RELIGIOUS MISSIONARY FORMATION: SUFI MODEL
Pushpa Anbu SVD
There has been a steep progress in the scientific and technological spheres of life. We are in fact living in the world of Information Technology (IT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Our human mind is gifted with the ability to accumulate, assimilate and disseminate knowledge and experiences beyond ones imagination. On the one had we are proud of the progress that take place around us and on the other hand we feel disgusted with the decline of the quality of life and unprecedented unpleasant events. We are constantly confronted with religious fundamentalism, wide spread hate campaign, communal violence, social inequality, poverty, unemployment, and misery of people. The existing context of our situation must enable us to think deeply of our priestly religious missionary formation. In the first part of my presentation, I focus on the general views on formation. In the second part, I introduce and present Sufis (Islamic mystics), who by their life and experiences, by their practices and teachings and by their formation continue to inspire, motivate, stir, encourage, instigate and enthuse thousands of people all over the world and in India. In general, I present Sufism and the Sufis as a model for today’s priestly religious missionary formation in India.
FORMATION: SPIRITUALITY & EXCELLENCE
Today a lot of research and study has already been done on priestly formation. One has to be very clear about the objective of the formation. Pope John Paul II in his Post – Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata, says: “The primary objective of the formation process is to prepare people for the total consecration of themselves to God in the following of Christ, at the service of the Church’s mission” (n.65). In undergoing such priestly formation in a philosophical or theological Institute, one needs to realize that acquiring mere intellectual knowledge is not sufficient. The formator and the formee together should be able to reflect on the basic question, ‘What is the goal of formation?’ The entire scheme of the formation and the curriculum should aim at preparing the seminarians to be a better person, to be able to think logically and act responsibly. Spiritual formation should become part and parcel of the entire formation programme.
Addressing the Presidents of SVD Universities in the world in Papua New Guinea on May 7, 2007, the Superior General of the Congregation said that there is an intimate connection between studies that one should find out – be it philosophy or Secular Degree and Spirituality. In fact study is a spiritual affair. Through our study and research, we try to search for truth and in the meantime we encounter with truth itself. Study is a way to holiness, sanctity. Every Formation house has to be a center of spirituality, a center for spiritual renewal. A culture of spiritual enhancement has to be evolved (Arnoldus Nota, June 2007). The quality of our priestly / religious life would very much depend on our inner, esoteric life.
In pursuing philosophical / theological / secular university studies, one should focus to strive for a culture of excellence – to be an excellent religious, to be an excellent priest not just a mediocre. From the initial stages of formation, the formee are helped to make every effort to be excellent in their priestly, religious missionary life and service, to be excellent in their pastoral service, to be excellent in their proclamation of the Word, as we are the Divine Word Missionaries, to be excellent in their efforts at dialogue with others (fourfold Prophetic Dialogue: with the poor and the marginalized, culture, faith-seekers and religious traditions), and to be excellent in their personal spirituality.
Why do we need to strive at the culture of spirituality and culture of excellence? In what way do the young seminarians differ from the youth of today? What is it that today’s youth long for in a secular world? Today the youth of our time often forget the classical values such as honor, honesty, valor, discipline, respect and reverence, patriotism, principle, commitment, sacrifice of self … We all know what they aspire and compete for - may be comfort, easy life, cell phones, computers, i Pods, MP 3, digital cameras … They are fascinated by what is practical, instant and the relative. By this they lose the very essence of life. That is why Pope Benedict often speaks of ‘dictatorship of relativism’. Relativism is one of the dangers in our society. The youth of today, whom we train in our seminaries, should be different from others. Our formation has to be based on deep reflection, sound knowledge, proper orientation and sincere efforts.
Today the key concept in the area of formation is ‘contextual’ formation. Contextualization is focused on the context. We need to situate our context in a wider / global context than merely local situation. The world has become a global village. We are to go beyond the context of economic and social levels to local, personal, cultural and religious areas. The Charter of Priestly Formation in India (1988) mentions: “At every stage of their formation the seminarians should be in touch with the societal, cultural and religious realities in which they are.” The way we form ourselves, will help us to find God wherever He is. We are to get out of our parochial and insular mind. We need to gradually strip off our narrow mindedness to be more generous and to be a people-centered priest in future. In the words Rabindranath Tagore: “He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and where the path maker is breaking the stones. He is with them in sun and in shower, and his garment is covered with dust. Put off thy holy mantle and even like him come down on the dusty soil”(1). A formee of today is expected to be at the service of others, not as if sitting on the high pedestals of an elevated high priest. He is to be a servant, a model, and an ideal to others.
Jesus the Risen Lord, constantly guides the Church by his constant presence. As young future priests, we are to keep alive the memory of Jesus, hopes and expectations of others. We need to keep alive the vigor, strength and youthfulness in order to face the challenges and concerns of our priestly life vis-à-vis new age, post-modernism and consumerist tendencies. In the Words of Pope Benendict XVI, “The church is alive. And the Church is youthful. It carries in itself the future of the world and so it shows the way to the future to each one of us. The Church is alive and we see it: we experience the joy that the Risen One has promised to his own” (Homily, April 24, 2006). The Church needs young and vibrant priests, open and elastic. Experiences show that there are elderly who are still young and young who are already old. We are called to sustain the youthfulness of the Church. Lets grow old gracefully in age, which is inevitable, but lets reverse this natural law by becoming more young in our attitudes, aspirations and interests.
Recently some one posed a question, “Is our priestly life a permanent formation or permanent frustration?” As a matter of fact, our life is either permanent formation or permanent frustration. In human life there isn’t any inertia stage, we either move forward or go behind in life. At an individual level there is mental rigidity, attitude of self-sufficiency, fear, regressive phenomena, monotony and boredom. In the young there is certain narcissism, a drop in passion for taking risks, rigidity and less of comprehension (2). This may be one of the serious problems of priestly / religious life today. Constant reflection and inner awakening are important in the priestly formation. Our life has to be a life of constant formation.
SUFISM: ISLAMIC MYSTICISM
In this paper I would like to present Sufis as a model for our priestly formation. Now what is Sufism? Sufism is ‘pearl’ within the shell of Islam. It is the spiritual ‘power house’ of Islam. The doctrines of Sufism involve devotion to Allah, love of Allah and service to mankind. ‘A Sufi is the one who is purified by love, is pure, and he that is absorbed in the Beloved and has abandoned all else’ (3). They are constantly moved by the love of God and all else are only next to God. Their life is a life of constant growth, a life of permanent formation.
Sufi or Sufism comes from the word ‘Suf’ which means wool or woolen garment. So it is said that Sufis are those spiritual people, who wore woolen garments as a mark of simple way of life, embracing voluntary poverty and to distinct themselves as a separate group of people. According to Arabic lexicon, the word ‘Tasawwafa’ means, ‘the donned woolen dress’. One, who wears wool over his purity, gives his lusts the taste of tyranny and having overthrown the world, journeys in the pathway of the chosen one (4). The lives of Sufis help us to look into the past through the eyes of the present situation. In the world of agony and pain, inequality and disparity, turmoil and disturbances they remain a shining example, letting out rays of hope, peace, joy and contentment. Sufis are the role model for the Muslims of the world, and have special place of honour and respect in the lives of the people.
The essence of Sufism signifies the spiritual quest in people. The stress is on ‘experience.’ ‘One has to leave what one has in his head and give what one has in his hand and not to recoil from whatsoever befalls’ is the rhythm of Sufi life (5). For them there is a valley of quest, valley of love, valley of intuitive knowledge and valley of detachment. The object of Sufism is to speak aright, act aright, and think aright. Their search for Allah, search for wisdom, inclination towards obedience, renunciation, piety, submission, reticence, vigilance and temperance make them wise and perfect. Their entire life revolves around the knowledge of Allah, imitation of Allah, and life in Allah. Our life of formation in no way different from that of the Sufis. The basic end of our formation is to reach these goals.
Their exemplary life, made others to follow them more closely. It is said that example is better then precepts for example comes from the superior and convinced personality. Holy Quran mentions: “Obey God and obey the Prophet and obey those among you, who hold the command / authority” (4:59). In their silence, quietude, tranquility, quintessence and serenity they constantly shed light on the other, spreading the fragrance of spiritual flavor. Their ultimate aim is to live in the presence and pleasure of Allah. Their life is a glory in wretchedness, riches in poverty, Lordship in servitude, satiety in hunger, clothedness in nakedness, freedom in slavery, life in death and sweetness in bitterness. Their life is a life of encouragement adding meaning to the life of the followers.
According to Al-Muzayyin, ‘Sufism is submission to Allah’ (6). Every Muslim is called to surrender oneself to Allah. The word ‘Islam’ means ‘surrender or submission.’ As gold is tested in fire, as the true color of tea leaves are known when boiled well in water, a genuine Sufi undergoes everything possible to surrender himself to Allah. By means of concentration, contemplation, meditation and intensive prayer, Sufi enters into the comprehensive reality of life where he sheds off his “I – ness”. Other principles of Sufism are: striving, retreat and seclusion, fear of Allah, humility, compassion, hope, truthfulness, bountifulness and generosity, love and longing (7). Their rule of life was in having little of food, a little of sleep, a little of rest, a little of talk, and a little of association with the people. It is said that great people do not make noise and noise does not make people necessarily great.
SUFI ROAD: SEARCH
On the way to acquire perfection, Sufis involve in various rigorous practices. Their inner longing and deep quest make them to realize their deep call within. The life of a Sufi can be compared to a journey, a journey into one’s self like our formation programme. There are two technical terms in Sufism, which need our consideration. They are: Hal (state) and maqam (stage / station). State is something that descends from God into man’s heart. It denotes the favour and grace, which God bestows upon the heart of His servant, and which are not connected with any mortification on the latter’s part. It belongs to the category of gift. Station / stage belongs to the category of acts. One has to fulfill the obligation appertaining to that of station and tries to keep it until he comprehends its perfection. One should not quit his station without fulfilling the obligations thereof. There is a description of seven stages / stations, which one has to undergo one by one strictly: repentance, abstinence, renunciation, poverty, patience, trust in God and satisfaction (8). These seven stages lead Sufis to the realization that Allah is the root of everything. It is like peeling out an almond. First comes the shell, then comes the second shell, and then the core and finally the essence of the core, the oil of the almond.
Fana and baqah are two important terminologies in Sufism. Junaid defines Sufism as, “that God should make you die from yourself and should make you live in him.” (9) This clearly defines Fana and Baqa. Fana would mean annihilation or disappearance. It is in connection with one’s self. Baqah means abiding or continuing in God. One has to empty oneself, so as to abide in God. So the purpose of fana and baqah in Sufism is pure unification. In its process, one’s human will which is worldly, individual, selfish, weak and fragile is transformed. It is good to recall the words of St. Paul on the self-emptying nature of Jesus. “Jesus had the nature of God, but did not deem equality with God. He humbled himself and walked the path of obedience, even to death on the cross” (cf Phil 2:6-11)
As Guru – Shishya, Master – disciple system is important in the Indian tradition, so also it is in the Islamic Mysticism. In the formation of a Sufi novice (murid), there is a spiritual head, leader (Pir), who guides and helps the novice to enter into the Sufi life. The Pir is the preceptor, teacher, guide and knower. The Pir leads his murid in his journey from the intellectual perception of Allah to an intimate emotional involvement of ones personal experiences, as companion (10). The murid is ready to leave behind all his self-interests, motives, desires, ambitions and place himself before the pir, as clay in the hands of a potter, as a plant in the hands of a gardener. In the course of time pir helps the murid to shed off all worldly attractions and allurements such as name, fame, power, and prestige and help them to experience the divine by means of meditation, remembrance of God and life in the vision of Allah. Jalaluddin Rumi, a Sufi and a poet philosopher, writes about the need of a pir:
Without an escort you are bewildered (even) on a road
You have traveled many times (before):
Do not, then travel alone on a way that you have not
Seen at all, do not turn your head away from the guide (11)
A formee constantly needs to be guided. Could it be compared to the moderators or spiritual guides / directors?
In Sufism gradual formation of tariqah (road or path) developed. It indicates a group of respected, longing dedicated and sincere individuals who are open to the mystical way of life. A tariqah was a practical method to guide a seeker by tracing a way of thought, feeling, and action, leading though a succession of stages to experience the reality (12). At a given period of time, pir gathers murids around him and begins to preach and live together. The murids look up to their pir for guidance. The murids perpetuate their name, their way of preaching, experiences and rule of life. Tariqah paved way for the establishment of Silsilah (Sufi Order). In every silsilah the pir – murid relationship is very important. It is due to this continuous unbroken chain of propagation of Sufi teaching that Sufism today remains a vital spiritual force in the Islamic world. For the growth of silsilah, the need for Sufi abode (khanqah) arose.
It is in Khanqah that the murids and Sufis gathered and lived together with their pir. It served as the center of learning, meeting and as a place of hospitality. They led a simple life, spoke to the people in their own language, and shared the joys and sorrows of the common people in the khanqah. It exercised a deep social, political, economic and cultural influence on the people. The khanqah was a place of spiritual growth, where the Sufis lived together in true spirit, perpetuating and propagating the true spirit of Islam. No profane talk would be encouraged in Khanqah. The inmates are helped to discipline their character.
SUFISM: TOWARDS JUST SOCIETY
Sufis underwent formation in order to involve themselves in the lives of the people. Their contribution to the society will be clear by knowing the socio-religious conditions of the time (12th & 13th Century). In the medieval period Indian society was groaning under the oppressive weight of caste system and the economic exploitation. Principle of equality and fraternity were unknown. Untouchability was in practice. Difference between rich and poor, haves and have-nots were seen clearly. It is at this background that Sufi movement gained its momentum and brought solace to the downtrodden and the suffering. Ordinary people could not enjoy the fruit of their labour. Women were oppressed and could not enjoy a well-placed status in the society.
The door of knowledge was closed to poor and the lower groups. Sufis improved the social condition of the people of the time. In the words of Professor Gibb, “Sufism increasingly attracted the creative social and intellectual energies within the community, to become the bearers of social and Cultural Revolution.” (13) There was religious exploitation too. All could not enjoy religious freedom and practice religious customs. With the Sufis, changes began to take place. Islam as a religious system and the Sufis as religious followers took effective steps to eliminate such differences and religious discriminations.
SUFISM & SCHOLARS
In the Islamic world of academic excellence, it is a known fact that any scholar would always be associated with Sufism or sufistic tendencies. For example, Deoband (founded in 1866 by Maulana Mohammad Qasim Nanautvi) is one of the important centres of religious learning, which has received in recent times greater media attention but unfortunately for the wrong reasons. Historically it is the mother institution for all madrasas of the Indian subcontinent. Even today Deoband remains a center of religious learning, which preserves the Islamic identity though religious education. What made the founders of Deoband movement lovable and even venerable was their academic religiosity and at the same time their sufistic spirituality (14). Their unassuming disposition, ascetic style of life and closer contact with the common people in every day life were their characteristic features. Their sufistic devotion, late-night invocations, and spiritual guidance to the seekers are part of their sufistic tendencies. They dedicate themselves to teach sufistic practices and exertions.
Deoband was in fact a center of religious studies as well as a khanqah. In the process of educating the Muslims, the founders in fact combined academic orders, juridical orders, and Sufi orders. The comprehensive vision of Deoband is manifested through these efforts. So much so one can say that the Institution reflects a synthesis of Sufism. To mention some of the Sufi scholars of Deoband are: Maulana Mahmudul Hassan, Maluana Anwar Shah Kashmiri, Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani and Maulana Muhammad Tayyab. It has now come to the known fact that sufistic tendencies are engraved in the lives of the learned scholars of Islam.
On their road to perfection, Sufis had their own spiritual exercises and practices. Zikr is one such form of worship, which means constant remembrance. By this constant remembrance of God, His attributes they are able to expel and drive away all that hinder their intimacy with God as it is in the Quran, ‘Remember God much that you may prosper’ (62:10). It helps them to forget themselves and to be in complete absorption in God. Use of Tasbih or Rosary is common among the Sufis. They rigorously involve themselves in fasting, penance and renunciation. Practice of sama’ is a major characteristic of the Chishtiya Silsilah. Sama is the assembly of Sufis with their master and disciples gathered together to listen to the praises of God and perhaps to dance. The divine message that they listen in sama stirs their hearts to seek God. Qawwali songs help them to reach an ecstatic culmination of mystical experiences.
Another rigorous practice is called chilla, which literally means forty days. In this Sufi spends forty days all alone in a cell, in total silence. They face this solitariness with joy, courage, tranquility and peace. There is also rigorous kind of chilla, in which a rope is fastened to the feet of the Sufi and the other end is tied to the branch of a tree. Then the person is lowered into a well, head downwards. He remains in this position for whole night reciting Holy Quran and remembering the names of Allah. Other Sufi practice is called Hadhra, which literally means ‘presence’. It is a dance associated with zikr, performed as an appeal for the presence of God, his prophets and his angels. Khalwa is another practice, which the Sufis are quite familiar with. It means seclusion or retreat, to be in the presence of Allah and to know the will of Allah in life.
CHISHTIYA & THEIR CONTRIBUTION
Chishtiya is one of the Sufi Orders (other Orders: Qadiriya, Suhrawadiya, Naqshabandiya). This Order was founded by Abu Ishaq (d.940 AD) of Syria. Since it was founded in a small town called Chisht in western Afghanistan, it got its name. Khwajah Moinuddin Chishti is a prominent Sufi of the Chishti Order and was responsible for the spread of Chisht Sufi Order in India. Born in Persia in the year 1142 AD, he had from his childhood a strong inclination towards Sufi way of life. After having undergone spiritual training under Khwajah Uthman Harwani, he established himself as a Sufi Par Excellent in Ajmer, Rajasthan by 1191 AD. He lived a simple life in a hut wearing ordinary clothes. At that time Ajmer was the heartland of Hindu regime, a place of political and religious significance. It was due to the presence of a temple and the lake Pushkar. So he had to encounter stiff opposition from the Hindu kings and fanatics. At that time king Prithviraj tried to drive him out of Ajmer, even with the help of a magician, who brought forth snakes and brought down fire rain, but did not succeed. At the end the magician himself bowed down before the Sufi and pleaded for his blessings and joined the company of the Sufis.
Under the Hindu environment of social evils, caste system, discriminations, physical contaminations, he preached the unity of God and to have faith in One God. His simplicity, piety, sympathy and broad-minded humanism and his religious personality attracted many people to him and also to the Islamic faith. Once he seemed to have given life to a dead person. With a mere look at the Sufi, many have changed their life. Once a man came to kill him, but as he looked at the Sufi, he changed himself, repented and entered into the service of the Sufi.
His whole approach was of humanitarian holistic welfare. He believed in complete renunciation. He abstained from pleasures and riches of the world. He refused to accept any grant or gift from kings and rulers. This enabled him to spend more time with the people freely. By denying political company, he said that he was avoiding an evil company. He was able to do the will of Allah more freely and willingly. He was convinced that emphasizing compassion and kindness and service to humanity is service to God. All those who came to meet him, went back contended, consoled and happy. His khanqah was always full of people of every kind. He is reported to have said that the highest and most sublime form of devotion to God is to redress the misery of those in distress, to fulfill the needs of the needy and the helpless and to feed the hungry (15). He said that a person who is blessed with divine favour possesses affection and kindness like that of the sun, generosity liked that of the river and humility like that of the earth.
When people were concerned about the worldly pleasures of life, he invited them towards life of piety and sincerity. The Holy Quran had been the guiding force for him. As he knew the Quran by heart and knew the meaning of it quite well, he proved himself to be a successful preacher. The impact was so much that even after his death many people, kings and rulers visited his dargah (shrine built around the tomb of a Sufi) in Ajmer. Akbar was the first Mughal Emperor to have visited the dargah of Moinuddin Chishti and considered it as a pilgrim center.
Ever since the death of this Sufi in 1236 AD at the age of 97, thousands of people belonging to various religious traditions, visit the dargah every year, especially during the celebration of urz (death anniversary of Sufi). The Sufi had remained leaven in the society and a lighthouse for the wayward sojourners.
Nizamuddin Auliya was another Chishti Sufi (d.1325). He led an extremely simple and austere life and lived on a frugal diet, remaining a celibate through out his life. He had immense compassion and concern for the poor and the destitute. Once on a hot summer day a fire broke out in the village Ghiyaspur, where the Sufi lived. A number of houses belonging to the poor people were reduced to ashes. On hearing of the fire he rushed barefoot to the rooftop of the khanqah, and stood there in the blazing sun for quite a while, watching the scene of devastation with great anguish and distress. After the disaster, he readily helped those affected poor people (16).
Once Khwajah Nizamuddin saw a poor woman drawing water from a well near the river Yamuna. “Why do you take the trouble of drawing water from the well? Why don’t you fetch water from the river?” he asked the lady. The woman answered, “My husband is very poor and we get very little to eat. The water from the Yamuna whets one’s appetite. That’s why I draw water from the well, so that it may reduce our hunger.” When he heard this, his eyes were filled with tears. When he returned to the khanqah he sent a certain amount of money, which would be sufficient to feed her family. Some of the Sufis literally starved when they found some people dying of hunger and starvation in the streets and lanes of the city.
Once a yogi came to visit Nizamuddin in the khanqah. Nizamuddin asked the yogi about his view on the human self. The yogi replied that in his mystic tradition the self comprises of two realms or spheres, the higher and lower realm. The higher realm stretches from the forehead to the navel and the lower realm from the navel to the feet. Perfection can be attained, he said, by the cultivation of qualities such as truth, moral virtues and kindness in the higher realm and moral chastity and purity in the lower realm. Nizamuddin appreciated the yogi’s view.
There was once a Sufi (Shah Fakhruddin), who set out on the Hajj pilgrimage. When he was about to board the ship, a woman stepped forward and said, “I have to get my daughter married, but I have no provision for it, we are in fact starving. What should I do?” The Sufi immediately got off the ship, handed over whatever cash and provision he had for the journey and returned home. Baba Faridudin Ganj Shakar (d.1265) was another Chishti Sufi. Once some one presented him a pair of scissors. He refused take it and said, “Give me a needle instead, for I do not cut, I join” (17). Though he was a scholar in Arabic and Persian, he wrote poetry in Punjabi. He is now very much respected by the Sikhs and Guru Nanak mentions some of his verses in Adi Granth.
India is known for its pervasive cultural diversity and extensive cultural syncretism. The Church is teaching its followers to adapt inculturation. From the initial stages of formation the students are helped and introduced to inculturation. Sufis have contributed much to the development of composite, syncretistic civilizational ethos. Their enduring contribution to inter-cultural understanding and harmony among the various ethnic groups and religious communities in India in general and between Hindus and Muslims in particular, are remarkable. It is the Sufis who brought about a composite culture in the Indian Society. They tried to assimilate and integrate certain local cultures, customs, and traditions. Sufis maintained a peaceful and cordial relations with the Hindus. One of the Sufis used to fondly recite the following couplet of a Hafiz:
If you desire union with God
Make peace with all and sundry, O Hafiz!
Saying “Allah, Allah” to Muslims,
And “Ram, Ram” to Brahmans!
Some of the Sufis displayed remarkable sensitivity towards the cultural traditions of the Hindu community. Shaikh Nagauri not only lived like a simple peasant but also practiced vegetarianism. Another Sufi saint of Gulbarga who lived in the 16th century, desired that anybody who wished to visit his grave for the purpose of offering fatiha (opening Chapter of the Quran) should abstain from meat a day before the visit. This tradition is still observed (18).
A few Sufis imbibed a great deal of influences from the Hindu tradition. One of them (Muhammad Ghaus of Gwalior – d 1563) even lived like a Hindu ascetic for more than 13 years in the hills near Benaras. He was well versed in Sanskrit and familiar with doctrines and tenets of Hinduism as well as the ascetic practices of Hindu yogis. He also wrote books on the methods of self-discipline and breath control practiced by Hindu yogis (19). The Sufis with their message of love, compassion, tolerance, kindness and service to mankind built bridges of understanding, amity and harmony between Hindus and Muslims. They influenced directly or indirectly the minds of the Hindu and Muslim intellectuals, who played a significant role in shaping the destiny of the country. Raja Ram Mohan Roy for example was greatly influenced by Islamic mysticism. He tried to bring about a synthesis of Vedantic philosophy and Sufism. Rabindranth Tagore’s poetry imbibed a great deal from the Sufi singers of Bengal (20). It is quite interesting to note that the foundation stone of the famed Golden Temple at Amritsar was laid by a Sufi Saint, who was specially invited for this purpose from Lahore (21).
Once a disciple who came to meet Nizamuddin, was found to be very much disturbed and worried. When Nizamuddin asked him for the reason, he said that he had not received salary so far. There upon he narrated the anecdote:
There lived a rich Brahman in a city. For some reason the local magistrate ordered all his property to be seized and thus reduced him to penury. He was hard pressed to make both ends meet. One day he came across a friend, “How are you?” asked the friend. “Well and happy” replied the Brahman. The friend astounded as he was retorted, “How can you be happy, when everything has been taken away from you?” The Brahman replied, “So what, my sacred thread is still with me!” (22)
The Sufi was able to appreciate and recognize the spirituality of a Hindu. At the same time, he was able to be in touch with people of other religious traditions in particular with Hindus. Such was the life of Sufis, who continue to inspire and remain a shining model for the entire humanity.
Sufism is not a thing of the past, it is not merely just a movement, but rather it is a way of life. Sufis were convinced of what they did and lived for. Fearlessly they preached what they experienced in life. Our priestly religious missionary formation should transform the formees to be fearless preachers of the Good News, “who are themselves on fire with the love of Christ and burning with zeal to make Him known more widely, loved more deeply and followed more closely” (Ecclesia in Asia: 23)
“He who has the will to live will always find an answer to ‘How?’” The Sufis had tremendous will power to go ahead against all odds. The formees today need this kind of unswerving determination, strong and unshakable will and undisturbed motivation.
Sufism teaches of love-oriented life than merely law-oriented life. Today the world is groping in darkness, in the darkness of hatred, detestation, abhorrence, repugnance, repulsion, jealousy and violence. From the initial stages of formation, we should introduce our formees to this kind of oriented life.
Sufis by their life and example belong to a prominent, distinguished group with conviction and commitment to the cause of the poor, the unfortunate and the marginalized. For them service to humanity was service to God. How do we form our formees to understand such secrets of life? Sufis show us the way.
Most of the Sufis never wanted to associate themselves with the rich, kings and rulers, lest they be carried away by their thinking and wishes. They had their own independent thinking, way of life, guided only by the Divine force. Their life was a dynamic and revolutionary one. The youth of today are affected by globalization, secularism, consumerism, comfort culture and individualism. We need independent thinkers, who can act objectively without being colored by external forces for one’s own benefit and gain.
Today the Church teaches about the need for inter-religious dialogue and ecumenism. Sufis are the harbingers of dialogue in India, which has always been a melting pot of various religious traditions. We look up to the Sufis to learn from them, when we discuss about inter-religious dialogue and ecumenism. A formee needs to understand these teachings of the Church from the initial stages of formation. Sufis have set us an example. The importance of dialogue in the Church in India is clear from the words of late Pope John Paul II. This is what he said when he came to India in 1986: “Inter-religious dialogue is a serious part of your apostolic ministry. The Lord calls you to do everything possible to promote this dialogue according to the commitment of the Church.”
For years we have been discussing about inculturation and Indianization. But the life of the Sufis represent the emergence of composite culture in India. Can we not conclude by saying with conviction that the Sufi model could be one of the models for priestly formation?
Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali, (Mumbai: Better Yourself Books, 2001), 11.
Gennaro Cicchese, “Young Religious: Challenges and Hopes,” Charisms in Unity, n1, Vol XIV (January / April 2006): 9
Al – Hujwiri, Kash Al-Mahjub, R.A Nicholson (tr), (Karachi: Darul Ishaat, 1990) 34.
Arthur John Arberry, The Doctrine of the Sufis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1930) 10
Nicholson RA, The Mystics of Islam (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1966) 27.
Al-Qushayri, Principles of Sufism, B.R. Von Shlegell (tr), (Berkeley: Mizan Press) 305
Al – Hujwiri, Kash Al-Mahjub, 181.
Syyid Athar Abbas Rizvi, A History of Sufism in India (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 1978) 99-100.
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