Sufis and the spread of Islam

By Dr Masood Bhutto

Dawn: June 18, 2006.

IN the Subcontinent, the Sufis made untiring, selfless and incessant struggle for the spread of Islam. They devoted their lives and gave up their homes to champion the cause of Islam in a miraculous way. Neither did they resort to arms nor to swords for this. It was their affection, sympathy, fraternity and unlimited philanthropist actions that won the hearts of people. The spread of Islam stems from the invasion of Muhammad Bin Qasim in the Subcontinent, but roots of Sufism can be traced to the time when the first Sufi, Muhammad Alfi, came to the Subcontinent.

However, with the passage of time, many Sufis made their way here following the invasions of Muslim conquerors. They came from Central Asia and the Arabian Peninsula in order to establish an Islamic society. Sufism took shape and became an institution in the 12th and 13th century. The two great pioneers in this filed were Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani and Hazrat Shahabuddin Suharawardy. Four branches of Sufism, namely Qadriya, Chishtiya, Suharawardya and Naqshahbandya were introduced in the Subcontinent by Syed Bandqi Mohammad Ghosh, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, Shaikh Bahawaldin Lakariya and Khwaja Mohammad Baqi Billah respectively.

There is an established myth that the Sufis followed the Muslim warriors. But now it is clear that Shah Abdul Rehman had settled in Ajmer before Khwaja Moinuddin. Shaikh Ismail Bukhari came to the Subcontinent before Mahmud Ghaznavi. The Ismail missionary Adbullah landed near Cambay in AD1067 and worked in Gujarat when the country was governed by Sindhraj Jai Singh. He and his Jain teacher, Huma Charya, are said to have converted to Islam when there was no Muslim invasion recorded at the time.

During Ghazanavid rule, there was massive influx of important spiritual leaders like Hazrat Shaikh Ismail and Hazrat Ali Bin Osman Hujweri, popularly known as Data Ganj Bux. The latter was among the leading Sufi philosophers of the day. He did immense missionary work in his individual capacity and set an outstanding example for future generations.

Many scholars are of the view that the general conversion to Islam in the Subcontinent started on a sizable scale from the 13th century, after the Ghurid rule. This period coincides with the arrival of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti and the Suharawardy Sufis. This period also witnessed the expansion of Muslim power across the Sutlaj into northern India. In addition to Punjab, Sindh also claims the distinction of being the centre of Indian Sufism. According to Hassan Nizami, Suharawardy Sufis were the first to arrive in India and made their headquarters in Sindh. This order achieved much success under the leadership of Hazrat Bahwaldin Zakriya in Multan. The famous Qadriya order entered India through Sindh in AD1482. Syed Bandagi Mohammad Ghouse, one of the descendants of the founder (Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani, 1078-1116) took up residence in Sindh at Uch (now in Bahawalpur) and died in AD1517. Sakhi Sultan (Mangopir), Hazart Abdullah Shah of Karachi, Hazrat Shah Inayat of Jhok Sharif, Hazrat Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Sachal Sarmast and Qalandar Lal Shahbaz were saints of high stature in Sindh who converted many Hindus.

In Bengal, saints and servants accompanied the administrators and warriors, and established their own darghas and khanqahs. Shah Jalal of Sylhet, Makhdumul-mulk Sharfuddin and Shaikh Nur Qutb may be particularly mentioned. Shah Jalal did much for the spread of Islam in Bengal, while Shaikh Akhi Sirajuddin propagated Islam in Gaur and Pandua.

Other notable figures of the 13th century Sufi movement in Indo-Pak were the four friends known as ‘Chaharyar’ — Hazrat Fariduddin Masud Ganj Shakar of Pakpattan (1174-1266); Hazrat Syed Jalaluddin Bukhari, ulma of Uch Bahawalpur (1196- 1296); Hazrat Bahawaldin Zakariya of Multan (1170-1267); and Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalendar of Sehwan (1177-1274). It is said that 17 leading tribes of the Punjab accepted Islam at the hands of the Sufis.

Fortunately, the list of Sufis does not end here. Their exact number is beyond the capacity of this article, so only a few noteworthy Sufis can be mentioned. Mohammad Ghose, Hazrat Mian Mir of Lahore, Hazrat Syed Yakub Zanjani of Lahore, Ruknuddin Rukne Alam of Multan, who was grandson of Hazarat Bahauddin Lakariya whose family migrated from Sindh. Syed Ahmed Saqi Sarwar of D.G. Khan, Pir Jalaluddin Qutb-al-Aqtab, who died at Uch in AD1923 converted Mazaris and several other Baloch tribes to Islam, Hazarat Khardari Baba Mulla Taher of Ziarat (the visit to his tomb led to the place becoming known as Ziarat) Pir Hinqlaj of coastal Makran, Pir Baba of Swat, and Kake Sahib of Nowshero played important roles in the spread of Islam.

The Sufis were well-read, widely travelled and spiritual leaders of the masses. They succeeded in their mission because they had both the strength of character and the courage of conviction, and were selfless and devoted to their cause. Their movement made inroads in the Subcontinent and it grew powerful and successful for a number of reasons.

Firstly, before they started preaching, they set noble and brilliant example through their behaviour and conduct. Secondly, Islam was preached by them in a simple, pragmatic and flexible way, contrary to the ulemas who laid much emphasis on the rigidity of rules. Thirdly, they highlighted Allah’s positive and merciful attributes to ignite a love of God in people’s hearts. The Sufis disliked formalities and ceremonial acts, preferring to lead simple lives, and their lofty and admirable principles became guidelines for the people. They were against suppressions and social evils, condemning the use of force to gain power. Then their khanqahs were always open for everyone, and those with money had to donate generously to the needy. People flocked from time to time to the Sufis for solace and comfort.

The Sufis were triumphant because of their noble deeds and the marvellous examples they set. They never imposed their beliefs on non-Muslims. The khanqas provided protection to wanderers, institutions for those who wanted to quench their thirst for knowledge, food to the needy and love to all. People rallied round the ideology of Sufism which was simple to digest, practicable to exercise.

The Sufis converted a civilisation into a better one, which is beyond the imagination of ordinary people. The small pockets of Muslim society in towns and villages after the invasion of Muhammad Bin Qasim changed into large cities and provinces. Above all, it was the sheer straggle of the Sufis which paved the way for the future Islamic state in the Subcontinent. Had the Sufis shunned their practice of Islamic teachings in the 13th and 14th century, it would have been difficult to implant a Muslim civilisation in the country where a well-organized Hindu community had lived for centuries.