The Dawn: Aug 24, 2014

Past present: Ascetic sense

Mubarak Ali 

The history of Sindh has been interpreted differently from time to time. Before 1947, in traditional history writing, Sindh was referred to as Babul Islam or ‘Gateway to Islam’ given that this was the first territory conquered by the Arabs in the subcontinent (711 AD).

However, Islam was confined to the borders of Sindh and could not spread to other parts of the subcontinent.

After 1947, in Sindhi nationalist history writing, this concept was challenged and Arab rule was described as ‘Arab imperialism’, as its influence managed to damage local tradition and institutions.

In the following phase however, Sindh was called the land of the Sufis. This meant that the teachings of those Sufi orders who settled in Sindh transformed the society to a peace-loving and a non-violent one. To the people of Sindh, it is a matter of pride to belong to a land that so many Sufi orders made their homeland. The question is whether the teachings of the Sufis are an advantage or just an obstacle to the progress of the society?

Does Sufi culture benefit society or is it in fact a regressive force?

Sufism has become a part of Sindhi nationalism which, along with the emergence of certain symbols from culture and traditions, was required to inspire people to struggle for their rights. Sufi shrines have become cultural centres and the teachings of the Sufi saints are highlighted and projected as a solution to most social problems. It is seen that successive governments and the ruling classes have promoted this culture to keep people occupied in seeking spiritual solace in a peaceful and subdued manner.

Historically, the Sufis did not challenge political authority nor resist oppressive rule. On the contrary, their policy was to keep their disciples away from politics.

Nizamuddin Auliya (d.1325), the respected saint of Dehli, accepted money from Khusro Malik, a usurper, who had become the king after assassinating Qutbuddin Mubarak Shah Khilji (1320). Acceptance of the gift meant recognition of a ruler who betrayed his patron to become a king. When Ghiyasuddin Tughluq (1325), after overthrowing Khusro Malik, assumed kingship, he demanded Nizamuddin Auliya to return the money which was given to him from the State treasury. His reply that he had already distributed the money among his disciples is indicative of the compromising attitude of the Sufis. Amir Khusro (d.1325), the poet and disciple of Nizam-uddin

Auliya served as a court poet to different rulers while the Sufis from Suhrawardiya remained close to the rulers and accepted gifts without any hesitation.

When the people of Sindh are asked to be proud of the Sufis of the land, it is in the interest of the ruling classes as they do not want the people to challenge their status or privileges nor to be disobedient to their rule. It is also in the interest of the sajjada nashin or the families of the Sufis to retain their status quo and not to disturb the old order. After independence, the influence of the families of the Sufi saints increased and their social status strengthened. They joined political parties which were conservative in their outlook. In case of military rule, they readily co-operated in order to retain their status and privileges.

When the people of Sindh are asked to be proud of the Sufis of the land, it is in the interest of the ruling classes as they do not want the people to challenge their status or privileges nor to be disobedient to their rule.

The policy continues to the present day. It is easy for them to win elections because their loyal disciples vote for them blindly. They have widespread influence in their areas and no government can implement a policy without their consent. They not only dominate politics but also control the social lives of their followers.

In fact, it is not a matter of pride to belong to the land of the Sufis but an illusion that the people of Sindh should get rid of. In the teachings of the Sufis, there is nothing to help them respond to the challenges of the modern time.

It is a global world and the society needs to be equipped with modern knowledge and technology instead of outdated and rusted teachings of the Sufis. New knowledge is required with the change of time. The past cannot be revived. One should look forward to the future for progress and advancement. Obedience makes people stagnant, while resistance makes them active in responding to the problems of the present day.

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