Sufism: A Path of Spiritual Unity and Liberal Values

Sufism: A Path of Spiritual Unity and Liberal Values
Posted on 02-08-2023

Sufism: A Path of Spiritual Unity and Liberal Values


The term 'Sufi' has its origins in the Arabic word 'Suf,' which translates to 'wool.' The Muslim saints who adorned themselves with garments made of coarse wool came to be known as Sufi saints.

Sufism made its way into India during the 12th century through Muslim invaders and gained popularity in the 13th century. The primary focus of Sufism was on the concept of Wahadut-ul-Wajud, emphasizing the Unity of God.

The roots of Sufism can be traced back to Iraq, where it first developed. The pioneering Sufi saint was Begum Rabia of Bashera in Iraq.

Sufi orders were referred to as Silsilas, indicating the spiritual lineages through which the teachings and practices were passed down.

The highest concentration of Sufi orders was found in Afghanistan.

Salient features related to Sufism

Sufis were a group of spiritually inclined individuals who turned to asceticism and mysticism as a response to the increasing materialism within the Caliphate, both as a religious and political institution. They drew their inspiration from Islam and delved deeply into Vedantic philosophy, establishing connections with revered sages and seers of India.

Simplicity was a core principle in Sufism, and the Sufi saints preached their teachings in languages such as Arabic, Persian, and Urdu. The Sufi community was divided into 12 orders, each under the guidance of a mystic Sufi saint, such as Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, Fariuddin Ganj-i-Shakar, and Nizam-ud-din Auliya.

Unlike orthodox Muslims who often relied on external practices and rigid adherence to religious rituals, Sufi saints sought inner purity. They critiqued the dogmatic interpretations and scholastic methods used by theologians to understand the Qur'an and the traditions of the Prophet (Sunna). Instead, Sufis emphasized salvation through profound devotion and love for God, following His commands, and emulating the example of Prophet Muhammad, whom they regarded as the epitome of a perfect human being.

The Sufis sought to interpret the Qur'an based on their personal spiritual experiences, emphasizing the importance of devotion over rituals like fasting (Roza) and prayers (Namaz). Their teachings transcended communal barriers, evident in the reverence shown by non-Muslims in the Subcontinent towards Sufi saints. Sufism had the remarkable capacity to bridge divides of caste, creed, and gender, connecting people deeply on a spiritual level. This universality of Sufism extended its influence beyond the Subcontinent to various parts of the world.

Liberal outlook associated with Sufism

Sufism transcends narrow societal classifications, such as caste, as it strives to awaken a new sense of confidence and redefine social and religious values. The emphasis on social welfare among Sufis led to the establishment of charitable initiatives, including orphanages and women's service centers.

One significant contribution of the Sufis was their dedicated service to the marginalized and downtrodden segments of society. Notably, Nizamuddin Auliya gained fame for generously distributing gifts among the needy, without any consideration of their religion or caste.

During a time when the pursuit of political power consumed the masses, the Sufi saints served as a reminder of moral obligations. In a world plagued by strife and conflicts, they endeavored to bring about peace and harmony.

Sufism promotes various practices and ideas, including meditation, performing good deeds, seeking repentance for sins, engaging in prayers and pilgrimages, observing fasting, practicing charity, and suppressing passions through ascetic methods.

Some of the important Sufi orders are:

Chisti Order:

The Chisti order of Sufism was founded by Sheikh Abdul Chisti, and it was brought to India by his renowned successor, Sheikh Moinuddin Chisti. The Dargah (mausoleum) of Sheikh Moinuddin Chisti is located in Ajmer.

Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, the chief disciple of Sheikh Moinuddin, played a crucial role in spreading the Chisti order's teachings. As a tribute to Bakhtiar Kaki, Iltutmush dedicated the iconic Qutub Minar.

One of the most revered Sufi saints in India was Sheikh Nizamuddin, who gained immense popularity. Among his disciples was the renowned poet, musician, and literary genius, Amir Khusro.

The disciples of the Chisti order were buried together in a system called Nadasampradaya, creating a sense of familial unity.

Sheikh Salim Chisti, the last prominent saint of this order, earned great respect from Emperor Akbar.

The Chisti saints resided in hermitages known as Qamkhanas, situated outside the city. These places served as spiritual retreats for the Chisti Sufis.

Suhrawardi Order:

The Suhrawardi order of Sufism was established by Shihabuddin Shuhrawardi. When it was introduced in India, Bhauddin played a significant role in its dissemination.

The Suhrawardi order initially gained substantial wealth, making it one of the wealthiest orders. However, over time, it faced a decline in popularity and lost its former prominence.

Firadausia Order:

The Firadausia order stands as a unique case among Sufi orders, as it was the only one that originated and flourished exclusively within India. Sharafuddin founded this order, and its influence was primarily confined to the region of Bihar.

Sharafuddin, the founder of Firadausia, was a prolific writer, contributing to the Maqtubat and Mulfazat literature. These writings centered on the lives and teachings of Sufi saints.

Qadri Order:

The Qadri order holds a reputation as one of the most secular Sufi silsilas (orders). It traces its origins back to its founder, Sheikh Jilani Qadri.

Notably, Dara Shikoh, the son of Shah Jahan, was a follower of the Qadri order.

Naqshbandi Order:

The Naqshbandi order of Sufism was established by Sheikh Biqabullah. In India, it was introduced by Sheikh Pirsai.

Among its prominent scholars, Sheikh Niyamtulla was considered the greatest. The Naqshbandi order was known for its conservative nature.

Aurangzeb, the Mughal emperor, was a follower of the Naqshbandi order.

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