A Brief History of the Sufi Movement in India

(Part - II)


The Suhrawardi Silsilah

Shaikh Sahabuddin Suhrawardi established Suhrawardi Silsilah in Baghdad. Suhrawardi appointed his two disciples, Shaikh Bahauddin Zakariya and Shaikh Jalaluddin Tabrizi, to preach the Suhrawardi Silsilah in India. Bahauddin Zakariya (1182-1262) was the founder of the order in India. He became the most prominent saint in his contemporary period in northwestern India. He continued to spread the ideas of Suhrawardi Silsilah at Multan. He supported Iltutmish to conquest Multan against Nasir-ud–Din Qubacha. Delhi sultanate gave state patronage to him. Iltutmish also honoured him with the title Shaikh-ul Islam. He kept himself connected with political personalities, rich and powerful people. He didn’t feel hesitant to accept royal patronage and costly presents from the Muslim aristocracy. Also, he actively participated in politics. After the death of Bahauddin Zakariya, his son Sadruddin Arif took his place and become khalifa of the Suhrawardi order at Multan.

Shaikh Jalaluddin Tabrizi was not able to establish his supremacy and also didn’t gained much popularity. So, he decided to move to Bengal. He was successful to establish his supremacy over there. The Suhrawardis were mostly active in Punjab and Sind and later spread in Gujarat, Bengal, and Kashmir.

Shaikh Ruknuddin also became successful to establish his supremacy. He was very much honored by the sultans of Delhi.

Other saints of this silsilah were Sayyad Jalaluddin Bukhari, Qutab-Alam and Shah-Alam. Sayyad Jalaluddin Bukhari was a disciple of Bahauddin Zakariya, who established his Khanqah at Uchch (Sind). Political personalities and ruling elites of their time were very much influenced by them.

Features of Suhrawardi Silsilah

While trading the same mystic path, the Suhrawardis differed from Chistis in certain matters. They believed to live in comfortable family lives. They never emphasized poverty to be necessary for spiritual life. Bahauddin himself neither believed in starvation nor self-modification and excessive austerity. But, they favored an ordinary life, food, and dress. Also, they supported an influencing and prosperous priesthood of the Muslims.

Besides, contrary to the Chistis, the Suhrawardis also accepted costly presents and royal grants of ektas and villages. Bahauddin himself was a rich man and justified it by saying that his wealth enabled him to serve better the poor who thronged around him. According to the orthodox ulema, Bahauddin Zakariya emphasized seeing all the external forms of religion i.e. namaz, roza, etc. The Suhrawardis advocated the combination of scholarship with mysticism. Bahauddin Zakariya never rejected sama or musical gatherings but he allowed it only in time of occasions.

Info 1The Suhrawardis were not as tolerant as Chistis. The Suhrawardis were in fact strongly opposed to certain Hindu practices that have been adopted by the Chistis, like bowing before the shaikh, presenting water to visitors, tonsuring the head of new constant to mystic order, etc. Besides, unlike Chistis, they were keener on conversions. In fact, the Suhrawardis sent Shaikh Jamaluddin who settled in Bengal made forcible conversions and pull down a Hindu temple at Devathala near Pandua to create his Khanqah there.

Unlike the Chistis, mostly, Suhrawardi Silsilah was restricted to the upper class of the Muslim society. Some historians pointed out that when visitors went to Khanqahs, they were treated as guests. According to some scholars, Bahauddin Zakariya didn’t give his spiritual blessing to the general public rather he liked to give his spiritual blessings to selected ones. Also, he didn’t give any permission to qalandars and fakirs to visit his khanqah. He had fixed a time to meet with visitors.

However, not all the Suhrawardi saints were the same, some of them were liberal and open-minded and also had great respect for Hindus. Chisthis and Suhrawardis differed in their attitude towards the state. While the former believed in withdrawing themselves from politics and government as they considered it a distraction from spiritual life, the latter accepted government service. Bahauddin held that the saints should visit royal courts to help poor people getting their grievances redressed by the sultan. He also believed that just like others, the sultan and his associates should not be deprived of the spiritual ministration of the saints, in fact, the Suhrawardis saints actively participated in politics. Bahauddin himself openly sided with Illtutmish when he decided to conquer Sind by ousting Qubacha.

Other Sufi Silsilahs

Other than the Chistis and the Suhrawardi, there were many other Sufi orders or Silsilahs. Unlike the Chistis and the Suhrawardi, they failed to leave their prominent imprint in the Indian subcontinent.

Firstly, during the end of the 14th century, Firdausi Silsilah was established at Rajgir, Bihar. It was a branch of Suhrawardi Silsilah. The most prominent Sufi saint of this silsilah was Shaikh Sharfuddin Yahya Maneri. Also, Shaikh Baruddin of Samarqand introduced this Silsilah in Delhi.

Secondly, in (1166 A.D.) Qadiri silsilah was founded by Shaikh Abdul Qadir Gilani in Bagdad. In (1517 A.D.) Sayyid Muhammad Gilani established this Silsilah in India, specifically in Punjab, Sind, and the decan. Qadiri Sufis received state patronage and also had a close relationship with the ruling classes. They also had an orthodox orientation like the orthodox ulemas. Another saint of this order was Mian Mir (1550-1635) of Lahore. Prince Dara Shikoh was a follower of him. He went to Lahore to meet with him along with Shah Jahan. Prince Dara Shikoh became the disciple of Mulla Shah Badakhshi. He wrote series of books ( Safinat-ul-Auliya 1640 AD, Sakinat-ul-Auliya 1643 AD, Risala-e-Haq Numa 1647 AD, Tariqat-ul-Hqiqat and Hasanat-ul-Arifeen 1653 AD, Majma-ul-Bahrain, Siri-i-Akbar, Iksir-ul-Islam, Mukalama Baba Lal wa Dara Shukoh) about his learning from the Sufis. We can find the influence of Wahadat al-wajood in his works. He also wrote a book on astrology in Sanskrit. There were two Urdu poets, Hasrat Mohani and Muhammad Iqbal also belonged to this order.

Thirdly, there was another silsilah named Shattari, which was established by Sheikh Sirajuddin Abdullah Shattar in the 15th century in Bengal, Jaunpur, and the Deccan. They received state patronage and also had a close relationship with the ruling classes.

Fourthly, another silsilah was Naqshbandi silsilah, which was founded by Khwaja Bahauddin Naqshbandi (1317-1389). Khwaja Bqi Billah ( 1563-1603) established this silsilah in India. The most prominent disciple of him was Sheikh Ahmad Sihindi and Sheikh Abdul Haq of Delhi. He gave himself the title of ‘Mujaddid’ or the reformer of the new millennium. Khwaja Muhammad Masum’s (son of Sheikh Ahmad Sihindi) disciple was Aurangzeb. Also, Tansen, the musician of Akbar courts was a follower of this order. Shah Waliullah was a scholar and saint of this silsilah. Khwaja Mir Dard was a urdu poet and saint of this order.

Fifthly, another order was Rishi introduced in Kashmir during the time of 15th and 16th centuries by Shaikh Nuruddin Wali. It became very popular over there because it got inspiration from the Shaivite bhakti tradition of Kashmir. During the time of 14th century, Sufism failed to hold its popularity in Indian society due to ideological differences between different Sufi Silsilah.

Impact of Sufism on Indian Society 

Sufism had an immense impact on Indian society and culture. It emerged as a major ideological factor that contributed to the integration of Indian society in the medieval period. The sultan used Sufism as an ideological Weapon to consolidate their power and build up an integrated and compact polity. Moreover, it acted as a catalyst in the assimilation of the Turko-Afghan rulers into mainstream society. Through their syncretic culture, which was tolerant and appreciative of non-Muslims as well, Sufi saints had to establish stability and harmony in medieval India. In fact, the Sufis were greatly influenced by bhakti and yogi saints and vice versa. The two strands of mysticism referenced each other positively and constructively. The practice and theological standpoints of Sufi and bhakti were very similar, which often blurred the distinctions between Hindus and Muslims. The bhakti concept of realization of special reality beneath the illusion of life which helps to escape the cycle of reincarnation, Moksha liberation from the earth, etc. ran nearly parallel to the Sufis concepts of duniya, tarika, and akhira . Info 2The Islamic stress on equality was far more respected and practiced by Sufis and the ulamas and this brought the mystic orders in close contact with the poor and marginalized rural communities. Thus the Sufis became more effective religious leaders than distant ulamas. They preached in the local dialects like Urdu, Sindhi, and Punjabi. The devotional practices and modest living attracted people from different socio-economic backgrounds. Sufism also had a profound impact on women. It promised them equality and emancipation. In fact, they were also admitted to the Khanqas. One of the famous Sufi Saint was Rabiya, who lived the life of a hermit. Her reputation travelled far and wide.

Sufism also had a great impact on literature and devotional music. The rich musical tradition of Hinduism in general and bhakti, in particular, was enriched by Sufi music. Sufi music continues to be popular to this day in form of qawali which was started by Amir Khusrau. Sufi music establishes an immediate mystical connection between the singer and the audience. One of the biggest contributions of Sufi musical tradition was Amir Khusrau, who was a disciple of Moinuddin Chisthi. Amir Khusrau was one of the most talented musical poets in medieval India. He was the founder of Indo-Muslim devotion at music traditions and continued to inspire generations of Sufi singers even today. In India Sufi doctrine based upon Kasf-ul-Mahjub of Hujwiri and Shaikh Shihabuddin Suhrawardi’s Awarif-ul- Marifat. Also, scholars pointed out some different kinds of literary works i.e. treaties, collection of letters ( written by Sufi saints), Maalfuzat ( discourse of Sufi saints), biographies (of Sufi saints), and poetry (written by Sufi saints). Sufi poets also contributed to the development of Punjabi literature.

Impact of Bhakti Movement on the Indian Sufis

It is now universally accepted that the bhakti movement had a major impact on Indian Sufism and vice versa. The Sufi doctrine though to great extent similar to Vedanta but this was not because of the instant impact of Indian thought on the former in the medieval age. The Sufi philosophy was nourished on Persian soil which in turn was permeated with Buddhism and Vedic philosophy long before the birth of Islam. It was thus the remote Indian cultural heritage of Sufism that endowed upon it the similarities with Buddhism and Vedanta. However, the Indian Sufis were quite different from their counterparts in other Muslim countries. The Sufis were to a great extent influenced by the Indian ascetics and attempted to look like them as well. They not only adopted their garments but their practices as well to ward off the suspicions of the lower orders of Hindus among whom they sought to propagate Islam. Among the various Indian practices adopted by the Sufis, mention may be made of those of physical torture of their bodies and showmanship. Besides, the Khan was were the built-in fashion of Buddhist monasteries and Hindu mathas. Just like the Hindu ascetics the Sufis too shaved the heads of the new entrants to the order. Sufism was thus thoroughly Indianised and the Sufi saints enjoyed great respect among people, both Hindus, and Muslims alike.

Negative Aspects of Sufism

However, the negative aspects of Sufism cannot be overlooked at the same time. The tradition of exaggerated reverence of the pir ultimately led to the creation of the personality cult. For example, after the death of the saint, his tomb almost became an object of worship. Besides the Sufis denounced philosophy and science which they equated with rationalism and instant belief in supernaturalism. This undoubtedly hampered scientific inquiry. Besides this principle of isolation from the state undoubtedly proved to be a limitation. Thapar correctly suggests contributed from within the society, impact would have been more direct. But in spite of these limitations, it is undeniable that the Sufis had a great impact on the contemporary state and society through their doctrine of humanity, equality, and brotherhood. They became ambassadors of unity between Hindus and Muslims and played a pivotal role in uniting the two cultures which again helped to a great extent in the foundation of Islam in India.

Positive Aspects of Sufism

Sufism took some essential steps to mold the character of medieval Indian society. Such as firstly, the Sufis highlighted the importance of the unity between different religions in Indian society. More or fewer Sufis emphasized showing a tolerant attitude towards other religions to maintain the social equilibrium of Indian society. Info 3They tried to establish harmony between Hindus and Muslims. Sufi saints successfully spread the idea of the brotherhood of Islam and equality among its supporters. All these things attracted the lower casts among Hindus which lead to conversion from Hindu to Islam. But initially, they were failed to attract the high caste Hindus. They also stressed the concept of superiority of the path of devotion and unity of God. They didn’t give much emphasis on rituals, ceremonies, pilgrimages, and fasts. Emporer Akbar took the attitude of tolerant and liberal. Sufi thought and literature became famous among Hindus for Akbar’s successors. Akbar adopted the Sullh-i-Kul (universal brotherhood doctrine). Sufism created a healthy religious atmosphere which helped Akbar to introduce the syncretic religion Din-i-Ilahi. Sufism also paved the way for the Mughal emperors to follow a policy of religious toleration. The Sufis stressed the advancement of education for the betterment of Indian society. It was due these reasons that so many Khanquhs became the centre of knowledge.


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