Dr. Hasan Aziz spoke on Rumi’s influence on South Asian Sufism on Friday, April 17.
Through the ages, the Sufi mystics and poets of the Indian Subcontinent and Persia recognized the deep-rooted musical traditions of the indigenous populations as a means to spreading their message. Perhaps the most important first observer of Sufism was Jalaluddin Rumi. Sufi saints have embraced the coexistence of Islam with other religions and through a search for common humanity, have preached a message of mutual understanding, spirituality and social harmony.
Dr. Hasan Aziz, editor of Kalaam-e-Aarifaan, has compiled the most iconic Sufi poems that have been widely read and put to music through the ages, often in Qawwalis (the South Asian Chishti variant of Sema). He will speak on Rumi’s influence on South Asian Sufi traditions and how reviving them may rid the region of extremism, intolerance and terrorism.
Husain Haqqani began the discussion about Mawlana Jalaladdin Rumi, a Sufi mystic, philosopher, and poet from whom the Rumi Forum takes its name. Rumi’s Sufist philosophy is manifested through his poems and writings, the effects of which are reverberating through philosophical and religious discourse to this day. From when he was born in Balk (Afghanistan) in 1207 CE to when he died in Konya (Turkey) in 1273 CE, Rumi’s influence over cultures spanned from the Middle East to South Asia. His messages of tolerance and inclusion combated the long-standing orthodox beliefs that constituted the core of Muslim empires based on conquest and power, notions that the orthodoxy advanced in their positions as political elites. The schism between the Sufis and the Orthodox was a debate of the future of Islam – for a political order or pious order, as Mr. Haqqani indicated. He stated that Rumi aimed for “Muslim understanding” and a “belief system that would be more about inclusion of everybody, universality. It would be more about unlimited tolerance.” This new system would be blind to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, for the purpose of goodness, charity, and love. “[T]he God that Sufis appreciate is a God of love – not a God that induces us to be good in this world by promising virgins in the hereafter; not a God that makes us hate each other in this world in the hope of something later.” Sufists aim to be modest, kind, and considerate of all things, as the spirit of God is the essence of life and creation. Sufists believe, Dr. Aziz said, that “what is life and humanity is actually the soul of God.” They believe that one’s inner journey should only be appreciated by oneself, not shared or promulgated for political ends – as this twists and misconstrues the true meaning of an individual’s unique spiritual development.
Dr. Hasan Aziz recently wrote about mystics and Sufis in the book “Kalaam-e-Aarifaan.” His book draws from writing in seven languages, but has been condensed and translated into two: English and Urdu. He has extensive knowledge concerning Sufism, especially in South Asia, where Sufism has had great influence over scholars and youth. He said that the “magnanimous persona of Rumi” can be difficult to understand, and that his influence over south Asia is so vast that it must be narrowed for purposes of discussion. As Mr. Haqqani explained earlier, Rumi had such an enduring impact on the religion and culture of the Indian subcontinent because “Persian was the language of literature and learning of the Muslims of South Asia.” Rumi was greatly revered in this region, his philosophy being influential in the works of important poets, such as Muhammad Iqbal, who views Rumi as his ultimate teacher. Khuwaja Ghulam Farid, of the Chisti-Nazami Sufi order in Pakistan, even mentioned Rumi by name in his writings and poems. Sikhs venerate Mullah Shah – another 17th century Sufist poet – and Sufism is an integral part of Sikhs’ own philosophy. Mullah Shah was highly critical of the existing orthodox order, whose preachers were often preoccupied with power, status, and money as their primary purpose, not spirituality. Sufist philosophy fights intolerant orthodox social tradition and political rigidity in the hopes that a more tolerant and spiritual society may form based upon values of charity, goodness, love, and awareness of the self, since, as Dr. Aziz explains, Sufis believe “everything in the world is part of one God.”
Dr. Hasan Aziz has had a lifelong exposure to Sufi poetry and thought. He was formally trained in Indian classical music and sitar (a string instrument) from a young age but had to discontinue the practice to pursue his medical education. Dr. Aziz won the International League against Epilepsy’s award for ‘Ambassador of Epilepsy’ for his innovative research in epilepsy. He is currently, the Emeritus Professor of Neurology at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre in Karachi, Pakistan. His lifelong passion for classical music, especially Qawwali, and Sufi poetry has remained with him, nevertheless. Dr. Aziz is the editor of the book Kalaam-e-Aarifaan, which presents a vast collection of verified text of Sufi poetry in Urdu, Persian, Punjabi and Hindi languages.
Husain Haqqani (moderator) is a Pakistani scholar and public figure who most recently served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008-2011. He is widely credited with managing a difficult partnership during a critical phase in the global war on terrorism.Ambassador Haqqani’s latest book Magnificent Delusions: US, Pakistan and the Global Jihad which came out in November 2013 has been described as “timely, valuable and objective” by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Haqqani’s 2005 book Pakistan Between Mosque and Military was acclaimed for explaining the roots of Pakistan’s foreign and domestic policies.Haqqani started his public life as an Islamist student leader and has, over the years, emerged as a strong voice for democracy and civilian control of the military in Pakistan and an exponent of liberal values in the Muslim world. His distinguished career in government includes serving as an advisor to three Pakistani Prime ministers, including Benazir Bhutto, who described him as a loyal friend in her last book ‘Reconciliation.’ He also served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Sri Lanka in 1992-93.Ambassador Haqqani is currently Senior Fellow and Director for South and Central Asia at Hudson Institute. Haqqani also co-edits the journal ‘Current Trends in Islamist Ideology’ published by Hudson Institute’s Center for Islam, Democracy and Future of the Muslim World.