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the-south-asian.com                               April  2001

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Sufis - Wisdom against Violence


Salman Saeed

  Sufis, escaping violence and persecution  in west and central Asia, came to India , settled there and wrote of love. Baba Farid, Bulleh Shah, Madho Lal Hussain, Kaki, Moinuddin Chishti and many more belonged to different Sufi orders - but the essence of their teachings was the same - universal tolerance. Their writings are alive with themes of love, peace, reflection, generosity and faith - in simple peasant metaphors. Their following was also universal. Today common people flock to the shrines of these Sufi mystics - Baba Farid Shakar Ganj of Pakpattan, Bulleh Shah at Kasur, Khwaja Nizamuddin in Delhi, Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer, Saleem Chishti at Fatehpur Sikri, Sachal Sarmast in Daraaz, Khairpur in Sindh, Shah Abdul Lateef Bhitai in Sindh. Their Kafis, Dohras have been kept alive, by contemporary singers, in the hearts and souls of the common south Asian people, both in cities and in villages.


The Violent Logic of Human history

Our ancestral history is a trail of human narrative from Neanderthals to Cro-Magnon [3-5million years ago], which has been augmented by the recent findings by Leakey in Kenya that the story is even older and earlier than that. The dead do not speak; it is we who must speak for them.

This history shows many a violent and collaborative twists before which modern man now stands with great arrogance. From primeval tools of slings and arrows we now have ‘mature technology’ in the form of weapons such as ICBMs, atomic, hydrogen, neutron bombs, and cruise missiles and submarines to deliver and destroy mutual enemies.

Human groups in the form of tribes, regions, and nation states are still eyeing each with the memories of what territories were lost to whom. Long term suspicions lurk when negotiators [India -Pakistan, India-China, China-Russia, China- U.S.A, Serbia, Bosnia, Albania, Chechnya, Palestine, Israel, Syria] sit across tables. During negotiations the threat of weapons is an unspoken reminder as to which side must submit. American Indian tribes, Amazonian Indians, Australian aborigines [for their territorial concepts see Songlines –Bruce Chatwin] by and countless other cultures have been virtually wiped out.

Perhaps the technology of genetic cloning may bring these dead tribes back to life. World War I & World 2 [fought for territorial- economic claims] left about 150 million dead and the use of the Atomic bomb over Hiroshima and Nagasaki saw the terrible results of this technology. In Vietnam, America used more tonnage of bombs than was used in World War 2.

The Poet and writer as the recorder of this violence

A few western writers and poets such as the writer of this famous poem in World War 1- also called the 'Great War' – have chronicled these violent events. Major McRae, a surgeon attached to the 1st Field Artillery Brigade, had spent seventeen days treating injured men -- Canadians, British, Indians, French, and Germans -- in the Ypres. In May 1915, when McCrae wrote his poem, around him poppies blossomed like no one had ever seen before (poppies only flower in rooted up soil. Their seeds can lie on the ground for years and years, and only when someone roots up the ground, they will sprout. There was enough rooted up soil on the battlefield of the Western Front; in fact the whole front consisted of churned up soil.)

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

(The Spectator, in London, rejected the poem, but Punch published it on 8 December 1915)

Filmmakers have documented and other writers reflected similar emotions in their books and movies. Some of them - Albert Camus, Kafka, Becket, Ionesco [school of the absurd] were left shattered. Samuel Becket, when asked why he wrote at all, if the efficacy of the written word was in question, replied profoundly….

" C’est le mots, on na rien d’autre…"

It’s the words, there is nothing else.

It is the word that has always been the seed, germ, the carrier of ideas, of knowledge, insight, and enlightenment. Buddha repeatedly said Ignorance was the cause of suffering. Marx wrote " Suffering apprehended humanly is the enjoyment of self in man…"

Some of the other western writers who continued to document this violence were Sartre, Hemingway, Alain Resnais, the director of the movie "Hiroshima mon Amour". William Faulkner, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech said that the modern writers had started to write about " glands" and had forgotten the " human spirit"..but that man’s "puny voice " stood ground. Sufi scholars in South Asia also documented this human drama. Buddha claimed life itself was suffering.


next page

Wisdom against Violence

Arrival of Sufis

Baba Farid

Madho Lal Shah Hussain

Bulleh Shah


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