The Sufic Tradition

The first account of Sufi activities in the subcontinent was the visit which Mansur Hallaj paid to Gujrat, Sindh and Multan in 905. More than one and a half centuries later, a disciple of the mystical masters of Eastern Iran came to settle in Lahore. He was Syed Ali Hajveri, called Data Ganj Bakhsh whose tomb is as much venerated by the pious as his book Kashf-ul-mahjub, "The unveiling of the hidden", which is admired by scholars as the first comprehensive survey of mystical doctrine written in the Persian language.

The peak of mysticism in the subcontinent, however, was the thirteenth century, the age of the greatest masters of sufism from Spain to Bengal. Mueenuddin Chishti (d. 1236) came from his native Sistan to Ajmer, which had become part of Bengal and ruled by Delhi, where his friend Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki (d. 1235) lived. Mueenuddin's preaching of the love of God for man attracted the masses, and soon the Chishti order spread over the whole of India. Other outstanding representatives of this movement were the Fariduddin Ganj Shakar of Pakpattan, and Nizamuddin Aulia.

The Chishtiya avoided contact with the ruling classes, but their influence permeated the lives of Indian Muslims. Their love of poetry and music (given lasting expression by Amir Khusrau and Hasan Dehlvi) added a new dimension to Muslim culture in the subcontinent. The sayings of the early Chishti saints yielded an insight into the social and cultural life of mediaeval India. An outstanding member of the early Chishtiya is Muhammad Gaisudaraz (d. 1422 in Gulbarga in the Deccan), famous as a prolific writer in Arabic, in Persian for his intense devotional poems and letters, and one of the first authors of a mystical work in Dakhni Urdu, rnaarif al-ashiqui. He wrote an appreciation of the teachings of the "greatest master" Ibn Arabi, who later deeply influenced Indian sufism and led it towards existentialism.

The Chishtiya became connected with the Mughal court - when Akbar's son Salim was born, the birth was ascribed to the prayer of a Chishti saint, in whose honour Fatehpur Sikri was erected.

Other saints reached the subcontinent at the same time. The fame of Bahauddin Suhrawardi (d. 1262) was such that Multan became a centre of spiritual life, and the Persian poet Iraqi spent 25 years there. From Multan and Uch, the Suhrawardiya, more closely in touch with the aristocracy than the Chishtiya, spread soon to Bengal where its cultural influence has never ceased. A unique figure in thirteenth century sufism was Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, whose tomb in Sehwan is still a much frequented shrine.

In 1371 Syed Ali Hamadhani introduced that Kubrawiva in Kashmir. This order with its fine psychological insights seems to have influenced northern India more than can be proved at present. The Qadiriya, probably the most influential order in the Islamic world, reached India in the fifteenth century. Its most prominent representative was Mian Mir of Lahore, who inspired Prince Dara Shikoh in his vision of uniting "the two oceans" of Islam and Hinduism, and whose lovely tomb is in Lahore.

The influence of the Qadiriya can be measured best by the innumerable songs in regional languages that are dedicated to Abdul Qadir Jilani. An order whose influence extended over the borders of India is the Shattariva. Its best known master was Muhammad Ghaus Gwaliari (d 15621), the author of a complex mystical work, AI-Jawahir al-Khantsa, "The five jewels". His tomb in Gavalior, built by- Akhar, is a superb example of Muslim architecture. The Naqshbandiya order, originating from Bukhara and later politically influential at the Timurid court of' Herat and in Turkestan was introduced to India in about 1600. Its foremost representative, Ahmad Sirhindi (1624) relentlessly fought against the strong tendency towards existentialism, mainly expressed in mystical poetry, which blurred the differences between Islam and Hinduism.

The claim of Ahmed Sirhindi to be the gavvum, the spiritual ruler of this world, and the title given him by his followers Mu.jaddi-i-al i-Sani, the leader of revival of Islam in the second millennium, is interesting for psychological and political reasons. The Naqshbandiya were largely responsible for the restoration of truly spiritual life in eighteenth century Delhi; Shah Waliullah (1762), Flazhar Aanjanan (1781) and Khwaja Mir Dard, represent the attempt of Naqshbandi-oriented mystics to respond to the challenge posed by the decay of Muslim power in the subcontinent. The favour of their commitment was an example to the freedom fighters of Sayed Ahmad Barelvi, to the Deoband school, and to Sir Syed Ahmad Khan of Aligarh. The Naqshbandis in Sindh were the first to introduce religious educational literature in the Sindhi language.

The mystical orders, using the regional languages and infusing them with the literary idiom, have done much to acquaint the masses with a love of God and of the Prophet (PBUH)

The mystics travelled widely and thus spread the message of Islam as far east as the Malayan Archipelago. The veneration shown to living and dead saints by the masses tended to dilute the purity of lslam. Likewise, the activities of the mystical leaders, the pirs, were not always restricted to the spiritual sphere and their power over their followers grew disproportionately. This caused the reformers' aversion to "pirism", which is a recurrent theme in Iqbal's philosophy. Iqbal himself went back to the classical, pure sufism, drawing largely on the dynamic concept of' love as preached in the middle ages by Jalaluddin Rumi (d 1273), whose Persian poetry was widely read and commented upon in all Muslim languages of the subcontinent. Iqbal also resuscitated the essence of Sufism.