The Sufi Sell-out

Maverick:The Sufi Sell-out
by Farzana Versey
The Asian Age, Op-ed, May 15, 2007

“Are you a Sufi?” he had asked.

“You can say that,” I replied rather shamelessly. Since I was not in the flush of youth I could not claim to be a Marxist, so Sufism seemed like a safe bet.

“I see you are not a typical Muslim,” was the response.

Sufism, which is thought to be an offshoot of Islam, is being used to temper the jihadi face of the religion. This is most offensive. Has anyone asked Hindus to follow the Brahmo Samaj or the Bhakti movements only because some red-haired Vanzara guy likes encounters of the thud kind?

Today, being a Sufi is like being a hippie. You can get away with anything. It has become a convenient cop-out for those who don’t want to identify with any religion. What does a statement like “I do not believe in organised religion” mean? Religion is about a belief system and there is nothing like unorganised religion, though all are often disorganised.

Then there are those who say they are ‘cultural Muslims’. This essentially means they greet you with an ‘adaab’, cook sevaiyaan, speak Bollywood Urdu, enjoy a drink and the occasional ‘Sufi mujra’ and say things like, “Islam needs to change with the times.”

Their favourite calling card is Jalalludin Rumi, the Sufi poet. And any singer who sounds like s/he is gargling claims to believe in Sufism – there is bhangra Sufi, Sufi pop. The Sufi rocks. It is important to dress the part – unkempt clothes, hair dishevelled and lust in the eyes. This, we will be told, is lust for union with god.

Hindi cinema that is always quick on the uptake has a surfeit of “Allah ke bande” and “Ya Ali” stuff doing the rounds. The videos stick to the spiritual quest by showing flying objects and outstretched hands.

Now I hear that even Bahadurshah Zafar is being called a Sufi because he went to temples wearing a tilak and sacred thread. Please! Sufism is not about sight-seeing trips to various god-houses. There is a lot of self-righteous noise being made because our government is not interested in bringing his remains back to the country.

There is no reason to go on about his pining for the soil of his birth; he is not here and to wake up after all these years is obviously a new liberal ploy. Amaresh Misra wrote recently, “If brought to India, Zafar’s remains would be turned into a memorial which millions of ordinary Hindus and Muslims would visit as a pilgrimage site…there will be a surge of emotions powerful enough to wash away enmities. Zafar’s mazaar would heal the Hindu-Muslim divide. For the RSS this indeed is a nightmare situation.”

What a shallow reason. Or merely a way to hit back at the saffron brigade? Hollow symbolic gestures are unimportant, especially if they have lost all validity. We do not need one more mazaar that is politically-motivated.

Sufi tombs are big-time money spinners, anyway. I finally made it to Ajmer from Jaipur. It had taken me years to reach the Khwaja’s sanctum. I had begun to believe in this ‘bulaava nahin aaya’ thing. I had spoken with an elderly friend who is deep into spiritualism. He said, “Baba will try to see you do not reach there. It is to test you. You have to take it as a challenge.”

The idea that a ‘pir’ who I had not said anything against and who I was not planning to ask anything from would want to test me was a dampener. Sometimes it is best for an idea to remain just that. Stepping out of the air-conditioned comfort of the car, having replenished myself with bottled water and organic biscuits, I was thrust into the gullies where every cute young boy claimed to be a Sufi. This looked like a peek into a heaven where god has promised one the best houris and ghilmans. I see this as the true spirit of Islam – no sham of renunciation, rather an acceptance of the good things that we forgo on earth due to morality.

At the dargah, if you are not a head of state or Katrina Kaif showing her legs, they assault you. It is a package deal where you are not left alone; a guide takes you around and decides where you stand, where you throw the flowers – yes, throw – and how long you pray. A few petals fell on the floor and I was reprimanded for insulting the blessings that were showered on me by a man with grease on his palms.

London se aaye hai?” he asked.



“How is it important?”

“I can recognise people from all over the world. You give what you want, I do not ask. I am a Sufi.”

“Me too,” I declared with aplomb.

I immensely enjoy this ‘looking for the self’ vanity. And god is certainly not in the retail.

Everytime I pass the Haji Ali dargah in Mumbai, right in the middle of the vast expanse of water, I do cast a glance in the direction. I feel embarrassed sometimes, for although the white structure stands beautifully, I know it is the sea that I find beguiling, a sea that has listened to many more of my cries and answered many more of my whys.

“Kyon hifaazat hum aur ki dhoondhen
har nafas jab ki hai Khuda hafiz
chaahe rukhsat ho raah-e-ishq mein aql
ai ‘Zafar’ jaane do Khuda hafiz”.


  1. blog
    I've never been to any dargah.
    But, wish to see anyone.

    Good read!

  2. Going after reading this... you are going in as Farzana

    it was better to relate to the ones they showed on movies... FUN

  3. Circle:

    If you ever do, please choose a less famous one, and go at a quiet time.


    You have me stumped...??? But good to see you around.


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