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The Origins of Sufism

rumiThere is disagreement among religious scholars and Sufis themselves about the origins of Sufism. The traditional view is that Sufism is the mystical school of Islam and had its beginnings in the first centuries following the life of the Prophet Mohammad. Indeed, most Sufis in the world today are Muslim and many of them would consider a non-Islamic Sufism impossible.

There is another view, however, that traces the pre-Islamic roots of Sufism back through the early Christian mystics of Syria and Egypt, to the Essenes, the ancient Pythagorean orders, and the mystery schools of the Egyptians and Zoroastrians, among others. It is these roots that gathered into the trunk known as Islamic Sufism.

Sufi Inayat Khan recognized the multi-religious roots of Sufism as well as its contemporary relevance for people of all faiths. When he was instructed by his teacher in 1907 to bring Sufism to the West, he articulated a "message of spiritual liberty" which reflects the universal, inclusive nature of Sufism. As he noted:

"Every age of the world has seen awakened souls, and as it is impossible to limit wisdom to any one period or place, so it is impossible to date the origin of Sufism."

Texts on the Universality of Sufism

The Origin of Sufism - Sufi Inayat Khan

The germ of Sufism is said to have existed from the beginning of the human creation, for wisdom is the heritage of all; therefore no one person can be said to be its propounder. It has been revealed more clearly and spread more widely from time to time as the world has evolved.

Sufism as a brother/sisterhood may be traced back as far as the period of Daniel. We find among the Zoroastrians, Hatim, the best known Sufi of his time. The chosen ones of God, the salt of the earth, who responded without hesitation to the call of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed, were Sufis, and were not only simple followers of a religion but had insight into divine knowledge. They recognized God's every messenger and united with them all. Before the time of Mohammed they were called Ekuanul Safa, Brothers of Purity, but after his coming they were named by him Sahabi Safa, Knights of Purity. The world has called them Zoroastrian, Christian, Jewish, or Islamic mystics, and the followers of each religion have claimed them as their own. For instance, a Christian would claim that Saint Paul was a Christian and a Muslim that Shams Tabriz was a Muslim. In reality Christ was not a Christian nor was Mohammed a Muslim, they were Sufis.

Sufism: Wisdom Of All Faiths - Sufi Inayat Khan

The word Sufi comes from a Persian word meaning wisdom. From the original root many derivations can be traced; among them the Greek word Sophia is one of the most interesting.

Wisdom is the ultimate power. In wisdom is rooted religion, which connotes law and inspiration. But the point of view of the wise differs from that of the simple followers of a religion. The wise, whatever their faith, have always been able to meet each other beyond those boundaries of external forms and conventions, which are natural and necessary to human life, but which none the less separate humanity.

People of the same thought and point of view are drawn to each other with a tendency to form an exclusive circle. A minority is apt to fence itself off from the crowd. So it has been with the mystics. Mystical ideas are unintelligible to the generality of people. The mystics have, therefore, usually imparted their ideas to a chosen few only, to those whom they could trust, who were ready for initiation and discipleship. Thus great Sufis have appeared at different times and have founded schools of thought. Their expression of wisdom has differed to suit their environments, but their understanding of life has been one and the same. The same herb planted in various atmospheric conditions will vary in form accordingly, but will retain its characteristics.

The European historian sometimes traces the history of Sufism by noticing the actual occurrence of this word and by referring only to those schools which have definitely wished to be known by this name. Some European scholars find the origin of this philosophy in the teaching Of Islam, others connect it with Buddhism. Others do not reject as incredible the Semitic tradition that Sufism's foundation is to be attributed to the teachings of Abraham. But the greater number consider that it arose contemporary to the teaching of Zoroaster. Every age of the world has seen awakened souls, and as it is impossible to limit wisdom to any one period or place, so it is impossible to date the origin of Sufism.

Not only have there been illuminated souls at all times, but there have been times when a wave of illumination has passed over humanity as a whole. We believe that such a period is at hand. The calamity through which the world has lately passed, and the problems of the present difficult situations are due to the existence of boundaries; this fact is already clear to many. Sufism takes away the boundaries which divide different faiths by bringing into full light the underlying wisdom in which they are all united.

Only Breath - Jelaluddin Rumi

(translated by Coleman Barks)

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu
Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen. Not any religion
or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up
from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,
am not an entity in this world or the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any
origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.
I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,
first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.

RiffRaff posted:

Texts on the Universality of Sufism

The Origin of Sufism - Sufi Inayat Khan

The germ of Sufism is said to have existed from the beginning of the human creation, for wisdom is the heritage of all; therefore no one person can be said to be its propounder. It has been revealed more clearly and spread more widely from time to time as the world has evolved.

Sufism as a brother/sisterhood may be traced back as far as the period of Daniel. We find among the Zoroastrians, Hatim, the best known Sufi of his time. The chosen ones of God, the salt of the earth, who responded without hesitation to the call of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed, were Sufis, and were not only simple followers of a religion but had insight into divine knowledge. They recognized God's every messenger and united with them all. Before the time of Mohammed they were called Ekuanul Safa, Brothers of Purity, but after his coming they were named by him Sahabi Safa, Knights of Purity. The world has called them Zoroastrian, Christian, Jewish, or Islamic mystics, and the followers of each religion have claimed them as their own. For instance, a Christian would claim that Saint Paul was a Christian and a Muslim that Shams Tabriz was a Muslim. In reality Christ was not a Christian nor was Mohammed a Muslim, they were Sufis.

very true. only souls that have a God awakening would realize such joy.

Garden Among the Flames - Ibn 'Arabi

(translated by Michael Sells)

A garden among the flames!
My heart can take on
Any form:
A meadow for gazelles,
A cloister for monks,
For the idols, sacred ground,
Ka'ba for the circling pilgrim,
the tables for the Torah,
the scrolls of the Qur'an.
My creed is love;
Wherever its caravan turns along the way,
That is my belief,
My faith.

The ecstatic poems of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, a Persian poet and Sufi master born 807 years ago in 1207, have sold millions of copies in recent years, making him the most popular poet in the US. Globally, his fans are legion.

“He’s this compelling figure in all cultures,” says Brad Gooch, who is writing a biography of Rumi to follow his critically acclaimed books on Frank O’Hara and Flannery O’Connor. “The map of Rumi’s life covers 2,500 miles,” says Gooch, who has traveled from Rumi’s birthplace in Vakhsh, a small village in what is now Tajikistan, to Samarkand in Uzbekistan, to Iran and to Syria, where Rumi studied at Damascus and Aleppo in his twenties. His final stop was Konya, in Turkey, where Rumi spent the last 50 years of his life. Today Rumi’s tomb draws reverent followers and heads of state each year for a whirling dervish ceremony on 17 December, the anniversary of his death.

The transformative moment in Rumi’s life came in 1244, when he met a wandering mystic known as Shams of Tabriz. “Rumi was 37, a traditional Muslim preacher and scholar, as his father and grandfather had been,” says Gooch. “The two of them have this electric friendship for three years – lover and beloved [or] disciple and sheikh, it’s never clear.” Rumi became a mystic. After three years Shams disappeared – “possibly murdered by a jealous son of Rumi, possibly teaching Rumi an important lesson in separation.”  Rumi coped by writing poetry. “Most of the poetry we have comes from age 37 to 67. He wrote 3,000 [love songs] to Shams, the prophet Muhammad and God. He wrote 2,000 rubayat, four-line quatrains. He wrote in couplets a six-volume spiritual epic, The Masnavi.”  

During these years, Rumi incorporated poetry, music and dance into religious practice. “Rumi would whirl while he was meditating and while composing poetry, which he dictated,” said Gooch. “That was codified after his death into elegant meditative dance.” Or, as Rumi wrote, in Ghazal 2,351: “I used to recite prayers. Now I recite rhymes and poems and songs.” Centuries after his death, Rumi’s work is recited, chanted, set to music and used as inspiration for novels, poems, music, films, YouTube videos and tweets (Gooch tweets his translations @RumiSecrets). Why does Rumi’s work endure?

The inward eye

“He’s a poet of joy and of love,” says Gooch. “His work comes out of dealing with the separation from Shams and from love and the source of creation, and out of facing death. Rumi’s message cuts through and communicates. I saw a bumper sticker once, with a line from Rumi: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there.”

“Rumi is a very mysterious and provocative poet and figure for our time, as we grapple with understanding the Sufi tradition [and] understanding the nature of ecstasy and devotion and the power of poetry,” says the poet Anne Waldman, co-founder with Allen Ginsberg of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University, where she is a professor of poetics. “And the homoerotic tradition as well, consummated or not. He is in a long tradition of ecstatic seers from Sappho to Walt Whitman.”

“Across time, place and culture, Rumi's poems articulate what it feels like to be alive,” says Lee Briccetti, executive director of Poets House, co-sponsor of a national library series in the US that features Rumi. (It’s currently in Detroit and Queens and heads to San Francisco, Houston, Atlanta and Columbus in 2015.)  â€œAnd they help us understand our own search for love and the ecstatic in the coil of daily life.” She compares Rumi’s work to Shakespeare’s for its “resonance and beauty”.

Coleman Barks, the translator whose work sparked an American Rumi renaissance and made Rumi the best-selling poet in the US, ticks off the reasons Rumi endures: “His startling imaginative freshness. The deep longing that we feel coming through.  His sense of humour.  There's always a playfulness [mixed] in with the wisdom.”

In 1976 the poet Robert Bly handed Barks a copy of Cambridge don AJ Arberry’s translation of Rumi and said, “These poems need to be released from their cages.” Barks transformed them from stiff academic language into American-style free verse.  Since then, Barks’ translations have yielded 22 volumes in 33 years, including The Essential Rumi, A Year with Rumi, Rumi: The Big Red Book and Rumi’s father’s spiritual diary, The Drowned Book, all published by HarperOne.  They have sold more than 2m copies worldwide and have been translated into 23 languages.

A new volume is due in autumn. Rumi: Soul-fury and Kindness, the Friendship of Rumi and Shams Tabriz features Barks’ new translations of Rumi’s short poems (rubai), and some work on the Notebooks of Shams Tabriz, sometimes called The Sayings of Shams Tabriz.  “Like the Sayings of Jesus (The Gospel of Thomas), they have been hidden away for centuries,” Barks notes, “not in a red urn buried in Egypt, but in the dervish communities and libraries of Turkey and Iran. Over recent years scholars have begun to organise them and translate them into English.”

800 years ahead of the times

“Just now,” Barks says, “I feel there is a strong global movement, an impulse that wants to dissolve the boundaries that religions have put up and end the sectarian violence.  It is said that people of all religions came to Rumi's funeral in 1273. Because, they said, he deepens our faith wherever we are.  This is a powerful element in his appeal now.”

“Rumi was an experimental innovator among the Persian poets and he was a Sufi master,” says Jawid Mojaddedi, a scholar of early and medieval Sufism at Rutgers University and an award-winning Rumi translator. “This combination of mystical richness and bold adaptations of poetic forms is the key to his popularity today.”

The first of Rumi’s four main innovations is his direct address to readers in the rare second person, says Mojaddedi.  â€œI think contemporary readers respond well to this directness.”

Second is his urge to teach: “Readers of ‘inspirational’ literature are drawn to Rumi’s poetry.”  Third, “his use of everyday imagery.” And fourth, “his optimism of the attainment of union within his lyrical love ghazals. The convention in that form is to stress its unattainability and the cruel rebuffs of the beloved. Rumi celebrates union.”

Mojaddedi has completed his translation of three of the six volumes of Rumi’s masterwork, The Masnavi. It is, he said, “the longest single-authored emphatically mystical poem ever written at 26,000 couplets, making it a significant work in its own right. It is also arguably the second most influential text in the Islamic world after the Qu'ran.” The original Persian text was so influential that in Ottoman times a network of institutions was devoted to its study.

As new translations come into print, and his work continues to resonate, Rumi’s influence will continue. His inspiring words remind us how poetry can be a sustaining part of everyday life.

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Sufism, a mystical tradition within Islam, is known for its whirling dances and musical prayer practice. In Turkey, this offers a striking contrast to the strict separation of the sexes and the ban on music in the mosque. Many adherents are reluctant to announce their affiliation, but Rachael Kohnmet two outspoken Turkish Sufis in Istanbul.


Eylem Kaftan stood out from the crowd of Turkish Muslim women who attended the G20 Interfaith Summit in Istanbul. While they wore hijabsand long skirts, Kaftan's long flowing hair was uncovered, and her tall, willowy figure was fashionably clad. The women, mostly students or lecturers at private universities, huddled together while Kaftan spoke with many of the male presenters.

I'm a Sufi. By saying that, I believe in all religions that promote love. I believe that human beings should believe in any religion they want to practice, respecting each other.


An accomplished Turkish Canadian filmmaker, Kaftan was there to make a documentary about the summit, since interfaith harmony is an interest of hers. She is a Sufi, an adherent of the mystical tradition within Islam. Sufism promotes the idea that whatever religion you follow, all humanity is beloved in the eyes of God, and love of each other is the ultimate expression of faith.

Her most recent film and her first on Sufism, The Emptiness Within, had just premiered on the Turkish government television station, but it took some convincing.

It is not as if Sufism is unknown or unheralded in Turkey, where the famous 13th century philosopher poet, Mevlana Jalaladin Rumi, established his order of Sufis in the country's southern town of Konya. In fact, Turkey claims Rumi as its own, despite his origins in Afghanistan and sojourn in Persia.

However, the prayer practice of Sufis offers a striking contrast to the strict separation of the sexes and the ban on music in the mosque. In a Sufi sema, men and women come together in meditation and dance to the accompaniment of musical instruments, such as the tambourine, the bells and the flute. Known for the whirling dance, they aim to reach a state of ecstasy and love, in which the self melts into the beloved, God himself—in Arabic, Allah. Echoing the title of Kaftan's film, God fills up 'the emptiness within'.



In the desert swelter of southern Pakistan, the scent of rose­water mixed with a waft of hashish smoke. Drummers pounded away as celebrants swathed in red pushed a camel bedecked with garlands, tinsel and multihued scarfs through the heaving crowd. A man skirted past, grinning and dancing, his face glistening like the golden dome of a shrine nearby. “Mast Qalandar!” he cried. “The ecstasy of Qalandar!”

The camel reached a courtyard packed with hundreds of men jumping in place with their hands in the air, chanting “Qalandar!” for the saint buried inside the shrine. The men threw rose petals at a dozen women who danced in what seemed like a mosh pit near the shrine’s entrance. Enraptured, one woman placed her hands on her knees and threw her head back and forth; another bounced and jiggled as if she were astride a trotting horse. The drumming and dancing never stopped, not even for the call to prayer.

I stood at the edge of the courtyard and asked a young man named Abbas to explain this dancing, called dhamaal. Though dancing is central to the Islamic tradition known as Sufism, dhamaal is particular to some South Asian Sufis. “When a djinn infects a human body,” Abbas said, referring to one of the spirits that populate Islamic belief (and known in the West as “genies”), “the only way we can get rid of it is by coming here to do dhamaal.” A woman stumbled toward us with her eyes closed and passed out at our feet. Abbas didn’t seem to notice, so I pretended not to either.

“What goes through your head when you are doing dhamaal?” I asked.


“Nothing. I don’t think,” he said. A few women rushed in our direction, emptied a water bottle on the semiconscious woman’s face and slapped her cheeks. She shot upright and danced back into the crowd. Abbas smiled. “During dhamaal, I just feel the blessings of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar wash over me.”

Every year, a few hundred thousand Sufis converge in Seh- wan, a town in Pakistan’s southeastern Sindh province, for a three-day festival marking the death of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in 1274. Qalandar, as he is almost universally called, belonged to a cast of mystics who consolidated Islam’s hold on this region; today, Pakistan’s two most populous provinces, Sindh and Punjab, comprise a dense archipelago of shrines devoted to these men. Sufis travel from one shrine to another for festivals known as urs, an Arabic word for “marriage,” symbolizing the union between Sufis and the divine.

Sufism is not a sect, like Shiism or Sunnism, but rather the mystical side of Islam—a personal, experiential approach to Allah, which contrasts with the prescriptive, doctrinal approach of fundamentalists like the Taliban. It exists throughout the Muslim world (perhaps most visibly in Turkey, where whirling dervishes represent a strain of Sufism), and its millions of followers generally embrace Islam as a religious experience, not a social or political one. Sufis represent the strongest indigenous force against Islamic fundamentalism. Yet Western countries have tended to underestimate their importance even as the West has spent, since 2001, millions of dollars on interfaith dialogues, public diplomacy campaigns and other initiatives to counter extremism. Sufis are particularly significant in Pakistan, where Taliban-inspired gangs threaten the prevailing social, political and religious order.

Pakistan, carved out of India in 1947, was the first modern nation founded on the basis of religious identity. Questions about that identity have provoked dissent and violence ever since. Was Pakistan to be a state for Muslims, governed by civilian institutions and secular laws? Or an Islamic state, governed by clerics according to sharia, or Islamic law? Sufis, with their ecumenical beliefs, typically favor the former, while the Taliban, in their fight to establish an extreme orthodoxy, seek the latter. The Taliban have antiaircraft weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and squads of suicide bombers. But the Sufis have drums. And history.


I asked Carl Ernst, an author of several books about Sufism and a professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, whether he thought Pakistan’s Sufis could survive the wave of militant Islam sweeping east from the region along the Afghanistan border. “Sufism has been a part of the fabric of life in the Pakistan region for centuries, while the Taliban are a very recent phenomenon without much depth,” he replied in an e-mail. “I would bet on the Sufis in the long run.” This summer, the Taliban attracted a few hundred people to witness beheadings in Pakistan’s tribal areas. In August, more than 300,000 Sufis showed up to honor Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.

Qalandar was an ascetic; he dressed in rags and tied a rock around his neck so that he was constantly bowing before Allah. His given name was Usman Marwandi; “Qalandar” was used by his followers as an honorific indicating his superior standing in the hierarchy of saints. He moved from a suburb of Tabriz, in modern-day Iran, to Sindh in the early 13th century. The remainder of his biography remains murky. The meaning of lal, or “red,” in his name? Some say he had auburn hair, others believe he wore a red robe and still others say he once was scalded while meditating over a pot of boiling water.

In migrating to Sindh, Qalandar joined other mystics fleeing Central Asia as the Mongols advanced. Many of them settled temporarily in Multan, a city in central Punjab that came to be known as the “city of saints.” Arab armies had conquered Sindh in 711, a hundred years after the founding of Islam, but they had paid more attention to empire-building than to religious conversions. Qalandar teamed with three other itinerant preachers to promote Islam amid a population of Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus.

The “four friends,” as they became known, taught Sufism. They eschewed fire-and-brimstone sermons, and rather than forcibly convert those belonging to other religions, they often incorporated local traditions into their own practices. “The Sufis did not preach Islam like the mullah preaches it today,” says Hamid Akhund, a former secretary of tourism and culture in the Sindh government. Qalandar “played the role of integrator,” says Ghulam Rabbani Agro, a Sindhi historian who has written a book about Qalandar. “He wanted to take the sting out of religion.”

Gradually, as the “friends” and other saints died, their enshrined tombs attracted legions of followers. Sufis believed that their descendants, referred to as pirs, or “spiritual guides,” inherited some of the saints’ charisma and special access to Allah. Orthodox clerics, or mullahs, considered such beliefs heretical, a denial of Islam’s basic creed: “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his Prophet.” While pirs encouraged their followers to engage Allah in a mystical sense and relish the beauty of the Koran’s poetic aspects, the mullahs typically instructed their followers to memorize the Koran and study accounts of the Prophet’s life, known collectively as the Hadith.

While the tension between Sufis and other Muslims continued through history, in Pakistan the dynamic between the two groups has lately entered an especially intense phase with the proliferation of militant groups. In one example three years ago, terrorists attacked an urs in Islamabad, killing more than two dozen people. After October 2007, when former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto—a native of Sindh province with roots in Sufism—returned from exile, terrorists twice targeted her for assassination, succeeding that December. Meanwhile, the Taliban persisted in their terror campaign against the Pakistani military and launched attacks in major cities.

I had seen the extremists up close; in the fall of 2007 I traveled throughout northwestern Pakistan for three months, reporting a story on the emergence of a new, considerably more dangerous generation of Taliban. In January 2008, two days after that story was published in the New York Times Magazine, I was expelled from Pakistan for traveling without government authorization to areas where the Taliban held sway. The next month, Bhutto’s political party swept to victory in national elections, heralding the twilight of President Pervez Musharraf’s military rule. It was an odd parallel: the return of democracy and the rise of the Taliban. In August, I secured another visa from the Pakistani government and went back to see how the Sufis were faring.

Over dinner in a Karachi hotel, Rohail Hyatt told me that the “modern-day mullah” was an “urban myth” and that such authoritarian clerics have “always been at war with Sufis.” Hyatt, a Sufi, is also one of Pakistan’s pop icons. Vital Signs, which he founded in 1986, became the country’s biggest rock band in the late ’80s. In 2002, the BBC named the band’s 1987 hit, “Dil, Dil Pakistan” (“Heart, Heart Pakistan”), the third most popular international song of all time. But Vital Signs became inactive in 1997, and lead singer Junaid Jamshed, Hyatt’s longtime friend, became a fundamentalist and decided that such music was un-Islamic.

Hyatt watched with despair as his friend adopted the rituals, doctrine and uncompromising approach espoused by the urban mullahs, who, in Hyatt’s view, “believe that our identity is set by the Prophet” and less by Allah, and thus mistakenly gauge a man’s commitment to Islam by such outward signs as the length of his beard, the cut of his trousers (the Prophet wore his above the ankle, for comfort in the desert) and the size of the bruise on his forehead (from regular, intense prayer). “These mullahs play to people’s fears,” Hyatt said. ” ‘Here is heaven, here is hell. I can get you into heaven. Just do as I say.’ ”

I hadn’t been able to find a clear, succinct definition of Sufism anywhere, so I asked Hyatt for one. “I can explain to you what love is until I turn blue in the face. I can take two weeks to explain everything to you,” he said. “But there is no way I can make you feel it until you feel it. Sufism initiates that emotion in you. And through that process, religious experience becomes totally different: pure and absolutely nonviolent.”

Hyatt is now the music director for Coca-Cola in Pakistan, and he hopes he can leverage some of his cultural influence—and access to corporate cash—to convey Sufism’s message of moderation and inclusiveness to urban audiences. (He used to work for Pepsi, he said, but Coke is “way more Sufic.”) He recently produced a series of live studio performances that paired rock acts with traditional singers of qawwali, devotional Sufi music from South Asia. One of the best-known qawwali songs is titled “Dama Dum Mast Qalandar,” or “Every Breath for the Ecstasy of Qalandar.”

Several politicians have also tried to popularize Sufism, with varying degrees of success. In 2006, as Musharraf faced political and military challenges from the resurgent Taliban, he established a National Sufi Council to promote Sufi poetry and music. “The Sufis always worked for the promotion of love and oneness of humanity, not for disunity or hatred,” he said at the time. But Musharraf’s venture was perceived as less than sincere.

“The generals hoped that since Sufism and devotion to shrines is a common factor of rural life, they would exploit it,” Hamid Akhund told me. “They couldn’t.” Akhund chuckled at the thought of a centralized, military government trying to harness a decentralized phenomenon like Sufism. The Sufi Council is no longer active.

The Bhuttos—most prominently, Benazir and her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto—were much better at marshaling Sufi support, not least because their hometown lies in Sindh province and they have considered Lal Shahbaz Qalandar their patron saint. Qalandar’s resting place became, in the judgment of University of Amsterdam scholar Oskar Verkaaik, “the geographical center of [the elder] Bhutto’s political spirituality.” After founding the Pakistan Peoples Party, Bhutto was elected president in 1971 and prime minister in 1973. (He was ousted in a coup in 1977 and hanged two years later.)

As Benazir Bhutto began her first campaign for prime minister, in the mid-1980s, her followers would greet her with the chant, “Benazir Bhutto Mast Qalandar” (“Benazir Bhutto, the ecstasy of Qalandar”). In late 2007, when she returned to Pakistan from an exile imposed by Musharraf, she received a heroine’s welcome, especially in Sindh.

In Jamshoro, a town almost three hours north of Karachi, I met a Sindhi poet named Anwar Sagar. His office had been torched during the riots that followed Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. More than six months later, smashed windowpanes were still unrepaired and soot covered the walls. “All the Bhuttos possess the spirit of Qalandar,” Sagar told me. “The message of Qalandar was the belief in love and God.” From his briefcase he pulled out a poem he had written just after Bhutto was killed. He translated the final lines:
She rose above the Himalayas,
Immortal she became,
The devotee of Qalandar became Qalandar herself.

“So who is next in line?” I asked. “Are all Bhuttos destined to inherit Qalandar’s spirit?”

“This is just the beginning for Asif,” Sagar said, referring to Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto’s widower, who was elected president of Pakistan this past September. “So he hasn’t attained the level of Qalandar yet. But I have great hope in Bilawal”—Bhutto and Zardari’s 20-year-old son, who has been selected to lead the Pakistan Peoples Party after he finishes his studies at Oxford University in England—“that he can become another Qalandar.”

Musharraf, a general who had seized power in a 1999 coup, resigned from office a week into my most recent trip. He had spent the better part of his eight-year regime as president, military chief and overseer of a compliant parliament. Pakistan’s transition from a military government to a civilian one involved chipping away at his almost absolute control over all three institutions one by one. But civilian leadership by itself was no balm for Pakistan’s many ills; Zardari’s new regime faces massive challenges regarding the economy, the Taliban and trying to bring the military intelligence agencies under some control.

In the seven months that I had been away, the economy had gone from bad to worse. The value of the rupee had fallen almost 25 percent against the dollar. An electricity shortage caused rolling blackouts for up to 12 hours a day. Reserves of foreign currencies plunged as the new government continued to subsidize basic amenities. All these factors contributed to popular discontent with the government, an emotion that the Taliban exploited by lambasting the regime’s perceived deficiencies. In Karachi, the local political party covered the walls of buildings along busy streets with posters that read: “Save Your City From Talibanization.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the new government is reining in the military’s intelligence agencies, particularly the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. The Pakistan Peoples Party has long been considered an anti-establishment party, at odds with the agencies. In late July, the PPP-led government announced that it was placing the ISI under the command of the Interior Ministry, wresting it from the army—then days later, under pressure from the military, reversed itself. A uniformed president may symbolize a military dictatorship, but Pakistan’s military intelligence agencies, ISI and Military Intelligence (MI), are the true arbiters of power.

In August, I got what I believe was a firsthand indication of the extent of their reach. Two days after Musharraf bid farewell, I began my trip to Sehwan for the urs for Qalandar, along with photographer Aaron Huey; his wife, Kristin; and a translator whom it is best not to name. We had barely left Karachi’s city limits when my translator took a phone call from someone claiming to work at the Interior Ministry Secretariat in Karachi. The caller peppered him with questions about me. The translator, sensing something odd, hung up and called the office of a senior bureaucrat in the Interior Ministry. A secretary answered the phone and, when we shared the name and title our caller had given, confirmed what we already suspected: “Neither that person nor that office exists.” The secretary added: “It’s probably just the [intelligence] agencies.”

We continued north on the highway into the heart of Sindh, past water buffaloes soaking in muddy canals and camels resting in the shade of mango trees. About an hour later, my phone rang. The caller ID displayed the same number as the call that had supposedly come from the Interior Ministry Secretariat.
“I am a reporter from the Daily Express newspaper. I want to meet you to talk about the current political situation. When can we meet? Where are you? I can come right now.”

“Can I call you back?” I said, and hung up.

My heart raced. Images of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and beheaded by Islamic militants in Karachi in 2002, flashed through my mind. Pearl’s last meeting had been with a terrorist pretending to be a fixer and translator. Many people believe that the Pakistani intelligence agencies were involved in Pearl’s killing, as he was researching a possible link between the ISI and a jihadi leader with ties to Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber.

My phone rang again. An Associated Press reporter I knew told me that her sources in Karachi said the intelligence agencies were searching for me. I had assumed as much. But what did they want? And why would they request a meeting by pretending to be people who didn’t exist?

The car fell silent. My translator made a few calls to senior politicians, bureaucrats and police officers in Sindh. They said they were treating the two phone calls as a kidnapping threat and would provide us with an armed escort for the rest of our trip. Within an hour, two police trucks arrived. In the lead truck, a man armed with a machine gun stood in the bed.

Another phone call, this time from a friend in Islamabad.
“Man, it’s good to hear your voice,” he said.
“Local TV stations are reporting that you’ve been kidnapped in Karachi.”

Who was planting these stories? And why? With no shortage of conspiracy theories about fatal “car accidents” involving people in the bad graces of the intelligence agencies, I took the planted stories as serious warnings. But the urs beckoned. The four of us collectively decided that since we had traveled halfway around the world to see the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, we would do our damndest to get there, even if under police protection. After all, we could use Qalandar’s blessings.

That evening, as the setting sun burned the color of a Creamsicle as it lit the sugar-cane fields on the horizon, I turned to the translator, hoping to lighten the mood.

“It’s really beautiful here,” I said.

He nodded, but his eyes stayed glued to the road. “Unfortunately, the fear factor spoils the whole fun of it,” he said.

By then we could see buses clogging the highway, red flags flapping in the wind as the drivers raced for Qalandar’s shrine. The railway ministry had announced that 13 trains would be diverted from their normal routes to transport worshipers. Some devotees even pedaled bicycles, red flags sticking up from the handlebars. We roared down the road in the company of Kalashnikov-toting police, a caravan of armed pilgrims.

The campsites began appearing about five miles from the shrine. Our car eventually mired in a human bog, so we parked and continued on foot. The alleys leading to the shrine reminded me of a carnival fun house—an overwhelming frenzy of lights, music and aromas. I walked beside a man blowing a snake charmer’s flute. Stores lined the alley, with merchants squatting behind piles of pistachios, almonds and rosewater-doused candies. Fluorescent lights glowed like light sabers, directing lost souls to Allah.

Groups of up to 40 people heading for the shrine’s golden dome carried long banners imprinted with Koranic verses. We followed one group into a tent packed with dancers and drummers next to the shrine. A tall man with curly, greasy shoulder-length hair was beating on a keg-size drum hanging from a leather strap around his neck. The intensity in his eyes, illuminated by a single bulb that dangled above our heads, reminded me of the jungle cats that stalked their nighttime prey on the nature shows I used to watch on TV.

A man in white linen lunged flamboyantly into a clearing at the center of the crowd, tied an orange sash around his waist and began to dance. Soon he was gyrating and his limbs were trembling, but with such control that at one point it seemed that he was moving only his earlobes. Clouds of hashish smoke rolled through the tent, and the drumming injected the space with a thick, engrossing energy.

I stopped taking notes, closed my eyes and began nodding my head. As the drummer built toward a feverish peak, I drifted unconsciously closer to him. Before long, I found myself standing in the middle of the circle, dancing beside the man with the exuberant earlobes.

“Mast Qalandar!” someone called out. The voice came from right behind me, but it sounded distant. Anything but the drumbeat and the effervescence surging through my body seemed remote. From the corner of my eye, I noticed photographer Aaron Huey high-stepping his way into the circle. He passed his camera to Kristin. In moments, his head was swirling as he whipped his long hair around in circles.

“Mast Qalandar!” another voice screamed.

If only for a few minutes, it didn’t matter whether I was a Christian, Muslim, Hindu or atheist. I had entered another realm. I couldn’t deny the ecstasy of Qalandar. And in that moment, I understood why pilgrims braved great distances and the heat and the crowds just to come to the shrine. While spun into a trance, I even forgot about the danger, the phone calls, the reports of my disappearance and the police escort.

Later, one of the men who had been dancing in the circle approached me. He gave his name as Hamid and said he had traveled more than 500 miles by train from northern Punjab. He and a friend were traversing the country, hopping from one shrine to another, in search of the wildest festival. “Qalandar is the best,” he said. I asked why.

“He could communicate directly with Allah,” Hamid said. “And he performs miracles.”

“Miracles?” I asked, with a wry smile, having reverted to my normal cynicism. “What kind of miracles?”

He laughed. “What kind of miracles?” he said. “Take a look around!” Sweat sprayed from his mustache. “Can’t you see how many people have come to be with Lal Shahbaz Qalandar?”

I looked over both of my shoulders at the drumming, the dhamaal and the sea of red. I stared back at Hamid and tilted my head slightly to acknowledge his point.

“Mast Qalandar!” we said.

Nicholas Schmidle is a fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. His book, To Live or To Perish Forever: Two Years Inside Pakistan, will be published May 2009 by Henry Holt.
Aaron Huey is based in Seattle. He has been photographing Sufi life in Pakistan since 2006.

This famous song is in honour of Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar (1177--1274) who was born in Marwand (Afghanistan) as Syed Shah Hussain Marwandi. A contemporary of Rumi, he settled in Serwan or Sehwan (currently in Sindh, Pakistan) where his shrine is still worshipped. He preached religious tolerance between Hindus and Muslims. He was fluent in many languages including Sindhi and Sanskrit. Hindus regarded him as the incarnation of Bhrithari. He was called Laal (red) after his red attire, Shahbaz (noble falcon) due to his noble spirit, and Qalandar for his Sufi orientations.


In Morocco as in other Arab countries, Islamism has taken root in the poverty- stricken areas, in the outskirts of major industrial cities. I n 2003, Casablanca experienced terrorist attacks at a popular tourist restaurant and Internet café. The suicide bombers, from the shantytown of Sidi Moumen, aimed to discourage Western influence by targeting Western tourists. The second attack, which targeted the Internet café, was perhaps more indirect. It could perhaps be seen as a statement against outside influences permeating this North African society by way of the Internet.


However, Islamism is seen as a threat to the government of Morocco both because it invokes violence and destruction and challenges the regime. In Morocco specifically, the idea of Islamism is a challenge to the Moroccan king because it casts doubt on his legitimacy as amir al-mu’minin, the “Commander of the Faithful,” or head of religion.


The very idea that the marriage between Moroccan politics and Moroccan Islam is insufficient or ill-functioning is both one of the major claims of Islamists and among the most threatening challenges the Moroccan state has experienced. The Islamist opposition to the Moroccan government inadvertently crosses two red lines, challenging both the king’s legitimacy in matters of state and the current role of Islam in politics.

As much as Islamism is concerned with permeating all external areas of life, Sufism is focused on the internal workings of each individual. The religion stresses personal enlightenment by encouraging all people to look into themselves in order to find Allah. Sufis are focused on their search for a way inside themselves that will lead them to God, and believe that the path to Him can be found through meditation and purification. Because Sufism is so internally focused, Sufis are seen as inherently apolitical and uninvolved in political affairs. Sufism encourages believers to disengage from the material world, which includes politics and government, in order to better align oneself with the spiritual world and learn the truth, God. Sufism teaches that the material world is all illusion, and that because of its illusive nature it is better to free oneself from the bounds of material life and search for reality and understanding in the Divine.


Religion has always been important in the lives of Moroccans throughout history, but it was always moderate and respectful. Jews have lived and thrived in Morocco for 2,000 years, thanks to this moderation. When the Sephardic Jews were kicked out of Spain after the Reconquista in 1492, Morocco was one of the few countries that opened its doors generously for them, and they subsequently dominated the Moroccan economy to the extent that they became the Sultan’s businessmen: tujjar as-sultan. The Jews also dominated Moroccan diplomacy and international trade.

 Moroccan Islam, though this term is rejected flatly by Islamists, who believe there is only one Islam with no local colorations, is a mixture of Sufism and Maraboutism. The Sufis came from the east around the 15th century and spread around the country, preaching a moderate Islam to uneducated farmers.

On their deaths they were elevated to the rank of saints, marabout, and rural people built shrines on their tombs and assigned them baraka “divine grace” attributes and healing powers. So there are hundreds of saints around Morocco with different healing powers and whose baraka is celebrated every year at the end of the agricultural cycle (a pagan concept) by a moussem “festival,” organized by the entire tribe and lasting for days, reminiscent of ancient pagan rites.

Since the advent of the Arab Spring in 2011, the establishment, which had always favored Sufi Islam, has further increased its support for religious lodges such as the powerful and popular Boutchichiya lodge based in Berkane, in eastern Morocco, which boasts a membership of two million people in Morocco and worldwide, mainly civil servants, intellectuals and government officials. In Morocco, there are dozens of other Sufi religious lodges and orders that owe allegiance to the monarchy and give it its religious legitimacy and political strength.

Realizing,also, that the fragmentation of the religious representation will make the imarat al-mu’minin stronger and more legitimate, the king has recently allowed the presence of Moroccan Shi’ites in the north of Morocco, under strict conditions of allegiance to the monarchy.

Morocco has come through the Arab uprisings and the ensuing Islamist power takeover unscathed thanks to the predominance of Sufi Islam, which is almost as old as the monarchy itself, in the majority of Moroccan territory.

Moroccan Sufism, represented by omnipresent Maraboutism, is tolerant, open and accepting of the other in his “otherness,” and has earned the country much respect worldwide. Today, many countries are approaching Morocco to benefit from its religious experience, especially in the field of imam training, and as such dozens of foreign students are been registered in the “Imam Academy” of Rabat. Thus, Moroccan Islam couched in Sufism has proven to be a successful antidote against religious extremism in all its forms, and proof of that is that the “Moroccan exception” is a tangible reality in the Muslim world.


Sufism in India Today

This commentary was co-authored with Muhammad Ashraf of the Department of Islamic Studies, Jamia Markaz, Kerala, India

Bloodshed has returned to Muslim-majority Kashmir, which is partitioned between India and Pakistan. Muslim leaders, and spiritual Sufis in particular, must be constantly wary of the penetration of Islam by trends that seek to increase instability in such difficult situations.

In south India, Muslims have established educational institutions and charitable foundations that endorse secularism and an Indian patriotic spirit. They continue to promote interfaith harmony and intercommunal cooperation. The Sunni Markaz, founded in the southwest Indian state of Kerala by the Sufi sheikh Aboobacker Ahmed, works for the rehabilitation of disaffected jihadi youth from the war-torn Kashmir valleys, encouraging them to feel patriotic as Indians. Educational institutions following the ideology of Sufi Islam are integral to preservation of positive interreligious relations and options for dialogue.

In general, the discussion of Sufi Islam in India has assumed a new approach. Sufis follow the pluralist precedents in Sunni Islam. India is defined in great part by the legacy of Sufi saints throughout the country.

The current ruling party - the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of prime minister Narendra Modi - has been criticized as Hindu-centered and antithetical to the Indian “secular space” in which the Sufis are located. A World Sufi Conference was held in New Delhi, India’s capital, on 17-21 March 2016, organized by the All India Ulema and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB) and financed by the state. Some Muslims have criticized this event as unjustifiably linking up with the BJP.

In rebuttal to such a criticism, a social media post asked, “How many of you are ready to stop receiving government aid for Muslim education?” In addition, a common platform is necessary to defeat the global threat of terror groups like the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS). We must stand together, above factional and sectarian differences. Representatives of the Sunni majority among Muslims must call on all humanity to condemn atrocities committed in the name of Islam.

Traditional Islam and Sufism specifically have, throughout their history, maintained the principle of living with the amazing diversity of India and other countries. This concept of mutual respect between religions has persisted in the development of Sufism. Sufi saints in India were viewed as protectors, even of the oppressed Hindus. Networks established by early Sufi saints in India demonstrated their fidelity to the Islamic concept of peace between differing systems of belief.

More than anything, the networks of Sufi saints such as the 12th- and 13th-century CE figure Moinuddin Chishti contributed substantially to the growth of Islam in the country, supporting the Indian Sufi legacy. In the continuity of traditional Islam, the majority of Indian Sunni scholars argued for coexistence with the other faith communities, while recognizing that fundamental disagreements could be dealt with through peace and understanding.

This attitude found an Islamic context in the example of Muhammad, peace be upon him, who was asked about socially-beneficial endeavors preceding his prophethood, and who answered that if disbelievers were to ask for him to settle such matters, he would do so.

The peaceful tradition of Sufi Islam has been present all across India. Indian Sunni scholars have argued against fanatical interpretations. Extremism, however, has unfortunately recruited thousands of people to militancy and carnage in furtherance of radical Islam. Sheikh Zainuddin Makhdoom, a Sufi theologian living in Kerala in the 16th century CE, called for Muslims to join hands with Hindus to defend the nation against colonialism. This meant surpassing the fiqhi jurisprudential tradition, as there was no perspective in Islamic law for alliance with disbelievers against a common enemy.

As Muslims through India’s history lived peacefully with other believers, we should carefully observe the vision of Sufi Islam as one of mercy, inherited from the prophet of Islam, Muhammad himself. It is often said that he forgave every personal attack he suffered from enemies and never became angry for personal reasons. When he conquered Mecca, the territory of disbelievers who constantly harassed him, he proclaimed, “Follow in your path, for you are free.”




Wahabi vs Sufi

Wahabi versus Sufi: social media debates

Syed Mohammed| Jul 19, 2015, 12.02 AM IST



In the real world as well, the gulf between Muslims affiliated to the two principal schools of thought appears to be widening. In the real world as well, the gulf between Muslims affiliated to the two principal schools of thought appears to be widening. 

Cyberspace is fast becoming a popular battleground for Indian Muslims aligned on both sides of the Sufi vs Wahabi debate. And the online verbal jousting is becoming more acrimonious by the day.

"There are Facebook pages which belittle leaders of both groups. 'Follow the Sahabi, Ignore the Wahabi' is one such. Further, hundreds of comments on videos of (Salafi televangelist) Zakir Naik or (Sufi scholar) Tahir ul Qadri are downright offensive," says social media expert Nabeel Adeni.

Naik and Qadri are star names from the two schools and they both command huge following in the online - and real - world. Quite often their followers declare those who oppose them as 'kaafir', a virtual attempt at excommunication.

In the real world as well, the gulf between Muslims affiliated to the two principal schools of thought appears to be widening. This conflict is not new but it is now more pronounced than ever. The revelations in the recent WikiLeaks documents about Saudi petro dollars being reportedly spent on promoting Wahabi and Salafi streams of Islam in India has driven the wedge even deeper.

Nowhere is the divide more pronounced than Hyderabad where over 35% of the population is Muslim. The city's prominent Muslims are worried by this growing acrimony. Says former member of the AP State Wakf Board, Syed Akbar Nizamuddin Hussaini: "India has always been home to the Sufis whose teachings were love and tolerance. This is how Islam spread here. The hardline views propagated by the Saudis and their funding poses a threat to the very fabric of Muslim society."

The Wahabi stream exhorts Muslims to adopt the more "puritanical" form of Islam while Sufis - also known as Barelwis - maintain that teachings of saints cannot be ignored. The tussle between the two has also manifested in many mosques across the region where both schools have tried to wrest control of administration. "The Masjid-e-Shah Lagan in Purani Haveli and the Masjid-e-Amera in Abids are examples of this struggle," Hussaini says.

There is a reason why administrative control of a mosque is so important for both schools - it gives them the power to influence the nature of the sermons. Hussaini says that it is easier to wield influence in existing mosques than to construct new ones for lakhs of rupees and begin the process of 'proselytising'. "No Barelwi mosque has taken over Wahabi or Salafi mosques," he claims.

This sectarian tussle is also apparent in cultural and social changes among the city's Muslims. The Arabic 'Ramadan' and 'Allahafiz' are increasingly replacing the more Urdu/Persian 'Ramzan' and 'Khudahafiz'. This is being resisted by those who believe that the Indian Muslim's cultural roots are more Persian than Arabic.

Defenders of Wahabism in India say that it does not teach violence or intolerance and is largely misinterpreted. It is also a victim of the Western narrative of Islam, they add. Those in the know say that it is hard to calculate how much money has been pumped into India by the Saudi government to push Wahabism. WikiLeaks has reportedly revealed that Saudi Arabia's costliest sectarian projects are in India (an Islamic association here, it is said, has reportedly got $1 million).

But community leaders argue that the most prevalent form of Wahabism in India has been brought by Indian expatriates working in Saudi. This is a benign form of the ideology, they say. "The funding of mosques and madrassas seems to have drastically fallen. The focus is on education and healthcare. However, the Indian diaspora is influenced by the Wahabi school of thought. Their understanding of it is a simple rejection of intercession of human beings between man and God. It has little to do with rigidity," says Syed Abdul Qadeer, an Indian expat who has been living in Jeddah for the last 28 years.

There are, of course, those who are unhappy with these public arguments. Highly placed sources said that the Sufis have approached representatives of Western governments with the Wahabi problem. But this hasn't gone down well with many. Says a source from the Jamat-e-Islami Hind: "The Indian Muslim is capable of dealing with his own problems, there is no need to take them to others."
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Sufis key to peace in Afganistan

Sufism returns to Afghanistan after years of repression

Sufi practitioners in Afghanistan
Image captionSufi people are now re-emerging after years of persecution

As the Afghan government and its international allies intensify efforts to bring the conflict to an end, the role and influence of mystics is being sought to help bring the Taliban into talks on a political solution.

Sufism or Islamic mysticism was once suppressed by the Taliban, but the sect is recovering its place in the country and its millions of followers are once more emerging from the shadows.

Sufis have considerable influence in both rural and urban settings - they are an effective popular force to bring change into society - and people consider them as disinterested mediators in disputes.

''The influence of Sufis will be very significant in bringing peace and tranquillity,'' says Sayed Mahmood Gailani, a Sufi master.

''There are a few people with Sufi backgrounds who are involved in the peace process. But there hasn't been any concerted effort to give the Sufis a systematic and prominent role in it.''

Sufism in Afghanistan is considered an integral part of Islam. People in general respect Sufis for their learning and believe they possess "karamat" - a miraculous spiritual power that enables Sufi masters to perform acts of generosity and bestow blessings.

Sufis in Pakistan
Image captionSufism attaches much significance to the concept of tolerance

Ziyarats - Sufi shrines - are popular pilgrimage sites all over the country.

In addition to Afghanistan, Sufi orders have millions of followers in both Pakistan and India too.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the following armed resistance by the mujahideen resulted in the arrival of thousands of Middle Eastern fighters and the introduction of foreign ideologies including Wahabism.

Wahabism insists on a literal interpretation of Islam and sees Sufism and its ideas as anathema. This created tension between Sufis and Ulamas (religious scholars) in some parts of the country.

But it was during the Taliban's rule (1996-2001) when many Sufis were driven underground.

A number were initially part of the Taliban movement but gradually people influenced by the Wahabi ideology became more prominent. Sufis were silenced.

Some Sufis, especially members of the Chishtiyya Sufi Order which considers music to be an effective route to reach Allah, were prosecuted.

"The Taliban invaded Sufi gatherings, humiliated and beat up many of them and their musical instruments were smashed,'' said Afghan Culture Minister Sayed Makhdoom Rahin, who has a Sufi background.

''Sufis are free to hold their ceremonies once again with the same old exuberance denied to them by the Taliban.''

'Home of saints'

Given the respect and influence Sufis enjoy among the local population, their involvement at the grass roots level could help the peace process in war-torn Afghanistan.

Shrine of Khwaja Abdullah Ansari in Herat
Image captionSufi shrines can be seen all over Afghanistan

Although Taliban members come from various backgrounds, some have great respect for Sufis and are even followers of Sufism.

"Influential and knowledgeable Sufis can persuade a large number of Taliban to lay down their arms and can also provide guarantees to the Taliban about their safety and peaceful future,'' a Sufi leader, Ahmad Shah Maududi, said.

''But we need to be careful and vigilant because many so-called Sufis have exploited and fooled ordinary people in the garb of Sufism.''

Sufism has been part of Afghanistan almost as long as Islam itself - more than 1,300 years. Afghanistan is commonly called "the home of Sufi saints". The mystics have been an integral part of the life of the people for centuries.

The word Sufism is derived from "suf", the Arabic wood for wool, and refers to woollen robes worn by early ascetics.

Sufis seek to achieve communion with God during mystic moments of union brought about by various methods, including meditation, Zikr (reciting the names of God and other sacred phrases), dancing, hymn singing, music and physical gyrations.

Sufis maintain that human beings are creatures of Allah and they should be served and respected.

''Tolerance, kindness and love to all and malice towards none are the virtues of Sufis,'' says Maulana Obaidullah Nahrkarizi, a prominent Afghan Sufi master from Kandahar province.

''This is the solution to the nation's trauma and battle of the past 30 years''.

Many Afghan cities are among the most important centres of Sufism. Herat is called "the soil of Sufi saints" while Ghazni is known as "the place of Sufi saints".


  • Khwaja Abdullah Ansari of Herat (11th Century)
  • Hakim Sanayi of Ghazni (12th Century)
  • Jalaluddin Balkhi Rumi of Balkh (13th Century)
  • Abdul Rahman Jami of Herat (15th Century)
  • Pir Roshan Bayazid Ansari of Waziristan (16th Century)
  • Shah Arzani (16th Century)
  • Rahman Baba of Peshawar (17th Century)
  • Ahmad Shah Abdali of Kandahar (18th Century)

Some of the greatest Sufi sages of the Muslim world originated from Afghanistan. They refined their insights in the country's lush plains and hidden valleys - and spread their message of peace and love to other parts of the world.

The intensely personal poetry of Sufis has been expressed in Dari, Persian and Pashto, the main languages spoken in Afghanistan.

There are several prominent Sufis in contemporary Afghanistan including Ali Hujwiri, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti and Jalaluddin Balkhi Rumi - founder of the famous Mawlawiya (the Order of Whirling Dervishes).

Another famous Sufi is Pir Roshan, the founder of the Roshaniya Sufi Order, now known as Arzan Shahi - which has a big following in India.

Three Sufi orders are prominent in Afghanistan today - Naqshbandiya founded in Bokhara (Uzbekistan), Qadiriya founded in Baghdad and Chishtiya originated at Chisht-e-Sharif in the western province of Herat.

Their continued growth is arguably a major bonus in Afghanistan's continuing search for peace.