January 2, 2013 By Fazlur Rahman

Tombs, Orders: Facets from History

The Naqshbandiya, which spread in India, China and the Malayan Archipelago, is an orthodox order and in general, appeals to the elite, forbidding the practice of extravagant forms of dhikhr, dancing and music. It was introduced to India by Baqi Billah in the 10th/16th century and was started afresh and reinvigorated by his important and influential pupil Ahmed Sirhindi, known in India has a ‘renovator of second millenium’, who led the campaign for the purification of Sufism in India, rejecting Ibnu Arabi’s pantheistic mysticism which had found a strong alley in the Vedantism and Orthodox Hinduism.

The main sophisticated or ‘urban’ order among the Turks, however, has been that of the Mevleviye (Mawlawiya) instituted by the famous mystic poet Jalal- Al-Din Rumi (d.672/1273) from whose Mathnawi, we have quoted in this chapter. The Mathnawi, his great poetic work of surpassing beauty and, in parts, equal depth has achieved immense popularity and has, indeed, been hailed as the ‘Quran of the Sufis’. The Mevleviye have an elaborate mystic ritual (described in detailed by J. P. Brown in his book The Dervishes, edited by H. A. Rose) and are famous for their ‘pirouetting’ dance when they are called ‘the dancing dervishes’. Since their suppression by the kemalist revolutionary regime, the Mevleviye are confined to the Middle East, chiefly Aleppo.

In the Indo-pakistan subcontinent, besides the universal orders of the Qadiriya and the Naqshbandiya, the chief Sufi brotherhood is that of the Chishtiya, founded by Mu’in al-Din Chishti, who died at Ajmer in 633/1236 where his tomb (dargah) is a famous of popular pilgrimage (‘urs). The Mughal emperor Akbar’s son and successor, later entitled Jahangir, was born at the khanqah of the famouse representatives, the order suffered a period of eclipse, but was revived about a century and a half ago by Khwaja Nur Muhammad.

Besides these orders, the Indian subcontinent teems with a host of questionable and so called ‘irregular’ called (be-shar) orders which are but by a discipline or by the religious law of Islam. These range from lesser offshoots of regular orders, through more or less organized ‘irregular’ orders (the chief of which are the Qalandars) to individual mendicants, called faqirs or malangas, who attach themselves to any saint’s tomb, real or imaginary, and generally lead a parasitic and often charlatanic existence.

In the sub-continent, Muslim religious life, at the popular level, has been profoundly influenced by indigenous beliefs and practices; or rather, the local Muslim population, despite its conversion to Islam, has largely kept its pre- Islamic Weltanschauung alive. All too often conversion has been purely nominal and the process of Islamization has been painfully slow one. So strong is the influence of spiritual romanticism to which the native population has ever been a prey.

Indeed in several villages Muslims and Hindus worship common ‘saints’. The phenomenon of popular rapprochement between Hinduism and Islam began early after the advent of Islam in India and came to a head in the 10th/16th century in a syncretist branch of the bhakti movement represented by men like Kabir and Nanak. The latter was the founder the Sikh religion, which is to some extent a result of the influence of Islamic monotheism on Hindu religious culture. In Indonesia, where Islam reached relatively late and had little time to consolidate its impact before western colonialism made its appearance, much of the religious culture of the Muslim population remains essentially unIslamic beneath the surface. Besides, therefore, a leavening of the Muslim orders that have made their way there, the pre-Islamic mystic attitudes remain almost unchanged.


Extracted from Islam, Chicago University Press

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