MRINALINI SARABHAI The Times of India Saturday, December 17, 2005
Sufism is a teaching based on love. There is a sense of unity of thought which speaks of the fundamental one-ness of all religions. Disharmony and dissent is often caused by language. It is explained that the travellers are the ordinary people of the world. The linguist is the Sufi. When differences of language, meaning and perception are sorted out, only then real teaching can be understood. The Sufi is a mystic who believes in attunement with the whole of existence. 'Sufism is truth without form', wrote Iba El Jalali. The word 'Sufi' in the Arabic means 'pure'. A literary interpretation of Sufi is people clad in camel's wool. It is difficult to define 'Sufism' for the Sufi practices 'alternate detachment and identification with life'. Sufis believe that everyone evolves to a known destiny. Life is both lived and perceived. For more than a thousand years the Hindus and Sufis exchanged ideas and many Sufi sayings were similar to Sanskrit shlokas about human aspiration.
In Sufism, the laws of life were kindness, generosity, good advice, forbearance to enemies, indifference to fools and respect for the learned ones. Jalaluddin Rumi warned: "Judge not the Sufi to be that which you can see of him, my friends". He himself had been transformed when he met Shams of Tabriz, a travelling Dervish. Dervishes were ascetics who founded the Sufi fraternity in Arabia. In their beliefs they unified the inner philosophy of all religious thought, and created a new genre of music and movement. The sacred dance of the Dervishes is said to have happened when Rumi once took a rhythmic turn. This movement unconsciously whirled the skirt of his garment. It formed a circle and with that the dance was created with a group known as the whirling Dervishes. There were varied scholars of Dervishes.
The sect which developed in India was the Naqshbandi, founded by Naqebhand, a great Sufi personality of his time. Rumi's ghazals continue to inspire singers and poets with their artistic reflections of spiritual love through human aspiration. The qawwalis are sung everywhere and combine various music traditions like the khayal, thumri, tarana and others. A marvellous tradition of humanity. I recollect an old song in this context: "They asked me how I knew/ my true love was true/ I of course, replied/ Something here inside/ cannot be denied". While it is difficult to describe Sufism, the emphasis is on perfect renunciation and total absorption in God. As a Sufi master said: "Love is action, action is knowledge; knowledge is truth, truth is love".