Sufism In India


Sufism was a liberal reform movement within Islam. It had its origin in Persia and spread into India in the eleventh century. They laid emphasis on love and devotion to God. The Sufi saints were known as pirs. They did not believe in rituals or ceremonies. They were religiously tolerant and hence attracted a lot of Hindus into their silsilas (religious doctrines or orders).

Teachings of Sufism:

  • There is only one God.
  • All people are the children of God.
  • To love one’s fellow men is to love God.
  • Different religions are different ways to reach God. Therefore one should respect all religions.
  • Devotional music (qawali) is one way of coming near to God.
  • Fasts and rituals are not essential to reaching God.
  • There is no need for conversion. One should be a good Hindu or a good Musalmaan.
  • People should follow the teachings of a pir for he will show the right path to reach God.
  • Like the Vedantic philosophy, Sufism laid emphasis on the principle that individual souls are manifestations of the supreme soul in which they are finally immersed.
  • Freedom of thinking is a great blessing and is essential for spiritual advancement.

Chisti order:

  • The greatest figure in the history of Sufism in India was Khwaja Muinuddin Chisti (popularly known as Khwaja Ajmeri) who arrived at Lahore from Ghazni in 1161 and settled down at Ajmer where he died in 1236.
  • He was the founder of the Chisti order of Sufis in India.
  • He advised his followers to respect all religions and live in peace and harmony with each other.
  • Khwaja Muinuddin Chisti tomb in Ajmer was constructed by Ghiasuddin Khalji of Malwa.
  • Other Sufis who belonged to the Chisti order were Shaikh Fariduddin Ganj-i-Shakar (known as Baba Farid in Sikh tradition), Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya (Mahboob-i-Illahi), Shaikh Nasiruddin Mahmud (Chirag-i-Delhi, the lamp of Delhi), Syed Muhammad Gesu Daraz (Bandanawaz, benefactor of God’s creatures).
  • Amir Khusro, the great scholar and poet was an ardent follower of Mahboob-i-Illahi.
  • Nizamuddin Auliya tomb in Delhi built by sultan Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq.
  • The Chisti order gained popularity during Akbar’s reign.
  • In the 16th century, the most notable Chisti saint was Shaikh Salim Chisti of Fatehpur Sikri who was a contemporary of Akbar.

Suhrawardis Order:

  • The prominent Sufi saints of the Suhrawardis Order were Shaikh Shahatuddin Suhrawardis and Hamiduddin Nagoi.
  • In the 13th century, the Suhrawardis Order was established in India by Shaikh Bahauddin Zakariya (disciple of Shahatuddin Suhrawardis).
  • The Suhrawardis thought that living in luxury and active participation in political affairs were not hindrances to spiritual progress.
  • Sind and Multan were the centers of the spiritual activities of the saints of Suhrawardis Order.

Other Sufi Orders:

  • During the 15th century two new Sufi orders were founded in India.
  1. Shuttaris Order– established by Shaikh Abdullah Shattri.
  2. Qadiris Order– established by Sayyid Ghau Wala Pir. Prince Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Shah Jahan, became the follower of the Qadiri order and visited Mian Mir at Lahore. Dara Shikoh in his Persian work, Majmaul Bahrain, there are interesting discussions on the Sufi and Hindu cosmologies.
  • Firdausi Order– established by Shaikh Badruddin Samarkhandi. Mainly restricted to Bihar.
  • Naqshbandiah Order– established by Khwaja Baqi Billah and its most famous saint was Shaikh Ahmed Sirhindi known as Mujeddid Alif Saani (The Reformer of the 10th century). Shaikh Ahmed Sirhindi was a contemporary of Akbar and Jahangir.

Influence/Impact of Sufism:

Sufism had a great influence on the people and even on the rulers. It taught them to be religiously tolerant. The most important contribution of Sufism is that it helped to blunt the edge of Hindu-Muslim conflicts and prejudices by forging the feelings of solidarity and brotherhood between these two religious communities. It led to the popularity of the Bhakti movement because most of the principles of Sufism were very similar to those of the Bhakti cult. It had a liberalising effect on the state policy of many Indian rulers. It was under the influence of Sufism that Sher Shah Suri and Akbar and others gave up much of their orthodoxy and began to treat all their subjects alike. It also led the Hindus to venerate the Muslim saints and the Muslims on their part began to show respect to the Hindu gods and goddesses and saints. It created a spirit of tolerance and brought Hinduism and Isalm nearer to one another.

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