French political scientist highlights diversity of Sufism

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The connection of Pakistani society with Arabs especially Saudi Arabia, promoted at state level in today’s Pakistan, is pushing Muslims away from the diversity offers by Sufi Islam for a peaceful co-existence, said Christophe Jaffrelot, a French political scientist and a renowned senior research fellow.

Speaking at a conference under the theme “Islam in South Asia”, he highlighted the historical perspective of the Sufi Islam in the Sub-Continent from the Mughal era and the threat to it from the influence of Wahabi Islam. He pointed out that most of Mughal rulers had revered saints and opposed the more orthodox Muslims who considered Sufism to be polytheism. He said the Sufi saints brought together people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds to live in peaceful way and with a harmony in the society.

He further pointed out that Humayun, second Mughal Emperor, was buried next to the grave of great Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya because Mughals were inspired by the Sufi Islam. Jaffrelot mentioned that Sufism was essential part of philosophy of Allama Iqbal, the national poet of Pakistan, who was equally inspired from the Shia Muslim history and traditions which was evident from references to Karbala in his poetry and work. He further said that in the book “Thoughts of Iqbal”, authored by his son Javed Iqbal, the Arab connection was mentioned only once.

After 1970, he said that one would see the “center of gravity is controlled democracy” in the country. However, he did not explain further. The connection with Arabs, especially Saudi Arabia, which has been promoted at the State level could not found in the 60s.

He said Sufi heritage of Pakistan came under threat because of the Arab connection which gained momentum during General Zia-ul-Haq era. He said various chains of Sufism such as Naqshbandi and Qadiriyya were well rooted in that region which was never influenced by the Arabs and the Wahabi ideology. However, he pointed out that there was also an indigenous brand of Wahhabism in the region, the Ahl al-Hadith.

Touching upon the historical perspective, he said Muslims of the region were inspired from the Ottoman Caliphate during the Pakistan Movement. Referring to the Khilafat Movement and the transnational politics of Indian Muslims in the aftermath of the First World War, he said Muslim intellectuals were inclined towards the Turkish Ottoman Empire, rather than the Saudis.

The conference was organised by the French Embassy which was attended by diplomats, intellectuals and media personalities who also shared their perspective of the Sufism in the sub-continent.

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