Our cultural and spiritual ethos
The people of Pakistan, being proud inheritors of traditions of great Sufis, saints and poets who fostered the message of peace and brotherhood over the centuries wish to establish a tolerant society with a view to uniting the nation. Fortunately, the social contract of Pakistan and its cultural foundations blended with the characteristics of Sufism tend to accommodate the dissenting thoughts and opposing beliefs. The main strength of revered Sufis was their passion for interfaith harmony and readiness to engage in dialogue, and hold followers of other religions in high esteem. They approached the opposing faiths with an urge to learn and understand the rationale of that belief system/faith and the path of reaching the God. And they treated other religious communities kindly and gently. In order to fight the growing menace of religious extremism and sectarian divide leading to violent killings and ethnic and sectarian intolerance, it is imperative to highlight the teachings of great Sufi Saints.
Many Muslim rulers who ruled India had shown tremendous reverence to Sufi saints who were kind and generous to all human beings irrespective of their religion, ethnicity and creed. Thus, they were a source of unity and harmony between followers of different religions. Founder of the Mughal empire, Zahir-ud-Din Muhammad Babar (1483-1530) in his memoir Tuzk-e-Babri had advised his son Humayun that “India is a big country inhabited by various nationalities, ethnic groups and followers of different religions; and he should mete out equal treatment to all”. In fact, many Muslim rulers were inspired by the Sufi Saints. Moinuddin Chishti (1141-1230) was also known as Gharib Nawaz who was the most famous Sufi saint of the Chishti Order of the Indian Subcontinent. The initial spiritual chain or silsila of the Chishti order in India comprising Moinuddin Chishti, Bakhtiyar Kaki, Baba Farid and Nizamuddin Auliya constitutes the great Sufi saints of Indian history. Today Hindus, Sikhs and followers of other religions also visit their shrines to pay their homage and respect. Ali Hajvery (Data Gang Bakhsh) was also famous for his generosity that had made contribution to peace and harmony in the society. Abdul Qadir al-Gilani (1077–1166), was a renowned Muslim saint and was the founder of the Qadriya order, the most tolerant and charitable of the Sunni order of the dervishes. He is held in veneration by Muslims of the Indian subcontinent where followers call him “Ghaus-e-Azam”. Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi had envisioned a universal faith, embodying all religions, because he understood that the cause of every religious conflict is ignorance. “Rumi implies that religiosity consists in something other than outward religions. Real belief is apparent only on the inside of a person, which is not visible. Therefore, Rumi makes it clear that the religion of love involves loving the eternal and invisible source of existence,” wrote M. Este’Lam in ‘Rumi and the Universality of his Message’.
It is an established fact that the religion brought by a prophet always contained an ideology to arouse the slumbering masses against the status quo, but with time it lost its revolutionary appeal and became a customary or classical religion with the distortional manoeuvrings of the clergy, the reflections of customs and traditions and instinctive inclination of the people towards dogmas and doctrines rather than its essence and spirit. Sufi poetry is impressive with an appeal to all segments of the society. Sufi poets used local metaphors understandable to the common people. They lived in the communities they belonged to, and highlighted problems faced by common masses regardless of their ethnic origin, creed and religion. In Punjab, Sufi poets Bulleh Shah, Waris Shah and Shah Hussian were revered by the people of all religions and ethnicities. In Sindh, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, Sachal Sarmast, Lal Shahbaz Qilandar; in Balochistan Mast Tawwakali and in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Rehman Baba were Sufi poets who gave message of tolerance, peace and harmony and made contributions to enrich our culture.
Culture is the accumulation of a nation or its people’s spiritual, mental, moral, artistic, historical values and principles. A nation must identify and collect its cultural resources, reject the obsolete stuff, select the productive elements, refine them and convert them into a force or energy to inspire, guide and direct its people to improve their society, attain highest moral standards and then march towards achievement of scientific and technological developments. In order to inspire someone to achieve exalted position, it is essential that his strong points be identified, highlighted and realized to him. Similarly, to attract the people to Islamic ideology, the status of man with God, the high ideals set out for him, his advantage over other creations must be clearly pointed out so that he is released not only from the ‘prison’ of self but also from the confines of doctrinal cults. It is not our intention here to compare Sufism with other schools of thought, but to acknowledge the role Sufi Saints and poets have played in creating peace and harmony in the society.
—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.