Despite use of the term ‘Secular’ in the Constitution of India, in practice, essence of secularism is reduced (if not abused) to appease all religions including their minute denominations as well. Such official religious policy of the State in turn has encouraged fusion of religion and politics that prompts the countrymen of diverse religions bleed inter se and all these are accomplished in the name of divinity. Sufism is a cult that inspires a transcendental trajectory of secularism since long back.
It has been rightly observed that Sufism is “free from the shackles of religion”. Thus the universality of Sufism is accepted on all hands. The present paper makes an attempt to trace the origin of Sufism, its role as an unifying and syncretistic force in Medieval India and the current relevance of its teachings in fostering communal harmony and religious tolerance.
Before studying Sufism as a phenomenon it would be profitable to study the emergence of Islam as a religion. It was during the holy month of Ramadan in 610 A.D. that, an Arab businessman had an experience that changed the history of the world. Muhammad ibn Abdullah used to retire to a cave in the Mount Hira every year at this time to pray, fast and give alms to the poor. He was much concerned at what he perceived to be a crisis in the Arab society. There was growing spiritual restlessness in Mecca and throughout the Arabian peninsula as the Arabs knew that the Judaism and Christianity which was practised in the Persian and the Byzantine empires was more sophisticated than their own pagan traditions. It seemed to many of the thoughtful people in the Arabia that the Arabs were a lost race ignored by God himself.
All was to change on the night of 17 Ramadan when Muhammad felt himself overpowered by a devastating presence. A voice ordered him to recite and he recited in the name of Allah. In this way the Holy Quran was first revealed to Muhammad. At first he kept quiet as more revelations poured in and it was only in 612 A.D. that he felt empowered to preach and gradually gained converts- his wife Khadija, his cousin Ali, his friend Abu Bakr and the young merchant Usman. Its teachings were simple it advocated the worship of a single God called Allah who had created the world and who would judge humanity in the last days instead of polytheism and idol worship.
The new sect was called Islam (surrender) and a man or woman who made this submission of their entire being to Allah was called a Muslim. Muhammad acquired a small following and eventually some seventy families converted to Islam. The powerful man of Mecca soon began opposing Muhammad as they believed he was preaching against the belief of their fore fathers. The continued hostility of the Quraysh compelled the Prophet Muhammad to look elsewhere for the propagation of his faith. He ordered his followers to migrate to Yathrib. He himself migrated to Yathrib which was later renamed Madinah and reached there on 2nd July 622 A.D. This is called Hijrat or Migration and the Muslim era Hijri dates from this event. Phillip K. Hitti observes, “The Hijrat proved a turning point in the life of Muhammad.”[i] The years of humiliation, of persecution were over and the years of success begun. From 622 to 632 A.D. Prophet Muhammad was in charge of the expanding community (Umma) at Medina and by the time of his death in 632 A.D. almost all the tribes of Arabia had joined the Ummah. During the rule of the Umayyad (661-750A.D.) and the Abbasid caliphs (750-1258) Islam spread over the three continents of Asia, Africa and Europe.[ii]