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Sufism in India
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Sufism in India

The contribution of the Indian Sufis to society lies in their sincere and dedicated struggle to find unity for the heterogeneous elements in the society

Post by on Wednesday, June 30, 2021

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What is Sufism?
Islamic mystics are called Sufis and their way of life is Sufism. The philosophy of Sufism believes in one God and regards every individual and everything else as part of Him. The Sufi saints preached that 'God is one', all is in God' , 'nothing is beyond outside Him'  and 'one can find God by renouncing everything except loving devotion to God.'
Sufism in the Indian Subcontinent
The Sufi movement started in Persia and evolved into a well developed movement by the 11th century. Sufism found its way into India during the eleventh and twelfth centuries when many Sufi saints came to India particularly in Multan and Lahore of the Indian subcontinent. During this time, the Sufis were organized in orders (silsilahs).The orders were generally led by a prominent mystic who lived in Khanqah (hospice) along with his disciples. The connection between the Pir (teacher) and his murids (disciples) was a vital part of the Sufi system. Every Pir nominated a successor or wali to carry on his work. 
The Sufi orders are divided into two groups: Ba-shara, which followed the Islamic Law (shara) and Be-shara, which were not bound by it (shara). Both types of orders prevailed in India, the latter being followed more by wandering saints and qalandars.
Different Sufi Orders
The Sufis organized into several orders or silsilahs. Abul Fazal mentioned fourteen such orders. Some of them became quite popular in India.
The Chisti Order
Among Sufi orders, the most popular one in India was the Chisti order. It originated outside India and its founder saint was Khawaja Abdul Chisti. In India, it was introduced by Khawaja Muinuddin Chishti. Muinuddin Chishti was born in Persia. He visited different places of Islamic learning in Central Asia and, finally, reached India in 1200 A.D. He settled himself at Ajmer and became very popular all over Northern India. Both the Hindus and Muslims paid homage to him. After his death, he was burried at Ajmer. The Mughal emperor, Akbar paid homage at his Dargah. Among his disciples were Sheikh Hamiduddin of Nagaur and Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar kaki. The Khanqah of Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar kaki was also visited by people from all walks of life. Sultan Iltutmish dedicated the Qutub Minar to this saint.
Shaikh Farid or Baba Farid was also a famous Chisti Saint. He raised the Chisti order to the status of an all-India organization. However, the most famous Chisti Saint was Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya who was the disciple of Baba Farid. He settled himself near Delhi. He had the chance of watching reigns of several Sultans of Delhi. Baba Farid preferred to shun the company of rulers and nobles and kept aloof from the state. For him renunciation meant distribution of food and clothes to the poor. Amongst his followers was noted writer Amir Khusrau. Another famous Saint was Shaikh Nasiruddin Mahmud, popularly known as Nasiruddin Chirag-i-Dilli (The Lamp of Delhi).
Suhravardi order
The suhravardi order of the sufis was established by Shaikh Shahabuddin Suhravardi at Baghdad. Several of his disciples came to India and preached the philosophy of Sufism here. The Suhravardi order of the sufis became popular in the North Western part of India. The first popular Saint of the Suhravardi order was Shaikh Bahauddin Zakariya who settled down at Multan. Shaikh Bahauddin Zakariya differed from Chisti saints in several respects. He didn't observe simplicity. He led a comfortable life and received wealth and land from from his rich disciples. He emphasized the external form of Islam. He did not believe in fasting, self-mortification etc. with a view to purify souls. Another Suhravardi Sufi saint, Shaikh Sharfuddin Yahya Manairi propagated Sufi-doctrines in Bihar. He was a good scholar and compiled several books. He laid great stress on the services of humanity.
The Qadri Order
The Qadrisilsilah was popular in Punjab. Shaikh Abdul Qadir and his sons were supporters of the Mughals under Akbar. The Pirs of this order supported the concept of Wahadat al Wajud (this doctrine postulates that God and His creation are one). Among the famous Sufis of this order was Miyan Mir who had enrolled the Mughal Princess Jahanara and her brother Dara Shikoh as his disciples.
Naqshbandi Order
The Naqshbandi order of the Sufis was introduced in India by Khwaja Baqi Billah. This order emphasized an observance of the laws of Shariat and denounced all innovations which were added afterwards to Islamic doctrines. His successor was Shaikh Ahmed Sirhindi. Khawaja Baqi Billah opposed the listening of Sama (religious music) and the practice of pilgrimage to the tombs of saints. He opposed interaction with Hindus and Shias. He criticised the withdrawal of the Jizyah and the ban on cow slaughter (by Akbar). He maintained that the relationship between man and God was that between the slave and the master and not the relation of a lover and beloved. He tried to harmonise the doctrines of mysticism and the teachings of Islam.
The Contribution of the Sufi Movement 
The contribution of the Indian Sufis to society lies in their sincere and dedicated struggle to find unity for the heterogeneous elements in the society. They appreciated the multi-racial, multi-religious and multilingual pattern of Indian society. Their efforts were directed towards the creation of healthy social order free from dissensions, discords and conflicts. Like the Bhakti saints who were engaged in breaking down of barriers within Hinduism, the Sufis too infused a new liberal outlook within Islam. The interaction between early Bhakti and Sufi Ideas laid the foundation of more liberal movements of the fifteenth century.
Sufism influenced Hindu society and religion. The saints of Bhakti-cult like Kabir, Nanak, Dadu Dayal were, certainly influenced by Sufi saints. Many Bhakti saints were influenced by monotheism of Islam. Efforts were made by several of them to remove the barriers of caste. Probably, the concept of Guru or the preceptor among the saints of Bhakti Cult was also influenced by the concept of Pir among the Sufis.
A notable contribution of Sufis was their service to the poorer and downtrodden sections of society. While the Sultan and Ulema often remained aloof from the day to day problems of the people, the Sufi saints maintained close contact with the common people.  Nizamuddin Auliya was famous for distributing gifts amongst the needy irrespective of religion or caste.
Sufis treated Hindus and Muslims alike. Amir Khusrau said "Though the Hindu is not like me in religion, he believes in the same things that I do". The Sufi movement encouraged equality and brotherhood. In fact, the Islamic emphasis upon equality was respected far more by the Sufis than by the Ulema.
The Sufis also denounced the Ulema. They believed that the Ulema had succumbed to the world by temptations and were moving away from the original democratic and egalitarian principles of the Quran. This battle between the orthodox and the liberal elements continued throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They did not indulge in criticism of other customs or practices. They disliked linguistic Chauvinism and regarded all languages as different vehicles for the communication of feelings. Like the Bhakti saints, the sufi saints contributed greatly to the growth of a rich regional literature. Most of the Sufi saints were poets who chose to write in local languages. Baba Farid recommended the use of Punjabi for religious writings.
The most influential writer of this period was Amir Khusrau (he was a follower of Nizamuddin Auliya). Khusrau took pride in being an Indian and looked at the history and culture of Hindustan as part of his own tradition. He wrote Verses in Hindi (Hindiwi).He created a new style called Sabaq-i-hindi. By the fifteenth century Hindi had begun to assume a definite shape and Bhakti saints such as Kabir used it extensively.
In last, it may be pointed that Sufis helped the spread of Islam in India by emphasizing social equality of all the people. Sufis were guides to good life. They bridged the gulf between our societies.
It has rightly been pointed out by Satish Chandra, the eminent historian of the Medieval period, that Akbar was much influenced by Sufism. Akbar's broad Outlook was an account of the impact of the Sufi movement which changed the course of the medieval history of India.
(The Writer is a recipient of National Youth Icon Award 2019 and a literature student at University of Delhi. He has a contribution in a book titled as "Rediscovering Indira Today". He hails from Badi Bera lolab, Kupwara and can be reached at waseembhat087@gmail.com )

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