Sufism the Heart of Islam

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Item Code: IHL440
Author: Sadia Dehlvi
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers
Edition: 2010
ISBN: 9788172238162
Pages: 398
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
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Book Description
Back of the Book

Sufi dargahs all over India draw more worshippers than mosques. The mosques are for congregational prayers, with larger attendances at set times on Friday and religious days such as Eid ul Fitr, Eid ul Azha and Eid e Milad un Nabi, than on other days.

Sufi dargahs have worshippers coming round the clock and besides Muslims, draw Hindus and Sikhs in large numbers. Indeed, in Indian Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, besides the Muslim caretakers (mujawirs) appointed by the Waqf Board, worshippers are almost entirely non-Muslims. I believe this strange anomaly is due to the fact that people go to mosques to offer namaz (prayers) as prescribed by the tradition set by the holy Prophet (sunnah). They visit Sufi dargahs to beg for favours: the sick come to be healed, women to beg for happy married lives and to be able to bear children, while some even come to beg for success in cases pending before law courts.

Clear evidence of this phenomenon is offerings of ornate coverings (chadar) to drape the grave, and the red strings tied on the marble trellis around tombs as wishes (murmur) with promises of giving in charity—the most popular being provisions for the community kitchen (langar) where the hungry are fed free of charge. One has only to visit the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, Gharib Nawaz (Patron of the Poor) and see the huge cauldrons in which rice and lentils are cooked to feed thousands who come to be fed. As mosques are most frequented on Fridays, dargahs draw larger crowds on Thursday afternoons and evenings where there are qawaalis, at times spontaneous dancing and people passing out in a trance (hal).

Orthodox Muslims of the Wahabi or Deoband beliefs disapprove of qabar parasti (worshippers of tombs) as un-Islamic. You will see that all dargahs are built around the graves of Sufi saints. It is their names that are invoked by seekers of favours.

Reverence of the Sufi saints continues even after their life. Most Muslims like to be buried close to where their patron saint rests. In Delhi the two largest graveyards are around the tombs of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki. Muslims believe that on the Day of Judgement their Pir (spiritual mentor) will intercede on their behalf with Allah.

An aspect of Sufism in India must always be kept in mind. It was not Muslim invaders who converted millions of Indians to Islam by the sword, as many historians tell us, but the gentle preachings of Sufi saints who opened their hospices and welcomed men and women of all castes and creeds to join their brotherhood. And they did so in large numbers, of their own free will. Of the dozen or so Sufi silsilas (orders) the most prominent was the Chishtiya to which most of the saints mentioned in Sadia Dehlvi’s compilation belonged.

Another important aspect of Sufi teachings was its impact on the saints of the indigenous Bhakti movement in northern India. It included saints like Kabir, Namdev, Tukaram, Nanak and the Sikh gurus. No better evidence is to be found of the phenomenon than the inclusion of their hymns in the Sikh holy scripture Granth Sahib, compiled by the fifth Sikh Guru Arjun Dev. This was installed in the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) in Amritsar whose foundation stone was laid by the Sufi Mian Mir of the Qadriya silsila. There are 134 hymns by Baba Farid Shakarganj (1173-1265 AD). I quote one of the most popular among Sikhs:

My Tryst with Sufis

The most common response on hearing the title of my book has been: ‘But what has Sufism got to do with Islam?’ I realize that Islam is perceived as a faith with harsh laws, whereas Sufism represents wonderful poetry, dance, art and an appealing form of universal love. It is difficult for some Muslims and most non- Muslims to accept that Sufism is the spiritual current that flows through Islam. Sufi Masters are called ahl e dil, ‘people of the heart’. They teach that religion has no meaning unless warmed by emotions of love, and interpret Sufism as being the heart of Islam.

However, I do understand that Sufism has come to mean something quite different in the language of the New Age. Disillusioned with religion and the problems associated with it in secular democratic societies, people tend to mix and match elements from various religious traditions that personally appeal to them. In the following narrative I have attempted to explain how Islam and Sufism are inseparable. The Quran informs us that Islam is not something that began with Prophet Muhammad se some 1400 years ago, but with the creation of the universe in which Adam was the first Prophet. Sufism is the timeless art of awakening the higher consciousness through submission to the Divine Will. The Sufi doctrine goes far beyond history and is rooted in the primordial covenant all unborn souls made with their Creator.

Many friends view my visits to dargahs, Sufi tombs, as senseless medieval superstition. Some orthodox Muslims even insist that Sufism is an innovation in Islam—a sinful practice that our ancestors picked up from Hindu idol-worshipping traditions. They reason that since most of our ancestors were Hindus, some of us are still using pagan methods like singing to please the gods.

It is true that like most Muslims in the subcontinent, my ancestors professed the Hindu faith. I have a family tree that goes right up to someone called Om Prakash Arora. My forefathers settled in Delhi during the mid-seventeenth century when it was under Mughal rule. We belonged to a Saraiki-speaking community from the district of Bhaira, close to the city of Multan. According to family legend, a group from the community was travelling to Hardwar for a dip in the holy Ganges. On the way they met the Sufi Shamsuddin Tabriz (not to be confused with Rumi’s master) who asked them if they would accept Islam if he brought the Ganges right before their eyes, The miracle took place and each one of them converted to the Sufi’s faith.

Delhi was chosen as the city to migrate, and many families still use the Sufi`s name Shamsi for a surname. Despite entering the fold of Islam at the hands of a Sufi, the majority of the community hold extreme Wahabi beliefs and dismiss those of us seeking intercession to God through Sufis, as heretical ‘grave worshipping people.

My grandfather, whom we called Abba, added Dehlvi (one belonging to Delhi) to his name, which became the family title. Abba was a successful man who began life in a modest way He published Shama magazine, which grew to become the country’s leading film and literary publication. Eight more magazines followed, which established our family as one of the leading publishing houses of the time. Despite the riches and glory that followed, Abba remained humble and attributed his life’s success to the blessing of God and the Sufis. He was a hafiz, memorizer of the Quran, and each dawn the house resounded with his recital of its verses. Ever since I can remember, he visited the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya every Sunday and the dargah of Hazrat Shah Farhad every Thursday. He had huge cauldrons of food distributed at these places. Even during the last days of his life when he was bedridden, he requested to be taken to both these dargahs on a wheelchair. I accompanied Abba on his last trip and saw him weep like a child at the threshold of the Sufis.

My grandmother, Amma, did not accompany him on these visits to the dargahs and did not believe in Sufi intercession. Amma and Abba lived in matrimonial harmony, never letting their varied beliefs hamper their love and respect for each other. As children we were taught the basic Islamic values but were largely left to discover our own path. The pattern continued with my parents except that my mother went the Sufi way while my father along with his siblings, followed their mother’s beliefs. In a way my family represents the fundamental difference of uqeeda, creed, between Muslim communities.

Throughout his life, Abba remained steadfast in prayer and charity during his life, we knew no trouble. Following his demise, the family landscape changed where everything began to collapse. Family relationships deteriorated and one by one the magazines closed down. Two decades later all our fortunes vanished and the huge ancestral house in which we lived had to be sold. My father who sometimes visited Sufi dargahs, discontinued the tradition and could no longer afford carrying on the extravagant charitable activities of his father. The troubles increased and it felt like all of us had lost our protective cover. I began to read something awful into the way our lives were turning. I believed we had forgotten the path Abba had consistently walked on.

When we sold our house in Diplomatic Enclave, Delhi, I wanted to live near the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and considered myself lucky on finding a flat there. Each Thursday I light a candle for my beloved grandfather and seek the blessings of Delhi’s patron Sufi. I would also like to share the miracle of my son’s birth. The best of infertility specialists had categorically told me that due to various complications it appeared virtually impossible for me to have a child. I was 32 years old, with the biological clock ticking away I wanted a child desperately but the doctors were not hopeful. My mother reprimanded me for giving up hope and despairing upon Gods Gods graces. She advised me to go to the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti popularly called Gharib Nawaz, Patron of the Poor. I travelled to Ajmer and pleaded for his blessings, vowing to come back for thanksgiving if the prayers were granted. In Delhi, I regularly visited the dargah of Hazrat Shah Farhad and lit candles for the grant of a child. I had seen dozens of childless couples being blessed with babies through the many years that I had been going there.

My prayers were answered and a few months later there was an embryo kicking away in my womb, causing boundless joy my son Arman Ali was born in Karachi through a Caesarean section and while being wheeled away after the operation I faintly heard the doctor comment on the miracle birth. According to the Islamic calendar, Arman is born on the sixth of Rajab, a date that marks the annual years, death anniversary of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz. The sixteen-year-old lad is a musically talented child, a gift that I believe is from the Sufi Master.

Each year we both make an annual pilgrimage to Ajmer for the years and bow our heads in gratitude to Khwaja. Along with thousands of other aashiqs, lovers, I queue for long hours to touch the threshold. After offering a chadar, sheet, on the tomb, I pour my heart out to Khwaja. Sitting in the Begum Dalan, the pillared marble porch constructed by Jehanara, the eldest daughter of the Mughal Emperor Shahjehan, I listen to qawaalis and try absorbing the nur, radiance, flowing from the gumbad, dome. Every sunrise and sunset, thousands of little birds miraculously arrive from all directions on the tree adjacent to the tomb in time for the prayers and then fly off again, never shedding their droppings on Khwaja’s white dome. I envy their ability to fly across the desert hills each day to sing praises of Khwaja e Khwajgaan, the Master of all Masters.

Sufism essentially consists of a path that teaches how to free oneself from the ego and rise to higher spiritual levels. The road is endless and how far one wishes to travel is largely a matter of personal choice. The Sufi way contains a method of guidance and transformation that is not an easy route. I must admit that writing this book has changed me completely I began working on the manuscript at the lowest ebb in my life. A time when one was battling with feelings of guilt, betrayal, grief, and desperately low levels of self-esteem. Witnessing the collapse of family fortunes and relationships, life had fallen like a pack of cards around me. Amongst the rubble I searched for the lost values of respect, love, trust, honesty, and loyalty, and sought the strength of my family with whom I had grown up. The only life I knew was over and I couldn’t find the courage to make a new one.

For years I cried in my sleep, haunted by ghosts that made me feel sad and bitter. While researching the biographies and discourses of the Sufi Masters, I slowly began to understand traumatic experiences as both nourishing and necessary for those who truly seek to purify and liberate the mind, body and soul. A particular passage from the Chishti Master Baba Farid’s life impacted me deeply. The Sufi blessed his disciples with the prayer, ‘May God endow you with pain?

Although I had been initiated in the Chishti Sufi order more than two decades ago, my levels of faith often fluctuated with my mood swings. At times I did not wish to believe in anything anymore. Flashes of a turbulent life forced me into self—reflection. Slowly, I managed to unravel the mysteries of pain and how it confronts you with your own arrogance. From a “why me’ attitude, my emotions changed to, `why not me’ I discovered that spiritual endeavours leading to states of ecstasy were usually rooted in grief. God, by His own admission to Moses, revealed that He lived in broken hearts. All Sufis believe that both affliction and bounties are the blessings of God. Something stirred my soul and I began to see myself as blessed rather than cursed by God. It changed my relationship with Him from one of animosity to one of friendship and love.

I made a conscious, sustained effort to apply some basic principles of Sufism to my shattered life. I vowed to develop rida, resignation to the will of Allah; tawakkul, trust in Him; sabr, patience; and mohabba, love. I found that it soon provided me the strength of a lioness and the flight of a falcon. I no more fear life or death, for I see life as an endurance of God’s will, and death as something that unifies us with the Creator.

Regarding more mundane matters, I do not particularly agree with the usage of the word “fundamentalists’ and its interpretation by society at large and by the media in particular. Nevertheless, if we go by its definition of being anti—modern, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism all have almost 20 per cent of followers who could be called fundamentalists. Similarly Muslim orthodoxy flowing from the Wahabi, Salafi and Ahle Hadith ideologies that remain opposed to Sufi intercession, exceed no more than 20 per cent in the world. Their voices are louder and therefore we do not get to hear enough from the silent majority of Sufi followers.

Regretfully, the non-Muslim and particularly Western perceptions of Islam barely acknowledge its spiritual aspects. Hostility to the Muslims peaked in the twelfth century when horrific villainous pictures of the Messenger as a crafty politician were propagated. Some objective studies were done in England and France during the Renaissance period, but even these writings carried medieval biases that continued to caricature Prophet Muhammad as the spirit of darkness and a wicked impostor. In such an environment the Prophets spiritual brilliance, mystic experiences and humanistic ideals were completely ignored. The prejudices of over a thousand years have blinkered people’s vision, and those uninitiated on the Sufi path are often startled to hear that the Messenger of Islam remains the primary source for Sufism.

Many authors continue writing derogatorily of the Prophet with an arrogant indifference. Some are even honoured by state governments for their warped creativity such writers present dramatic examples of the extremes to which an image can be destroyed, corrupted and then popularized globally. It makes sincere efforts of interfaith dialogue and mutual respect practically impossible.

Negative writings on Islam have resulted in a lack of appreciation of its history and culture—particularly in the understanding of the passion and veneration Muslims have for their Prophet. Devout Muslims will never utter the name of Prophet Muhammad without following it with a durood, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, “May peace be upon him In print the blessing is usually abbreviated after the mention of his name, or calligraphed as in this book. The tradition is based upon a Prophetic saying, “Whoever utters a blessing for me is blessed by the angels as often as he recites the blessing, be it often or rarely’

I have been deeply concerned about the extreme voices within the Muslim community. Islam increasingly seems to have been hijacked by the discourse of anger and the rhetoric of rage. In attempts to enquire of the crisis, I began the journey of trying to understand Islam and read the Quran with scholarly guidance. I turned to the traditional Islamic teachings of Imam Junayd of Baghdad, Imam Ghazalli, Imam Nawawi, Imam Mawlud and other recognized classical scholars. Through the internet I heard lectures of the American Islamic scholars Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Shaykh Nuh Keller, the British scholar Tim Winter (Abdal Hakim Murad) and Dr Tahir ul Qadri of Pakistan.

I learnt that Islam was clearly about moderation and reflection, and how Prophet Muhammad had warned us of extremism. What I love about the Quran is that it constantly urges us to reflect and reassures us that Humanity is the best of creation. It reminds us that Mercy and Compassion are the foremost of Allah’s attributes. The answers to many issues facing Muslim communities can be found in revisiting the scholarship of the Sufis. These Masters have established traditions of knowledge transmission that go back all the way to Prophet Muhammad § who said, “Pass on knowledge from me even if it is only one verse?

In a world where the debate on ‘clash of civilizations threatens to rage on, it is essential to dismantle the old myths and propaganda about Islam. I have written this book so that readers may have some understanding of Islamic traditions. I have used verses from the Quran not to establish Sufi linkages with Islam, but because Sufism cannot be understood without references to the holy book. I would have preferred to use modern translations of the Quran but chose Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s version for it remains the most widely accepted translation in the world, first published in 1938 simultaneously in Lahore, Cairo and Riyadh.

I have presented the book in traditional styles used both orally and in textual Muslim discourses. It begins with a verse from the Quran, Hamd, a poem in praise of Allah, followed by Naat, verses honouring Prophet Muhammad. All chapters begin with the calligraphy of the words ‘Bismillah hir Rahman air Rahim’—In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. I have used the internationally accepted spellings for Arabic words, for example dhikr for what is usally pronounced zikr in the subcontinent, mohabba for mohabbat, rida for reza, tareeqa for tareeqat, haqeeqa for haqeeqat, Sharia for Shariat and marifa for marfiat. Since this book aims at a wide readership, I have refrained from using diacritical marks and hyphenations in the proper names.

My Sufi Master Shah Muhammad Farooq Rahmani was the principal Khalifa of Shah Inam ur Rahman Qudoosi of the Qadri, Chishti, Nizami and Sabri Orders. He emphasized that Sufis are torch-bearers to the path of righteousness. He believed that for those unable to seek the sohbat, company of Sufis, reading and being aware about their life and teachings are blessings. The mystic began each discourse with the words, 'Those who are true in their intent, those who have complete faith and those who seek the Truth are the ones who successfully achieve their goal? He lamented that the biographers of the Sufis focussed more on their miracles than on their inner struggle, character and teachings.

Prophet Muhammad § said, “I swear by the God who controls my life, He loves those who awaken the love of Him amongst the people? Another Prophetic tradition affirms, 'The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr? These words sustained my efforts through the four years that it has taken to complete the manuscript.

I am not a scholar and since this is my first book, it probably has many shortcomings. All the weaknesses in the book are mine; all praise is His. I hope readers find it beneficial and that some of the contents ignite their hearts with the love of the Lord. I seek the blessings of the Blessed, those whose life and teachings are recorded here. I pray that the Lord grant me guidance, providence and may He bless us all.

Back of the Book

Sufism, says Sadia Dehlvi, is the preserved spiritual path that forms the heart of Islam.

In this engaging narrative dealing mainly with the subcontinent, she draws on a range of Muslim texts and traditions to show that Sufism is not an innovation, but the continuity of a thought process that links Muslims to their religious predecessors all the way to Prophet Muhammad.

The book delves into the remarkable lives of the early Sufis, their literature, and their philosophies that emphasize the purification of the heart. It highlights the major Sufi orders, their popularity in the subcontinent and the impact of the teachings of the Sufi Masters on the devotional aspect of Islam.

From the early days of Islam to the modern-day concerns of militant ideologies, the author picks up each strand of religious debate to explore its history and its implications for human civilization, and in the process offers an insightful assessment of the complex relationship of Sufism with both Muslim and non-Muslim societies.

‘A refreshing look at Islam through Sadia Dehlvi’s personal journey in discovering her faith. This timely book is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand Islam in general or Sufism in particular. In a blend of history, politics, sociology and spirituality, the book urges you to reflect on the sensitivities of a religion that is impacting the world today.’

Acknowledgements xii
Preface: My Tryst with Sufis xv
Read! 3
Surah Fatihah: The Opening Chapter 7
In Praise of the Lord8
Fragrances Perceived upon the Prophets Birthday 10
A Celebratory Tribute to Prophet Muhammad 13
Qasidah Al Burdah; The Poem of the Cloak 14
Some Classic Definitions of Sufism 18
1 The Foundations of Sufism 21
2 The Essence of the Sufi Experience 41
3 The Early Sufis 65
4 The Formation of Sufi Orders 107
5 The Way of the Sufi 119
6 Disharmony within Islam 135
7 The Mystic Dialogue 157
8 The Chishtis171
9 The Suharwardis 215
10 The Qadris 227
11 The Naqshbandis 241
12 The Rishis 253
13 Other Orders 261
14 The Wisdom of the Sufis 275
15 A Selection of Sufi Poetry 289
16 Hadith 301
17 Quran Verses 313
The Most Beautiful Names 329
The Noble Names 335
The Islamic Calendar340
Sufi Terminology 342
Notes 353
Select Bibliography 364
Index 369
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