Published on: 2011-06-29
Written By: Irena Akbar
As a non-Sufi Muslim,I find a division of Islam as Sufi Islam vs Sword Islam as plainly offensive.
The Islam of the Sufis spread faster than the Islam of the sword. Soon,it became the popular religion of the masses as opposed to the orthodox,often puritanical Islam of the theologian. This is a line from a chapter on the 13th century monument,Bakhtiyar Kaki’s dargah,from the book,Invisible City: The Hidden Monuments of Delhi,a nice and informative coffee-table book with lovely pictures and interesting text about the many famous and not-so-well-known monuments in the Capital. But this one line about Sufi Islam vs Sword Islam is,at least for me,like one distracting blemish on an otherwise neat,plain cloth.
First,a disclaimer. I have nothing against Sufism. In fact,I love the soothing Sufi music,the qawwalis and also like visiting dargahs,whenever I get the chance. But,as a non-Sufi Muslim,this distinction of Sufi Islam vs Sword Islam,as put so bluntly by author Rakshanda Jalil (otherwise a sane voice in Muslim issues),is plainly offensive. First,it assumes there are only two types of Islam,the Sufi-type and the sword-type. Second,it brushes all non-Sufi Muslims,which constitute the majority of the worldwide Islamic population,as being orthodox,following only puritanical Islam.
To be fair to Jalil,she is not the only one to draw such a sad division. In various public discussions about social issues related to Muslims,like those broadcast on TV channels,or those printed in various mass publications,such a division is generally drawn. Experts who seek to explain that Islam is a peaceful religion and Muslims are a sane race do so by giving the example of Sufi Islam. Over and over again. First,it is unfair to Sufism to call it an Islamic practice. Sufism is a blend of Hindu and Muslim traditions,and in that sense,it is as much a Muslim practice as it is a Hindu one. A lot of Hindu friends of mine list their religion as Sufism on Facebook. Musician AR Rahman says he goes to Sufi temple,instead of saying he goes to a Sufi mosque. Second,to cite Sufism as the only and exclusive example to say Muslims are not violent is rather unfair to a majority of Muslims,who don’t practise Sufism but are folks like anyone else.
Of course,one may argue that a couple of militants have blown up Sufi shrines in neighbouring Pakistan but it’s equally true that they have bombed non-Sufi places of worship too. If the Taliban in Afghanistan didn’t let the Sufis practise their faith,they also caused trouble to the majority there,that of non-Sufi Muslims,by locking up their women,and beating up men for not following their instructions. Non-sufi Islam doesn’t say women should be locked up. For those who don’t know,Ayesha,the Prophet’s wife,fought in a battle. Or Khadija,his other wife,was a businesswoman.
Closer home,most Muslims you go to school or office with,or even watch in movies,such as Shah Rukh Khan or Salman Khan are Muslims,but not of the Sufi kind.