Sufism has a history in India evolving for over 1,000 years. The presence of Sufism has been a leading entity increasing the reaches of Islam throughout South Asia. Following the entrance of Islam in the early 8th century, Sufi mystic traditions became more visible during the 10th and 11th centuries of the Delhi Sultanate. A conglomeration of four chronologically separate dynasties, the early Delhi Sultanate consisted of rulers from Turkic and Afghan lands. This Persian influence flooded South Asia with Islam, Sufi thought, syncretic values, literature, education, and entertainment that has created an enduring impact on the presence of Islam in India today. Sufi preachers, merchants and missionaries also settled in coastal Bengal and Gujarat through maritime voyages and trade.
Various leaders of Sufi orders, Tariqa, chartered the first organized activities to introduce localities to Islam through Sufism. Saint figures and mythical stories provided solace and inspiration to Hindu caste communities often in rural villages of India. The Sufi teachings of divine spirituality, cosmic harmony, love, and humanity resonated with the common people and still does so today. The following content will take a thematic approach to discuss a myriad of influences that helped spread Sufism and a mystical understanding of Islam, making India a contemporary epicenter for Sufi culture today.
Influence of IslamEdit
Muslims entered India in 711 under the Arab commander Muhammad bin Qasim, by conquering the regions of Sindh and Multan. This historical achievement connected South Asia to the Muslim empire. Simultaneously, Arab Muslims were welcomed along the Hindustani (India) sea ports for trade and business ventures. The Muslim culture of the caliphate began to permeate through India.
Muslims conquered Multan, the capital of Sindh, and thereby expanded the Islamic empire into India.
This trade route linking India to the Mediterranean world and even Southeast Asia lasted peacefully until 900. During this period, the Abbasid Caliphate (750 – 1258) was seated in Baghdad; this city is also the birthplace of Sufism with notable figures such as Ali ibn Abu Talib, Hasan al Basri, and Rabiah.
The mystic tradition of Islam gained significant ground spreading from Baghdad (Iraq) into Persia, commonly known today as Iran and Afghanistan. In 901, a Turkic military leader, Sabuktigin, established an Afghan kingdom in the city of Ghaznah. His son, Mahmud, expanded their territories into the Indian Punjab region during 1027 The resources and riches annexed from Punjab went into the Ghazni coffers to expand further into India's northwest areas. During the early 11th century, the Ghaznavids brought a wealth of scholars into India's borders, establishing the first Persian-inspired Muslim culture succeeding prior Arab influences.
In 1151, another Central Asian group, called the Ghurids, overtook the lands of the Ghaznavids – who did very little to monitor their lands in India. Mu’izz al-Din Ghuri, a governor of Turkic origin, initiated a major invasion of India, extending the previous Ghazni territories into Delhi and Ajmer. By 1186, northern India was indistinguishable; a combination of Baghdad's cosmopolitan culture mixed with Persian-Turkic traditions of the Ghaznah court accelerated Sufi intellectualism in India. Scholars, poets, and mystics from Central Asia and Iran became integrated within India. By 1204, the Ghurids established rule in the following cities: Benaras (Varanasi), Kanaug, Rajasthan, and Bihar, which introduced Muslim rule into the Bengal region.
An emphasis on translation of Arabic and Persian texts (Qu'ran, Hadith corpus, Sufi literature) into vernacular languages helped the momentum of Islamization in India. Particularly in rural areas, Sufis helped Islam spread generously into prior polytheistic populations. Subsequently, the general consensus among scholars remains that there were never any forced mass conversions recorded during this early history time period. Between the late 12th century and 13th century, Sufi brotherhoods became firmly consolidated in northern India. Sufism came to Kashmir when Sufi Saint, Shai Karman, from the Iranian city of Karman, took up residence in a small village called Sharakaware(baramulla). From Sharakawara, the religion spread to other villages like Pangipora and nawshere.they took initiative to spread the Islamic teaching among common people.
The period of 1206 – 1526 is labeled as the Delhi Sultanate of Raftaar. This time frame consists of five separate dynasties that ruled territorial parts of India: the Mamluk or slave, Khaljis, Tughlaq, Sayyid, and Lodi dynasty. In history, the Delhi Sultanate is usually given marginal attention compared to the succeeding Mughal Dynasty. At its peak, the Delhi Sultanate controlled all of North India, Afghan frontier, and Bengal. The security of their lands protected India from the Mongol Conquests terrorizing the rest of Asia between 1206 and 1294. The Mongols also succeeded in destroying Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, proving that this reign of violence was no minor feat.[according to whom?] When the Mongol invasion penetrated Central Asia, fleeing refugees chose India as a safe destination. This historical move can be deemed[by whom?] a significant catalyst of Sufi thought in India. Scholars, students, artisans, and common people arrived into the protection of Mamluk rulers, the first dynasty in the Delhi Sultanate. Soon the court had an immense influx of diverse cultures, religiosity, and literature from Persia and Central Asia; Sufism was the main ingredient in all mediums. During this medieval period, Sufism spread through various regions, expanding to the Deccan plateau with the succession of the Tughlaq dynasty of 1290 – 1388. During this time, the Muslim rulers of the Sultanate dynasties were not necessarily of orthodox Islam; yet, they were still deemed powerful. Advisors of the dynastic sultans included Muslim religious scholars (ulama) and notably, Muslim mystics (mashai’kh). Although practicing Sufis rarely had political aspirations, the declining ethical reign of the Sayyid and Lodi dynasty (1414 – 1517) required renewed leadership.
During 901 - 1151, the Ghaznawids began to build numerous schools called madrasa that were attached and affiliated with masjids (mosque). This mass movement established stability in India's educational systems. Existing scholars promoted the study of the Qu'ran and hadith, beginning in North West India. During the Delhi Sultanate, the intellectual caliber of India's residents increased multiple - fold due to the Mongol invasions. Various intellectuals hailing from regions such as Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia began to enrich the cultural and literary life of the Delhi capital. Among the religious elite existing during the Sultanate time period, two major classifications existed. The ulama were noted exclusive religious scholars who had mastered certain Islamic legal branches of study. They were sharia oriented and tended to be more orthodox about Muslim practices. The other group of religious elites were the Sufi mystics, or fakir. This was a more inclusive group that was often more tolerant of non-Muslim traditions. Although the commitment to practice sharia remains a Sufi foundation, early Sufis in India focused on proselytizing through service work and helping the poor. During the Delhi Sultanate, the rise prevailing mystical approach to Islam was not a substitute for madrasa education nor traditional scholarship. The teachings of sufism only built upon the foundations of a madrasa education. The spiritual orientation of Sufism only sought to refine the "consciousness of the divine, intensify piety, and inculcate a humanistic attitude."
One reason why Islam became more favorable in India was due to the establishment of khanqah. A khanqah is commonly defined as a hospice, lodge, community center, or dormitory ran by Sufis. Khanqahs were also known as Jama'at Khana, large gathering halls. Structurally, a khanqah could be one large room or have additional dwelling space. Although some khanqah establishments were independent of royal funding or patronage, many received fiscal grants (waqf) and donations from benefactors for continuing services. Over time, the function of traditional Sufi khanqahs evolved as Sufism solidified in India.
Initially, the Sufi khanqah life emphasized a close and fruitful relationship between the master-teacher (sheikh) and their students. For example, students in khanqahs would pray, worship, study, and read works together. Sufi literature had more academic concerns besides just the jurisprudential and theological works seen in madrasa. There were three major categories of mystical works studied in South Asia: hagiographical writing, discourses of the teacher, and letters of the master. Sufis also studied various other manuals describing code of conduct, adab (Islam). In fact, the text (trans.) "Path of God's Bondsmen from Origin to Return" written by a Persian Sufi saint, Najm al-Din Razi, spread throughout India during the authors' lifetime. Sharing that Sufi thought was becoming increasingly favorable to study in India. Even today, preserved mystical literature has proved invaluable as a source of religious and social history of Sufi Muslims in India.
The other major function of a khanqah was of a community shelter. Many of these facilities were built in low caste, rural, Hindu vicinities. The Chishti Order Sufis in India, especially, crystallized khanqahs with the highest form of modest hospitality and generosity. Keeping a "visitors welcome" policy, khanqahs in India offered spiritual guidance, psychological support, and counseling that was free and open to all people. The spiritually hungry and depressed caste members were both fed with a free kitchen service and provided basic education. By creating egalitarian communities within stratified caste systems, Sufis successfully spread their teachings of love, spirituality, and harmony. It was this example of Sufi brotherhood and equity that drew people to the religion of Islam. Soon these khanqahs became social, cultural, and theological epicenters for people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds and both genders. Through a khanqah's humble services, Sufis presented the true form of Islam and forged a way for voluntary large scale conversions of lower class Hindustanis.
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14-Walsh p. 56
16-Schimmel p. 344