Wednesday, January 27, 2010

An Introduction to Sufism

On 31st December 2009, we visited the famous tomb of Saint Hazrat Nizamuddin in Delhi. Nizamuddin was a Sufi (the inner, mystical element of Islam) Muslim saint of the 14th century. Side by side his tomb is the tomb of Amir Khusru, one of India's greatest Muslim poets. It was a transformational experience. The Pir (chief warden) of the tomb, a direct descendant of Saint Nizamuddin, personally received us and took us inside the tombs. He allowed us to touch the tombs, which were covered with flowers and scarfs. He picked up some scarfs that had been gifted by worshippers and wrapped it around our necks. We prayed together inside the tombs. Outside, Kawali music (a local form) was being played and then the loudspeakers called the noon prayers.

The shrine gets visitors from all faiths, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, and Christians. It feeds hundreds of poor people from different faiths every day, and several thousands per day during the holy month of Ramadan. We ended our tour with a sit down snack meal with the Pir. Many of us had never been to an Islamic shrine before and none of us had entered a Sufi shrine. In an era when media reports keep stressing the radical extremist face of Islam, one wishes more people would visit the Nizamuddin Shrine and learn about Sufism. It can dispel lots of myths about Islam. I was reminded of a couple of lines from Gandhi's favourite hymn: "Ishwar, Allah Tere Nam: Subko Sanmati de Bhagwan". Translated roughly as: "Your name is Ishwar (Hindi for god/lord) or Allah, Oh Lord, please bless everyone with this wisdom."

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