Sufism in Sindh

Sindh (also called Bab-ul-Islam) is the birthplace of Sufism in Pakistan. Sufi saints were instrumental in spreading Islam with its message of tolerance and forbearance. Sufi saints of Sindh(known as ‘the land of 124,000 saints and dervishes)  have a large and devoted following among both Hindu and Muslims and it is striking that many Hindus cross the border from India to pay homage at the shrines, despite political obstacles and social stigma associated with stepping into “enemy” terrain.  As Sachal Sarmast, a Sufi saint, downplaying the religious divide, says:

Sachu Supreme is one- no doubt no question,

Witnesses his own show- resplendent royally,

Sometimes recites scriptures-sometimes Koran,

Somewhere as Christ, Ahmed or Hanumaan,

Astonished and bewildered at all Himself.”

Sindh has been under the grip of the land owning feudal class, who have amassed power in their own hands and shamelessly oppressed the peasantry. Amidst this backdrop, Shah Inayat (the Mansur of Sind) launched a campaign against feudalism, calling for greater social justice and equality. He proclaimed, much to the collective anger of the ruling elite, “Land belongs to God and its yield to the tiller.”

This proclamation made the saint a threat to the ruling élites. By attempting to transform a feudal society into an agrarian egalitarian society, he earned many enemies. On the orders of the King, Shah Inayat was executed, becoming an iconic figure in the history of Sufism in Sindh.

In Sufi shrines, all ethnic, class, religious, social distinctions are blurred; everyone prays, sings and eats together. Sufi saints emerged as the savior of the masses, providing charity freely, speaking up for the rights of the impoverished and rebelling against the feudal class system.

Sufism offers the prospect a society without sectarian, ethnic and communal differences. The pervasive influence of Sufism in Sindh has translated into a populace that is more tolerant, accommodating and compromising, much of which explains why extremism is markedly less pronounced in Sindh, as opposed to other provinces. Hindu-Muslim union in Sindh provides modern day lessons for policy makers, striving to battle against the rapid spread of extremism.

Sufi saints have, time and again, challenged the Mulleh community, who espouse a strict reading of religious texts and who consider the Sufis as being non-Muslim, deviant individuals, basking in music, which for them is Haram. Now, I shall cite the poems of Sufi saints that clearly show acceptance of the fact that the Divine Reality is one, which in turn has engendered a degree of tolerance in Sindhi people.

Shah Latif (greatly influenced by Rumi) is one of the greatest poets of Sindh- his work is replete with calls for religious tolerance and adoption of humanistic values. There is also a degree of pluralism in the recognition that while the path to the reality may be plentiful; the destination is same for all. As he writes:

From one it became many, from many it became one.

Reality is in unity, you should not forget this

That there is unity behind diversity.

There ore lahks of your forms, you are one with them,

but having different forms. Oh my beloved!

How many signs of your beauty am I going to count.”

Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai was against religious dogma, as is manifested in the following poem:

“If you are seeking Allah,
Then keep clear of religious formalities.
Those who have seen Allah
Are away from all religions!
Those who do not see Allah here,
How will they see Him beyond?

Consider the case of Gulan, a dancing girl who came to Shah Latif seeking guidance. The considerate Latif blessed her, and the girl later married the ruler of Sind. This story showcases how the saints did not condone or berate sinners, but rather, out of mercy and compassion, pray that they are shown the Right Way. The Taliban could learn a lot from this short example.

Shah Latif encapsulates his teachings in the below text:

“The Truth is one, the Beloved is one, why fight over names? They asked him: “Oh Latif, what are you, a Shiah Muslim or a Sunni one?” He replied: “Between the two.” They said: “But between the two is nothing.” “Yes, yes,” he replied, “that `nothing’ I am.”

Blighted by conventional thinking, priests and the ulema decried the message of these Sufi saints, calling them heresy and Kufr (with a special emphasis on the Sufi penchant for music).  The priests of Islam said, “Satan is the worst of the damned.” Latif defied them. “Satan is the only lover, all others are prattlers. Out of the great love of the Lord, the shining one (Satan) embraced disgrace.”

In his recognition of Unity of the Lord, he came to associate every form of Creation with the Divine Essence:
“This and that, life and death, beloved and lover, enemy and friend are all one.”

Sachal, another great poet, in the same vein as Shah Latif, criticizes formal religion when he articulates.

“Love forgives all religion. The Lover never entangles himself in either Islam or Hinduism”

The Mullas read traditions and the Koran,

They look like Mussalmans,

They are the very devil,

These will defeated die

In the poetry of Sachal Sarmast, one finds examples of Sikh references, which is a token of his profound tolerance for spiritual teachers, casting religion aside. Some of his poems manifestly are on Sri Krishna and Hindu Yogis. The Union of both these elements in his songs helped foster harmony and a mutual appreciation of each other’s culture. As Sachal writes:

Again and again he emphasizes this, “neither a Muslim nor a Hindu”. The priests could not tolerate this, but Sachal poured ridicule upon them. “Look at these priests! How sanctimoniously they read lengthy prayers merely to fill their stomachs. “For a trifle of bread they cry their prayers, with uncomely faces, with ugly beards, these raw ones read blessings! To the world they boast they keep fasts, in reality they are great eaters

A crucial element of the evolution of Sufism in Sindh (and the lesson it provides for today’s divided world) was the blurring of religious lines, in that there were even Hindu Sufi fakirs who preached tolerance, practiced Sufism and enjoyed a large following, of both Hindu and Muslims. Even during the partition of 1947, Sindh was not engulfed in communal tensions, of the levels seen in Punjab and Bengal. In the political arena, fundamentalist parties have fared poorly in the province.

The central essence of Sufi thinking, as preached by saints over the ages, has been to reform orthodox Islamic thinking. The conjoining and assimilation of both Hindu and Muslim cultures in Sindh has not resulted in an intolerant and bigoted society.

Ruhal Fakir, in his assertion that God is one, downplays the religious divide that breeds hatred and resentment:

In Kufir and Islam they are out of step,

One Hindu, the other Musalmaan and third enmity in between,

Who can claim truly that the blind can’t find darkness,

Ruhal, on the path of Beloved, realise its vastness,

God was only one- no traps, no twists,

Where can she point her feet in the abode of Allah!’

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One response to “Sufism in Sindh

  1. Pingback: Sufism in Sindh | Siyasi Dhairiyay - Political ...·

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