Sufism Movement in India

Sufi Movement: At the beginning of 12 AD, some religious people in Persia turned to asceticism due to the increasing materialism of the Caliphate. They came to be called the ‘Sufis’. In India, the Sufi movement began in 1300 A.D & came to South India in the 15th century.

Sufi Movement

Sufism is the mystical arm of Islam. Sufis represent the inner side of the Islam creed (tasawwuf). Sufism (tasawwuf) is the name given to mysticism in Islam.
Sufi means wool: People who wear long woolen clothes were called Sufis.
It was a liberal reform movement within Islam. It stressed the elements of love and devotion as an effective means of the realization of God. It is based on Pir-Murid (Teacher-student) relationship. Sufism sprang from the doctrine of Wahadut-ul-wajud (unity of being) propounded by Ibn-ul-Arabi [1165-1240 AD].

Early Sufi saints – Rabia, Mansur-bin-hallal.
Sufi orders are broadly divided into two: Ba-sara – Those who followed Islamic law & Be-shara- those who followed Islamic law.

In Sufism, self-discipline was considered an essential condition to gain knowledge of God. While orthodox Muslims emphasize external conduct, the Sufis lay stress on inner purity.
Sufism entered India between the 11th and 12th centuries. Al-Hujwari was the first Sufi who settled in India and died in 1089 AD and is popularly known as Data Ganj Naksh (Distributor of unlimited treasure).
Multan and Punjab were the early centers and later on, they spread to Kashmir, Bihar, Bengal, and the Deccan.

Sufi Movement

Essential Characteristics of Sufism

  • Fana: Spiritual merger of the devotee with Allah
  • Insan-e-Kamil: Perfect human with all good virtues,
  • Zikr-Tauba: the remembrance of god all the time (zikr),
  • Wahadatul-wajood: one god for the entire universe; unity of god and being.
  • Sama: Spiritual dance and music are used to promote their ideas, despite the fact that music is not permitted in Islam.

Stages in the History of Sufism

1st Stage – Khanqah10th centuryIt is also called the age of Golden Mysticism.
2nd Stage – Tariqa11th-14th centuryWhen Sufism became institutionalised; traditions and symbols began to be attached to it.
3rd Stage – Tarifa15th century onwardsIt is the stage when Sufism became a popular movement.
  • These three stages also occurred concurrently until the saint’s successors became associated with his barkat and karamat.
  • After coming under the spiritual authority of the Sufi and the political authority of the king, the lands that had been the abode of war became the land of peace (Dar-al Islam).

Sufi Movement Orders in India

  • Sufis were eventually organised into orders or ‘silsilas.’
  • Ain-i-Akbari mentions around a dozen silsilahs. They were divided into two groups: ‘Beshara’ and ‘Ba-shara.’
  • The Bashara Sufis followed Islamic law (i.e. Sharia), and the silsilah (continuity) established by one saint was carried on by his disciples.
    • There were 12 of these silsilahs. They include silsilahs such as Chishti, Suhrawardi, Firdausi, Qadariya, and Naqshbandi, among others.
  • Sharia was not accepted by the Be-shara. They were dubbed ‘Mast kalandars/Malangs/Haidaris’.
    • These wandering saints were commonly referred to as ‘babas.’ They didn’t leave many written accounts.
    • They usually practiced very strict asceticism and defied or ignored the rituals.

Sufism and Music

  • Sufism encourages music as a way of deepening one’s relationship with God, remembering God by zikr (reciting name) sama or performance of mystical music.
  • Sufis too composed poems and rich literature in prose, including anecdotes and fables, The most notable writer of this period was Amir Khusrau a follower of Nizamuddin Auliya.
  • Sufi saints are credited with the invention of the sitar and tabla.
  • It contributed to the evolution of classical music. Khayal style owes a lot to Sufism.
  • Amir Khusro was the disciple of Nizamuddin Auliya. He gives a unique form to sama.
  • Khusrow is sometimes referred to as the “Parrot of India”. His songs are sung in several dargahs across the country. Khusrow is regarded as the “Father of Qawwali”.

Important Features of Sufism

  • The Sufis rejected the elaborate rituals and codes of behavior demanded by Muslim religious scholars.
  • They believed that God is the ‘Mashuq’ and Sufis are the ‘Ashiqs’.
  • Sufism was divided into 12 orders (Silsila) and each under a mystic Sufi saint of which the 4 most popular ones were Chistis, Suhrawardis, Qadiriyahs, and Naqshbandis.
  • Silsila is a continuous link between Murshid (teacher) and Murid (student). They lived in Khanqah – a hospice of worship.
  • Names of Silsila were based on the name of the founding figure E.g. – Qadri Silsila based on the name of Shaikh Abdul Qadri & Place of origin E.g. – Chishti (place in Afghanistan).
  • Sufism took root in both rural and urban areas and exercised a deep social, political, and cultural influence on the masses.
  • Sufism believes that devotion is more important than fasting (Roza) or prayer (Namaz).
  • Sufism discards the caste system.
  • Sufism has adapted extensively from the Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy.
  • The cardinal doctrines of the Sufism include: Complete surrender to the will of God; Annihilation of the self; Becoming a perfect person
  • These three cardinal principles altogether make up the Doctrine of Fana which means the annihilation of human attributes through Union with God.
  • In Sufism, a perfect being is also called a Wali (saint), a word that literally means ‘sincere friend’.

Important Silisila of Sufism

The four most popular Silsilas were the Chistis, Suhrawardis, Qadririyas, and Naqshbandis.

Chisti Silsila

  • Founder – Kwaja Abdul Chisti.
  • Originated in Persia and Central Asia.
  • Moinuddin Chishti introduced the Chisti order in India.
  • Baba Farid (Farīduddīn Ganjshakar) was the disciple of Moinuddin & his poems were included in Guru Granth Sahib.
  • Nizamuddin Auliya was called sidh/perfect due to yogi breathing exercises.
  • Sama was mostly associated with Chisti.
  • Belong to Ba-sharia

Suhravardi Silsila

  • Founder – Shaikh Shihabuddin Surhavardi.
  • The main center was Multan.
  • Saints of this order were also rich and held important government positions.
  • Associated with Delhi Sultanate.
  • A famous saint is Bahauddin Zachariah.
  • Belong to Ba-sharia

Naqshbandi Silsila

  • Founder – Baha-ud-Din Naqshband Bukhari
  • Khwaja-pir-mohammad introduced the Nakshabadi order in India during Akbar’s reign.
  • Orthodox Sect.
  • Mujaddid opposed Shia, philosophy of Wahadat-ul-Shahdud , wrote ‘Red-i-Khafid’ arrested by Jhangir

Qadri Silsila

  • Sheikh Abdul Qadir and his sons, Sheikh Niamatullah, Mukhdum Muhammad Jilani, and Miyan Mir established the Qadri silsila during the Mughal rule and this order was popular in Punjab.
  • Another famous saint of this order was Shah Badakhshani.
  • The Mughal princess Jahanara and her brother Dara were disciples of this silsila.
  • Qadris believed in the concept of Wahdat-al-Wajood meaning “Unity of Existence” or “Unity of Being”, i.e.
  • God and his creation are one and similar.
  • The saints of this silsila dismissed orthodox elements.

Important Sufi Terms in India

  • Sufi, Pir, Murshid – Saint
  • Murid – Followers
  • Khanqah – Place where Sufis lived, hospices
  • Khalifa – Disciples
  • Zikr – Recitation of God’s name
  • Tauba – Repentance
  • Fanaa – Spiritual merging with the Almighty
  • Urs – Death
  • Sama – Musical gathering

Impact of Sufism

The liberal and unorthodox elements of Sufism had a profound impact on medieval Bhakti saints. In the later period, the Sufi doctrines influenced the religious perspective of the rulers along with reminding them of their moral obligations. For example, the Mughal Emperor, Akbar’s religious outlook and religious policies were shaped a lot under Sufism.

  1. Sufism influenced both rural and urban regions and had a deep political, cultural, and social influence on the masses. Spiritual bliss became the ultimate aim and the people could raise their voices against all forms of orthodoxy, falsehood, religious formalism, and hypocrisy. In a world torn by strife and conflict, the Sufis tried to bring peace and harmony.
  2. The most important contribution of Sufism is that it helped to develop a bond of solidarity and brotherhood between Hindu and Muslim communities. The Sufi saints are revered not only by Muslims but also by a huge number of Hindus and their tombs have become a commonplace pilgrimage for both communities.


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