Sufis of Sindh as also of other regions in the world have been secular. And let me say at the very outset that the word 'secular' in the Indian subcontinental tradition doesn't mean the same as in the Western one, and add that the 'sacred'-far from being contrary to the 'secular'-becomes meaningful only when it is 'secular'. In order to substantiate all this, I recount here a significant incident of my early life. The incident illustrates according to the Indian subcontinental tradition what the 'secular' is and underlines the idea that secularity enriches the spiritual life. Incidentally, it is the once great incident to which I owe my scholarly interest in the Indian subcontinental saint/Sufi literature.
It was January 8, 1948, and I was barely 12 at that time. Our country had been divided into India and Pakistan on a narrow religious basis on August 14-15, 1947. After the Partition, communal frenzy raised its ugly head and cities ran amuck, their streets roaring 'Allaho Akbar' and 'Har Har Mahadev'.
Originally from Rohri, a town in Sukkur district of Sindh (now in Pakistan), we were in Karachi Sindh during those days, for my father had taken up a teaching job there. We lived in a rented set of two rooms in a building belonging to a devout Muslim. Things were never bad in Sindh before the Partition, for the people, bred and brought up as they were on the Sindhi Sufi soil, lived in peace and harmony. But on the fateful day of January 8, 1948, it looked like the world would come to an abrupt end for us. The rioters were at the gate and demanded of the house-owner to quietly hand over all the kafirs (non-believers, i.e. Hindus) in his premises. Huddled alongwith other members of the family in a small store room of the house, I waited with bated breath for destruction and death. I knew what could happen to us in such circumstances, but my younger brother and sister in the cell would not quite know that they lurched between life and death.
Presently our house-owner lied to them, saying "The people you are looking for sailed to India yesterday...The poor creatures couldn't even take alongwith them their possessions... Do you want their belongings?"
A few killers came inside and collected a few things-the mementoes of a sad chapter of human history! My father, a Sufi-for, there have been Sufis among the Hindus also-took a hesitant decision on that day to migrate to the newly-formed India. Continuing to live there would have meant an untold misery for us and for the Muslim brethren sympathising with us. I remember, the two families-ours and that of Allahdino, the house-owner-were sad and gloomy for the rest of the day.
Allahdino? He is so dear to our heart that we in our family never use any honorific before his name. God's good man, he is God himself-God without any honorific. Allahdino? He is a commoner in the Indian subcontinent, with a name having roots in the Indian composite culture: he is Allahdino with a Sindhi-Sanskritical suffix dino (dutt, meaning 'given by, or gifted by'; Allahdino meaning gifted by Allah, or God) in his Muslim name, as there are many Hindu names like "Gurubakhsh" with a Semitic suffix bakhsh (again meaning 'given by, or gifted by'; Gurubakhsh meaning gifted by the Guru, or Preceptor) in them.
As the night descended on that gloomy day, my father and Allahdino sang together the padas, or songs, of the great saint/Sufi poet Kabir (1399-1518). I still remember the two lines from one of the padas they sang:
main kahta hun ankhi dekhitu kahta hai kagad ki lekhi.
Kabir says, "Whatever I say is based on my life-experience with the people around, whereas what you say is written in the sacred books."
Kabir, who was a weaver by profession, saw in his day-to-day life-world, which some philosophers have called the lebenswelt and within which the we carry on our "normal" activities in collaboration with other people, warp and woof coming together to become one harmonious life-fibre. A great integrator, he represented in his blood and bone the races which have inhabited India over the centuries and in his life-pattern and thought constructs their composite culture.
A great secularist, he presented the Indian subcontinental view of secularity, which is not the state or quality of being non-religious as understood in the Western tradition, but that of being variously religious. Deep spirituality that attends this kind of secularity makes one rise above the narrow confines of one's own religion and respect all religions of the world. And this kind of secularity, evolved as it is by the Indian mind over the centuries, suits the Indian multi-religious society the most. It is different from the one obtaining in the uni-religious societies of the West.
When the common people love Kabir so much and chant his padas devotedly who, then, is afraid of Kabir, the weaver? Obviously, the one who shuts one's eyes to the process of weaving, or warp and woof coming together. One who does not appropriate the Indian mind-the great baffling Indian mind known for its perception of basic unity at the bottom of worldly forms fears him. The so-called learned Pandits and Moulvis (religious leaders), the hide-bound narrow experts and specialists (elite) were afraid of him in his day, as they are today.
I inherited from my parents the interest in the great Sindhi Sufi poets like Qazi Qadan, Shah Abdul Karim, Shah Inat, Shah Abdul Latif and Sachal Sarmast.
I am deeply thankful to Professor Attar Singh and Dr. S. A. Ali, the editors of Panjab University Journal of Medieval Indian Literature and Studies in Islam respectively, who published my researches on Qazi Qadan and Shah Abdul Karim in their learned journals, and also to the University of Delhi, which brought out my work on Shah Abdul Latif. This book presents revised versions of materials published in them. I am also beholden to Director, Publications Division, Government of India, for asking me to do a book for the general reader on the Sufis of Sindh, the great integrators.
B-14, Dayanand ColonyLajpat Nagar, New Delhi-110024January 13, 1986
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