Govt promotion weakens Sufism

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The four day World Sufi Conference was attended by around 200 scholars from across 20 countries.  The leading Sufi scholars, intellectuals and academicians  discussed ways to spread the message of peace advocated by Islam.  The conference was organised by the All India Ulama and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB) and inaugurated at Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  The conference sought to “find constructive ways to spread the Islamic message of peace and tolerance as a counterpoint to the ever-rising global violent extremism”. 

For a Sufi conference to specify its single-most purpose as being a counterpoint to “violent extremism” is to introduce itself in purely political terms.  It also fits the event into a premeditated political project whereby the governments across the world seek to harness  this putatively “tolerant and peace-loving” strain of Islam to take on the conservative strands of the faith. As if, the prevailing conflicts roiling the Muslim world trace themselves invariably to a flaw in their creed. And if the world is buying wholesale into this simplistic proposition, it will only complicate, rather than make easy the fight against the extremism. For it neglects the deep-rooted and the complex historical and the political causes that underpin the ongoing turmoil in Islamic world, including for that matter, even in Kashmir. 

Having said that while there is nothing wrong with holding a Sufi conference but organizing it under the auspices of the government machinery raises some very troubling questions. For while it may bring some media spotlight to the adherents of this mystical branch of Islam, it undermines the authenticity of its message.  So instead of helping Sufism grow, the official attention and the patronage only weakens it and “compromises” it in the eyes of Muslims.  As it has in other parts of the world. US was the first country to recruit the support of Sufis as a foreign policy tool post 9/11. In 2004, a conference attended by a number of think tanks produced the document “Understanding Sufism and Its Potential Role in U.S. Policy,” which centered on ways in which Sufism could be used in foreign-policy making.  Similarly, Britain set up its own Sufi Muslim Council after London bombings but stopped support for it after the move led to divisions in the British Muslim community. Pakistan has tried in its own ways to bolster Sufism against religious conservatism. But the strategy has not only backfired but in turn also undermined Sufi Islam. The willingness by some of its adherents to serve the political goals of the governments has reflected badly on this important strain of the faith.

Far from getting Muslims to rally around Sufism, the perception of the official patronage of the tradition is even turning away many of its adherents. If any proof was needed, it has been once again provided by the opposition to the World Sufi Conference from the mainstream Muslim religious groups in India, some of them Sufis too. The leader of Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind Arshad Madni and a well known Barelwi leader Maulana Tauqeer Raza in their respective statements have slammed the Sufi conference in Delhi and accused its organizers of sowing divisions in Muslim community.

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