MBFM: sufism: jungle/rose garden, & more on Burton
From Saintly sufis, and sufi hyenas, 2008/08/31 at 9:54 AM
It gets murky. According to Richard F. Burton, there were Sindhi Hindus who were followers of Sufi Pirs. And Christopher Ondaatje made a long visit to Sindh in the early 1990s, retracing Burton’s itinerary and wrote a book entitled Sindh Revisited: A Journey in the Footsteps of Captain Richard F Burton, described a massive three day festival in honor of Lal Shah Baz in Sehwan. It has been celebrated in honor of this Sufi saint for many hundreds of years, and Ondaatje noted that both Muslims and Hindus attended, and many customs at this event were derived from Hinduism.
But…and there is a very big but, this may not be the same as easy going western ecumenism. When Burton was in Sindh, it had been ruled quite despotically by Muslim princes and there was constant pressure on Hindus to convert. Burton described how very powerful many Sufi Pirs were, that even local princes deferred to them.
So if one was a member of an oppressed minority religious group, such as being Hindu, it would have been prudent to become a follower of a Sufi Pir-one needed protective alliances whenever one could get them.
And Burton noted that in Afghanistan Hindus visited their Sufi Pirs at night…hardly indicative of ecumenism.
As for Sindh, Burton wrote that cockfighting was the favorite sport among Muslims and that prior to the British takeover, a Hindu never dared go near a cockfight–he would have risked being circumcized on the spot–what amounted to forcible conversion. And when describing Hindu education in Sindh, Burton wrote that while Hindus were eager to learn Persian (the necassary language for anyone determined to get a job in the local government), virtually no Hindu dared to attempt to learn Arabic–there would have been immediate and heavy pressure to convert.
All this is available in Burtons book, Sindh and the Races that Inhabit the Valley of the Indus.
So in an environment with such heavy ambient pressure to convert to Islam, a Hindu’s affiliation with a Sufi Pir may have been at least as much for social protection as for spiritual edification–at the very least.
In fairness, Burton wrote that the Muslim overlords of Sindh, especially the Talpur dynasty that were overthrown by the British, disdained all forms of book learning not directly tied to religious studies. The Emirs found that they lacked the skills to administer their territories and record their revenues, and were forced to use the services of Hindu accountants and clerks, who rose to positions of high eminence, despite the religious tensions. In this atmosphere of tension, the Hindus in sheer self defense, accumulated what wealth they could, and became money lenders.
One incentive the Muslims had for hounding and massacring their Hindu neighbors out of Pakistan during the partition was that this literally cancelled many outstanding debts, and a lot of valuable property was appropriated.
Getting back to nemos thesis, it is far more honest to warn a novice that one cannot separate Sufism from Islam and that if you insist on getting into it, you must eventually must content yourself with being a dabbler in sufism, picking and choosing as you please, or if you insist on going into it in depth, you must convert to Islam.
At least then your seeker will be in a position to make an informed choice–and know that he or she is entering a jungle.
At least say, ‘You are entering a jungle, not a rose garden.’
In jungles one knows one must pack mosquito nets, water filters, take anti malaria medication and a well stocked first aid kit–and even then, there are no guarantees.
But telling someone Sufism is a safe and lovely rose garden means they leave the snake bite kit at home and have nothing in hand in event of treading upon a krait or cobra in the darkness.