Curious to discover if there was a tradition of healing the human spirit in our society, I kept returning to the Sufis of our land. The many mazaars of Pakistan are visited by countless people. They are the great equalizers of society, where economic class, religion and race have no hierarchy. One would think that the aulia and Sufis, many of whom chose to settle in remote areas, managed to escape from the vagaries of their times, absorbed in tasawwuf and zikr, composing poems of love. But in reality they lived in times of great political turmoil and intrigue, terrible wars, invasions and massacres. The flowering of Sufism was between the 12th and 16th centuries, the times of rival caliphates, assassinations; brutal Mongol invasions that slaughtered thousands, and burnt libraries, and had to constantly migrate to survive.
Rumi was witness to the destruction of Baghdad and had to flee for his life; Amir Khusro was an integral part of the courts of eight warring kings, and even took part in the war against Mongols in 1285; Bulleh Shah’s time was marked with communal strife between Muslims and Sikhs. Yet they only spread the message of love. I am not an initiate, yet I am drawn to conclude that Sufism is the bedrock of Pakistani society, whether experienced directly through pir and murshid, or indirectly through poetry, folksongs and qawwali.
As I drown in the river of violence like Sohni on a vessel of betrayal, I look for answers in the surety of these remarkable people.
The Sufis taught the powerless to sublimate, but they did not turn their backs on their times, Baba Farid writes:
I thought I was alone who suffered.
I went on top of the house,
And found every house on fire.
Bulleh Shah says,
I would have remained silent,
It is love that compels me to speak forcefully.
Stay silent to survive.
People cannot stand to hear the truth.
They are at your throat if you speak it.
They keep away from those who speak it.
But truth is sweet to its lovers!
And he writes:
The soil is in ferment, O friend
Behold the diversity.
The soil is the horse, so is the rider
The soil chases the soil, and we hear the clanging of soil
The soil kills the soil, with weapons of the soil.
That soil with more on it, is arrogance
The soil is the garden so is its beauty
The soil admires the soil in all its wondrous forms
After the circle of life is done it returns to the soil
Answer the riddle O Bulleh, and take this burden off my head.
Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai writes
Tell me the stories, oh thorn-brush, Of the mighty merchants of the Indus, Of the nights and the days of the prosperous times, Are you in pain now, oh thorn-brush? Because they have departed: In protest, cease to flower.
True, the river has gone dry, And worthless plants have begun to flourish on the brink, The elite merchants are on decline, And the tax collectors have disappeared, The river is littered with mud And the banks grow only straws The river has lost its old strength, You big fish, you did not return When the water had its flow Now it’s too late, You will soon be caught For fishermen have blocked up all the ways. The white flake on the water: Its days are on the wane.
I’m sick of mortal kings.
I long to see your light.
With lamps in hand
the sheikhs and mullahs roam
the dark alleys of these towns
not finding what they seek.
Rumi – ‘The Love Poems of Rumi’ – Deepak Chopra & Fereydoun Kia
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.
Do it now.
You’re covered with a thick cloud.
Slide out the side.
Rumi – The Essential Rumi – Coleman Barks
Art and politics have always been yoked together, recording battles, honouring kings or revolutionaries. Art objects are preserved as symbols of civilization, plundered at times of war, or destroyed as an expression to power. In the past the balance in society was also preserved by philosophers, mystics, composers, poets and revolutionaries. Today there is a deafening silence. It is only art across the world that appears to have not given in.
I am not sure yet how art can parallel the sublimation of Sufis. I simply feel the pain of our times, and anger, protest and rage are simply not enough.
Like Hafiz Shirazi
let’s scatter roses and pour wine in the glass;
we’ll shatter heaven’s roof and lay a new foundation.
If sorrow raises armies to shed the blood of lovers,
I’ll join with the wine bearer so we can overthrow them.
With a sweet string at hand, play a sweet song, my friend,
so we can clap and sing a song and lose our heads in dancing.
Hafiz (Ghani-Qazvini, no 374) ‘ the Shambhala Guide to Sufism’ Carl. W Ernst, Ph.D.
Curious to find out if the concept of healing the human spirit existed in our society, I kept revisiting the Sufis of our land. The many mazaars of Pakistan which are visited by countless people are effective equalizers of society, where economic class, religion, and race have no hierarchy. One would think that the Sufis and aulia, many of whom chose to settle in remote areas, managed to escape the violence of their times and immersed themselves in tasawwuf, zikr and composing poems of love. But in actuality they lived in times of political intrigue, wars, invasions and massacres. The emergence of Sufism, between the 12th and 16th centuries, occurred in the time of rivalries and assassinations for the caliphate and brutal Mongol invasions that slaughtered thousands and burnt libraries.
Sufis had to constantly migrate to survive. Rumi was witness to the destruction of Baghdad and had to flee for his life. Amir Khusro was an integral part of the courts of eight warring kings and even fought in the war against the Mongols in 1285. Bulleh Shah’s time was marked with communal strife between Muslims and Sikhs. Yet these Sufis only spread the message of love. I am not an initiate, yet I feel that Sufism is the bedrock of Pakistani society, whether directly through pir and murshid, or indirectly through poetry, folksongs and qawwali.
As I drown in the river of violence like Sohni on the vessel of betrayal, I look for answers in the surety of these remarkable people. The Sufis taught the powerless to sublimate in an age of terror