Kashmir, and the world in general, must learn the lessons of Sufism

Kashmir, and the world in general, must learn the lessons of Sufism

Ab Hamid Sheikh

Humans are materialistic by nature. Greed to acquire and obsession for possession is rooted in their minds. Highly materialistic individuals strongly believe in amassing wealth. Materialistic values breed greed in them and, at times, they get thrill in displaying their affluence. However, money cannot buy happiness. People are so lost in materialism that they cannot find time to think about themselves. Our thoughts are stuck at obtaining everything. The more we want, the more we snatch. Society loses its balance when a few snatch everything from the rest.
Sufism is a mystical form of Islam. Its adherents use acts of devotion and contemplation to achieve a deeper understanding, knowledge and closeness to Allah. Sufis consistently strive to be aware of God’s presence, stressing contemplation over action, spiritual development over legalism, and cultivation of the soul over social interaction. In the entire subcontinent, Jammu and Kashmir has the richest reservoir of Sufi tradition, a tradition which is an integral part of the people’s ethos and which informs their lives.
The valley of Kashmir is called a land of Sufis and it is due to these great souls that ignorance is absent and there is moral and spiritual illumination everywhere. Their education made the people understand the message of Allah and his Prophet (SAW) and to follow it with devotion and sincerity. Epithets like ‘Pir Vaer’ or ‘Rishi Vaer’ speak of the love and devotion of our ancestors for this spiritual tradition. Pirs and Fakirs were pious persons who spent most of their time in meditation and prayers. Their spiritual path was focused on the mind and their practices aimed at clearing the mental state, taming thoughts, and attaining calm. These cooling, meditative practices brought equanimity, tranquility and clarity of mind.
Sufism is a path of spiritual advancement, an expansion of consciousness that leads to awareness of the self and of the universe. The substance of Sufism is selfless experience and the actualisation of truth. The practice of Sufism leads to the development of innate spiritual and intuitive abilities. The mystical practices of Sufism work with the heart, and ignite the fervour of passionate, wild love. Andrew Harvey describes the Sufi path as, “It is a way to the heart of hearts, to the utmost direct intense experience of one’s sacred identity.” The essential message of Sufism is to remember God and serve others. The true practice of devotion is service. If you wish to serve the beloved, you must serve others. In selfless service we begin to see ourselves clearly. The rough ego starts to be smoothed and we learn humility, tenderness, and love. Harsh judgments, arrogance, and divisive qualities are diluted in the river of our intention to help others. Thus the twin pillars of Sufism are selfless service and love. Only one who loves can serve.
Inspired by saints and Sufis, Kashmiris were noted for their selfless service to others by many foreign visitors. Abul Fazl praised them as wise of character: “Theft and beggary were rare”, he noted. Kashmiris were good-tempered and had a distinct sense of humour, hence they were talkative, cheerful, and humorous. Their virtues were industriousness, religious tolerance, and social cohesiveness. However, in the 21st century we Kashmiris have forgotten the teachings of these spiritual guides and the responsibilities given to us by these pious and spiritual mentors.
Sufism as an amalgamation of humanism, spirituality and tolerance promoted Islam. The fusion of one human with another to form a collective consciousness made the common good holistic. The Rishis strengthened the culture of social responsibility and humanism. The Rishi movement was not confined to change of faith of people but it was an all-embracing movement bringing within its fold every aspect of life. The message of love and tolerance came to be recognised as a major marker of Kashmiri identity. Shaikh Noor-ud-din’s (R.A.) life was filled with love and compassion for people and purity of thought and action. As an ardent Rishi, Noor-ud-din (R.A.) stressed that a true Rishi must actively intervene in the world, take the side of the poor and the oppressed, and crusade for social justice, based on the recognition of the equality of all human beings. Shaikh Noor-ud-din’s (R.A.) poetic compositions are replete with motifs based on the everyday life of the toiling people, his denunciation of meaningless ritualism, and his scathing attack on social elites. This attracted a large number of Kashmiris into the Muslim fold. The social purpose of Rishis was to promote harmony between people irrespective of creed, colour, and religion. It was a perfect harmony which set the imagination of the people aflame.
The message of harmony, as spread by the Rishis from time to time, created a reservoir of humanism which became the ideological fountainhead of the modern Kashmiri mind and gave a unique quality to the Kashmiri identity. Sufis and Rishis of Kashmir believed that wherever possible we should be able to do things for the benefit of others without expecting anything in return, not even appreciation. The Sufis promoted socio-economic welfare of the people in Kashmir. When Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani (R.A.) reached Kashmir, he was accompanied by traders, artisans and businessmen who not only inculcated in the Kashmiri people doctrines of Sufism but also paved the way for their economic advancement. The great master of Iran worked like a mason to build the future of the Kashmiri nation. Great and magnanimous as he was, he gave them education, wisdom, culture and religion. He was a mentor of this beautiful valley. The people of ‘Iran-i-Sagir’ learn arts and crafts through his guidance. Thus, Sufis and Rishis not only guided us but also ensured our social and economic welfare.
The loss of this great tradition has led to the idea of social service and humanism being replaced with capitalist materialism. Now people are more aware about profit, interest and gain and less about humility, tenderness, and love. There is no need to list the problems in our society as no one is so ignorant as to be made aware of them. Religion is not just some dry intellectual idea but rather the basic philosophy of life, a teaching that helps us relate our experience with our psychological makeup. The word ‘wealth’ is an amalgam of words ‘weal’ (well-being) and ‘th’ (the condition), meaning ‘the condition of well-being’. Well-being includes family life, social participation, leisure, health, financial security, work-life satisfaction, etc. As per the ESRC Research Group on Wellbeing in Developing Countries, “Well-being is a state of being with others, where human needs are met, where one can act meaningfully to pursue one’s goals, and where one enjoys a satisfactory quality of life.” This definition is incompatible with capitalist life that is centred on individual consumption. Sufism, in contrast, extends to all facets of a person’s life, economic as well as psychic. This rich heritage guided us in the past and may still be the path towards restoring social harmony in Kashmir.
Andrew Harvey believes that Rumi is our sacred guide for today’s troubled world and is one who can deliver us from the evils of capitalist materialism. In the 21st century, Amin Syukur argued, Sufism is required to be more humanistic, empirical and functional. Appreciation of teachings of Islam can give direction to human life in moral, spiritual, social, economic and every other sphere. Sufism can be regarded as a social responsibility, the obligation to respond to social problems. The enthusiasm for Rumi’s poetry in the West is evidence of the appetite among better-educated cosmopolitans for a universalistic spirituality that can serve as balm for arid materialism. The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the pursuit of spiritualism in even those with materialistic tendencies. They are realising that materialism and spirituality can co-exist. People have become less conspicuous and wasteful in their consumption, and willingly share their possessions with those in need. There are ample examples of people sacrificing their wants (desires) during this pandemic to fulfil needs of the weaker sections of society. Thus a ray of hope is there that materialistic greed can be overcome by the spiritualistic philosophy of Sufism not only in the valley of Kashmir but throughout the world.

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