Terror and violence have become central to contemporary political discussion on Islam, as is the case with narratives of medieval Islamic conquests. By contrast, visits to Sufi dargahs or tombs offer different kinds of experiences—spiritual, devotional and peaceful. Medieval Sufi discourses preach the same, emphasising the need for tolerance and forgiveness. Some anecdotes relating to one of the foremost Sufi masters, Nizamuddin Auliya, indicate how it was possible to lead a life full of love even amidst all kinds of violations.
ON FORGIVENESS: The Chishti Sufi master explicated that if someone puts thorns in one’s path and one does the same in retaliation, there will be thorns everywhere. The better thing to do is to ignore, forgive and forget. The adversary will eventually mend his ways; his heart will develop compassion, and bitterness will give way to either tolerance or respectful indifference.
This was one of the ways in which Sufis were able to win the hearts of many antagonists; the intransigent detractors needed stronger treatment, but generally Sufis recommended introspection.
ON RENUNCIATION: The patron saint of Delhi, Hazrat Nizamuddin observed that the world was like a shadow; it chases you, but if you start pursuing it, it keeps running away from you. The Sufis, therefore, recommended distance from the world and tark-e duniya (renunciation). For Hazrat Nizamuddin, tark-e duniya did not mean one should wear a langota (loincloth) and go to live in a jungle to devote oneself in worship. A greater form of worship is to live in the world, avoiding trappings of power and prestige and devoting to the service of humankind. Service to humanity is, indeed, the best form of worship in Sufi practice, tariqa. Sufis believed, since God has created everything, the best expression of love and devotion for Him is to live in the world, marvel at the beauty of God’s creation and serve it without expecting anything in return, except His mercy and approval at the end.
Hazrat Nizamuddin observed that the world was like a shadow; it chases you, but if you start pursuing it, it keeps running away from you.
GIFT A NEEDLE, NOT A KNIFE: Nizamuddin has narrated that his spiritual master (pir) and a leading Punjabi Sufi, Baba Farid Ganj-i-Shakar, was once gifted a knife by an innocent disciple. Farid said that a needle may be a better gift for a knife cuts, whereas needle sews. Stitching hearts and minds of people, uniting them in love for God is central to the Sufi mystical practices; by contrast, knives and swords were meant to harm, divide and conquer through violence.
ON THE VIRTUE OF FEEDING: Nizamuddin has said guests visiting a home or hospice (khanqah or jama’at khana), must be offered food, or at least a glass of water if there is nothing else to serve immediately, else it would appear that the person had gone to a graveyard to visit the dead, where the dead person cannot serve the visitor. Therefore, the norm at Nizamuddin’s hospice was: salam, ta’am, and kalam. The visitor would enter saying salam, would be seated and, straightaway would be offered food (ta’am), and then the conversation (kalam) would start.
In all this, there would be no caste and creed distinctions, untouchability or ritual pollution. Only respect for fellow human beings, friends or guests were to be shown. Feeding the hungry, especially a poor man or a stray dog, was particularly considered a meritorious act.
URS AND MUSIC: Sufis claim they never die and their death anniversary is celebrated as a marriage ceremony, Urs (Arabic: wedding). The Sufis thought their death was like going to God in marriage, a culmination of their love for Him. Sufis’ love for music is well-known and a traditional Indian baraat-party is also nothing without music and “band-baja”. Nizam-ud-Din Auliya wrote in his wasiyat (will) that music should be played in his funeral procession. From the point of view of the guardians of the Shari’at, this would have been heretical. Therefore, on Nizamuddin’s death, a close disciple and respected scholar took upon himself the responsibility of not following the Sufi master’s will. The burial procession marched in silence, as was the usual practice, the defiance of which would have been a great moment in the history of Sufism, of music, and of personal choice—even if very controversial. Nizamuddin might have retorted: There was nothing un-Islamic in what the qawwals sang and sometimes their resonant voice did not need instruments to amplify the impact of their singing. For the Chishti saint, qawwals were to be respected as messengers of the Messenger of God.
In these days of intolerance and hatred, some commonly held Sufi practices are also under attack, but qawwals continue to sing the song of love, benefiting the spiritually starved who throng Sufi shrines in large numbers.