The Sufi Movement (Sufism) in India has been critically is a dramatic movement that is highly connected to socio-religious area. Unorthodox Muslim saints were the pioneer.
The word ‘sufi’ is derived from ‘suf’, which means wool in Arabic, referring to the simple cloaks the early Muslim ascetics wore. It also means ‘purity’, and thus can be understood as the one who wears wool on top of purity.
Sufi Cult or Sufism is a mystical form of Islam, a school of practice that focuses on the spiritual search for God and shuns materialism. It is a form of Islamic mysticism which stresses asceticism.
The Sufis were regarded as people who kept their heart pure and who sought to communicate with God though their ascetic practices. The terms Sufi, Wali, Darvesh, and Faqir are used interchangeably for Muslim saints who attempted to achieve development of their intuitive faculties through ascetic exercises, contemplation, renunciation, and self-denial.
God, man, and the relation of love between God and man, is fundamental to Sufism. The ideas of ruh (soul), qurbat (divine proximity), and hulul (infusion of the divine spirit), Ishq (divine love), and Fana (self-annihilation) are central to the theory of Sufism. Sufism thus represents the inward or esoteric, mystical side of Islam.
The Sufi saints, transcending all religious and communal distinctions, worked for promoting the interest of humanity at large. The Sufis regarded God as the supreme beauty, and believed that one must admire him, take delight in his thought, and concentrate his attention on him only. They believed that God is Mashuq and Sufis are the Ashiqs.
Sufism stressed the elements of love and devotion as effective means of the realisation of God. Love of God meant the love of humanity, and hence they believed that service to humanity was tantamount to service to God. In Sufism, self-discipline was considered an essential condition to gain the knowledge of god by sense of perception. While orthodox Muslims emphasise external conduct, the Sufis lay stress on inner purity. Other ideas emphasised by Sufism are meditation, good actions, repentance for sins, performance of prayers and pilgrimages, fasting, charity, and suppression of passions by ascetic practices.
Islam entered India in the 7th century CE in the form of merchants from Saudi Arabia who traded with the western coastal regions of India. After that in the north, the religion entered Multan and Sind when the regions were captured by Muhammad Bin Qasim in the 8th century CE.
Sufism or mysticism emerged in the 8th century, and the early known Sufis were Rabia al-Adawiya, Al-Junaid, and Bayazid Bastami. However, it evolved into a well-developed movement by the end of the 11th century during the reign of the Delhi Sultanate.
Al Hujwiri, who established himself in north India, was buried in Lahore and regarded as the oldest Sufi in the sub-continent.
There were two broad Sufi orders:
Bashara – Those who obeyed Islamic laws. The Beshara was also called ‘mast kalandar’. They comprised wandering monks who were also called Baba. They did not leave any written accounts.
Beshara – Those who were more liberal.
By the 12th century, the Sufis were organised in Silsilahs (i.e., orders, which basically represented an unbreakable chain between the Pir, the teacher, and the murids, the disciples). The four most popular Silsilahs among these were the Chistis, Suhrawardis, Qadiriyahs, and Naqshbandis.
Sufis stress on the importance of following the path directed by the Sufi pir, which thus enables one to establish a direct communion with the divine. The khanqah (the hospice) was the centre of activities of the various Sufi orders. The khanqah was led by the shaikh, pir, or murshid (teacher), who lived with his murids (disciples). In due course of time, the khanqahs emerged as important centres of learning and preaching.
When the pir died, his dargah, i.e., the tomb or shrine, became a centre for his disciples and followers. The murid (disciple) passes through maqamat (various stages) in this process of experiencing communion with the divine.
Many Sufis enjoyed the sama or musical congregation in their khanqahs. In fact, qawwali developed during this period only. The ziyarat or pilgrimage to the tombs of the Sufi saints soon emerged as an important form of ritual pilgrimage.
Most of the Sufis believed in the performance of miracles. Almost all pirs were associated with the miracles performed by them.
The Chisti Silsilah
The Chisti Order was established in India by Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti, who probably moved to India after the invasion of Muizzuddin Muhammad Ghori, and settled in Ajmer around c.1206 CE.
Muinuddin Chishti argued that the highest form of devotion to God was to redress the misery of those in distress, fulfilling the need of the helpless, and to feed the hungry. His fame grew more after his death in c.1235 CE, when his grave was visited by the then Sultan Muhammad Tughlaq, after which the mosque and the dome were erected by Mahmud Khalji of Malwa in the 15th century. The patronage to the dargah reached unprecedented heights after the support of Mughal Emperor Akbar.
The Chisti presence in Delhi was established by Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki (the Qutub Minar is named after him), who settled in Delhi from his homeland in Transoxiana in c.1221 CE. His presence in Delhi was a threat to the Suhrawardis, who tried to levy charges against him so that he was forced to leave, but the Sultan of Delhi, Iltutmish, dismissed these attempts, eventually forcing the Suhrawardis to relent.
The Chistis believed in:
Simplicity of life, humility, and selfless devotion to God. The renunciation of worldly possessions was regarded by them as significant for the control of the senses that was necessary to maintain a spiritual life.
Love as the bond between god and the individual soul, and adopting an attitude of benevolence towards all.
The tolerance between people of different faiths, and acceptance of disciples irrespective of their religious beliefs.
Use of simple language and the refusal to accept any grant for their maintenance from the Sultans.
Apart from Muinuddin Chisti, the other important Chistis were Baba Fariduddin Ganj-i- Shakar, who established himself at Hansi in Haryana on the route between Multan and Lahore, and Nizamuddin Auliya, who lived in the 14th century, during a period of political change and turmoil.
He had a conflicting relationship with different Sultans such as Mubarak Khalji and Ghiyasauddin Tughlaq, as he maintained a strict policy of not involving himself with the various groups and factions of the Sultan’s court in Delhi, thus earning hostility of these warring factions. But at the same time, he earned the respect of the masses.
On the other hand, Nasiruddin Chiragh-i-Dehlavi (a disciple of Nizamuddin Auliya) was another Chisti saint who played an active role in the political affairs of the period.
In the 13th century, the Chisti Order was established in the Deccan by Shaikh Burhanuddin Gharib. Between the 14th and 16th centuries, many Chisti Sufis migrated to Gulbarga, and also contrary to past practice, some of the Chistis began accepting grants and patronage from the ruling establishment. The Deccan city of Bijapur emerged as an important centre for Sufi activity, and one of the famous pirs of the region was Muhammad Banda Nawaz.
The Suhrawardi Silsilah
The Silsilah was founded by Shihabuddin Suhrawardiin Baghdad and was established in India by Bahauddin Zakariya.
The Suhrawardis, unlike the Chistis, accepted, maintenance grants from the Sultans. While the Chistis were active in Delhi, Rajasthan, and parts of the western Gangetic plains, and in the later years in the eastern regions of the Gangetic plain (Bihar and Bengal) and into the Deccan, the Suhrawardis were active in Punjab and Sindh.
They believed that
A Sufi should possess the three attributes of property, knowledge, and hal (mystical enlightenment), as they felt that this was necessary to ensure that they served the poor better. Thus, they did not believe in excessive austerities or self–mortification, and mingled with the Muslim aristocracy and took active part in politics.
They stressed on the observance or external forms of religious belief and advocated a combination of ilm (scholarship) with mysticism.
The Naqshbandi Silsilah
This order was established in India by Khwaja Bahauddin Naqshbandi, and later on, propagated by his successors, Sheikh Baqi Billah and Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi.
The mystics of this order stressed on:
The observance of the shariat and denounced all innovations or biddat. They attempted to purge Islam from all liberal, and according to them, ‘un-Islamic’ practices.
They opposed the listening of sama (religious music) and the practice of pilgrimage to the tombs of saints, and strongly opposed interaction with Hindus and Shias.
In fact, it was Baba Farid, the famous Sufi Saint, who maintained that devotional music was one way of coming close to God.
They criticised the liberal policies of Akbar such as the high status accorded by Akbar to many non-Muslims, the withdrawal of the jizya, and the ban on cow slaughter.
Contrary to the Chistis, they maintained that the relationship between man and God was that of the slave and the master and not of the relation of a lover and beloved.
The Qadri Silsilah
The Quadiriyya Silsilah, which was popular in Punjab, was initiated during the Mughal rule under the teachings of Sheikh Abdul Qadir and his sons, Shaikh Niamtullah, Mukhdum Muhammad Jilani, and Miyan Mir, who had enrolled the Mughal princess Jahanara and her brother Dara as disciples. Another prominent pir was Shah Badakhshani.
The pirs of this Order supported the following:
The concept of Wahdat al Wajud meaning “Unity of Existence” or “Unity of Being”, that is to say, God and his creation are one and similar.
They dismissed Orthodox elements, declaring that the infidel who had perceived reality and recognised it was a believer and that a believer who did not recognise reality was an infidel.
It is pertinent to note that during the medieval period, while there was a constant tension between the liberal and orthodox views in Islam, the Sufis featured on both sides. For instance, there were the Chistis who held a liberal view and argued in favour of assimilation of local traditions, while there were Naqshbandi Silsilah proponents who held the Orthodox view of shariat and argued that through the other Silsilahs, the purity of Islam was being diluted. But the majority of the Sufis found resonance with the liberal opinion that argued against the narrow definition of Islamic laws by the ulema.
Impact of Sufi Movement (Sufism)
These liberal and unorthodox features of Sufism had a profound influence on medieval Bhakti saints. In the later period, Akbar, the Mughal emperor, appreciated Sufi doctrines, which shaped his religious outlook and religious policies. Alongside the Sufi movement, the Bhakti Movement was gaining strength among the Hindus and these two parallel movements based on the doctrines of love and selfless devotion contributed a great deal in bringing both the communities of Hindus and Muslims closer together.
Sufism took roots in both rural and urban areas and exercised a deep social, political, and cultural influence on the masses. It rebelled against all forms of religious formalism, orthodoxy, falsehood, and hypocrisy, and endeavoured to create a new world order in which spiritual bliss was the only and the ultimate goal. At a time when struggle for political power was the prevailing madness, the Sufi saints reminded men of their moral obligations. To a world torn by strife and conflict, they tried to bring peace and harmony.
The most important contribution of Sufism is that it helped to blunt the edge of Hindu−Muslim prejudices by forging the feelings of solidarity and brotherhood between these two religious communities. These Sufi saints are revered even today by not only Muslims but by a large number of Hindus, and their tombs have become popular places of pilgrimage for both communities.
Important Sufi Terms
Sufi, Pir, Murshid – Saint
Murid – Followers
Khanqah – Place where Sufis lived, hospices
Khalifa – Disciples
Zikr – Recitation of God’s name
Tauba – Repentance over bad deeds
Fanaa – Spiritual merging with the Almighty
Urs – Death
Sama – Musical gathering
Vara – Non-acceptance of what was not given freely