Shaykh-ul-Islam Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, an Islamic Sufi scholar and a leading Pakistani Opposition politician, is in India to attend the World Sufi Forum (WSF), where he will address a public gathering at the Ramlila Maidan on Sunday, marking the end of the four-day long forum in New Delhi. Earlier this week, he talked to The Sunday Guardian about Sufism and India-Pak relations.
Q: Sufi scholars believe that Sufism can help combat religious extremism. Could you explain how this would happen?
A: The subject of Sufism needs to be understood in two different perspectives. First is for the individual self, so that you may enhance your critical faculties and connect your inner self with divinity; enabling yourself to receive divine light by shedding your animalistic side. You’ll get rid of your greediness, lust and corruption towards humans. A human connected with its inner-self will not disrespect the society and segregate communities. But when we talk about Sufism in context of societies and not in the context of an individual, we don’t talk in these terms, as this is a phenomenon that only few can adapt to. Not everybody can follow Sufism. The masses can only be followers of the Sufi path and practise the teachings of Sufism. While everybody can follow the Sufi teachings in their practical life, only few are able to develop their spiritual faculties. Those aiming for divine spiritualism practise a routine that the masses will find difficult to follow in their everyday lives. Khawaja Mouinuddin Chisti reported from his shaykh, if one combines three features one becomes a sufi or a saint and is considered to be a friend of God. A man in order to become a true sufi, has to be generous like the sun, he should have an open heart like the ocean, making his goodness borderless and he should be humble like the earth; everybody walks on earth and it is always under our feet, but it has no arrogance. You should consider everyone more respectable than you—that is Sufism. Sufism doesn’t exist in certain acts of worship. Islamic Sufism is not conditional, with any particular dress, place or lifestyle. If people adopt its teachings then it’ll bridge the gap in society. If Islam is the body then Sufism is its soul. But if the soul goes out of the body then the body dies. Without Sufism any religion would remain just a dead body; only a set of certain laws and rules, devoid of its core.
Q: Why has Sufism witnessed a decline?
A: Sufism is universal. It exists within every religion and we, the people are responsible for its decline. We stopped practising Sufism. Rather than being used for good, its name is being misused. We need a revival of Sufi teachings, we need to propagate it and implement it in our lives. When we think in spiritual terms then we’ll also be able to talk about forgiving other people. Our bodies represent matter and our souls represent our spirit. The body has its own needs but the soul comes from the Divine and so it has some Divine habits. The body wants to eat, the soul wants to fast. The body wants sleep, the spirit for its awakening would want to wake up in the middle of the night and pray. The body wants to rest but the soul wants a little bit of restlessness. Both the body and the soul have their own necessities and require nourishment. It is on us to create that balance in our lives. The materialistic approach to everything has to be minimised. We see that only the outer amenity has been kept but on the inside, our values have left us. Revival of the spiritual aspects of religion is a must so that there will be no room for terrorism or violence. You’ll be bound to be kind to every person because every person is the creation of your God. We have forgotten about this way of teaching. This needs to be brought back. This would promote tolerance and patience. Sufism is not exclusive to Islam, there can be Hindu Sufism or Christian Sufism. All we have to do is focus on the spiritual side of our religious teachings.
Q: Is the rise in Islamic extremism a direct consequence of the decline of Islamic Sufism?
A: I disagree with this term Islamic terrorism. No such thing like Islamic extremism exists. You can’t associate a criminal act with any religion. I won’t ever ascribe such activities to any religion and say that it is Hindu terrorism or it is Christian terrorism or Jewish terrorism. Terrorism is a crime and it does not have affiliations with any religion. An extremist is only an extremist and a terrorist is only a terrorist. If a person steals something then we only call him/her a thief and not a Hindu or a Muslim thief. We need to disassociate religion from terrorism. Terrorism is in itself a religion, the religion of killing mankind. Originally, these people who are terrorists are born in a family that believes in a particular faith. First they become an extremist and then a terrorist. Up until the time they are an extremist, they still manage to remain within the ambit of the religion even though they are working against the religion. But the moment they take up arms and believe that killing innocents is right, they stop being humans. It begins with the wrong interpretations of the Quran that change their ideas. Then there are also other forces in countries who want to destabilise the area for fulfilling their greed. They themselves are in trouble and so they want to trouble others as well. I am talking about the Middle East. Groups are formed and funded and ultimately they become ISIS or Al-Qaeda. These organisations did not come into existence overnight. There is a whole story behind their making. You should be asking how ISIS is allowed to sell their oil and who is buying it and why they are buying it. So there are political motivations behind the rise of present day terrorism. The Al-Qaeda became a terrorist group only after it was rendered useless to the people who created it. The international community has not been fair in fighting and eliminating terrorism.
Q: India has a rich heritage of Sufi culture. What would you suggest the country should do more to promote its Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb?
A: I really appreciate the cultural pluralism in India. This idea has existed ever since civilsations of the past. Hindus, Buddhists, Christians — all have been living in India together. The idea of co-existence was also introduced by the Prophet Mohammad. When he came to Madina, he talked about one nation that includes Muslims and non-Muslims without any territorial boundaries. Similarly, India too is blessed with the same beauty. It is the land of various religions. New religions have originated on this land. This concept of living together as one nation should be propagated. The only way of survival in such a diverse country is tolerance. People need to try to understand each other and resolve issues with dialogues, that is how democracy works. Love and tolerance should always prevail.
Q: Are you satisfied with the efforts that the governments of India-Pakistan are putting in to promote bilateral relationship?
A: We need to do a lot more. Until now the relationship of trust is still lacking between the two countries. The only way to establish that trust is to realise that peaceful co-existence is important for both. India and Pakistan need to sit down and talk with open minds. The questions that need to be asked are: Have India and Pakistan decided to live all their lives as enemies or is there a future where they see each other existing like friendly neighbours? Have the two nations thought of moving on from their quarrels and focus on the development of their people? We could try to eliminate poverty in both the countries, provide better education to our masses, bring financial security to our people. There is so much that we could do as friends. If the two nations understand the importance of prosperity then there won’t be any need for barbs and wires. India-Pakistan need to decide to allow peace to prevail to put an end to hostilities and misunderstandings by indulging in open dialogues. I think that we need to find out our common enemy. We should not think that Pakistan is India’s enemy or India is Pakistan’s enemy. We won’t move to a better future if we kept thinking in terms of animosity. We need to spot our common enemy. Our common enemy is extremism and terrorism. Poverty, illiteracy, inequality is our common enemy. These are the real enemies that we need to fight. The India-Pak subcontinent has the best of the talents. But we need to provide an atmosphere where we can allow these talents to flourish. We should spend our budgets for socio-economic equality and development.
Q: So are the dialogues of the two countries on the right path?
A: I have been seeing such dialogues for the last 30-40 years now. There have been dialogues during the times of Ayub Khan, Indira Gandhi and during the reign of all the other leaders. But these dialogues were just for the sake of holding dialogues. No result came out of that. I have been emphasising on changing the mindset. Like I said before, they have to decide first for how long do they plan to continue the hostility. Only after that would any kind of dialogue be successful.
Q: What is Pakistan’s Sufism contributing to world peace?
A: I would like to say that Sufism in its true letter and spirit is not being practised by any of the two countries. In order to counter the narrative of terrorism, Sufism needs to be re-emphasised. We need to revive it and propagate the message of Sufism. The Sufi ideology of openness and forgiveness should be brought to the forefront, so that the West can see it as the solution against terrorism and this needs to come from the South-Asian countries.