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Sufism: Meaning, Origin and Main Features of Sufism

The philosophy and practices of Sufism may very aptly be stated in the words of Dr. Tara Chand,

“Sufism is a religion of intense devotion; Love is its manifestation, poetry, music and dance are the instruments of its worship and attaining oneness with God is its ideal.”

In other words, it implies that the ideal before an individual should be to be one with God. For the attainment of this ideal, intense devotion for God is needed in the individual. Devotion is reflected in love. This love for the Almighty is expressed through three fold activities on the part of the individual i.e. poetry of love towards God, music of love towards God and dance of love towards God.

It is generally believed that Sufism is derived from two Arabic words i.e. ‘Saf’ and ‘Suf. The word ‘Saf means a carpet. Since the Sufis meditated upon God on a carpet, Sufism took its birth i.e. pure people who meditated on a carpet.

The word ‘Sufi’ derives its name from another Arabic word ‘Suf which means wool. The Muslim saints who wore garments of coarse wool began to be called Sufi saints. The first epoch of Sufism is said to have begun in the seventh century A.D.

Sufism entered India in the 12th century with Muslim invaders and became popular in the 13th century.

1. Sufism derives is inspiration from Islam. While the orthodox Muslims depend upon external conduct and blind observance of religious rituals, the Sufi saints seek inner purity.

2. According to Sufi saints, God is the beloved of the lover (‘Mashook”) i.e. the devotee and the devotee is eager to meet his beloved (God).

3. The Sufis think that love and devotion are the only means of reaching God.

4. Along with Prophet Muhammad, they also attach great importance to their ‘Murshid’ or ‘Pir’ (Guru).

5. Devotion is more important than fast (Roza) or prayer (Namaz)

6. Sufism does not believe in caste system.

7. Sufism emphasizes upon leading a simple life.

8. Sufi saints preached in Arabic, Persian and Urdu etc.

9. The Sufis were divided into 12 orders each under a mystic Sufi saint. Prominent Sufi Saints.

Khawja Moin-ud-Din Chisti (1143-1234 A.D.):

He came to India towards the close of the 12th century. Initially he stayed at Lahore. Then he moved to Delhi and finally settled at Ajmer. On account of his pious and simple life, people of different faiths looked upon him as their spiritual teacher.

He mixed freely with the lower classes of both Hindus and Muslims. He used to hold devotional musical gatherings. On account of his virtues of renunciation, meditation and selfless service, people from different parts of India came to his place at Ajmer.

His ‘dargah’ (tomb) at Ajmer (Ajmer Sharif) has become a place of pilgrimage for the Muslims as well as the Hindus. His devotees believe that by offering prayer at his tomb, their wishes (‘minit’) are fulfilled.

Baba Farid-ud-Din Ganj-i-Shakar (13th century):

His outlook was broad and humane. Some of his devotional verses are found in ‘Adi-Granth’ of the Sikhs. Thousands of his devotees visit his tomb at Faridkot in the Punjab.

Nizam-ud-Din Aulia (14th century):

He laid great stress on love as a means of the realization of God. He said, “O Muslims! I swear by God that he holds dear those who love Him for the sake of human beings and also those who love human beings for the sake of Him. This is the only way to love and adore Him.”

During his life time he was held in great esteem by several Sultans of Delhi as well as the general public.

He also used Hindi in his teachings.

His tomb at Nizam-ud-Din in Delhi has become a place of pilgrimage for both Muslims and Hindus.

Impact of Sufism:

Religions impact:

The efforts of Sufi saints helped to lessen religious fanaticism in India. Hindus in larger numbers became followers of Sufi saints. The tombs built after their death has continued to become places of worship for the Muslims as well as the Hindus. Their belief in unity of God helped to remove mutual differences.

Social Impact:

Their stress on social welfare led to the establishment of works of charitable nature i.e. opening of orphanages and women service centres. The efforts of Sufi saints helped to promote equality and lessen the evils of casteism. They also tried to infuse a spirit of piety and morality.

Political Impact:

Some of the renowned Sufi saints on account of their virtuous and saintly life motivated some of the Delhi Sultans to follow a liberal policy.

Cultural Impact:

The sacred places built in the memory of the Sufi saints clearly demonstrate the development of a new type of architecture. The Dargah’ of Khawaja Muin-ud-Din Chisti at Ajmer and the Tomb of Nizam-ud-Din Aulia at Delhi have a special place in architecture.

Sufi saints popularized devotional music and songs.

Several Sufi saints composed literary works in vernacular languages.

Amir Khusro, a disciple of Nizam-ud-Din Aulia, was a noted ‘guzzle’ writer. The poetry of Khusro was so full of sweetness that he was called ‘Tutiy-i-Hind. He is credited with more than 90 works on different subjects i.e. historical and romantic as well.

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