India might lead the world in the fight against terrorism and not with military prowess but with its years of rich tradition of Sufi Islamic culture. This message could be heard over and over again during the first two days of the four day long World Sufi Forum (WSF), which began on Thursday in the national capital. All speakers agreed that Sufism is the answer to combat terrorism, and congratulated Indian Sufi community on their stand against extremism. “There was a time when the world brought Sufism to India but now India has brought to the world the revival of Sufism,” said Sufisant M.K. Chishty, executive member of the All India Ulema and Mashaikh Board, which organised WSF.
Applauding the WSF initiative, Chishty pointed out that the lack of a common platform has been a major reason why Sufism hasn’t reached out to the masses. He also appealed to the world community to help spread the Sufi message. “India has shown the pathway to the Sufi and non-Sufi scholars across the world to showcase the potential of ‘Tasawwuf’ (Sufism). Now, the world must participate, too,” he said.
At the inaugural ceremony when Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the dais, he was greeted with the slogan “Bharat Mata ki Jai”. The slogan was raised first by Gulmmustufa Moumin, a BJP member, Gujarat. Modi praised Sufism as a "celebration of diversity and pluralism". "When we think of the 99 names of Allah, none stand for force or violence, and the first two names denote compassionate and merciful. Allah is Rahman and Raheem," Modi said, adding "the fight against terrorism is not confrontation against any religion".
Moumin added: “Sufi Islam is a true religion, there is nothing ‘shirk’ (sin of practicing idolatry or polytheism) in it. A large number of Indian Muslims are Sufi believers. The Deobandi extremists and Wahhabis who are speaking against the WSF are the ones doing the politics here. The PM quoted ‘hadith’ (narrative) and Quran in his speech. We are happy to have him aboard on this platform. WSF is not part of any politics. It is plain initiative to revive Sufism.”
Appreciating PM Modi’s support to the WSF, Chishty said he was happy to have him (Modi) on the WSF platform. “The AIUMB in Gujarat had been trying to convince the Government since 2006 to allow representation of Sufi scholars in the government because the state had a significant following of Sufism. This was finally appreciated by PM Modi who was already clear about what he wants to do to promote communal harmony. This is not the first time that PM Modi is supporting such a platform. In 2011, he started 34 ‘Sadhbhavna Missions’ to promote peace and communal harmony in various districts of Gujarat. He has talked about Sufism in these missions before but his audience was limited to Gujarat. We told him that there has been no Sufi leader in India since the 1950s. It is time that Sufi Islam takes the front stage,” said Chishty, who is also the chairman of Gujarat Minorities Finance & Development Corporation.
President of Global Security Institute, USA, Jonathan Glenn Granoff, who attended the forum, seconded Chishty’s view that Sufism is the antidote to extremism. He said that “the definition of security has changed, and it is no more only about security on the frontier but the security of education, healthcare etc”, adding India’s efforts in promoting Sufi spiritualism is important for a hopeful world”.
Chishty added that the media and government are two powerful pillars of democracy through which Sufism has to reach the world. “In Senegal, when Boko Haram kills 10 people it becomes breaking news, but in that same country there is a 30-year-old ‘mazar’ (shrine) of Sufi ‘Amadou Bamba’ who has a following of over 2million Africans, but nobody talks about that,” Chishti further said, emphasising how the teachings of Sufi saints can be used to contain the extremist ideology. He pointed out that Islam is facing the brunt in the politics of the world. “We have reports that say that around a lakh of Kurdish people became ‘majoosi’ (fire worshipper) because they didn’t want to stay connected with violent Islam,” said Chishty in the jam packed auditorium at Vigyan Bhavan.
Shaykh Afeefuddin Al-Gailani, the 33rd direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad and 18th direct descendant of the famous Saint, Shaykh Abdul Qadir Al-Jailani Al-Hassani, Iraq, evoked mysticism and said, “It was the wish of Khwaja (Moinuddin Chishti, Ajmer) that we all gathered here and that this congregation could be made possible.”
WSF faced criticism from the Deobandi school of thought since its inception. It alleged that politics is being played behind the forum. In a combined statement issued on 8 March in Mumbai by several associations including influential Raza Academy and All India Sunni Jamiat Ulema Board, Mahrashtra, it was alleged that “in the garb of WSF, the true motive is to create a divide among the Muslims in the name of ‘sect’ and ‘faith’, by the people who have been working for long to disrupt peace among Hindus and Muslims”. The statement also objected to the invitation extended to PM Modi as the chief guest. It had highlighted that three important religious centres of the Barelwi scholars will not be attending this conference including the leaders of the important Barelwi centres at Bareilly Sharif and Budaun Sharif. The statement further said that “attending this conference may cause certain religious and political harm to the Indian Muslims, which compelled the ulama to skip it”.
But for international scholars, WSF was a great initiative. “The scholars are right in portraying Sufism as the potential answer to terrorism. But I have no idea how long would it take or how exactly this could be achieved,” said Jaasinah, a university student from Srinagar, who came to New Delhi especially to attend WSF.
An internationally renowned fashion designer, Yousuf Bashir Qureshi said, “I must say that New Delhi is high on spirituality this March. I am happy I’ll be taking back a lot with me when I’ll go back home to Pakistan.”
Another Sufi enthusiast, Pradeep Sharma Khusro, a self-proclaimed ardent follower of Amir Khusro, emphasised on the need to revive Persian language in India. “I don’t see how Sufism can be promoted without Persian. WSF is a success. But this success after the forum will continue only with the revival of Persian. A year back Persian was removed from UPSC exams. It must be re-instated at all costs if the initiative of this forum has to become meaningful,” said Khusro.
Even though a whole session in the forum was dedicated to women Sufi scholars, there was no women speaker on the panel at the inaugural ceremony. “It would be downright wrong to say that there are no popular women Sufi saints. There are shrines of women Sufis that have huge following. But what lacks is visibility of women Sufi scholars and saints,” said Nimah Ismail Nawwab, a social empowerment leader and a Sufi poet based in Mecca.