Best wishes on Zardari's journey to Ajmer
07 April 2012
At a time when Hafiz Saeed and others of his intolerant ilk appear to be determining the tempo of Pakistan's Islamic fervor, it is important to note that Asif Zardari's pilgrimage is to the shrine of Sufi Saint Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti, in Ajmer where devotees have for centuries been both Muslims and non Muslims.
Most people do not know that the famous "langar" or "prasada" cooked for thousands of pilgrims is vegetarian. Also, it does not have ingredients like onions and garlic to which some Hindu sects are averse. The idea is that the "prasada" must be acceptable to all who visit the shrine.
Zardari is not the only Ajmer bound devotee. Numerous leaders from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and numerous Muslim countries generally visit Ajmer or Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia's shrine in Delhi. His Guru Khwaja Bakhtiar Kaki's shrine in Mehrauli. The "do gaz zameen" or two yards of land that the last Moghul Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar yearned for is next to the Mehrauli shrine.
So fertile was the land of India to a compatible spiritual idea that Islam mushroomed across the length and breadth of the country so rapidly because of the Sufis. It was organically a part of both, Sufi influences as well as customs and life styles of the area where this interaction took place.
For instance, the Mapillas or the Muslims along the Kerala coastline, retained Arabic as well native Keralite traditions in language, music, marriage customs, food and almost every sphere of life. The best speaker of Malyalam in Kerala Assembly was Mohammad Koya. This at a time when stalwarts like E.M.S. Namboodiripad decorated Kerala's political landscape.
The edict that the language of Quran, namely Arabic, was the language of God was first challenged in Kerala. It was in Kozhikode that I saw the first copy of a "Malyalam Quran"
It was practical commonsense to make the words of the Quran accessible to those who do not know Arabic. Confining the Quran only to those conversant with Arabic would appear to be restrictive.
The audacious Urdu poet Yaas Yagana Changezi asked the question quite bluntly:
"Samajh mein kuch naheen aata;
Parhey jaaney sey kya haasil?
Namazon mein hain kuch maani
To pardesi Zuban kyon ho?"
(What will you gain by reciting verses you do not understand?
If Namaz-prayer-has any meaning, why should it be in a foreign language?)
In far flung parts of rural India Sufis set up their ashrams, Khankahs or hospices. This enabled them to transmit to the common people what Malthew Arnold called the "high seriousness", which in this case was distilled from major Sufi thinkers like Ibn Arabi who wrote extensively on the oneness of Being.
Conversations with the Sajjada Nashin of Dewa Sharif, on the outskirts of Lucknow, Hazrat Waris Shah or with Naim Ata Shah of Jais in Rae Bareli are remarkable examples of Sufism simplified for common, sometimes uneducated people.
Asked why he never said his "namaz", Waris Shah, laughed: "There is no space between me and my God to go down in prayer." What he was trying to say was simple: He is in me. This must not be misunderstood that he discouraged Namaz. Not at all. The courtyard of Dewa were filled with ramazis at the appropriate hours. Shah Sahib was making a point in his inimitable style.
Naim Ata Shah derived from the 16th century author of Padmavat, Malik Mohammad Jaisi, whose writing is replete with Hindu imagery. There is no Urdu poet who was not influenced by the Sufis. The rapid growth of Islam in India was due to the generous adoption of local cultural motifs and festivals like Holi, Deepawali, Dussehra by the Sufis.
Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi, Shah Wali Ullah, right upto the clergy at Darul Uloom, Deoband, have been puritanical, reform movements, attempting to cleanse sub continental Islam of exactly the influences which are at the heart of our composite culture.
These reform movements are active in India and have the patronage of politicians bereft of any aesthetics. But in Pakistan, the movements have declared Jehad on the soft Islam, soaked in sub continental Sufism. That is why Asif Zaradari deserves every ones best wishes for his journey to Ajmer.
(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)