Sufism, called the mystical dimension of Islam, is known for its inclusive nature, as well as its ethics of love and compassion, its devotional music, art and architecture. In India's syncretic culture, Sufism developed a distinct character, and harmoniously embraced the Bhakti traditions of North India.
Rana Safvi's In Search of the Divine delves into the fascinating roots of Sufism, with its emphasis on ihsan, iman and akhlaq, and the impact it continues to have on people from all communities. Safvi relies not only on textual sources but also on her own visits to dargahs across the country, and the conversations she has with devotees and pirs alike. The book evokes in vivid detail the sacred atmosphere she encounters - the reverent crowds, the strains of qawwali and the fragrance of incense, as well as highlights the undeniable yet often forgotten contributions of women in Sufism. The resulting text is at once modern and a tribute to the rich and textured past.
Weaving together fact and popular legend, ancient histories and living tradition, this unique treatise examines core Sufi beliefs and uncovers why they might offer hope for the future.
RANA SAFVI is a renowned writer, scholar and translator. She is a passionate believer in India's unique civilizational legacy and pluralistic culture which she documents through her writings, podcasts and videos. She has published nine books so far on the culture, history and monuments of India. These are Tales from the Quran and Hadith and the Delhi trilogy which includes Where Stones Speak, The Forgotten Cities of Delhi and Shahjahanabad: The Living City of Old Delhi. She has translated both the editions of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan's seminal work on Delhi, Asar-us-Sanadid and Dastan-e-Ghadar, and four accounts of nineteenth and twentieth century Delhi from Urdu to English as City of My Heart and A Saint, A Folk Tale and Other Stories: Lesser-Known Monuments of India.
This book is the result of a lifelong practice of Islam, and a decade-old journey into its Sufi traditions. It is the outcome of a personal and academic search of people's experiences of divinity in Sufi practices, focusing on its entire corpus of thought and discursive traditions, meditative and ritual practices, ethics of love and compassion, devotional poetry, music, art, and architecture.
Sufism is a vast ocean of mystical thought, doctrines, literature and poetry, and a legacy of its saints. The Arabic word tasawwwfmeans devoting oneself to the contemplation (of Allah)' but it is generally used today in the sense of 'a verbal noun meaning the act or process of becoming a Sufi'. It is from this term that the word Sufism is derived.' The 'ism' in Sufism does not make it a system or philosophy. Instead, like tasawwuf, it is the act of following a mystical path, and a quest for ethical and moral perfection as one tries to realize Allah in one's self. It was always a part of Islam, though the term only gained currency around a century after the death of the Prophet (PBUH). It was at this time that an increasing number of Muslims came to feel that an entirely rational or intellectual relationship with what they considered God's revelation was inadequate; it needed to be supplemented by an experiential relationship, especially the sources of that revelation and the shifting body of hadiths. This emphasis on experience over intellect was the ethical and psychological beginning of Sufism.
There has been a recent resurgence in popular interest in Sufism in India. Indeed, many Sufi orders (silsilabs) are flourishing now. While not everyone can follow the intellectual and spiritual rigour that becoming a Sufi requires, thousands visit dargahs every day, seeking succour and peace, healing and care, love and compassion. I am one of them.
I have scratched just the surface of this great tradition, and my writing may reflect this, but the journey has enriched me as a person. Although I am not a Sufi, I am privileged for having got a small glimpse into the world of Sufism, and for being enriched by it.
While researching for this book, I conducted field visits to many dargahs across India, had conversations with devotees, descendants of the saints who run the shrines, and religious experts; and I have drawn from this experience. I focus on the changing character of the dargahs, and the crucial role saints play as waseela (intermediaries). The saints, who even after death continue to thrive in the shrine, are the link between the devotees and God.
Although traditionally India has been home to Sufism, of late a few detractors have appeared here too. And that's not all. The term 'Sufi' is bandied about casually as a kind of cool cult that showcases the secular spirit of Islam; or worse, it is seen as something that is outside Islam. There is even a longstanding trend in the early studies of Sufism where it has been differentiated from Islam. This book is an attempt to show that Sufism is, in fact, firmly rooted in Islam. I try to do this by describing it in its historical context and as a rigorous meditative discipline, highlighting every aspect of the tradition.
In addition to these attempts to delink Sufism from Islam and portray it as a different stream of thought, we see it being attacked both within and outside Islam. It is often critiqued as sbirk (attributing a co-partner to God) or bidat (innovation), or even an internal threat to Islam. To discredit Sufism, such critiques often emphasize superstition, grave worship, music, and the fleecing of credulous believers by some shrine attendants.
These attempts began in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when Orientalists, with access to only limited literature regarding the subject, wrote of Sufism as outside Islam on account of the latter's 'essential characteristic of harsh legalism'. Sufism, on the other hand, was considered to be 'indifferent to matters of religious law'.
Book's Contents and Sample Pages
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