Dargahs and the Sufi Sell-out

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 

For fifteen minutes, father and son were left alone to offer prayers. Aside from the fact that Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal came out spiritually refreshed, it is portrayed as a brave move for a Pakistan leader and the “heir apparent” to visit a Sufi shrine against opposition from fundamentalist forces.

It is said that Mr. Zardari dilly-dallied on Hafiz Saeed because he needed to keep this segment in mind. Let me flip the coin: Why did Dr. Manmohan Singh mention 26/11 at all and talk about bringing the culprits to book? Was he too not catering more to the sectarians among the majority constituency rather than the Indian population? Our politicians are aware of what is going on in Balochistan, but do they even know where Behrampada is? It was one of the worst-affected areas during the 1992-93 riots in the financial hub of Mumbai.

As for visiting a Sufi shrine, paying respects to a saint does not make Zardari secular as a matter of course. He made a donation of Rs. 5 crore ($1 million), which would probably qualify as bilateral trade – he pays and in return gets some feel-good moments, and media mileage. Those carping about it are the ones who made such over-the-top reportage of minutiae possible.

Besides, it might help to know that there are several dargahs in Pakistan. The mullahs strike the more regular places of worship.

There is the patronising attitude of both Indian and Pakistanis of a certain kind to insist on ‘moderation’ in Islam only to appear progressive or under pressure from the clique, and without seeing the context. The Sufi yelp is a convenient transposition to the jihadi bark.

What really does Sufism amount to as a contemporary ‘political’ attitude? Is it a placebo or something you snort and delude yourself with?

In my column of May 15, 2007, in The Asian Age I had explored this with personal glimpses of a visit to the same dargah. Here it is:

“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 (a police officer in Modi’s government) 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. FV,
    The piece would have made more sense if you hadn't dragged in Behrampada etc. I am actually surprised that Narendra Modi didn't make the cut this time!

    The Jehadi vs Sufi conflict simply has no parallel in Hinduism. The Hindutva ideologues are as devoted to the assorted Gods in Hindu pantheon and to the saints as the non-BJP Hindus.

    In any case, mere nods to Sufism are meaningless. Muslim community has to become more tolerant and accepting of other religions, conversions and blasphemy etc. Death penalty for conversion out of Islam has no Quranic sanction. I hope the UNISLAMIC republic of Pakistan (among such others) realizes these things asap.

    Hair-splitting, I know!! :)

  2. Like F & F says, it is really surprising Modi did not make the cut this time ;) .

  3. Hello: I have nothing to hide. This blog is open to all who care to visit or chance upon it. I have always respected feedback, but the respect isoften misused. This isn't a forum worthy enough for abuse, so posts that 'elevate' it so shall not be posted.
    OK Why you deleted my comment ?
    What that abusive ?
    Provocative ?
    Or anything else.
    Sorry I misunderstood you as moderate muslim, A free mind not in grasp of mullahs. Sorry to say you also among them who can't tolerate anything against conservative methods of Islam.
    I'm sure now you know why most of the world don't like muslims.
    Sorry bit harsh but I really want to see muslim progressive but seems there is nothing called moderate muslim.

  4. F&F:

    You (and Vishnu) have not read the piece.

    "Has anyone asked Hindus to follow the Brahmo Samaj or the Bhakti movements only because some red-haired Vanzara guy (a police officer in Modi’s government) likes encounters..."

    As for the rest, Muslims should do this, Muslims should do that...we are talking about dargahs and if you didn't get it, just too bad.

  5. Anon:

    If you wish, re-send the comment. There is something called technical glitches, besides Islamic ones. However, I will post it only if I think it is appropriate. You will find several avenues for your views.

    Re. what you thought and think about me, that is something you have to deal with. Not I.

    Someday, when you come out of your anonymity and flash your views, you will know who you are. I already do. I do not speak on behalf of all Muslims, so quit speaking about a whole group without knowing anything.

    Yeah, I'd like to see you 'progress' beyond this obsessive kant.

    - - -
    And F&F, stay out of this...


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