundreds of students from different countries.

"I believe Western students prefer to study in Tarem because of the spiritual tranquillity that characterises the region," said Walead Mosaad, an American student who studies in Tarem.

"Most of us come from bustling metropolises where the intrusion and abrasiveness of modern life is hard to escape. Additionally, scholars from Tarem have an authentic chain back to the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and thus faithfully reflect his teachings without the interference of extremist ideologies and political agendas," he added.

In Tarem, there are many Islamic institutes that follow the traditional method of teaching through circles and recitation. Dar Al Mustafa, Ribat Tarem, and the college of Sharia are the main places that attract foreign students.

After graduating from Tarem schools, Walead thinks the Hadramout Sufi school of thought is an example of the normative teachings of Islam along with the teaching of Azhar in Egypt, of the Qarawiyyin in Morocco, and of the Umayyad mosque and traditional centres in Syria.

Special classes

"We believe that the school of Hadramout as well as the schools mentioned above reflect authentic understandings of the Prophet Mohammad's (PBUH) teachings, and therefore, are entirely incompatible with extremist ideologies," said Walead.

New foreign students have special classes that train them in Arabic, after which they can join the normal student body that is fluent in Arabic.

"The main teachings here revolve around three themes: Knowledge [which includes Quran, hadith, spiritual purification, and dawa [understanding of Islamic teachings engagement and dissemination]," he said. "There is a sister school close to Dar Al Mustafa called Dar Al Zahra that exclusively teaches female students."

Far from the city of Tarem, we visited another educational establishment that teaches foreign students. Mukalla-based Ahgaff University was established in 1994. The university's College of Sharia has graduated hundreds of foreign students.

"There are many Muslim students from outside Yemen studying at Ahgaff university," said Zain Bin Aqeel, the director of foreign student department at the university.

"We don't call them foreigners. They are Muslims. Most of them study Islamic studies at Sharia in Tarem. A few of them are also studying other scientific majors like computers and business. Studying Islamic studies at the university is free of charge."

"The university aims to create a bridge of communication between Hadramout and countries in Asia and Africa to send the moderate soul of Islam."

Precautionary measures

To ensure no foreign students leave the university and join local terrorists groups in Yemen, the university has imposed many preventive conditions.

"We don't accept any student unless he/she gets a letter of recommendation from our partner institutions in his/her homeland. We have strong links with many clerics and moderate Islamic institutions in Indonesia and Africa."

Only students of those clerics are admitted to Zain's university. "If the student was accredited, he should also fulfil other normal requirements like having a high school certificate, is healthy and pays fees [for scientific majors].The student should deposit an amount of money for buying a return ticket in case of emergency. The university also keeps the student's passport."

Upon arrival, the university informs the student's embassy, ministry of higher education and security services in Yemen. "We do our best to keep our students away from terrorists. But in the age of globalisation, we can't fully guarantee immunity from extremist ideology."

Zain doesn't have an accurate figure of the foreign student who graduate from his university, but he put the number at thousands.

"Thanks to Allah, thousands of foreign students graduated from our university and all returned to their countries, bearing the moderate thought of Islam. We have students from Malaysia, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, but most of students are from Indonesia."

Now, there are approximately 800 students at Ahgaff university.

"Unlike Yemen students, foreigners are given special courses to clear out some misconceptions about Islam that the students may have acquired from the media."

In other parts of Yemen, foreign students have to pay a heavy price for living in a troubled area. When Shiite rebels besieged, in October last year, a local Salafi school in the northern troubled province of Sa'ada, foreign students got drawn into the fighting with the rebels. Local human right activists said that dozens of French, Indonesian, Indian, British, Ethiopian, Somali, Sudanese, Algerians and other nationalities have been killed in Sa'ada sectarian battles.

Not monitored by government

Hamoud Al Hitar, the former Minister of Endowment and Preacher, told Gulf News that Yemen has been known for centuries as an Islamic hub and students from all over the Islamic world come to the country to study Islam in Zabed, Tarem, Sa'ada, Jebala and Taiz.

Despite the influx of foreign students, Al Hitar said Yemen's religious schools were not fertile ground for terrorism and the surge of foreign students in Yemen had nothing to do with the spread of Al Qaida.

"Yemen schools have moderate views. We shouldn't be concerned over the radicalisation of foreign students. Those who fight with Al Qaida have been recruited outside Yemen."

He admitted these schools were not carefully monitored by the government. Hamoud Al Hitar claimed that in 2007, when he was in office, the ministry suggested sharing the responsibly of monitoring Islamic centres in Yemen with the ministry of education.

"We agreed that we create a department in the ministry of Endowment to solely observes the schools in terms of curricula, teachers, and sources of income. When the proposal was sent to the cabinet, security parties stepped in and killed it in the cradle. They want these schools remain out of our eyes."

Picture: Students at Tarem city in Hadramout province,the epicentre of Islamic education. Photo: Saeed Al Batati/Gulf News.
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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Well-being, Autonomy, Responsibility
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By Tariq Ramadan, *Contemporary Muslims are in need of spirituality* - Gulf News - Dubai, UAE; Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Contemporary Muslims are in need of spirituality: Islamic societies are bereft of serenity, coherence and peace. The time has come for a religious emancipation

As far as Islam is concerned, it must be noted that Arab and Muslim majority societies are seriously lacking in spirituality. There is not a deficit of “religion” but of spiritual life. It can be encountered among Islamists, as well as among secularists and ordinary citizens.

Religion refers to the framework, to the structure of ritual, to the rights and obligations of believers and, as such, lies at the heart of social and political debate. In the classical Islamic tradition, framework, reference and practices can — like all religions and spiritual traditions — be best seen in the light of their relation to meaning (here, to the Divine), to a conception of life and death, to the life of the heart and mind.

Contemporary Islamic discourse has, however, too often lost its substance, which is that of meaning, of understanding ultimate goals and the state of the heart. Increasingly, it has been reduced to reactivity, preoccupied with the moral protection of the faithful, based on the reiteration of norms, rituals and, above all, prohibitions. But spirituality is not faith without religion; it is the quest for meaning and peace of heart as the essence of religion.

Viewed in this light, Muslim majority societies are profoundly bereft of serenity, coherence and peace. The time has come for a spiritual and religious emancipation.

The decline of Islamic civilisation, followed by colonialism, has left its mark, as has the experience of political and cultural resistance. The way in which religion, and the Islamic reference, are understood was gradually adapted to the requirements of resistance: for both traditional Muslim scholars (ulama) and Islamist movements (which often began with mystical aspirations) moral norms, rules pertaining to food, dress and strict observance of ritual have come increasingly to the fore as means of self-assertion, in direct proportion to the danger of cultural colonialism and alienation perceived and experienced in Arab societies.

Caught up in political resistance, Islamist movements have gradually focused their attention on questions of a formal nature, setting aside the spiritual core of religious practice. Between the rhetoric of traditional religious authorities and institutions, and that of the Islamists, whether narrowly rigorous in outlook or hypnotized by political liberation, ordinary citizens are offered few answers to their spiritual pursuit of meaning, faith, the heart and peace.

A yawning void has opened up; mystical (Sufi) movements have re-emerged, some of them respectful of norms, some fraudulent, in what is often an approximate answer to popular aspirations. The Sufi movements or circles are diverse, and often provide a kind of exile from worldly affairs, in contrast to ritualistic traditionalism or to Islamist activism. Focus upon yourself, they urge; upon your heart and inner peace; stay far away from pointless social and political controversy.

A specific feature of mystical circles is that they bring together — though in physically separate groups — educated elites in quest of meaning as well as ordinary citizens, including the poorest, who feel a need for reassurance that verges on superstition. Their teachings are, more often than not, general and idealistic, far removed from the complexities of reality; politically, they sometimes voice passive or explicit support for ruling regimes, even dictatorships.

Furthermore, a substantial number of Sufi circles yield to the double temptation of the cult of the personality of the shaikh or guide (murshid) and the infantilisation of the initiates (murîd): the latter may be highly educated, hold high rank in the social hierarchy, yet at the same time place their hearts, minds and even their lives in the hands of a guide who, it is claimed, represents the ultimate path to fulfillment.

This culture of disempowerment strangely echoes the fashions of the day: a combination of withdrawal from the world and living in a kind of existential confusion between emotional outpouring (the spectacle of effusiveness towards and reverence for Sufi elders can be disturbing, disquieting and dangerous) and a demanding spiritual initiation. Such initiation should be liberating, open the door to autonomy through mastery of the ego and lead to coherence between the private and public life. But what emerge instead are parallel lives: a so-called Sufi spirituality allied to egocentric, greedy, self-interested and occasionally immoral social and political behavior. Arab elites and middle classes find such behavior to their advantage, as do socially fragile sectors of the population.

Between the overbearing ritualism of official religious institutions and the obsessive politicisation of Islamist leaders the thirst for meaning, which finds its expression in cultural and religious references, seeks for ways to express itself.

Mysticism sometimes provides the solution. But careful thought should be given to the real-life impact of such phenomena as they relate to the crisis of spirituality and therefore of religion. In every case, the teachings propounded do not encourage the autonomy, well-being and confidence of human beings in their everyday individual and social lives.

In their formalism and concentration upon norms, the traditional institutions that represent or teach Islam reproduce a double culture of prohibition and guilt. The religious reference is transformed into a mirror in which the believers are called upon to judge themselves for their own deficiencies: such rhetoric can generate nothing more than unease. The Islamist approach, which seeks to free society from foreign influence, has in the long run brought forth a culture of reaction, differentiation and frequently of judgment: who is a Muslim, what is Islamic legitimacy, etc. It sometimes casts itself as victim; even in the way it asserts itself against the opposition. Social and political activism prevails over spiritual considerations; the struggle for power has sometimes eclipsed the quest for meaning.

By way of response to this void, the majority of mystical movements and circles have called upon their initiates to direct their attention inwards, towards themselves, their hearts, their worship and their inner peace. Around them has arisen a culture of isolation, social and political passivity and loss of responsibility, as though spirituality were somehow necessarily opposed to action.

Still, it must be noted that a large number of Sufi circles do speak out on social and political issues, and actually encourage their followers to speak out on social and political matters, and to become actively involved in society. Between the culture of prohibition and guilt and that of reaction and victimisation, between abandonment of responsibility and isolationism, what options remain for the Arab world to reconcile itself to its cultural, religious and spiritual heritage? What must be done to propound a culture of well-being, autonomy and responsibility?

There is a need to rediscover and reclaim the spirituality that permeates Eastern cultures, and that lies at the heart of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions, a consideration that today’s social and political uprisings can ill afford to neglect. For there can be no viable democracy, no pluralism in any society without the well-being of individuals, the citizens and the religious communities.

Tariq Ramadan is professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University and a visiting professor at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Qatar. He is the author of Islam and the Arab Awakening.

Picture: Illustration by Ramachandra Babu/Gulf News
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Friday, November 18, 2011

The Gist of Sacrificing
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By Kerim Balci, *Feast of Proximity* - Today's Zaman - Istanbul, Turkey; Wednedsay, November 9, 2011

English-speaking Muslims prefer to use Arabic names for Muslim rituals and feasts. Turks have from the very beginning preferred to use Persian equivalents.

Arabs and English speaking Muslims use “salat” for daily prayer, whereas Turks and Persians use “namaz.” The Arabic Eid al-Adha is translated into English as the Feast of the Sacrifice. Turks, Persians, Urdu-speaking nations, and Balkan Muslims on the other hand call this feast Kurban Bayramı (this final vowel missing in some locations), which can be translated as Feast of Proximity.

This is not a simple issue of nomenclature. Different names used for the same meaning attest to different worldviews, in this case, to a difference between the Orthodox Islam of the Arab core and the Sufi Islam of the peripheral Muslim nations.

Generally speaking, the Arabic names of Muslim rituals and feasts are names of acts themselves. They name “what is being done.”

On the other hand the Turko-Persian naming relates rather to the question “why.” A good example is the Eid al-Adha and Kurban Bayramı pair.

Eid and Bayram both mean a feast, festival or holiday. Adha is the plural of the Arabic Dahiya and is the name of the sacrificial animal that is acceptable religiously to be sacrificed. Dahiya is an animal with special qualities sacrificed on the days of Eid al-Adha by a free, non-travelling, well-to-do Muslim with the intention of fulfilling the duty of sacrifice.

The qualities of the Dahiya are such a sophisticated issue that downgrading the issue to the level of animal rights can sound disgusting to a Muslim. Anyhow, the Arabic naming of the feast revolves around the kind of animal that can be sacrificed, the intention of slaughtering as a sacrifice to Allah, and the economic and political situation of the Muslim person who will sacrifice the animal.

In the Turkish case Kurban Bayramı is rather about “Kurbiyet” with meanings related to proximity in feeling, approaching, appealing, affinity, and befriending.

Thus, the Feast of Proximity is a feast when Muslims try to realize and feel the closeness of their Creator through their devotion proved by the symbolism of sacrificing animals.

For peripheral Sufi Muslim traditions the gist of sacrificing is not about the animal but about the relationship between Allah and man. For this reason Turkish Muslims stress the memory of Patriarch Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son Ishmael (or Isaac as the Judeo-Christian tradition says, or both) to Allah.

For this reason Turkish Muslims attach more importance to feast visits between relatives and neighbors as the proximity between the believers connotes a proximity to Allah.

For this reason also Turkish Muslims have added dimensions of candy distribution, giving pocket money to children, buying presents for close friends and paying visits to the houses of otherwise neglected poor families during Kurban Bayramı.

Since in the Turkish understanding proximity is not restricted to those who sacrifice an animal, Turks are ready to share their feelings of closeness and affinity with their non-performing Muslim and non-Muslim neighbors also.

The feast is a Feast of Proximity for all, and sacrifice is only one particular dimension of that proximity. It is indispensable; but it is not all.

The issue of proximity is a major part of the Muslim cosmology. In fact all states of the human condition in this world are measured according to proximity and remoteness (kurb-bu’d) from Allah.

The psychological states corresponding to these two poles are openness and eclipse (bast-kabz).

During times of proximity, as in the days of the Feast of Proximity, we are open to inspirations, we are happy, and our souls are satisfied, wheras on days of remoteness we are lost in the wilderness of this world with our unsatisfied souls looking for a port of tranquility.

All of the Beautiful Names of Allah correspond to these two cosmological conditions: Cemil (beautiful) looks to proximity, whereas Celil (glorious) looks to remoteness; Ahad (one) looks to proximity and Wahid (sole one) looks to remoteness and so on.

Gravitational force relates to the proximity and centrifugal force relates to remoteness. Love connotes proximity, and hatred connotes remoteness.

Hence we feel countless levels of proximities during the Feast of Proximity ranging from the level of most intimate human feelings to supernatural cosmological events.

[Picture: The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio (1590-1610; Oil on canvas; Uffizi, Florence, Italy). Photo: Wiki]
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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

No Bar in Islam
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By Vidya Subrahmaniam, *Deoband's fatwa against birthday bashes raises Sufi hackles* - The Hindu - India; Thursday, November 10, 2011

Deoband's fatwa against birthday bashes raises Sufi hackles. Sufi strand points out that the Prophet's birth anniversary is celebrated world over

New Delhi: The Deobandi and Sufi sects of Islam are again on a collision course — this time on holding birthday bashes. In response to a specific question last week, Darul Uloom Deoband issued a fatwa against celebrating birthdays, saying it was a western practice that had no sanction in Islam. Darul Uloom Vice-Chancellor Abul Qasim Naumani pointed out that the seminary did not celebrate even the Prophet's birth anniversary.

Reacting sharply to the fatwa, the All-India Ulama & Mashaikh Board (AIUMB) — a Sufi strand that recently took on the Deobandi branch, accusing it of propagating hard-line Wahabism — said there was no bar in Islam on celebrating birthdays. Indeed, the Prophet's birth anniversary was celebrated the world over with as many as 54 countries, including India, observing the day as a national holiday. The two notable exceptions were Saudi Arabia and Israel, the AIUMB said.

“The fatwa is proof that Deoband would like to impose the foreign ideology of Saudi Arabia and Wahabism on India,” said AIUMB general secretary Maulana Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichauchhawi.

Far from seeing it as un-Islamic, Indian Muslims had always celebrated the birth of the Prophet by taking out “‘Julus-e-Mohammadi' (processions), lighting candles and celebrating Milaad across the country,” the Maulana said.

The celebrations were valid, because the “birth of the Holy Prophet is the greatest favour of Allah Almighty on humanity. That is why the Muslim community celebrates the birth anniversary of the Holy Prophet with traditional zeal and zest on the 12th of Rabi-ul-Awwal,” he said.

Maulana Kichaucchawi cited chapter and verse from the Koran and ‘Sunnah' to buttress his claim. “The Holy Koran singles out the birthday as an important event. In ‘Surah Maryam,' Allah tala [God] commands us to send salaam on the day Sayyidina Yahya was born.”

Opinion divided

Muslim intellectual opinion seemed divided on the issue, though by and large there was no support for the ‘fatwa'. Ateeque Ansari, coordinator of the Varanasi-based Committee of Arabic Madrassas, said Islam was emphatic in defining ‘farz' (duty) and ‘haraam' (wrong). “‘Farz' has to be observed at all times and ‘haraam' has to be avoided at all times.”

However, a birthday came in neither category, and had to do more with culture than religion: “It is definitely not anti-Islamic but it is clear from the life and times of the Prophet that he himself never participated in any birthday celebrations.”

Mr. Ansari saw the issue as an “unnecessary complication arising from people asking for ‘fatwas' and Deoband deciding to give ‘fatwas.' Is this important? Why are they creating confusion?”

Deoband resident Badr Kazmi was caustic. “This is a complete non-issue. People didn't wear stitched clothes 1400 years ago. So do we go back to doing that? The idea behind celebrating the Prophet's birthday is to remind people to see him as a role model. This is not wrong. But it has nothing to do with religion or fatwas.”

Editor of Nai Duniya Shahid Siddiqui refused to be drawn into the Deoband-Sufi discussion, arguing that both strands were of comparatively recent origin. While a large section of Muslims did celebrate the Prophet's birth anniversary, for Muslims in general the death anniversary was far more important. “What is really celebrated is Urs — the day of one's reunion with God.” Mr. Siddiqui said he was not against birthday celebrations but he did see the practice “as a very recent, western-inspired phenomenon.”
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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Between Guru and Disciples
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By Abrar Haris, *In the heart of Sufism: Wali`s tomb as place of pilgrimage* - The Jakarta Post - Jakarta, Indonesia; Friday, September 23, 2011

Nestled in the heart of Islam, Mecca is the center of a pilgrimage obligatory for devout Muslims who are spiritually and economically ready to perform it. But in the global religious context, Muslim people have developed particular religious pilgrimages of their own that unfortunately are often misunderstood.

Stretching as far as North Africa passing Central Asia and arriving at Southern Asia’s shores, the daily prayer and Koranic recital have been gradually enriched by pilgrimages to sacred tombs and the mausoleums of holy figures.

It is a long and winding journey to sacred places from the grave of Pir Muhammad Barkhudar Gilani Qadri, a Pakistani Sufi figure in Sillanwali, to Ulakan Syeikh Burhanuddin Mosque in Pariaman, West Sumatra, Indonesia. In those burial complexes, ordinary people experience the “conversion” of life.

In the landscape of Islamic faith, the tomb-pilgrimage tradition emerges as a central issue. Islamic authorities denounce this practice as heresy for they fear the pilgrims are seduced by the tomb’s power or karomah to grant their worldly prayers rather than worshiping God.

Crossing the whole bias, tomb pilgrimage actually constitutes the continuation of teachings once so close and intimate between guru and disciples.

India, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries have thousands of stories of Sufi over more than 1,000 years. In Indonesia, Wali Songo or Nine Holy Preachers accompanied by their faithful disciples walked from coastal villages and stepped into the Javanese court teaching God’s unity. As centuries passed, the land walked over has been consecrated by faith in God and his Prophet.

Some wali even initiated a revolution by founding religious schools. Text books adopting a Western style were printed and the students, fired by the spirit of the dynamic era, began political mapping that would change the socio-cultural landscape of every region they entered.

By doing so, the primeval wali cemented a preliminary sense of nationalism and religious identity which years to come would help indigenous people fight Western colonialism and inspire Asian nations to break free in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In this context, we see that Sufi figures are not stereotypic wandering men in self-ecstasy. Indonesian people can fairly say that men like pedagogic Ki Hadjar Dewantara who founded Taman Siswa College during the Dutch occupation, freedom fighters Tuanku Imam Bonjol, Prince Diponegoro and other Indonesian heroes and heroines and even non-Muslim independence fighters are Sufi.

They did not hide in solitude but led their people to sovereignty. I assume in their ziyarat or long struggle, while waging guerilla war behind mountainous villages, men like Imam Bonjol or Diponegoro used many religious practices to maintain morale among their followers. They would have recited zikir or religious contemplative chants in circle pattern, performed muraqaba or meditation by using their own cultural musical instruments (sama) to achieve self-peace and self-conviction in their fight against the
invaders.

In the end, everybody will admit the employment of ziyarat, zikir, muraqaba or sama constitute Sufistic practices, completing the image of Indonesian national heroes and heroines as gurus and their followers as disciples.

Sunan Kalijaga, a Javanese wali, is admired for his tolerant and artful preaching methods by adopting the existing Hindu and Buddhist cultures. He composed a Javanese suluk titled “Ilir-ilir”; a song in praise of God and Islam. Not to mention approbation of his strong syncretistic master pieces in craft arts, wayang (puppet show) and sekatenan (Prophet Birthday celebration).

His genius reached the architectural world where he adapted the Hindu-style city landscape of palace and alun-alun (open square) guarded by two banyan trees, perfected with the combination of Java-Hindu terraced roofed royal mosques instead of Arabian domes.

In Pariaman, West Sumatra, pilgrims have visited their sheikh-committal complex in Ulakan village since the 17th century, where they spend their nights reading the Koran and contemplating. These Minangkabau pilgrims believe the physical visit and homage to the guru’s tomb is essential.

In this context, the inevitable heretic behavior in burial complexes must be strictly understood as sociologic paradigm rather than allegations of faith perversion.

Anthony Reid, an expert on Southeast Asia, writes in his book Southeast Asia in the Early Modern Era: “The most early Sufi sects in Southeast Asia world seemingly had no strict structure in comparison with the rest of the Muslim world but they possessed a huge respect for the figures and these burial complexes confirm their role in imposing the enormous change in this region”.

Without the presence of wali, Sufi, nameless heroes and heroines, the Islamic Southeast Asian civilization would never have been shaped as it is now.

The writer is indigenous culture researcher with the Bureau of History and Traditional Values Preservation at the West Sumatra office of the Culture and Tourism Ministry, Padang.

[Picture: Map of Indonesia. Photo: Wiki.]
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Sunday, September 04, 2011

Colours of Harmony
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By Staff Reporter, *Devotees flock to Jannati Darwaza at Ajmer dargah* - The Times of India - Jaipur, India; Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Ajmer: The city of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti here wore colours of harmony on Wednesday with people from various communities celebrating Eid-ul-fitr.

Devotees flocked to Idgahs in and around the city but it is the shrine of the Sufi saint where a large crowd was seen from early morning to enter the Jannati Darwaza, which was opened for the devotees on the occasion.

In Ajmer, Eid is celebrated not only by the Muslim community but also by different communities offering prayers and greeting each other with 'Eid Mubarak'.

"Before offering namaz [prayer] in a masjid [mosque], we have to see that no poor is left hungry and it is the duty of every devotee that he should ask them for their needs," said S F Hussein Chishti, a khadim [custodian] at the dargah.

Many people were seen giving out 'firka', a tradition to give food and money to the poor.

People from Hindu, Jain and Christian faiths went to the dargah in their best clothes to offer prayers and wish their Muslim colleagues. "Since time immemorial, it is a regular tradition that people of our area came out, gather near the dargah to welcome and celebrate Eid with our Muslim friends," Avinash Kane of Kaserganj sabji mandi said.

P K Shrivastav, a resident of Nala bazaar, said, "It is a custom that we all wear new clothes and went to the homes of our Muslim friends along with our families to wish them a happy Eida. My five-year-old son is liking his new cap for the occasion."

A special attraction for kids is the traditional toy shops outside different masjids where items made from clay and woods are sold. "The bazaar which came up for a day, made us remember our old days when we ask our father after the namaz to buy these toys," Mohammad Ayub of Ramganj said.

On the occasion, most houses and shops were decorated with lights and different colour of paints. The dargah was illuminated with decorative lights in the evening.

[Picture: The Jannati Darwaza (Gate to Paradise). Photo: Dargah Ajmer Sharif.
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Saturday, September 03, 2011

Takbir Could Be Heard
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By SMN Staff Reporter, *Eid Celebrated in Ahlu Sunna Administrated Central Areas* - Shabelle Media Network / All Africa - Mogadishu, Somalia; Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dhusamareb: Under the order of Somalia's moderate Sufi group, people in parts of central Somalia on Wednesday celebrated the festival of Eid Al Fitr.

The carnival Ahlu Sunna marking the end of fasting holly month of Ramadan comes a day after Muslims in many regions of Somalia and around the Muslim celebrated yesterday.

In the districts of Dhusamareb, Abudwak and other areas in Galgudud region under the control of moderate Sufi group, Takbir (Allah Is The Greatest, Allah Is The Greatest, Allah Is The Greatest) to mark the first of Eid Al Fitr could be heard echoing from the mosques there.

With glee and dressed in new pretty colthes, people mainly children and women could be seen the streets in parts of central Somalia.

After performing the Eid prayers, the newly elected Ahlu Sunna chairperson, Pro. Hirsi Mohamed Hilowle congratulated all Somalis and those in central Somalia in particular in celebrating the carnival of Eid Al Fitr.

Picture: Muslims in Mombasa say prayers for Eid (file photo). Photo: Gideon Maundu/Nation.
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Friday, June 17, 2011

Inner Peace
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By Asghar Ali Engineer, *Causes and spread of Islam* - Two Circles Net - Boston, MA, USA; Friday, June 10, 2011

Islam spread so quickly that before it completed 100 years of its origin it had reached right up to China in the east and up to Europe in the west. It had conquered, one can say, a large part of the globe shattering two most powerful empires of the time i.e. Persian empire on one hand, and, Byzantine (Easter Roman Empire) on the other. No other religion had achieved such feat before.

Here in this essay we want to explore the causes of such quick spread of Islam. One has to explore political, historical, economic and sociological causes. Many people have analyzed these causes but most of them have, especially Muslims, assign success of Islam to sincere commitment of Muslims in those days to Islam and even Mohammad Iqbal, well known poet whose powerful poetry arouses emotions of South Asian Muslims, also feels that as long as Muslims were sincere and adhered to teachings of Islam, they continued to achieve success after success but once they ceased to be good Muslims, the Muslim society began to stagnate. I think such an approach is flawed and begs the question.

In order to comprehend the real causes of tremendous success of Islam, one has to take into account all the factors and draw proper conclusion. Of course the idea is not to ignore importance of sincerity and commitment of followers but to be more objective and scientific in understanding external causes in assessing the reasons for surprisingly quick spread of Islam.

Hijaz: from tribal to commercial

In this connection it is important to note that Islam originated in urban area which was an international centre of commerce and finance. But the two greatest empires surrounding Hijaz (what is now called Saudi Arabia and where Islam originated) were mainly agricultural and of feudal structure. Commercial civilization is far more liberal and progressive than one which is based on agriculture. The horizon of agricultural civilization remains quite restricted in vision.

But the sociological background of Mecca was not as simple as we tend to assume. In fact it was much more complex. A commercial society was emerging from tribal society. Meccan society was, in fact, half way between tribal and commercial. However, both tribal and commercial societies are more open and liberal than agricultural society though tribal society is far more equal than commercial society. Commercial society is far more unequal than both agricultural and tribal one.

It is true that Islam imbibed positive qualities of both tribal and commercial society of Mecca. Like tribal society it took its equality and from commercial society it took its dynamism as tribal society after all is not dynamic though it is equal. In tribal society there is not much emphasis on knowledge but in commercial society knowledge is a must. The Arabs had deep imprint of tribal values and even centuries after Islam came into existence they (Arabs) were not attracted towards knowledge. For them knowledge of their ancestry remained of prime importance.

Thus we see that equality is fundamental value in Islam. Unlike feudal society there was no concept of any hierarchy among Arabs. The Qur’an, therefore, made equality as a value and said that only those who are most pious are most honourable in the sight of Allah. This was very progressive and futuristic value of Islam.

All societies like those of Iran, Eastern Roman Empire and others were highly hierarchical and in these societies what mattered were ones status and place in social hierarchy and also the family in which one was born. It was ironical that when Islamic societies also were feudalized, the status and family in which one was born became very important. In Islam only a’mal-i-salihah i.e. good deeds which mattered and nothing else.

Now apart from ‘good deeds’ social status and family became more important a person was thought to be sharif (noble) if he/she was what used to be called najib al-tarfain i.e. whose both parents came from high status families. His own good deeds mattered less. But the Qur’anic ideal had nothing to do with social status or even with riches one possessed. For example, Abu Dhar or Salman al-Farsi, both came from ordinary and poor families and tribes of poorer status and yet both were considered very close to the Prophet (PBUH) and Prophet used to praise them highly and showed high degree of respect for them.

In commercial society too it is riches which matter rather than individual dignity. And the Meccan society, as pointed out above, was becoming a commercial and financial society giving great importance to being rich. Those opposing the Prophet (PBUH) were rich and powerful because the Prophet (PBUH) was orphan and came from a poor family. Thus Islam went beyond commercial society and gave importance to equality and individual dignity which is most modern and democratic concept. Thus the Qur’an says that all children of Adam enjoy dignity irrespective of their birth, tribe, nation or status.

Radical form of equality

No one could even think of such radical form of equality. Thus Islamic teaching went beyond all other forms of equality. Even slaves, who had no rights whatsoever, came to acquire rights. They also began to have sense of dignity. This in itself was a great revolution. Women and slaves were among the lowest rung of society and both slaves and women acquired rights and sense of dignity. The case of Bilal Habashi i.e. Bilal of Habasha can be cited as an illustrious example.

Bilal was a slave who was liberated by Hazrat Abu Bakr who owned him. The Prophet (PBUH) gave him highest status. He asked him to give azan i.e. call to prayer for which many eminent companions of the Prophet aspired but the Prophet (PBUH) gave that honour to a slave to demonstrate that all human beings are equal before Allah. There was no such precedent of such radical equality anywhere else in history until then.

People of other countries had come to know of Islamic teachings before Islam reached there through conquest or otherwise. Thus the slaves and other weaker sections of society were greatly attracted towards such teachings of Islam. Thus we read in history that when Muslims attacked these countries where there were slave-owning or hierarchical societies these people of lowly origin welcomed them and even opened the doors of forts so they could enter without bloodshed. We find several such accounts in early historians like Tabari and Baladhuri’s Futuh al Buldan

Conquests

Before we discuss all this in detail first we would like to throw some light on as to why Arab Muslims invaded these countries? Did they go there to convert others to Islam with the help of swords as is often alleged? Or did they go there to impose their rule over non-Arab societies? Or there was any other reason. In those days unfortunately there was no such discipline in modern sense as history. History was mere record of events rather than analysis of events.

We know about the Prophet (PBUH) that he did not invade any country or even other Arab tribes to establish his domination or to establish control over their resources. Mostly, with one exception, he fought when he was attacked. Thus he fought defensive battles. Even Abu Bakr, the first Caliph did not attack any other country as he was mostly engaged in putting down war of riddah (i.e. rebellion against Caliph’s rule as these tribals had not had any idea of governance by urban people and to pay taxes to them.

These tribes had no objection to practice Islam as a religion but were not ready to pay zakat (tax) to a government and to submit to them. These tribes were highly independent and resented submission to those who were mainly from urban settled areas. They had never done so during the course of their history. Hazrat Abu Bakr had to quell this rebellion known as war of riddah i.e. war against those who turned back on their Islam.

However, major conquests began with the 2nd Caliph Hazrat Umar. Parts of Roman Empire (Palestine, Syria) and Iran were conquered during his time. The wars of conquest began from his time. Why Hazrat Umar launched on these conquests? Was there any provocation from those countries? Apparently there was no such provocation. Then why did he attack? There is no clear answer.

One reason which was economic in nature could be cited. After destruction of Ma’arib dam which is mentioned in Qur’an too, the fertility of Yemen was destroyed and people of Yemen had begun to migrate towards the fertile north. This caused social tension between the Quraish of Mecca and Arabs of Yemen. People of Yemen were seen as intruders. Also, before Islam, the Bedouin tribes of desert survived by invading each other and running away with animals and women of conquered tribes.

Since by the time of Hazrat Umar all Bedouins had embraced Islam and all Muslims were declared as brothers of each other (what the Qur’an calls muwakhat) it was no longer possible for one Muslim tribe to attack the other Muslim tribe and run away with their animals and women, survival became a problem in desert. A way had to found out for survival which was not easy.

Thus pressure of migration from Yemen and question of survival of Bedouin tribes together created a difficult situation and since both Byzentine empire and Iran were located in fertile areas (the area comprising Palestine-Syria etc.) was known as ‘fertile crescent’ it has lot of productive potential and Arabs from south were eying it.

Economic reasons

Thus economic pressure was one important factor in launching campaign for conquests. Baladhuri in his Futuh al-Buldan (Conquests of Countries) tells us that before every war an announcement was made that those who want to fight in the way of Allah and those who want to benefit from war (naf’i) should join the army. Thus some joined the army to fight in the way of Allah and some for pure economic benefit.

Now one can well understand the category of people joining fighting forces for economic benefit but it is little puzzling that those who wished to fight in the way of Allah also were invited to join. If we examine the treaties whose text is mentioned by Baladhuri we rarely find mention of conversion to Islam. Generally the treaty is about how much food grains, clothes, slave men and slave girls the conquered country would supply to Islamic army and at times even cash is mentioned. This was negotiated jizyah extracted from conquered people. Thus there was no fixed amount for jizyah but it was negotiated with conquered people in lieu of military service.

Since there is no mention of conversion why some people joined as FIGHTER IN THE WAY OF Allah? What was the logic behind it? Was there any intention to colonize the conquered countries or establish Islamic domination? We are also reminded here about the controversy in Russia about whether revolution can be consolidated in one country or revolution in one country is not possible until revolution takes place in all surrounding countries, if not all countries?

The last possibility is ruled out in a way because Islamic revolution was socio-religious and not merely economic revolution. Islam did emphasize human equality but it was so more in the sense of human dignity than economic equality. Of course the Meccan Qur’anic verses strongly condemn accumulation of wealth and one Qur’anic verse also exhorts Muslims to give away in the way of Allah what is surplus i.e. more than one needs. But this is more of moral exhortation. The concept of halal earning is much wider in concept and not merely limited to private property.

Thus the question of Islam in one country or international Islamic revolution did not arise. But it is also a fact that Islam being religion and universal in nature it is not territorially limited. Most of the theologians and ulama maintain that Islam does not recognize any territorial limits and hence there is no concept of nationhood in Islam. This needs to be discussed in greater detail but not here.

Yet one more factor could be fear of invasion by foreign forces like Iranian or Byzantinian. Roman Empire had always wanted to bring Arab territory under its control since it amounted to controlling profitable trade route from Yemen to Palestine. It had tried once by making an Arab a king under its own control. He was seen as a stooge and Arabs rejected him as a king. Thus Romans had not succeeded in controlling the Arab land. Arabs were fiercely independent and would not submit to any authority.

But we do not find mention of any such fear among the causes of invasion. It seems various factors counted including establishing Islamic domination over these lands, economic pressure as these wars of conquests brought tremendous wealth and also some kind of fear of attack. After Islamic revolution, also, lot of fertile land was captured in these wars of conquest. Arabs, many of whom had not known counting beyond 100, became owners of millions. Some of them accumulated so much that they had to use spades to gather dirham and dinar together.

Even some of the companions of the Prophet accumulated so much wealth that Abu Dhar had to recite the Qur’anic verses against accumulation of wealth to warn them of the severe punishment awaiting them in the after-life. Inb Khalladun, the noted historian gives names of some of the companions of the Prophet who lost count of their wealth. Also these conquests created Arab domination zone right up to Central Asia in the East and up to Europe in the west. Thus these conquests benefited Arabs in number of ways.

Spread of Islam

One more question to be answer is how did Islam spread so fast when the main objective of the conquest (as alleged by some prejudiced historians that Islam spread with sword in one hand, and, Qur’an in the other) was not spread of Islam. Again there are many reasons, in fact complex web of reasons. Some of them will be discussed here:

Firstly, from very beginning of Islam two trends became prominent i.e. political Islam which was more about power and enforcement of shari’at law and as it happens power became main objective of conquests and led to great deal of bloodshed among Muslims themselves and enforcement of shari’ah law threw up the tribe of ‘ulama which Qur’an had not proposed. These ‘ulama established their monopoly and their opinion in any sphere of life became central.

The second trend was that of Sufism. Sufism, as opposed to political Islam was mainly spiritual and put equal or more emphasis on tariqat (a spiritual way or set of spiritual exercises) and kept itself aloof from political power struggles. They led, like the Prophet (PBUH), utterly simple life and they put more emphasis on inner peace and inner security.

Of these two trends the rich and powerful opted for political Islam and were involved in power struggle and never had inner peace and security. The masses of people, on the other hand, were attracted towards Sufism in search of inner peace. The Sufis gave them feeling of dignity and respect unlike ruling classes who despised them. Thus people of lowly origin found not only inner peace and solace but also feeling of dignity and hence were attracted to Islam through these Sufis,

Even in 20th century one finds poverty stricken masses from Algeria in the west to Indonesia in the east, having embraced Islam and this is one reason why Islamic world has remained so backward and poor. Even most of the Arabs in Gulf countries until discovery of oil was quite poor and even today those Arabs living in Egypt, Algeria and other Arab countries without oil remain quite poor.

Thirdly, many former non-Muslim power elite, in order to retain their position among new power elite, converted to Islam and through them many of their dependents too embraced Islam. Thus in conquered countries both poor and a section of rich embraced Islam. Sufism remained very widespread throughout Islamic world. It was only rise of Wahabi Islam in what is now called Saudi Arabia that Sufi Islam was suppressed by use of force and slowly lost its influence.

Sufi Islam is still remains highly popular in various parts of Islamic world, especially in non-Arab Islamic world. In South and South East Asia Sufi Islam remains a predominant trend and influence of Sufi saints extends beyond Muslims to non-Muslims as well. Thus in India several Sufi saints are revered by Hindus, Parsis and Christians. They are mostly seekers of inner peace and solace.

Thus it is sheer political myth spread by western imperialists that Islam spread through sword. History does not bear it out. At best it is, what I call, ‘super-simplistic approach to a very complex problem and not without political motives. Those who believe in such myths never take trouble to study history and either become victims of political propaganda or indulge in such false propaganda in order to achieve their political motives.

For the poor, Islam came as a liberator as its doctrine of equality and human dignity greatly attracted them and for power elite it became a source of power and riches and these rich broke every precept and moral conduct of Islam which enemies of Islam ascribed to Islam. In fact power elite break the spirit of morality in every religious tradition, not only among Muslims. The powerful can get away with anything. Thus the basic doctrine of Islam is peace but the power elite, in order to fulfill their lust of power ended up projecting Islam as religion believing in violence and spreading through violence. However, it was the spiritual side of the religion or Sufi Islam which saved the day.

Picture: Asghar Ali Engineer. Photo: Wiki.
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