Burton on Sufism
Cooment upgraded to post, fascinating. Thanks for input.
08.04.08 at 9:07 am ·
Nemo will probably relish this.
Burton appreciated Islam learning and Sufism but at the same time had a very clear eye as to their limitations. He studied Sufism in Sindh, describes its practices and initiation ceremonies in detail, and claimed to have recieved a murshids diploma, which he reproduced in his book describing his journey to Medina and Meccah. (A Personal Narrative of a Journey to Medina and Meccah)
Here is what this very sympathetic person had to say about Sufism in Sindh–the organizational aspect of it.
‘Tassawuf, under the native governments (the rule of the Emirs prior to Napier’s conquest of Sindh in the 1840s) was as formidable a political engine as most of the secret confraternities recorded in history. Hasan Sabah, the celebrated ‘Old Man of the Mountain’ showed what use could be made of it by a talented and unscrupulous villain.
‘Even among the mild Sindhis, a noted Pir (religious superior) formerly might safetly order one of his murids or disciples, to murder an enemy. Yet the native princes encouraged it, partly from superstition and partly because the price (amount needed for bribery) of every Pir was well known to them. Unlike the Assassins, the order in this province had no Grand Master…
To the Pirs great advantages accrued…Udner our government they have of course lost the right of flogging and beheading their followers, so that their power now depends primarily upon the ignorance and superstition of the populace. As they are usually the vile descendants of of some ancestor celebrated for virtue and learning, they think it necessary to keep up appearances; yet their garb of goodness is a very flimsy one. The Pir who calls himself a Fakir or beggar, will probably maintain an establishmetn of a hundred servants and as many horses, it is sufficient for him occasionally to show a camel hair vest under his garments and his followers will excuse his ostentation.
‘The vanity of the disciples induces them to believe in, and to vaunt the supernatural powers of their superior; his bieng able to work miracles and visit heaven gives THEM additional importance.
….the pecuniary position of the Pir is an enviable one. He levies a tax of from one-eighth to one-half upon the income and produce of his followers who are too timid to defraud the saint., and who not infrequently make him expensive presents when any unexpected stroke of good fortune attributed to his intercession, enables them to do so. (this in addition to the many taxes levied by the old government which Burton listed in an earlier chapter…unless perhaps the Pir found ways to negotiate with the local princes to lighten the tax burden on followers? editorial comment.)
‘It is not too much to say that some few of the chief Pirs could, by good management, commend an income of 30,000 L (am not sure if this is rupees or pounds-editor).
‘Besides emolument, these holy men enjoyed and enjoy the power of committing any villainy upon the principle that from the pure nothing but what is pure can proceed…
‘The practical results of the Pir’s imposition are, that the Murids, in their delusion, look to him as the gatekeeper of Paradise, and respect him accordingly. Even the most cowardly Sindhi would assault a man that ventured to curse his Pir; the Affghans and the Persians woudl consider the instant murder of such an individual a highly meritorious action.
‘The effects of Tassawuf upon the people in general (this from a man who appreciated so much of it) can be easily conceived. The disciples sink capital in a speculation that can never pay in this world; and besides the monetary loss they throw away all chance of moral improvement.’
(Burton, pages 203–207 from Sindh and the Races that Inhabit the Valley of the Indus)
(from RF Burton: Sindh and the Races that Inhabit the Valley of the Indus)