When an eagle’s spirit awakens in youthful hearts,
It sees its luminous goal beyond the starry heavens.
Words that were used to rally a nation into action. Have self belief, it tells the agitators and the activists. Focus on the innate ability and capabilities one is endowed with. Reach for the stars and believe. Iqbal in his famous poems brings to attention the power of the people, especially the inherent quality to challenge oppression, ignorance and injustice. It is a message that has its foundations in Islam. Pre-Islam Arabia is a cogent example. It was a society where daughters were buried alive, corruption rife, injustice common and ignorance widespread. Islam brought enlightenment, knowledge and justice. It brought with it a message of peace. What Islam stands for, are no longer the ideals its followers adhere to.
It is evident that there is cancer growing in the Muslim world. Extremism, in all forms, whether purported by ISIS or the extreme wahabism of the Saudis, has deformed the message of Islam. Both to a varying degree have adopted the violent and the subjugated version of religion for their own interests. The religion that speak out against violence again and again is used to justify violence for self interests and power.
There is a clear need for reformation in the Muslim world. None more so than in Pakistan. We have gone through terrible ordeals since independence. The society has become highly polarized. Orthodox right and the liberal left are tearing away at the fabric of our society, with both sides adamant that they are right. Yet, there is a path that has served us well in the past, and there is a strong need to revive it. It is the path of the Sufis.
Sufism has taken on a negative connotation in our society, and rightly so. Shrine worshipping, gaddi nasheeni and misuse for political gains are what remains of the once great tradition of learning, wisdom, and social activism. It is no secret that Islam was spread by the Sufis in South Asia, but what is forgotten is their teachings. One cannot do justice to the teachings of Sufism in such short space. But, it is important to acknowledge the role Sufis have played in the reformation of Muslims of South Asia over the last three hundred years or more.
Sufism has had a strong influence in the revivalist movements in South Asia. From active opposition to a more subtle approach, Sufis have adopted different strategies. Shah WaliUllah, a 18th century reformer not only focused on the intellectual and spiritual development of Muslims, but also pushed for political gains. Post 1857 was a tumultuous period for the Muslims. There was need for a more subtle approach. The reformation was taken up by another follower of Sufi teachings, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. The Aligarh movement for education and economic empowerment was borne from the desire to see Muslims of the sub-continent re-gain their dignity. It emphasized on bridging the gap between Islamic ideals and modern education. In the early 20th century, the ideals of Sufism, especially of reformation were beautifully encapsulated in the poems and words of Iqbal. Words used eloquently and with such mastery that they still have an impact on those who choose to listen to its message. The message is steeped in the core belief of sufi teachings – khuddi.
Sufis in the sub-continent have played various roles at different point in times. Sufis have actively opposed oppression, focused on social/economic uplift and have generally been reformers. Once again it is crucial for the people of this land to realize that the way forward is the middle path. The path which asks for empathy, understanding, respect, tolerance, knowledge and wisdom. This path has served us well in the past and it is the light that can lead us well in the future as well. We need to return to the path of the Sufis.