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Religious Movements in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries

In India, the image of the singer-songwriter manifested itself in its fullest in what came to be known later as the Bhakti movement. The rigid caste system, the complicated ritualism that constituted the practice of worship and the inherent need to move to a more fulfilling method of worship and salvation perhaps spurred this movement.

Bhakti poets emphasized surrender to god. Equally, many of the Bhakti saints were rebels who chose to defy the currents of their time through their writings. The Bhakti tradition continues in a modified version even in the present day.

The movement probably began in the Tamil region around the 6th and 7th century AD and achieved a great deal of popularity. Hailing from both high and low castes, poets created a formidable body of literature that firmly established itself in the popular canon.

As a social movement, the Bhakti movement challenged caste hierarchy, emphasized the individual’s direct connection to god and the possibility of salvation for all through good deeds and simple living. As a literary movement, it liberated poetry from singing the praises of kings and introduced spiritual themes. From a style point of view, it introduced simple and accessible styles like vachanas (in Kannada) and other forms in various languages to literature and ended the hegemony of Sanskrit metrical forms.

In northern India, from the 13th to the 17th centuries, a large number of poets flourished who were all Bhakti figures of considerable importance. The Bhakti movement empowered the underbelly of Indian society in fundamental ways and also provided the required impetus for the growth of vernacular literature. This tradition of those deemed “low” singing and writing did not, however, end with the Bhakti movement comingling into the mainstream.

Mystic interpretation of Islamic life within the bonds of religious orthodoxy is known as Sufism, which was initially launched by God fearing people of the Perso-Arab world. They renounced the world and devoted themselves to His service.

As the seekers of Tawhid (Unity in God) they helped in spread of Islam through mystic movement with intellectualization of Sunnah as one of its basic principles.

The Sufis either in their lifetime or their tombs after death became a symbol of supernatural power with metaphysical features ascribed to them under the guidelines of Quran and Sunnah.

The disciples of Sufis adopted the path of peace or even armed jehad for  Shariatisation of the whole world as a mission of holy duty.

The concept of Sufism was to focus the mystic power on the spiritual dimension of Islam with a view to shield the believers from the outwardly and unrealistic dogma of the faith.

Contrary to the spiritual mission of Sufism, the cult was primarily introduced in India for spread of Islam with a view to help the Muslim rulers for political domination. By and large the spiritual successors of mystic Islamic saints enjoyed the royal favor of Muslim rulers and gave moral support to the atrocious Muslim invaders and looked other way to ignore the growing social conflict. They also guided the State in political affairs with their experience of regular interaction with common people.

The way Sufis’ tombs emerged as a place of pilgrimage suggests that the missionary objective of the Islamic mystics was formulated mainly for conversion and to establish the Perso-Arabian cultural domination in South Asia.

Even though the Sufi saints got convinced with non-Islamic worldview on metaphysics in course of their interaction with non-Muslim saints, they did not allow their followers to accommodate it in the straight jacket of Islamic theology. Sufi saints commonly viewed as symbol of secularism however, never opposed Jejiya (Tax imposed on non-believers) levied on Hindus in Islamic India.

Despite the fact that except Prophet Mohammad, the sainthood in Islam has been a debatable issue, Sufism of various orders in the name of their founder saints has become a universal aspect of Islam. Sufis are known as Islamic spiritualists and the Muslims commonly view them as intermediaries between God and individuals.

Origin of Sufism

Sufis had accompanied the Muslim marauders in their conquest and brought Islam in contact with Hindu priests and saints. They were receptive to some of the local Hindu traditions, maybe for a tactical reason to entice the locals towards Islam but ensured that local norms are not accommodated against the watertight Islamic belief, dogma and practice of Quran, Hadith and Sharia which were the fountainheads of Sufism.

Their deeply rooted belief and practice of Islamic norms within Perso-Arabic traditions remained the bedrock of the mystic movement. Therefore, in stead of advising the Muslim marauders against their inhuman deeds, the Sufis overlooked the plight of Hindu priests and saints, who were forced to flee and hide themselves.

Passion to the essential spirituality of life was hardly found in any Muslim ruler or Prince except Dara Shikoh (1615-1659). He was perhaps the only sincere Muslim prince, whose “effort was to find a common ground between Hindu and Muslim religious thought”. For this he was accused of heresy.

Under the patronage of the State under Muslim rulers, the Sufi mystics while offering spiritual guidance and support to the Hindu subjects allured them for adoption of Muslim identity, superiority of Arbo-Persian-Turkish tradition and accordingly transplanted them in the cultural tradition of India.

Despite the fact that except Prophet Mohammad, the sainthood in Islam has been a debatable issue, Sufism of various orders in the name of their founder saints has become a universal aspect of Islam. Sufis are known as Islamic spiritualists and the Muslims commonly view them as intermediaries between God and individuals.

The Sufi Thought

Sufism says that it is idea of self — any idea which man attaches to his mind — which stabs the very essence of mind and begins that process from which all sorrow arises. Voluntary surrender of self does not destroy mind, does not harm body, does not annihilate self. Rather it annihilates that thought of self which is given erroneously the name of self.

No one can pretend to the cosmic state. The thought of Sufism or of being a Sufi — even of submitting to the disciplines and practices – does not make one a Sufi.

Attainment and only attainment makes one a Sufi. It is wrong ever to call one a Sufi, but there are souls who have lost all consciousness and feeling of distinction and separation and through them the Spirit of Guidance pours blessings upon the world.

The ten Sufi Thoughts, which comprise all the important subjects with which the inner life is concerned, are:

  1. There is One God, the Eternal, the Only Being; none exists save God.
  2. There is One Master, the Guiding Spirit of all Souls, Who constantly leads followers towards the light.
  3. There is One Holy Book, the sacred manuscript of nature, which truly enlightens the reader.
  4. There is One Religion, the unswerving progress in the right direction towards the ideal, which fulfils the life’s purpose of every soul.
  5. There is One Law, the law of reciprocity, which can be observed by a selfless conscience together with a sense of awakened justice.
  6. There is One Brotherhood and Sisterhood, the human brotherhood and sisterhood, which unites the children of earth indiscriminately in the Parenthood of God.
  7. There is One Moral, the love which springs forth from self-denial, and blooms in deeds of beneficence.
  8. There is One Object of Praise, the beauty which uplifts the heart of its worshippers through all aspects from the seen to the unseen.
  9. There is One Truth, the true knowledge of our being, within and without, which is the essence of all wisdom.
  10. There is One Path, the annihilation of the false ego in the real, which raises the mortal to immortality, and in which resides all perfection.

Sufism is a blend of various thoughts and philosophies. By intermingling a few traces of Islamic teachings with it, the Sufi thinkers attempted to sanctify their doctrines and demonstrate its conformity to Islam

The Greek philosophy, and in particular the teachings of Neo-Platonists, have left an indelible mark on many aspects of Sufism. This came about as a result of the translation of Greek philosophical works into Arabic during the third Islamic century. Greek pantheism became an integral part of Sufi doctrine. (13)

Vedanta, the chief Hindu philosophy, which is an example of pantheism in its metaphysical strictness, also had a great impact on Sufism following the conquest of Sindh by Muhammad b. Qasim in the second century.

Sufi occultism, with its host of philosophical and theosophical doctrines, is beyond doubt antithetical to Islam. Islam proclaims that the matchless entity and essence of Allah is totally different from that of His slaves, i.e., man. Sufis, on the contrary, subscribe to the belief that matter, man and God form in effect one single entity and essence.

Ibn Arabi’s doctrine of pantheism was a combination of Manichean, Gnostic, Neo-Platonic, Vedantic and Christian philosophies and speculations, which he tried vainly to give an Islamic sanction by relating it to Prophetic traditions.

Ahlu al-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah, on the other hand, are agreed that Allah is One Alone, qualified with all the attributes wherewith He has qualified Himself and named with all names whereby He has named Himself, without resembling creation in any respect; that His essence does not resemble the essences of His creatures nor His attributes resemble theirs.

Muhiyddin Ibn Arabi, one of the leading authorities on Sufi mysticism, who captured the imagination and the adulation of Sufis around the world, was born in the year 560 A.H. (1165 A.D.), and pursued the study of the occult and the metaphysical doctrines of the Sufis. He talked about his “cemetry revelations” as matters of fact, and managed to compile a massive compendium on Sufism entitled Al-Futoohat Al-Mekkiyyah (the Meccan Revelations). Of this, Ibn Arabi wrote, “Some works I wrote at the command of God sent to me in sleep, or through mystical revelations.” He noted that sometimes the pressure of mystical revelation was so strong that he felt compelled to finish a work before taking rest.

The Sufis, like their masters, would have people believe that their doctrines originated in the Quranic verses. They interpret certain verses freely, both linguistically and theologically, to corroborate their beliefs and give them Quranic sanction. Besides giving Quranic verses different interpretations, they also reduce them to symbols and codes and juxtapose them in a metaphysical perspective. “Glory be to God,” Ibn Arabi exclaimed, “Who created things, being Himself their essence.

Sufi Orders

The Malamatiya (the blameworthy) can be considered a proto-Sufi order that arose in the 9th century CE before the crystallization of the Sufi orders. Malamati principles became integrated into later Sufism.

Sufi orders (turuq) crystallized as institutions beginning around the 6th century AH/ 12th century CE. One of the first orders was the Yasawi order, named after Khwajah Ahmad Yasavi (d. 1166 AD), from the city of Yasi, where his tomb is located. A few generations after Khwajah Ahmad, an important Yasavi shaykh was Isma’il Ata. He was from a village in the vicinity of Tashkent. One of his sayings to his disciples was as follows: “Accept this advice from me: Imagine that the world is a green dome in which there is nothing but God and you, and remember God until the overwhelming theophany (al-tajalli al-qahri) overcomes you and frees you from yourself, and nothing remains but God” (Al-Khani,Hada’iq al-wardiya).

The Kubrawiya Sufi Order–originating, like the Yasawiya, in Central Asia– was named after Najm al-Din Kubra (d. 1221) (Abu al-Jannab Ahmad ibn ‘Umar ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Khiwaqi al-Khwarazmi), known as the “saint-producing (lit. “sculpting or chiseling”) shaykh” (shaykh-e vali tarash), since a number of his disciples became great shaykhs themselves. Although originally from Khiva, located today in western Uzbekistan, he moved nearby to the capital city, Khwarazm. Shaykh Najm al-Din was killed defending Khwarazm, which was completely destroyed during the Mongol holocaust. Some of the more historically significant Kubrawi shaykhs were ‘Ala al-Dawla Simnani (d. 736/1336) and Sayyid Muhammad Nurbakhsh (d. 869/1464). The Nurbakhshi Kubrawi lineage embraced Shi’ism. One continuation of this lineage today is the Oveysi (Uwaysi) Shahmaghsoudi order, known as the Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghsoudi.

The Qadiriya Sufi Order–branches of which are found throughout the Muslim world– was named after’Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (d. 1166 CE). A later Punjabi Qadiri Sufi Poet was Bulleh ShahThe order is certainly the most significant tariqah in some parts of the world today and is rapidly expanding.

Shaykh Ahmad al-Rifa’i (d. 1182 CE) is the shaykh from whom the Rifa’i order is derived. In some cases, such as that of Shaykh Taner (noted above), the Rifa’i and Qadiri orders have united.

At times, both in history and today, Sufi elements are found in political movements. One such contemporary mixture is in the leftist Alevi-Kurdish movement in Turkey, in which Haji Bektash and Pir Sultan Abdal are considered to be saints. Yunus Emre is the most significant Bektashi poet.

The Naqshbandiya, named after Baha al-Din Naqshband (d. 791/1389) is a tariqah that is widely active throughout the world today and The Naqshbandiya further developed basic Islamic practices and principles into the eleven principles of the Naqshbandi Order. One of Khwajah Baha al-Din’s successors was Khwajah Muhammad-e Parsa. Another of Khwajah Baha al-Din’s successors was Ya’qub-e Charkhi (d. 1447), whose most significant disciple and successor was Khwajah ‘Ubayd Allah Ahrar.

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