Sufi Saints and Poets Promoted Harmony

Mohammad Jamil

A large number of audiences were enthralled by spell-bound performance of renowned Sufi artistes in a three-day 16th Sufi music festival, at Alhamra Cultural Complex, Qadhafi Stadium, Lahore. Eminent singers and musicians amused the jammed-packed hall with instrumental and classical performances besides the Sufi poetry in their melodious voices. The event was organized by Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop, where 29 musical groups from across the country with more than 400 artists performed. The Sufi poetry disseminates message of peace and cohesion, besides strengthening bonds among people. The event was attended by renowned Sufi-musicians, singers and performers; a large number of people from different walks of life attended the Sufi Music Festival.

The objective of this write-up is not to compare Sufism with other schools of thought, but to highlight the role it played in bringing peace and interfaith harmony in the society.

Quaid-i-Azam had envisioned Pakistan to be a modern progressive state, rooted in the eternal values of our religion, and at the same time responsive to the imperatives of constant change. In his address before the Constituent Assembly on 11th August 1947, the most remarkable part of this speech was his assurance to the people of Pakistan including minorities that their fundamental rights, liberties and freedom would be well-protected. “You are free; you are free to go to your temples; you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State”, he declared before the constituent assembly. The people of Pakistan, being proud inheritors of traditions of great Sufis, saints and poets who fostered the message of peace and brotherhood over the centuries wish to establish a tolerant society.

Fortunately, the social contract of Pakistan and its cultural foundations blended with the characteristics of Sufism tend to accommodate the dissenting thoughts and opposing beliefs. The main strength of revered Sufis was their passion for interfaith harmony and readiness to engage in dialogue, and hold followers of other religions in high esteem. They approached the opposing faiths with an urge to learn and understand the rationale of that belief system/faith and the path of reaching the God. And they treated other religious communities kindly and gently. In order to fight the growing menace of religious extremism and sectarian divide leading to violent killings and ethnic and sectarian intolerance in Pakistan, it is imperative to highlight the teachings of great Sufi saints. Of course, more of music and cultural festivals should be held so that people are mellowed with the message of peace by the sufi poets.

Many Muslim rulers who ruled India had shown tremendous reverence to Sufi saints who were kind and generous to all human beings irrespective of their religion, ethnicity and creed. Thus, they were a source of unity and harmony between followers of different religions. Founder of the Mughal empire, Zahir-ud-Din Muhammad Babar (1483-1530) in his memoir Tuzk-i-Babri had advised his son Humayun in these words: “India is a big country inhabited by various nationalities, ethnic groups and followers of different religions; and you should mete out equal treatment to all”. Moinuddin Chishti (RA) (1141-1230), also known as Khwaja Gharib Nawaz (RA) who was the most famous Sufi saint of the Chishti Order of the Indian Subcontinent. The initial spiritual chain or silsila of the Chishti order in India comprised Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti (RA), Hazrat Bakhtiyar Kaki (RA), Hazrat Baba Farid (RA) and Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya (RA). Today Hindus, Sikhs and followers of other religions also visit their shrines to pay homage and respect.

Ali Hajvery (Data Gang Bakhsh), famous for his generosity, had made immense contribution to peace and harmony in the society. Abdul Qadir al-Gilani (1077–1166), was a renowned Muslim saint, who was the founder of the Qadriya order, the most tolerant and charitable of the Sunni order of the dervishes. He is held in veneration by Muslims of the Indian subcontinent where followers call him “Ghaus-i-Azam”. Sufi poetry is impressive with an appeal to all segments of the society, as Sufi poets used local metaphors understandable to the common people. In Punjab, Sufi poets Bulleh Shah, Waris Shah and Shah Hussian were revered by the people of all religions and ethnicities. In Sindh, Hazrat Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai (RA), Sachal Sarmast, Lal Shahbaz Qilandar; in Balochistan Mast Tawwakali and in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Rehman Baba were Sufi poets who gave message of tolerance, peace and harmony and also made tremendous contribution towards enriching our culture.

More than fourteen hundred years ago, Islam gave the message of peace, justice, human dignity, reason and light. Those who misinterpret Islam as a dogmatic, conservative, upholder of obscurantism in fact deviate from the simple, rational and humane spirit of Islam, and thus are enemies of Islam. Unfortunately, Islam has not been depicted in proper perspective for about thousand years so as to appeal to the intellect of contemporary leaders or to attract the raw senses of the masses. The religious parties should highlight progressive aspect of Islam, and shun sectarianism. There is historical evidence that when an honest, dedicated, dynamic and courageous leadership emerged, it inspired the people, and society was converted into a progressive, vibrant and dynamic organism brimming with vitality. In view of the present predicament, Muslim scholars must find ways and means to extricate the Umman from the quagmire it is in.

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