Posts Tagged ‘ Sufi ’

Pakistani and Indian Chefs Compete on Reality TV

By Sebastian Abbot for The Associated Press

For decades, archenemies Pakistan and India have engaged in a dangerous nuclear arms race. Now they’re also competing in a more cheerful forum. The outcome will be mouthwatering curries and soothing Sufi ballads, not violent conflict.

The fractious neighbors are going head-to-head in a pair of reality TV shows that pit chefs and musicians against each other. Producers hope the contests will help bridge the gulf between two nations that were born from the same womb and have been at each other’s throats ever since.

But so far it hasn’t completely worked out that way. The top Pakistani chef on the cooking show, which is called Foodistan, quit the contest early. He accused the judges of bias toward India and is threatening to sue. The producers denied the allegations.

Pakistan and India were founded in 1947 following the breakup of the British empire. They have fought three major wars, two of them over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

The TV shows do not try to hide or brush over this painful history. They make light of it.

“Now the world’s greatest rivalry is going to get spicier,” said co-host Ira Dubey during one of the early episodes of Foodistan, which first aired in India on Jan. 23 and will be shown in Pakistan starting in mid-February.

Her counterpart, Aly Khan, said the aim of the two teams “would be to grind the opposition into chutney, to make them eat humble pie, to dice them, slice them and fry them on their way to culinary glory.”

Eight chefs from each country were scheduled for individual and team competitions over 26 one-hour episodes, with the winner authoring the first Foodistan cookbook and receiving a trip to three cities of his or her choice anywhere in the world.

There is significant overlap in the cuisines of both countries, as there is in language, music and culture. Pakistanis and Indians both love curry, kebab and biryani – a spiced rice dish. But they often use different ingredients, and dishes can also vary from one region to another within the same country.

Pakistani dishes often include beef, which is not eaten by many people in majority Hindu India for religious reasons. India has more vegetarian dishes, and the food is often cooked with ingredients like coconut milk that are rarely found in Pakistan.

Many Pakistanis and Indians have missed out on enjoying the varied tastes of the other country because mutual enmity has made cross-border travel difficult.

“Even though they are neighbors, Indians don’t know what Pakistani food is like and vice versa,” said Mirza Fahad, a production assistant at India’s NDTV, which developed Foodistan. “It was long overdue to get to know each other’s foods.”

During the first cook-off on the show, filmed in New Delhi, the judges gave four chefs from each side two hours to prepare a biryani, curry, kebab and dessert. Each of the three judges gave the team’s meal a score out of 10.

The judges loved the Iranian-inspired fish biryani cooked by the Pakistanis, their chicken kebab stuffed with figs, olives, bread and mango chutney, and their shahi tukda – a dessert of fried bread soaked in hot milk with spices. They scored 21 out of a possible 30, losing points because a dish of chicken in shalimar curry was a tad chewy.

The Indians ended up winning the first contest by one point with a menu that included chicken tikka with truffle cream, cheese kofta in a tomato and water chestnut curry, lamb biryani and phirni – a sweet rice pudding that they topped with strawberry granita.

The captain of the Pakistani team, Mohammed Naeem, executive chef at the Park Plaza Hotel in Lahore, alleged the judges didn’t have enough knowledge of Pakistani food and were destined from the beginning to pick an Indian to win.

The judges included a British chef, an Indian food critic and a Bollywood actress of Pakistani and French descent.

Another member of the team, Akhtar Rehman, a chef at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, said concerns about the judges were fairly widespread on the Pakistani side, but Naeem was the only one to quit.

It remains to be seen whether the music competition – Sur Kshetra, or Musical Battlefield – also will spark ill will.

The contest, which is being filmed in Dubai, is scheduled to air in Pakistan and India starting in mid-February, said Mohammed Zeeshan Khan, a general manager at Pakistan’s Geo TV, which is developing the show.

“Music can unite people across borders and bring them closer together,” said Khan.

The competition will include teams of six musicians from each country between the ages of 18 and 27. The teams will be mentored by two well-known pop singers and actors, Pakistani Atif Aslam and Indian Himesh Reshammiya. They will compete across a range of genres, including jazz, pop, rock and qawwali – traditional Sufi Muslim ballads that are popular in both countries, said Khan.

The grand prize is still being worked out, but Khan said the winner can claim to be “the new musical icon for the subcontinent.”

This is not Prophet Muhammad’s Islam

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

The steady stream of negative news about the twisted way Islam is being practiced around the world seems to never end. In my view, it is not how the Prophet would have wanted his followers to behave.

Just when I thought I was beginning to get used to the ridiculousness of the news coming out of Saudi Arabia, where a religious edict is trying to force women there with beautiful eyes to  completely cover up their face in order to stop the temptation of the men, along comes the grim news of Gulnaz  from Afghanistan. If you are not familiar with Gulnaz’s story, let me give you the facts.

Two years ago, in 2009, Gulnaz, a 19 year old single girl who lived with her elderly mother in Afghanistan, was brutally raped by her cousin’s husband. To describe the events, she recalls that on this day, the rapist came into her house when her mother left for a brief visit to the hospital. “He had filthy clothes on as he does metal and construction work. When my mother went out, he came into my house and he closed doors and windows. I started screaming, but he shut me up by putting his hands on my mouth,” she said.

Afterwards, she hid what had happened out of shame and fear, as shockingly there is no difference seen between women who are raped and women who commit actual adultery.  In Afghanistan and in many conservative Muslim countries, any sex outside marriage, whether the guilty party is single or married is considered adultery by the society and the justice system.

A few weeks after her rape, she began to vomit and started showing signs of pregnancy with her attacker’s child. Instead of sympathy and proof of her ordeal, she was charged and found guilty of adultery by the courts and for having sex outside marriage and was sentenced to twelve years in prison. She has already served two years and even gave birth to her rapist’s child, a little girl, in Kabul’s Badam Bagh jail where sadly, her innocent daughter is being raised in captivity alongside the unfortunate mother.

Rather than being freed from jail and given justice for her painful ordeal, the only way out of the dishonor of rape or adultery for her is incredibly only by marrying her attacker. In Afghan culture, and indeed in most Muslim communities, this is believed to be the only way to restore a woman’s honor, by marrying the man who she had sex with, damned be the fact whether it was willingly or unwillingly!

Sadly in many Muslim countries, rape remains a common form of violence against women. In addition, women are often blamed for being the victim of rape. Islam however, views rape as a violent crime against the victim, against society, and against God. The perpetrator who commits a crime is morally and legally responsible for that crime and should be held accountable. The victim, who is an unwilling partner in the sex act and so should bear neither blame nor stigma associated with the unfortunate act. To either ostracize or condemn the victim because she was compelled to engage in sexual intercourse is against the laws of Islam since the victim was an unwilling, and therefore a blameless, participant.

As common as her story and circumstances are for a woman in Afghanistan, the world has only learned of it due to a chance foreign documentary.  Gulnaz’s ordeal came to light because of a dispute between filmmakers and the European Union who hired the crew to film a documentary on the improving situation of women’s rights in Afghanistan and the assistance that the EU has been providing in the better treatment of women in the country. It was only when the documentarians came across her story and the grave injustice being done to Gulnaz and indeed by some accounts, hundreds of women across Afghanistan in similar circumstances, that the EU decided to cancel the project out of fear of harming their relations with Afghan government and institutions. Officially the EU states that it fears for the safety of the women in the film as they could be identified and face reprisals but many human rights organizations believe it is due to the fact that the film shows Afghan justice system in a poor light and the EU is concerned about the Afghan government’s sensitivities to the situation. It is despicable that the EU is more concerned with the sensitivities of the Afghan government rather than fighting for justice for Gulnaz.

Customs such as these in Afghanistan or the recent religious ruling in Saudi Arabia warning women to cover their attractive eyes, or the continued religious persecution of Christians and other minorities in Pakistan through the egregious blasphemy laws as seen in the case of Aasia Bibi, only serve to illustrate to many within and outside Islam the tremendous challenges that exist in what is right and what is logically very wrong and goes against all sense of justice and common sense, not to mention the very essence of Islam.

I am certainly not arguing for making any changes in the Quran or interpretations of religious text or any wholesale revisions whatsoever. That would not only be blasphemous but also counterproductive and unnecessary. Furthermore,  a big part of the beauty of our religion stems from the fact that it has remained unchanged as we Muslims believe that mutations and changes in both the Bible and the Torah necessitated the need for a third Abrahamic religion, Islam,  to arrive some 1400+ years ago to “set the record straight” after all the changes over the years in the two earlier Holy Books. Instead, I believe the only thing that needs to occur is the realization amongst the leaders and countries of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) that in this day and age, there are certain rights and freedoms that should be guaranteed to citizens of all countries of the world and this does not require any changes in the great religion but rather some simple changes in the current laws.

Aristotle once said that “You can judge a nation by the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens”. You could be a Hindu or a Christian in Pakistan, a woman in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia or a homosexual or transgendered person in Iran, you do not deserve to lose your life or liberty under the guise of religious laws. Allah almighty is a just and fair God in Islam, just as he is in the Christian and Jewish faiths. He most certainly would never condone the treatment of Gulnaz, Aasia Bibi and countless other poor souls who are being mistreated under the banner of Islam.

I am not a religious scholar and nor do I profess to know everything I need to know about Islam, Christianity and many other religions. Some may even question my faith and belief in calling myself Muslim simply because I am asking these tough questions, and in their version of Islam, you never question, you simply obey. Lest they forget, Islam also clearly states to seek knowledge and to be just and fair and respectful of other religions.  “Surely those who believe and those who are Jews and the Sabians and the Christians whoever believes in Allah and the last day and does good — they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve.” (Quran 5:69)

I am however certain that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would indeed be very upset with the current state of affairs of most Muslim countries when it comes to morality, religious freedoms,  respect for other religions and the treatment of women. Sadly, I do not see the changes necessary coming into being voluntarily by these nations, I believe it is incumbent of the benefactors of these nations, such as the United Nations, United States, the European Union, China and other trading partners, to push for better treatment of women and religious minorities in many Muslim countries of the world.  It is high time that they pressure these nations into enacting basic rights and freedoms for all people, regardless of their race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. It must become a precursor to being a part of the civilized nations of the world and in being a member of the world community of nations. Freedom after all is what the Arab Spring is all about!

-Manzer Munir, a proud American of Pakistani descent, is a practicing Sufi Muslim and member of Muslims for Progressive Values, he is also the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer.

Seeking Solace in Sufism

By Renuka Deshpande for Daily News & Analysis

The city’s metamorphosis from a sleepy town to a metropolis has left most of us long for peace and contentment. This is why Punekars are taking to Sufism as a quest for harmony and the need to seek refuge in the promise of hope and love.

Sufism or Tasawwuf, the mystical arm of Islam, which is inwardly directed, deals with the soul’s relationship with god. It advocates oneness with god and urges that everything men do, be driven by one sole motivation — the love of god. The word Sufi means ‘clothed in wool’, reveals Dr Zubair Fattani in his article The Meaning of Tasawwuf, and is metaphoric of the inwardness of Islam wrapped in its exterior expressions.

Over the centuries, it has found expression in the ecstatic and reflective poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi, Baba Bulleh Shah, Hafiz, Rabia and Moinuddin Chisti and others, which is increasingly popular in the city.

Bookshelves laden with books on Sufism and its various expressions in poetry, music and dance are a common sight, as are the collections featuring Sufi music maestros like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Abida Parveen, Kailash Kher and the Sabri brothers, among many illustrious others.

Jyoti Mate, a city Sufi music and dance therapist, uses this mystical dimension to heal all those who seek solace in it. The whirling dervishes, the most iconic symbol of Sufism, are the basic element of Sufi dance and represent the earth rotating around the sun, also symbolic of the universe.

“Sufi dance helps stir pent-up and suppressed emotions within oneself. The hands are outspread while whirling and the head is thrown off-centre. A lot is metaphorical in Sufism, dance being no exception. The raising of the right hand and facing it skyward indicates absorption of knowledge from the heavens and the left hand which is pointed downwards, palm-down, passes it on to others.The head thrown off-centre is an urge to be non-egocentric, so that the ego doesn’t grow further. The cap used by Sufis is made of camel hair and is of a specific height, again symbolising the curtailing of the ego,” she says.

Mate adds that response to her therapy sessions has steadily grown since she first started in June 2008 and people often break into tears after the session is over.

On the music front, there is Ruhaniyat, the all-India Sufi and mystic music festival presented by Banyan Tree, which has been coming to Pune for the past eight years. The seven-city festival brings with it Baul musicians from West Bengal, comprising Sufi Muslims and Vaishnav Hindus, the Manganiars from Rajasthan singing Sufi folk music from the state, qawwals like the Sabri brothers and Turkish Sufi musician Latif Bolat, among others. Nandini Mukesh, director of Banyan Tree, who also emcees Ruhaniyat, says that the festival has elicited phenomenal response in the city.

“Last year, our attendance read around 1,800 people. We found ourselves continually adding chairs,” she says adding that the audience in Pune is very evolved and sophisticated and comes with an understanding of the music played at the festival.

Speaking of the musical response she receives at Ruhaniyat, Nandini says, “Baul songs are incredibly symbolic and metaphorical and touch a chord within people. Qawwalis comprise incredibly powerful musical compositions and progressions, but the Hindi and Urdu lyrics are simple to understand. Beyond a point, however, words cease to matter and the musical experience turns mystical and takes precedence.”

The popularity of Sufi rock bands like Junoon from Pakistan, along with Coke Studio, has also led to the emergence of Sufi rock bands like Chakra in the city, which does a lot of covers of Pakistani Sufi music songs, along with some original compositions featuring dohas of Baba Bulleh Shah and Kabir.

The Osho Meditation Resort in Koregaon Park, has whirling meditation sessions every Wednesday. Ma Amrit Sadhana of the resort, says the eyes are kept open and unfocused while whirling, which forms the first stage of the meditation technique, the second being rest.

“The response to these sessions is great. Watching so many people be a part of the session, and the sight of them totally engrossed in whirling is beautiful,” she adds.

Sheetal Sanghvi of The Urban Ashram, which hosts many Sufi music and dance workshops, is bringing Sheikha Khadija to Pune in November for a whirling meditation workshop. Khadija is a Sheikha in the Mevlevi Order of America.

“Sufism promotes unity and love and the response to our Sufi workshops is really growing. This is because orthodox systems of religious beliefs sometimes don’t narrate to the soul as well as they should. Sufism, with its teachings, gives hope to people,” he adds.

Islamic scholar Anees Chishti, who isn’t a Sufi but has studied it, is skeptical of this current trend of what he feels is pop-Sufism.

“Sufism requires penance and meditation. Sufi rock and dances are nothing but a Western concept. They call the whirling movements dervishes, but the term, is durvesh, dur meaning pearl and vesh meaning hanging, in Persian. So the composite means ‘hanging like a pearl’. In Turkey, during the time of Rumi, the head of the khanqah or mystic hall, was a durvesh. When he played the daf and sang mystical poetry, people listening to him would go in a trance and start whirling. So ‘durvesh’ refers to a person and not a bodily movement. All this pageantry is a marketing tactic,” he says.

Opinions on the topic are many and varied, but most will agree that Sufism in its numerous interpretations in literature, music and dance does feel divine.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Amongst literally hundreds of favorite Rumi quotes, one of our top one sums up life very well when he said: “All day I think about it, then at night I say it. Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that, and I intend to end up there.”

Memorial for Noor Inayat Khan, SOE Agent and Daughter of Sufi teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan

As Reported by The Sufi Times

This past New Years Day would have marked the 96th birthday of Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan, an Indian muslim woman who was shot dead in a Nazi concentration camp in September 1944, after being the first female radio operator to infiltrate occupied France.

Her courage and self-sacrifice during World War II are to be honoured by a memorial which has been proposed to be raised in London’s Bloomsbury area next year. It will be the first war memorial in Britain either for a Muslim or an Asian woman.

The project has the support of 34 Members of Parliament and a number of prominent British Asians, including human rights activist Shami Chakrabarti and film director Gurinder Chadha, OBE. Permission has been granted by London University and the local authority to build a sculpture in Gordon Square. A sculptor has already been commissioned and the organisers now need to raise £60,000 to complete the project, of which about £25,000 has already been raised.

Noor Inayat Khan was the daughter of acclaimed Sufi teacher and musician, Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882 – 1927), who was one of the first people to bring Sufi teachings to the modern Western world. He established the “Sufi Order in the West”, which survives in various forms to this day and has followers around the world.

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s great-grandfather was Tipu Sultan, a king of Mysore who ruled during the time of the East India compay and who had died in battle against the Duke of Wellington in 1799. Hazrat Inayat Khan had been initiated into the Suhrawardiyya, Qadiriyya and Naqshbandi tariqas, but his primary initiation was from Shaykh Muhammed Abu Hashim Madani into the Nizamiya branch of the Chishti order (named after Shaykh Nizamuddin Auliya, died 1325).

Being an accomplished musician, Hazrat Inayat Khan went to America to tour with a group of musicians, playing mainly traditional court music on his veena and singing. During this time, he attracted a number of students to Sufism and met his wife, Ora Meena Ray Baker, an American from New Mexico who was of English-Irish-Scottish descent. They had their first child, Noor, in Moscow (1914), where Inayat Khan had gone to perform. Three more children were to follow: Vilayat (1916), Hidayat (1917) and Khair-un-Nisa (1919).

When Noor was four years old the family moved to Paris. Noor grew up in an environment steeped in Sufi teachings. Her father established a Sufi centre and regularly held Sufi meditation meetings with a growing number of students, lectured widely and authored a number of books.

Noor went on to study at the Sorbonne, and in her mid-20’s became an author of children’s stories. At the outbreak of war Noor’s family returned to her motherland and they moved into rooms in Bloomsbury Square in London. The site of the memorial which is to built in her name is, therefore, very appropriate.

Both Noor and her brother Vilayat decided they would do something to help the Allied Forces in their efforts against the Nazi threat. Vilayat joined the RAF (Royal Air Force) and trained as a pilot, whilst Noor joined the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force). Because of her fluent French, she was given a position in the new Special Operations Executive (SOE) of the British Secret Service. The SOE was desperately looking for radio operators who could be positioned in enemy territory to send back intelligence by wireless.

Her recruiters were not at first convinced of her suitability for the role. One of them noted, “Not overburdened with brains but has worked hard and shown keenness, apart from some dislike of [the] security side of the course. She has an unstable and temperamental personality and it is very doubtful whether she is really suited to work in the field.”

But in June 1943, she became the first female SOE agent to be parachuted into enemy occupied territory in France. According to Sir Colin Gubbins, head of the SOE, she had “occupied the principal and most dangerous post in France”. As a radio operator she was on the front line of intelligence operations, a dangerous role not for the faint-hearted. She was once stopped by the Gestapo whilst cycling with her radio equipment, but managed to convince them that it was a cinema projector.

However, it eventually transpired that the French resistance group she had been sent to help had already been infiltrated by Nazi agents and within weeks of her arrival hundreds of operatives had been arrested and shot.

Noor turned down the opportunity to return to Britain, choosing to remain behind as the SOE’s only radio contact in or near Paris. She was given a life-expectancy of three weeks, but survived for three months.

But then she was betrayed by Renée Garry, the sister of one of her French Resistance colleagues. The reason for this betrayal is not clear. Some reports say Garry was jealous of Noor’s role as an SOE agent, others say she was jealous of her beauty. In any case, she was seized by the German Gestapo and taken to a concentration camp in Pflozheim. Here she was routinely tortured for weeks, but refused to give up any information to her interrogators.

On 11 September 1944, Noor, together with three other female SOE colleagues, were taken by cars to the concentration camp in Dachau, arriving in the dark. During the night, they were tortured again. Early on the morning of September 12, they were marched out to the dog kennels, forced to kneel two by two and each was shot in the back of the head. Their bodies were incinerated in Dachau’s infamous ovens. Her last words before she died were ‘liberte’.

Shrabani Basu is Noor Inayat Khan’s biographer and founder of the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust. She spent eight years researching Noor’s life from war archives and family records, and has more recently been involved in the planning of the new memorial. Basu remarked, “I feel it is very important that what she did should not be allowed to fade from memory, particularly living in the times that we do. Here was a young Muslim woman who gave her life for this country and for the fight against those who wanted to destroy the Jewish race. She was an icon for the bond that exists between Britain and India but also between people who fought for what they believed to be right.”

Of the SOE’s 55 female agents, 13 died in action or at the hands of the Nazis. One of those killed (Violette Szabo) and one who survived (Odette Hallowes) have had popular movies made about their lives.

The initial unfavourable assessment made by Noor’s recruiters was in stark contrast to the note that her commander and head the SOE’s French section, Maurice Buckmaster, later made of her: “A most brave and touchingly keen girl. She was determined to do her bit to hit the Germans and, poor girl, she has.”

In France, Noor is already widely recognized as a war hero. There are two memorials for her, and a ceremony is held each year.

In 1975, a commemoration plaque was installed at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, by the State of Massachusetts. It displays Noor’s name and the names of the three others who were executed with her on September 12th 1944.

To this day, nothing has been built in Britain to commemorate the life of this Indian Sufi Muslim woman who courageously sacrificed her life for freedom and the British contribution to the war against Fascism. It is hoped that the proposed memorial will be built to redress this oversight.

How Many Sufis Are There in Islam?

By Stephen Schwartz for The Huffington Post

Devotees of Sufism, the spiritual interpretation of Islam, face problems wherever they are found. In the West, many self-styled Sufis have never become Muslim, know little of the religious background of the Sufi way, and give Sufism a reputation as simply another flavor of New-Age, “weekend” mysticism. In Muslim lands, especially in the Arab core countries, classic Sufi authors may be praised while living Sufi teachers are derided as un-Islamic charlatans. And in some places, Sufis are imprisoned and murdered.

As a Muslim Sufi adherent, however, I am troubled especially by another expression of contempt very widely cast against Sufism by Islam-hating amateur experts in the West. That is the claim of Sufi irrelevance. Since the horror of Sept. 11, now almost a decade past, the identification of a moderate and contemplative form of Islam, which can oppose radical and fundamentalist doctrines, has seemed of considerable importance both for the moral health of Muslim believers and for the security of non-Muslims and Muslims alike. But the Sufi alternative to Islamist extremism is neglected or even disparaged, typically, by Muslim and non-Muslim commentators.

Western misperception of the importance of Sufis in Islamic life is complicated by lack of clarity as to who and what Sufis are. Sufis often enjoy great prestige with the mass of Muslims, based on Sufi examples of personal humility in fervor for God and Sufi preaching of love for humanity. But Sufis are not, mainly, other-worldly, exotic individuals or groups that spend all their time absorbed in semah (ecstatic turning on one foot and other forms of dance).

Some Sufis withdraw from the daily affairs of society, but others pursue satisfaction of the Creator by seeking social justice through improvement of popular education and services to the needy, such as housing of the homeless and free distribution of food. Rather than disappearing in a misty aura of meditation, numerous Sufis around the Muslim world contribute actively to defense of the victims of oppression.

Sufis may also take on the risky challenge of overt political engagement. This has been seen most strikingly in Turkish developments over the past two decades. Turkish Sufis were suppressed by the secularist regime established in the 1920s, but flourished in clandestinity, and have now emerged to lead Islamist parties and to assume positions in government. How the relations between Turkish Islamist politicians and Turkish and Kurdish Sufis will evolve remains to be seen.

Essential principles shared by most Muslim Sufis include emphasis on commonalities with other faiths and traditions, which has contributed to improved relations between Muslims and Jews, Christians, Buddhists and other non-Islamic believers. Commentators concerned to denigrate Islam altogether have asserted that Sufis, even if they embody moderation and mutual respect among people of religion, comprise no more than 5 percent of the world’s Muslims. Since the importance of Sufism stands, in the minds of many Westerners, on demographic measurement, let us therefore ask: How many Sufis are found in the Muslim world?

I would first observe that Sufis are present, persistently, in every Muslim population, including those where they were persecuted the longest: Saudi Arabia. Although the Saudi kingdom prohibited and punished possession of Sufi books and the practice of Sufi observances, the country always possessed a thriving Sufi underground with access to the heights of power. Before his elevation to the throne in 2005, then-Saudi Crown Prince, and now King Abdullah, who favored Sufis, gained them the right to hold zikr (remembrance of God by vocal or silent chanting, singing and bodily movements) in their homes.

In some countries Sufism is praised as an item of a proud heritage while it is repressed in daily life. The most obvious such example is that of Iran. The clerical regime established by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini could not act easily against Sufis, since so many famous Sufis — such as Jalaladdin Rumi, the 13th century author believed by many to be, currently, the most widely read poet in the West — wrote in Persian, and Sufi texts became the national literature of the Iranians.

But while the Tehran clerics honor the Sufis of the past, they repress Sufis in the present. Sufis have most often functioned as an alternative to clerical authority in Islam, and widely represented Iranian Sufi bodies like the Nimatullahi-Gonabadi dervish order and the “hidden,” Kurdish-speaking Ahl-e Haqq or “people of truth” have sustained a difficult challenge to the Iranian authorities. Iranian Sufis have been arrested and disappeared into the obscurity of the prisons, with some doubtless dealt a fatal destiny.

As certain Islamic countries are ambivalent about Sufism, in other Muslim societies we see variations in the intensity of Sufi “activism.” Analyzing Islamic Sufism, I have generally divided Muslim territories between those in which Sufism has a deep but informal influence in local Islam, in contrast with those where it has a well-established institutional presence.

In the great Eurasian expanses, Islam is widely permeated by Sufi teachings and customs. From my travels, observation and participation in Muslim life, I have seen and experienced that Sufi-oriented Islam is prevalent among Slavic and Russian Turkic Muslims, dominant in Central Asia, and widely-represented in South Asia and in Southeast Asia. Across this heartland, Sufi authors are studied and throngs of pilgrims visit Sufi shrines or otherwise commemorate the lives of Sufi saints.

Elsewhere the spiritual heritage is maintained by powerful, organized orders, sometimes called “brotherhoods” although they typically include female disciples. These are prominent in North Africa, French-speaking West Africa, East Africa, the Albanian lands, plus Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan and Iran.

In Turkey, most Muslims are Sufi either by identification with the normative Sunnism subsidized by the state, which exalted Sufis and places the works of Rumi in all Turkish mosques, or by participation in Sufi orders as well as widespread, part-time study circles and other voluntary communities that teach an esoteric Islam. Others are involved in more singular phenomena like the Turkish-Kurdish, Shia-Sufi-shamanist Alevi movement. As a different variant in the Sufi continuum, Indonesia possesses a Sufi civic movement of national scope — the Nahdatul Ulama (NU) organization. Returning to South Asia, organized Sufism there is enacted with a backdrop of a broader, “cultural” Sufism and is under bloody attack by radicals.

Aggregating Sufi-influenced Muslims with active Muslim Sufis from Senegal to Singapore, I believe it is realistic to claim a large plurality, at least, of the world’s 1.3-plus billion Muslims. This should be a source of optimism for those who seek conciliation, rather than confrontation, between the world’s religions, affecting positively both the direction of Islam and the image of Islam among non-Muslims. For these reasons, more concentrated attention on the Sufis by social-science investigators and other experts would be welcome.

With Friends Like Pakistan…

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Many people in Pakistan these days are wondering why their nation often finds itself on the wrong side of recent history. First, there is the continued and unjust imprisonment of a Christian Pakistani woman named Asia Bibi who has been languishing in jail for nearly two years. She has been given a death sentence for allegedly making derogatory remarks about the prophet Muhammad.

Then there was the killing of Salman Taseer, who was the then sitting governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, by one of his own bodyguards for his outspoken support for Asia’s rights and her freedom. Instead of swift punishment and public outcry at his actions, the killer, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, was showered with rose petals by some cheering members of the bar association of Lahore when he came to the courthouse for formal charges of murder. Yes, members of the judiciary were cheering his unilateral action of murdering another human being simply for his support towards a condemned non Muslim woman’s rights.

You can only imagine the warped sense of logic and justice in a country where lawyers cheer the cold blooded murder of an innocent man whose only crime was to come at the aid of a condemned Christian mother of two children.

Fast forward to a few months later, the extremists managed to assassinate the only Christian member of President Asif Ali Zardari’s government when the Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, was killed in a hail of bullets by unknown gunmen who then managed to escape on their motorcycle. Bhatti being a Christian as well as a minister in the government, had campaigned for the release of Asia as well as for the repeal of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan that at help promote a culture of state sanctioned hatred against religious minorities in Pakistan.

The culture of fear and hatred as well as violence against the religious minorities has progressively gotten worse along with the security situation inside the country in the last ten years. If there is anything that has been proven by some of these recent events in Pakistan, it is only that the country has become the undisputed global hotbed of extremism, fanaticism, and Islamic militancy in the Muslim world. It has now morphed into a country where the Wahhabi and Salafi fanatics have successfully used fear and hate to silence the majority moderate Barelvi and Sufi Muslims of Pakistan.

When powerful moderate voices like those of Bhatti and Taseer are silenced despite having heavy protection, how safe can the common man feel about his life if he chooses to speak up against the radicals within Islam? To kill someone is against Islamic belief at its core, unless it is done in self defense but you would be hard pressed to hear that view from the religious fanatics in Pakistan. They have justified killing others over many insane reasons such as making derogatory remarks about Islam or the prophet Muhammad. They also rationalize the killing of someone over a family’s honor, thus honor killings where often young women are killed if they are deemed to have brought dishonor to their family. These radical Islamists will even want someone dead for simply uttering disparaging remarks against Islam or its prophet. It is both ironic and hypocritical to see that the same derogatory remarks towards other figures such as Jesus, Moses, Abraham or other prophets of the Quran do not meet the same outcry nor receive the same impassioned response from the masses as when Islam or its prophet Muhammad are criticized.

The seeds of this current fanaticism fanning the flames of hatred were planted during an earlier conflict, this one involving the Soviets against an under matched adversary in Afghanistan. It was during this time in the ‘80’s when the Pakistani dictator, General Zia ul Haq, was in power and he accepted American aid from the Reagan administration in thwarting the threat from the 1979 Soviet invasion of neighboring Afghanistan. At the time, Pakistan’s ISI worked very closely with these “freedom fighters” waging what many thought was a just jihad against a communist foe who disallowed all religious worship. In fact, a good movie to rent right now to put some of these current events in perspective would be Charlie Wilson’s War starring Tom Hanks which details this era of Pakistan-US relations and cooperation against a common enemy in the Soviets.

The trouble now however is that in this current uneasy alliance between Pakistan and the US, there is not a common enemy, at least not as how it is viewed by many in Pakistan, which recently was polled to be the most anti-American nation in the world. Even though radical Islam and fanaticism is as much a threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty and prosperity as it is to the United States, India has always been seen as the big threat by its army and rulers. Pakistan has long seen Afghanistan as a country offering it strategic depth in any future wars with India. Thus, its interests in Afghanistan do not coincide with those of the United States.

The Pakistani media also constantly feeds a steady news diet of bombings by the Taliban/Haqqani network as well as any one of the other fill-in-the-blank militants groups seemingly operating freely from within its borders. There is also the regular news reports of US drone attacks and NATO actions in the AfPak region, as well as the all ubiquitous and constant threat faced from India, who is still seething from the Mumbai bombings in 2008, which were blamed on Pakistani trained terrorists. To further add insult to their injury, not a single leader of the Lashkar E Taiba has been convicted in Pakistan for the attacks in Mumbai that claimed 174 deaths and seriously injured several hundred others.

To the Indians, the perpetrator of their version of 9/11 is not an Arab from Yemen named Osama, but rather a whole nation state with whom it has fought three wars in 60 years and who is a long time sworn enemy with which it shares a long border. Too often it is rightly assumed by many that Pakistan will not act against Lashkar E Taiba and other openly anti-Indian militant groups because these groups are seen as a strategic asset for use against India. Only the fear of an all out nuclear war between the two nations by a trigger happy Pakistan placated India enough so that New Delhi did not immediately take military action against Pakistan after the Mumbai attacks.

So this culture of fear from all enemies both foreign and domestic to Pakistan’s sovereignty is now at an all time high within the nation. With a several decade long war on its western border in Afghanistan as well as the constant threat from its arch enemy to the east in India, Pakistan has never felt more threatened or squeezed. This pressure is now only going to get ratcheted higher since last week’s killing of Osama Bin Laden at a compound in a suburb of Islamabad, Pakistan. Living for five years undetected in the compound, Bin Laden was less than a mile away from the Kakul Military Academy in Abbottabad, Pakistan’s version of the famed American military college of West Point, when he was killed by a US Navy Seal team.

For the world’s most wanted terrorist to hide in plain sight in such a manner and for so many years, rightly points a lot of suspicion on Pakistan. Long suspected by many intelligence analysts, elements within Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI, naturally now attracts a lot of suspicion in their possible involvement in the whole affair. There are strong voices and calls within the US Congress to halt all aid to Pakistan in light of Bin Laden’s death. We certainly can assume that any other country in the world found to be harboring terrorists would already have been labeled a state sponsor of terrorism and would be facing immediate sanctions from the international community. “You are either with us or against us” were the words so famously uttered by then President Bush to Pakistan specifically after 9/11. But due to Pakistan’s importance for a successful pullout from Afghanistan of US troops, as well as its strategic position within the Islamic world, neither side can afford to cut off relations with each other.

Although the Obama administration stopped short of claiming that the corrupt civilian government of Zardari was directly involved in protecting and sheltering Bin Laden, all signs point to complicity to some extent by some segments within Pakistan’s hierarchy. There is near unanimous agreement among many in Washington, and this is true on both sides of the aisle, that there are many sympathizers of the Taliban and Al Qaeda within the ranks of the army and the intelligence agencies of Pakistan.

Having driven the Soviets out of the region with the help of militant jihadi groups like the Taliban, no doubt a cadre of army and intelligence officers must have come to espouse the belief that it is in Pakistan’s best interests to have a religiously frenzied force available to use as a weapon against India in a future conflict also. In fact, Pakistan has always had this policy of seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan against India.

The death of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan by Special Forces of the American military illustrates just what a duplicitous game the country has been playing with the United States and more importantly with itself. In the war on terror America lost nearly 3,000 citizens in the attacks on 9/11. In that same period stretching the last ten years, Pakistan has lost nearly 31,000 citizens to terrorist attacks by the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other militant groups. So it has always been in Pakistan’s best interests to fight the militant threat brewing in its borders the last two decades that has claimed so many lives and caused so much instability.

The murders of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti illustrates the dire situation within Pakistani society where many young underprivileged men gravitate towards Osama Bin Laden’s ideology of hate against the US, which is seen by many, as the aggressor in an already very anti-American country. Also western ideas, religious and political liberties, and freedoms, such as those for women in western society, are all seen by the Islamic clergy and religious establishment as being against Islamic doctrine and clashing with the Muslim way of life. Therefore, the madrassahs and the masjids continue to espouse rhetoric against the American and European way of life which is seen as contradicting the teachings of the Quran. Even moderate Muslims and their sites of worship have come under heavy attack by the militants as witnessed by a new strategy of attacking Sufi Muslim shrines and mosques. Pakistan may not want to admit it, but there is a raging war going on within itself for the control of Islam and the attack on moderate Islam by the extremists within the religion.

The Bin Laden killing makes Pakistan seem either highly incompetent about knowledge his whereabouts or at the very least appear to be deeply complicit in sheltering and keeping him hidden while the United States launched the biggest manhunt in US history. At this point, the United States justly feels betrayed and distrustful towards anyone in the Pakistani establishment. After all, how are they to know who now to trust in the army or the civilian government?

It is imperative that Pakistan mount an immediate and urgent investigation that has the full cooperation and assistance of the US so that both countries can discover the source of this support system that Bin Laden has had from within Pakistan. Certainly, some heads do need to roll in Islamabad over this. Whether those resignations be of the current ISI chief, Ahmad Shuja Pasha, head of the army, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, or Zardari and Gilani themselves, as some accountability needs to occur. This is important not just for the sake of American-Pakistani relations, but just as importantly for the benefit of the Pakistani populace who is both deeply embarrassed by breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty, but also for the intelligence failure by the government of Pakistan at Osama’s whereabouts. Until and unless Pakistan makes this investigation a top priority, USA and Pakistan relations will continue to slide downhill and will mire further in distrust.

Pakistan must realize that in this global war against religious Islamic fanaticism, it cannot continue to speak from both sides of its mouth. Not when everything, including its very existence is at stake. It cannot at once be both a front line ally in the war against terror and receive billions of dollars in US aid, and at the same time, be found to shelter or allow terrorists and militant organizations safe havens and allow them to operate within its territory.

It is up to Pakistan to salvage a quickly deteriorating situation. However at the time of publication of this article, it seems that President Asif Ali Zardari’s government is off to a horrible start in mending fences with the US. First the name and identity of the CIA station chief in Pakistan was leaked by someone in the ISI to members of the local press. This leak compromised his mission and even poses a danger to his life as the anonymity of all operatives is a necessary requirement in intelligence work.

Then later in the day, in remarks given by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to its Parliament, he defiantly stated that neither Pakistan’s army nor its intelligence agency should be suspected by the Obama administration for providing support to Bin Laden. Gilani also went as far as to say that any future unilateral action by the US or any other nation inside Pakistan’s territory will be met with like force. I thought to myself, did he really just that? Did Pakistan just threaten the United States? It is appalling to see the political posturing now being done by the Pakistani government and the long term negative consequences they will have on the nation.

For a country that is receiving nearly $3.5 billion in US aid yearly, these are very tough words that will undoubtedly only make the strained relations between the two countries worse. Pakistan should realize that United States wants to feel that it can trust it to be a full partner in the fight against militancy and extremism. And unless this distrustful and at times, very adversarial relationship changes, the United States cannot help but feel that with friends like Pakistan, it does not need enemies!

-Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, is the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at http://www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer. 

Why Pakistan’s Taliban Target the Muslim Majority

By Omar Waraich for Time

Although Pakistan’s headlines are dominated by the violent excesses of Taliban extremists, the majority of Pakistanis subscribe to the more mystical Sufi tradition of the country’s Barelvi school of Islam. And attacks on their places of worship are becoming depressingly familiar. Last Sunday, two bombers attacked the 13th Century Sakhi Sarwar shrine, near the southern Punjabi town of Dera Ghazi Khan, slaughtering 50 people and injuring twice as many. Mercifully, two other bombers failed to detonate their devices, preventing even higher casualties. Still, it was the deadliest assault yet on a Sufi shrine in Pakistan — and the sixteenth in the last two years.

The Pakistani Taliban swiftly claimed responsibility for the attack, as they have done for each previous one. Pakistan’s Taliban claims the mantle of the hardline Deobandi tradition, with many beliefs in common with the austere Wahabism of Saudi Arabia. They regard the Barelvi, who comprise more than three quarters of Pakistan’s Sunni Muslims, as irredeemable heretics. The Barelvis favor a more tolerant approach to Islam, promoting a cult of the Prophet and incorporate folkloric traditions such as seeking intercession from rural saints. Sakhi Sarwar, a mystic who is also revered by some Hindus and Sikhs, is said to grant women a son — a local legend that rouses anger among Islam’s more literalist adherents, who ascribe such powers only to Allah.

Tensions between Deobandis and Barelvis have punctuated most of Pakistan’s history. But with the arrival of al-Qaeda in the country a decade ago, local militants forged links with the global jihadists, their sectarianism sharpened to accept al-Qaeda’s “takfiri” worldview that deems adherents of other strains of Islam as deviant apostates worthy of death.

One reason for the uptick in sectarian-based terror attacks may be that the militants’ ability to strike the high profile urban targets that once grabbed global headlines has been diminished by Pakistani military offensives in their strongholds over the past two years. “It has become harder for the militants to strike hard targets,” says security analyst Ejaz Haider. “Some lessons have been learned from the previous attacks.”

So, the militants have, over the past two years, more keenly focused on sectarian attacks. Traditional Shi’ite processions are now routinely targeted by suicide bombers. In May 2010, two mosques of the minority Ahmedi sect were targeted in Lahore, killing 93 people. And there’s been an escalation of bombings directed against the majority Barelvis. After attacks on two of their most prominent shrines, Data Darbar in Lahore’s old city and Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi, Barelvis came out on to the streets, wielding weapons and vowing revenge against the Taliban. They did not extend blame to the broader spectrum of Deobandis, perhaps wisely evading the beginnings of a more gruesome sectarian conflict that Pakistan can ill-afford.

Not all Barelvis are the models of peace and tolerance that some have portrayed them to be. It was a Barelvi, Mumtaz Qadri, that assassinated Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer in January, for his opposition to Pakistan’s prejudicial blasphemy laws. The assassination was applauded by 500 Barelvi scholars in a joint statement. And the Sunni Tehreek, a Barelvi militant outfit, rewarded Qadri’s family and threatened Taseer’s daughter. While they may favor a more permissive vision of Islam, certain Barelvis are quite capable of violence where they feel the Prophet has been dishonored.

The campaign to defend Pakistan’s blasphemy laws from reform has, in fact, united Barelvis and Deobandis since last November. Barelvi anti-Taliban rhetoric was also put on pause. “We had seen the Barelvis getting ready to organize a campaign against the Taliban,” observes analyst Nasim Zehra, “but they got sidetracked by the blasphemy issue and this was forgotten.” Until last month’s assassination of Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the religious right was able to frequently draw tens of thousands on to the streets.

Sectarian hatred aside, rural shrines are a far easier terror target than the more heavily guarded state and economic targets in the cities. Suicide bombers, especially the teenage boys favored by militants, can often evade notice before they reach the target. A crowded space helps secure the militants’ aim of causing high casualties. In the case of the Sakhi Sarwar bombers, they only had travel to a relatively short and unimpeded distance from North Waziristan to the edge of Punjab.

The bombings may also be an attempt to relieve pressure from sporadic Army actions against militants in the northern tip of the tribal areas. “Just to remain alive there, the militants have to try and force the government’s hand into diminishing pressure,” says analyst Haider. “To counter that pressure, they mount attacks in the mainland in the hope of securing some deal back in the tribal areas.” By targeting shrines across the country, the militants are able to demonstrate their enduring geographical reach and expose the state’s vulnerabilities.

The bad news is that the state is in a poor position to respond. After the latest bombings, Barelvi leaders denounced the Punjab provincial government for failing to provide security at shrines. The Punjab government dismisses the charge. “It’s happening all over,” says Ahsan Iqbal, a leading politician from the Pakistan Muslim League-N, the ruling party in Punjab. “This is not something that is province-specific.” Iqbal casts blame on the federal government for failing to share intelligence. The federal government reverses the charge, and argues that the law and order is a provincial responsibility. What no one seems to be focusing on is the desperate need to enhance the police’s capacity, with better equipment, counterterrorism training and an intelligence gathering network that reaches deep into Pakistan’s remote areas.

Global Sufi Fest Attracts Thousands

As Reported by the Times of India

Soulful renderings of Sufi music by wandering minstrels from different parts of the world left the listeners spellbound here at the three-day ‘Sufi Sutra’ which ended on Sunday.

Besides Indians, Sufi singers and musicians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Syria and Tajikistan presented mystic Islam through songs, dance and poetry.

Notwithstanding the current political turmoil back home, an eight-member Egyptian Mawlawyiah troupe enthralled the audience by an audio-visual of music and circular dervish dance whirling around singers in a circle.

A Bangladeshi team, led by Anusheh Anadil, sang the household songs of the famous 18th century poet-philosopher Fakir Lalon Shah, on whom based the recent Golden Peacock winning Bengali film ‘Moner Manush’.

The ‘bauls’ and ‘fakirs’ of West Bengal’s Nadia and Murshidabad districts were huge hits by their spontaneous, simple and meaningful lyrics.

Another Bengal team led by Armaan Fakir presented the little-known ‘Bangla Qawwali’. Traditionally performed at the Dargahs, the devotional songs had ‘Dhol’ and ‘Khol’ as percussions replacing Tabla.

The first Sufi ensemble also included the ‘Warsi Brothers’ from Hyderabad, Delhi’s ‘Druv Sangari’ and team, ‘Mirs’ from Bikaner and ‘Haji Md Ahmed Khan Warsi’s team from Uttar Pradesh.

“It is a peace concert in times of violence. We want to bring a convergence of ideas about truth, harmony, self-belief and peace through music. It is a celebration of the quest for the divine through love,” organiser Amitava Bhattacharya said.

Besides musical performances, the festival included workshops and exhibitions to showcase the traditional culture, beliefs and music of the Sufi mystics.

“We had more than 10,000 people at the open-air concert, while more than 700 people, including young students, learnt about Sufism at the pre-concert workshops,” Bhattacharya said.

The event would also help the poor musicians, most of whom were from the rural areas, to earn a livelihood, he said.  The festival was organised by Banglanatak.com in collaboration.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NoteIt’s a sad reality that singers from a  country rich in Sufi history and traditions like Pakistan, are  unable to attend this festival due to the 60+ year friction between the two brothers India and Pakistan. They are two halves of one nation.

Cultural exchanges like these, billions in cross border trade, Bollywood and Lollywood collaborations, sports matches, etc are just some of the things the two are missing out on due to their relations. We hope one day peace can finally come to this ancient and holy land that is the subcontinent.

Who is behind the war on Sufism?

By Dr Ehsan Azari Stanizi for Eurasia Review News & Analysis

On October 25, 2010 an al-Qaida affiliated militant group turned a majestic Sufi shrine into a bloodbath in the Punjab province of Pakistan, by detonating bombs hidden in milk cans, killing and wounding scores of innocent people. This was the latest of a spate of gruesome attacks on Sufism and dead Sufi saints this year alone, leaving hundreds of innocent people killed or wounded. Such violence has brought a new upheaval to Islam, shaking its ethical and moral foundations and reducing it to a merely a radical political ideology.

The ideological driving force behind this violence is religious extremism which considers everyone outside its ideological league, Muslim or non Muslim, dead or alive, as an enemy and an infidel deserving to be killed. The fanatics blow up ancient relics, Sufi heritage, Sufi shrines and the Sufi way of life everywhere they can. They want to micromanage social, cultural and individual life. They condemn gatherings and ceremonies in Sufi saints’ graves, shaving beards, wearing charms, music and painting as heresy. All this is like the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.

The history of Islam is not alien to violence against Sufism. The root of the current upheaval lies in Wahhabism, which has been gradually institutionalised from a tiny band of theologians into a political ideology by the Saudi ruling dynasty. The Wahhabi religious movement was originated by Mohammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab (1703-1792), essentially to challenge the influence of the Ottoman Empire in the Arabian Peninsula. The Saudi petrodollars and Pakistani military ruling elite have helped the spread of this fanatical form of Islam.

In addition, the vision of this ideology was empowered in the Middle East and South Asia by another extremist movement known as the Muslim Brotherhood which originally emerged in Egypt in the 1920s. The Brotherhood copied much of its ideological agenda, political structure, revolutionary features and a violent persuasion from Marxism. Like the latter during the Cold War era, the Brotherhood’s ultimate objective has been to topple the state by violent means and extend a radical ideology to the West. The Iranian revolution of late 1970s gave further impetus to this ideology, which began to justify the export of Islamic revolution as an Islamic obligation everywhere in the world.

Like Saudi rulers, the secular Pakistani cunning and sly generals began to use the most lethal religious radicals for domestic security and as a tool to promote its foreign policy in Afghanistan and India. Pakistan served also as a gateway for the spread of Wahhabism in the region. At present they are pinching American coins in return for carrying out the Pashtun genocide.

As it was hinted, war on Sufism is not a new phenomenon. Hussein Al-Halaj, a great Sufi poet and teacher was condemned for heresy when in a state of mystical trance he exclaimed, “I am the Truth”. He was cut to pieces and his remains were burnt by a mob in Baghdad in 922 AD. He was the first Sufi martyr.

During the 17th-century Persian Safavid Empire, Sufis were suppressed, during the Indian Moguls, it flourished but in the twentieth-century the die-hard Turkish secular leader Kamal Atatürk banned Sufi monasteries and Sufi rituals in Turkey.

Sufism (comes from Arabic noun, suf, literary meaning course wool and the Sufi is the one wearing woolen garments) is the name of Islamic mysticism. The word Sufism was coined in the West for the first time by the German scholar August Tholuck in 1821. It has been divided into two practical and theoretical parts: To those who practice it, Sufism means a quick spiritual foray into a space where the presence of the divine could be experienced. To those who are concerned with its theory, it is a mystical and spiritual theology, a body of knowledge and an epistemology interwoven with Islamic metaphysical texts.

The Sufi philosophy was developed and promoted by the medieval Muslim philosophers such as Ibn-Arabi, Averroës (known in Islamic world as Ibn-i-Rushd), Avicenna and Farabi, who, for their Islamic Aristotelianism, were often referred to as the Oriental Peripatetics. This school of thought was greatly saturated with Plato and Aristotelian metaphysics. The Sufis also have created a vast body of a literary and poetic heritage.

As an elixir of wisdom and an intellectual Yoga, Sufism has been known, cherished and even practised in the West since time immemorial. It is hard to find a single great Western poet or thinker who has not been inspired by Sufism. Dr Johnson loved Sufi Oneness and pantheism; Voltaire in Candid saw Sufi philosophy as an antidote to religious extremism of his time. Goethe loved Sufi poetry, Richard Burton and Robert Graves were keen on practicing Sufism.

Sufism was cherished by Australia’s greatest poet professor Alec Derwent Hope. Hegel draws on Sufi thought in his works. Danish fairy-tale writer Hans Christian Andersen was the first who brought the news about the Sufi music and dance known as “Whirling Dervishes” to Europe.

Nobel laureate, Doris Lessing is the doyen of contemporary Sufis in the West. She identifies Western admiration of Sufism since the 1960s as ‘a Sufi craze,’ and ‘Sufi bandwagon’. For Lessing, Sufism was a kind of universal feeling, emotion, a quick fix and an access with no intermediary. “Sufism is something one experiences on one’s own,” she would say. In my own lectures in Australia and Europe, I came across with an enormous interest in Sufi philosophy and literature.

The al-Qaida zealots and the Pakistani militants will never win over Sufism. They might destroy their tombs on earth but cannot steal away Sufism from the hearts of people in the East and the West.

The 13th-century great Sufi poet and the founder of the Whirling Dervishes, Rumi knew this. He believed that fanatics will never extinguish the Sufi torch or destroy Sufi tombs as he says “when we are dead, see not our tombs in the earth, but find it in the hearts of the people.” And the 17th-century Pashtun Sufi poet Rahman Baba, known in the West as the Nightingale-of-Peshawar to the vandals:

We are all one body, whoever tortures another, wounds himself.

Last spring (2010), his mausoleum was bombed by the Punjabi Taliban. Rumi declared the Sufi manifesto of universal love, tolerance of nonbelievers, pluralism and interfaith harmony in one of his quatrains:

Come, come whoever you are, An unbeliever, a fire or idol-worshiper, come, Our convent is not of desperation, Even if you have broken your vows a hundred time,
Come, come again.

Sufi Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Spirituality

By Fahad Faruqui for The Huffington Post

After two bombs recently claimed dozens of innocent lives at the shrine of esteemed Sufi Ali Hajviri, fingers were pointed at the al-Qaeda-linked militants who see Sufism as the work of heretics. The New York Sufi Music Festival was brought to U.S. to showcase the spiritual dimension of Islam and the rich heritage of Pakistan, counteracting a view that Pakistan is predominantly a country known for its terror factories. Sadly, the image of militants waging war is overwhelming and hard to supersede.

Hearing Abida Parveen sing Bulleh Shah’s ecstatic poetry, which enriched the centuries-old Sufi tradition of the Indus valley, made me realize how the Islamists have stripped away spirituality from the religion and left believers with rituals, sketchy interpretations of the divine laws and fear of God’s wrath. Sufi Muslims of the subcontinent, who converted to Islam in the pre-partition era, were drawn to the Sufi path of knowledge that has been hijacked by the al-Qaeda ideology of violence.

The rapturous quality of Sufi poetry continues to fascinate me, but the very idea of loving and seeking God while listening to radical mullahs (like the clerics of Red Mosque) is deeply troubling. Prostration to God devoid of spirituality is no different from doing sit-ups. Surely, the label Sufi is not necessary. What’s important is the sentiment. It helps the cause of clarity to call those on the path “Sufis” rather than “mystics,” which will more likely conjure images of Aladdin on his flying carpet.

Islam is the fastest-growing religion but has too few religious scholars with requisite understanding to link rituals and divine laws to creative spiritual ascension. I reached a level of comfort with my faith through good guidance from prominent Muslim thinkers such as Hamza Yusuf, Faraz Rabbani and Zaid Shakir, who drink deeply of the Quran’s spring of wisdom.

Faith is ineffable; so is our search for God. Ecstatic poetry and Sufi treatises speaking of “annihilation of self” and “Oneness with the Creator” are merely tools to evoke the Sufi sentiment, which is not peculiar to Islam. Teresa of Avila’s “Libro de la Vida,” Bulleh Shah’s ecstatic poetry, Allama Iqbal’s intimate conversation with God in “Shikwa” (complaint) and Mansoor Al-Hallaj’s proclamation “Anal-Haq” (I am the Truth) are all expressions of the acquired wisdom gleaned from deep introspection.

Though unsuccessful, Iqbal tried to revive the true spirit of Islam. He was quick in identifying that the hardline mullah was a hopeless case. But the Sufis were either consumed in “other worldliness” or digressing from the core of Sufism. For Iqbal, a profound religious experience is one that benefits humanity, which is most unlikely if the seeker retreats to constant seclusion.

Saudi Arabia’s government is often accused of demolishing tombs of the companions of the prophet, fearing veneration of graves, and of discouraging Muslims from praying at prominent sites like the Cave of Hira (where Muhammed received his first revelation). Why they discourage is another column, but one thing is certain: visiting graves and sites mentioned in the Quran will not miraculously lead to divine illumination. The essence of Sufism is to dig into the depths of your soul to seek the One. In the shrines of Sufi masters in the subcontinent, one can expect to find numerous vagabonds pretending to be Sufis, who earn a living by giving false hopes to troubled wives, jobless men and childless couples. This defeats the premise of Sufism — absolute reliance on Almighty.

In a phone conversation, a prominent Sufi scholar, William Chittick, said, “The core of Sufism is to strive for nearness to God.” Even though God is absolutely Other, he presupposes a direct relationship with the seeker. No doubt. Allah says in the Quran (50:16): “I am closer to you than your jugular vein.”

It is our egos that have created boundaries between sects within Islam and ensuring rivalries with non-Muslims. Reviving the spiritual dimension of Islam may be the only way to fight intolerant radical elements internally.

What Sufi Festivals Mean to the People

By Sohail Abid at http://sohailabid.com/

It is the beginning of the Hijri year. A time that matters to me for two reasons: remembering Hussain’s determination and the Sufi festivals that will be held throughout the year across Pakistan. And this year I want to do something special: to attend all the Sufi festivals and document each of them! Wish I had undertaken this project earlier in my life when the festivals were held without any fear but I wasn’t mature enough to see what they mean to the people. I, like others, considered them ‘stupid’ and ‘superstitious’ but that’s so untre. Let’s see how:

The people who actually go to the Sufi festivals don’t really call them by their urban name, Urs. They call them “mela” and it includes all kinds of activities, not just paying salam to the dead Sufi. They are *festivals* for the people, occasions to rejoice.

Last weekend, when I was on a field trip in a remote Punjabi village, a girl told me, “If you were here a couple of weeks ago, you could see our dance, Sammi; there was a wedding. We are the best in Punjab in Sammi dance! Oh, you can come to the mela next month.” Now this place, Danabad, is a small village. They remember the Sufi festival as the time they will have dance, musical concert, and what not.

On a similar visit to Chakwal, when I asked a young boy about their activities, he was so excited about this race and kabbadi they have each year. When: “during the mela”!

You see, to the people the Sufi festivals do not mean “worshipping the graves”, as some conservatives would like to put it. It is the time people await to shop, play, dance, and attend live concerts. And that’s what I would like to document because they are the events that matter to the people and keep them going. Wish me luck!

Sohail Abid is a writer, an entrepreneur, a software engineer, a cultural analyst, and a lover of all things folk. He lives in Islamabad Pakistan and manages several websites and businesses as a freelance software developer. We at Pakistanis for Peace are proud to call him a friend of the site.

For Imam in Muslim Center Furor, a Hard Balancing Act

By Anne Barnard for The New York Times

Not everyone in the Cairo lecture hall last February was buying the imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s message. As he talked of reconciliation between America and Middle Eastern Muslims — his voice soft, almost New Agey — some questioners were so suspicious that he felt the need to declare that he was not an American agent.

Muslims need to understand and soothe Americans who fear them, the imam said; they should be conciliatory, not judgmental, toward the West and Israel.

But one young Egyptian asked: Wasn’t the United States financing the speaking tour that had brought the imam to Cairo because his message conveniently echoed United States interests?

“I’m not an agent from any government, even if some of you may not believe it,” the imam replied. “I’m not. I’m a peacemaker.”

That talk, recorded on video six months ago, was part of what now might be called Mr. Abdul Rauf’s prior life, before he became the center of an uproar over his proposal for a Muslim community center two blocks from the World Trade Center. He watched his father, an Egyptian Muslim scholar, pioneer interfaith dialogue in 1960s New York; led a mystical Sufi mosque in Lower Manhattan; and, after the Sept. 11 attacks, became a spokesman for the notion that being American and Muslim is no contradiction — and that a truly American brand of Islam could modernize and moderate the faith worldwide.

In recent weeks, Mr. Abdul Rauf has barely been heard from as a national political debate explodes over his dream project, including, somewhere in its planned 15 stories, a mosque. Opponents have called his project an act of insensitivity, even a monument to terrorism.

In his absence — he is now on another Middle East speaking tour sponsored by the State Department — a host of allegations have been floated: that he supports terrorism; that his father, who worked at the behest of the Egyptian government, was a militant; that his publicly expressed views mask stealth extremism. Some charges, the available record suggests, are unsupported. Some are simplifications of his ideas. In any case, calling him a jihadist appears even less credible than calling him a United States agent.

Growing Up in America

Mr. Abdul Rauf, 61, grew up in multiple worlds. He was raised in a conservative religious home but arrived in America as a teenager in the turbulent 1960s; his father came to New York and later Washington to run growing Islamic centers. His parents were taken hostage not once, but twice, by American Muslim splinter groups. He attended Columbia University, where, during the Six-Day War in 1967 between Israel and Arab states like Egypt, he talked daily with a Jewish classmate, each seeking to understand the other’s perspective.

He consistently denounces violence. Some of his views on the interplay between terrorism and American foreign policy — or his search for commonalities between Islamic law and this country’s Constitution — have proved jarring to some American ears, but still place him as pro-American within the Muslim world. He devotes himself to befriending Christians and Jews — so much, some Muslim Americans say, that he has lost touch with their own concerns.

“To stereotype him as an extremist is just nuts,” said the Very Rev. James P. Morton, of the Church of St. John the Divine, in Manhattan, who has known the family for decades.

Since 9/11, Mr. Abdul Rauf, like almost any Muslim leader with a public profile, has had to navigate the fraught path between those suspicious of Muslims and eager to brand them as violent or disloyal and a Muslim constituency that believes itself more than ever in need of forceful leaders.

One critique of the imam, said Omid Safi, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, was that he had not been outspoken enough on issues “near and dear to many Muslims,” like United States policy on Israel and treatment of Muslims after 9/11, “because of the need that he has had — whether taken upon himself or thrust upon him — to be the ‘American imam,’ to be the ‘New York imam,’ to be the ‘accommodationist imam.’ ”

Akbar Ahmed, chairman of Islamic studies at American University, said Mr. Abdul Rauf’s holistic Sufi practices could make more orthodox Muslims uncomfortable, and his focus on like-minded interfaith leaders made him underestimate the uproar over his plans.

“He hurtles in, to the dead-center eye of the storm simmering around Muslims in America, expecting it to be like at his mosque — we all love each other, we all think happy thoughts,” Mr. Ahmed said.

“Now he has set up, unwittingly, a symbol of this growing tension between America and Muslims: this mosque that Muslims see as a symbol of Islam under attack and the opponents as an insult to America,” he added. “So this mild-mannered guy is in the eye of a storm for which he’s not suited at all. He’s not a political leader of Muslims, yet he now somehow represents the Muslim community.”

Andrew Sinanoglou, who was married by Mr. Abdul Rauf last fall, said he was surprised that the imam had become a contentious figure. His greatest knack, Mr. Sinanoglou said, was making disparate groups comfortable. At the wedding, he brought together Mr. Sinanoglou’s family, descended from Greek Christians thrown out of Asia Minor by Muslims, and his wife’s conservative Muslim father.

“He’s an excellent schmoozer,” Mr. Sinanoglou said of the imam.

Mr. Abdul Rauf was born in Kuwait. His father, Muhammad Abdul Rauf, graduated from Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the foremost center of mainstream Sunni Muslim learning. He was one of many scholars Egypt sent abroad to staff universities and mosques, a government-approved effort unlikely to have tolerated a militant. He moved his family to England, studying at Cambridge and the University of London; then to Malaysia, where he eventually became the first rector of the International Islamic University of Malaysia.

As a boy, Feisal absorbed his father’s talks with religious scholars from around the world, learning to respect theological debate, said his wife, Daisy Khan. He is also steeped in Malaysian culture, whose ethnic diversity has influenced an Islam different than that of his parents’ homeland.

In 1965, he came to New York. His father ran the Islamic Center of New York; the family lived over its small mosque in a brownstone on West 72nd Street, which served mainly Arabs and African-American converts. Like his son, the older imam announced plans for a community center for a growing Muslim population — the mosque eventually built on East 96th Street. It was financed by Muslim countries and controlled by Muslim diplomats at the United Nations — at the time a fairly noncontroversial proposition. Like his son, he joined interfaith groups, invited by Mr. Morton of St. John the Divine.

Hostage Crisis

Unlike his son, he was conservative in gender relations; he asked his wife, Buthayna, to not drive. But in 1977, he was heading the Islamic Center in Washington when he and Buthayna were taken hostage by a Muslim faction; it was his wife who challenged the gunmen on their lack of knowledge of Islam.

“My husband didn’t open his mouth, but I really gave it to them,” she told The New York Times then.

Meanwhile, the younger Mr. Abdul Rauf studied physics at Columbia. At first, he recalled in interviews last year, it was hard to adjust to American social mores. By 1967, he and a Yale student, Kurt Tolksdorf, had bonded at summer school over their shared taste in women and fast cars. But Mr. Tolksdorf said his friend never subscribed to the “free love” of the era.

When the 1967 war broke out in the Middle East, Mr. Tolksdorf said, Mr. Abdul Rauf reacted calmly when Israeli students tried to pick a fight. A classmate, Alan M. Silberstein, remembers debating each day’s news over lunch.

“He was genuinely trying to understand the interests of American Jews — what Israel’s importance was to me,” he said. “There was a genuine openness.”

In his 20s, Mr. Abdul Rauf dabbled in teaching and real estate, married an American-born woman and had three children. Studying Islam and searching for his place in it, he was asked to lead a Sufi mosque, Masjid al-Farah. It was one of few with a female prayer leader, where women and men sat together at some rituals and some women do not cover their hair. And it was 12 blocks from the World Trade Center.

Divorced, he met his second wife, Ms. Khan, when she came to the mosque looking for a gentler Islam than the politicized version she rejected after Iran’s revolution. Theirs is an equal partnership, whether Mr. Abdul Rauf is shopping and cooking a hearty soup, she said, or running organizations that promote an American-influenced Islam.

A similar idea comes up in the video of his visit to Cairo this year. Mr. Abdul Rauf, with Ms. Khan, unveiled as usual, beside him, tells a questioner not to worry so much about one issue of the moment — Switzerland’s ban on minarets — saying Islam has always adapted to and been influenced by places it spreads to. “Why not have a mosque that looks Swiss?” he joked. “Make a mosque that looks like Swiss cheese. Make a mosque that looks like a Rolex.”

In the 1990s, the couple became fixtures of the interfaith scene, even taking a cruise to Spain and Morocco with prominent rabbis and pastors.

Mr. Abdul Rauf also founded the Shariah Index Project — an effort to formally rate which governments best follow Islamic law. Critics see in it support for Taliban-style Shariah or imposing Islamic law in America.

Shariah, though, like Halakha, or Jewish law, has a spectrum of interpretations. The ratings, Ms. Kahn said, measure how well states uphold Shariah’s core principles like rights to life, dignity and education, not Taliban strong points. The imam has written that some Western states unwittingly apply Shariah better than self-styled Islamic states that kill wantonly, stone women and deny education — to him, violations of Shariah.

After 9/11, Mr. Abdul Rauf was all over the airwaves denouncing terrorism, urging Muslims to confront its presence among them, and saying that killing civilians violated Islam. He wrote a book, “What’s Right With Islam Is What’s Right With America,” asserting the congruence of American democracy and Islam.

That ample public record — interviews, writings, sermons — is now being examined by opponents of the downtown center.

Those opponents repeat often that Mr. Abdul Rauf, in one radio interview, refused to describe the Palestinian group that pioneered suicide bombings against Israel, Hamas, as a terrorist organization. In the lengthy interview, Mr. Abdul Rauf clumsily tries to say that people around the globe define terrorism differently and labeling any group would sap his ability to build bridges. He also says: “Targeting civilians is wrong. It is a sin in our religion,” and, “I am a supporter of the state of Israel.”

“If I were an imam today I would be saying, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ ” said John Esposito, a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University. “ ‘Can an imam be critical of any aspect of U.S. foreign policy? Can I weigh in on things that others could weigh in on?’ Or is someone going to say, ‘He’s got to be a radical!’ ”

Deadly blasts hit Sufi shrine in Lahore

By Syed Shoaib Hasan for The BBC

Suicide bombers have launched a deadly attack on a Sufi shrine in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore. At least 35 people died in the blasts at the popular Data Darbar shrine late on Thursday evening, officials say. At least 175 other people were hurt in the blasts, believed to be the first targeting a shrine in Lahore. Thousands of people were visiting the shrine at the time, officials say. It holds the remains of a Persian Sufi saint, Abul Hassan Ali Hajvery.

Although no-one has yet said they carried out the attack, Taliban militants and their Punjabi jihadi allies have been involved in several such bombings in the northern Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province. The shrine is largely frequented by members of the majority Barelvi sect, who are seen as heretics by the Taliban. Most of the Taliban belong to the rival Deoband Sunni sect, which strongly disapproves of worship at shrines. Many are also allied to the Sipah-e-Sahaba, and its armed splinter group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which seeks to turn Pakistan into a Deoband Sunni state.

The shrine is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year from both Sunni and Shia traditions of Islam. At least two attackers were involved, although police initially said three explosions had been heard.  The impact of the blasts ripped open the courtyard of the shrine. Rescue workers could be seen clambering over the rubble as they carried out the victims. Khusro Pervez, commissioner of Lahore, said two of the attacks took place in the main courtyard and one in the lower level of the shrine.

The first attacker struck in the underground area where visitors sleep and prepare themselves for prayer, he said. As people fled, a second bomber detonated his explosives in the upstairs area. Officials say they believe the bombers used devices packed with ball-bearings to maximise the impact of their attack.  A volunteer security guard at the shrine described scenes of devastation.

“It was a horrible scene,” said Mohammed Nasir. “There were dead bodies all around with blood and people were crying.” The attack is the biggest on a Sufi shrine in Pakistan since militant attacks began in 2001.  No group has said it carried out the attack, but correspondents say the attacks continue a growing trend among militants to target members of other sects as well as minorities.

Lahore has been hit by a series of bomb attacks, including a suicide blast at anti-terrorist offices in March, when at least 13 people died. In May, more than 90 people were killed in a double attack on the minority Ahmadi sect in the city.

Earlier, security chiefs had been congratulating themselves after what was the first month in two years in which there had been no suicide bombings in Pakistan, the BBC’s Aleem Maqbool reports from Islamabad.

They said it was proof the militant networks had been disrupted. Most Pakistanis knew the battle against militancy in this country was far from over, he adds. Last year Pakistan launched a major military offensive against militant strongholds in South Waziristan.  In December the military said they had achieved victory, but subsequent reports have suggested the militants remain active in the region.

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