South Asian Sufism The South Asian subcontinent is principally a rich site to learn and understand Islam. Muslims in this area amount to approximately a third of the full Muslim population worldwide. They are dispersed among seven nation states whose demographic and political characteristics differ extensively…
This diversity has to a certain extent been created by the subcontinent?s numerous linguistic and cultural customs and its unique networks beyond the region. In terms of Islamic roots, Sufism has, in a way, played a key role in the spread of Islamic devotional and spiritual life in South Asia. At some stage in the eighth and ninth centuries A.D., a novel prominence began to grow within Islam. This prominence was a constructive response against the established uncongenial and ceremonial nature of Islam. The quest for deeper meaning started with a pietistic simplicity, which in turn led to the advance of the well-acknowledged mystical side of Islam - known as Tasawwuf or Sufism. Sufism is in essence a spiritual form of Islam focusing on the connection between the individual and divinity. The Sufis surfaced in South Asia around 800 years ago, and were initially stanch devotees, whose meager woolen attire signified their humility, hence the word “Sufi” that denotes Arabic word for wool. The Sufis sought the mysticism, divine realism or eventual truth that stands over all the fantasies and deceptions about the materialistic society. In order to attain ecstatic unification with God, Sufis integrated practices of sound and actions -- chanting and harmony, swaying and dance. Sufi followers joined in closed brotherhoods or tariqahs, each following a captivating leader (shaykh). They offered an Islam that fused South Asian customs and worship styles, including Christian saints and Hindu gods. Sufism highlights the importance of “Real”, as distinctive from a faint acceptance of what is considered to be real in everyday existence, by authentic comprehension of the self and the 'veils' which separate it from any understanding of the truth. (ELWELL-SUTTON). This also implies a quest for real existence. It also emphasized empathy from one soul to another, in spite of all other differences. The Sufi trend drew attraction throughout South Asia (as well as Eurasia and Eastern Europe) can be recapitulated in Rafiq Zakaria?s book as: “Though unconcerned with affairs of state, the sufis had a profound influence on the Muslim polity. They humanized its rigours and reduced the area of conflict between religion and politics. They gave Islam a broader base. Non-Muslims flocked to sufi hospices in large numbers and in due course hundreds of thousands came into the fold of Islam. . . .” (Zakaria) Sufism: Spirituality or Libertarianism? Despite the fact that Sufism has been majorly identified as the spiritual and mystic extension of Islam, parts of literary research argues about the existence of Sufism as a political entity. For example, the way Sufis' tombs surfaced and grew as places of pilgrimage indicate that the ‘missionary’ agenda of the Islamic mystics was devised primarily for conversion and the establishment of Perso-Arabian cultural control in South Asia (R.Upadhyay). Despite of the cultural relevance of Sufism, over the period of time, differences have also arisen from divergence of interests among Muslims over what should be the right standard for cultural and political life. As Sufism endorsed various forms of cultural articulation, it did not extend unilaterally as a response to orthodoxy and legalistic rigorism but from time to time it harmonized and engaged in these developments. In the same way, hostility between shari‘a (law) and tariqa (Sufi path) in Islam is an open topic of debate, although Sufi researchers emphasize that ...
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