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'World Sufi Forum is our answer to terror': Maulana Syed Mohammad Ashraf

The event

  • The World Sufi Forum is taking place in New Delhi, and was inaugurated by PM Narendra Modi
  • All India Ulama and Mashaikh Board president Syed Mohammad Ashraf says Sufism has a solution to the world's problems

The argument

  • Ashraf says Islamic terrorists are wrongly justifying their actions by invoking the Quran
  • He says Sufi leaders are willing to talk to those who believe in violence, and make them see sense

More in the story

  • Will Sufis ever try and enter politics?
  • Why are the youth attracted to the ISIS, and what can Sufis do to correct this?

The World Sufi Forum in the Capital has been thoughtfully advertised as the 'global forum for peace, tolerance and unconditional love'.

The event has seen a sea of skull-capped gentle faces and flowing beards from across the world darting in and out of conference rooms at the India Islamic Cultural Centre.

Also read - Sufi principles are behind 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas': Modi

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi kick-started the event invoking Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, Amir Khusrau, Baba Farid and Bulleh Shah to underline "that all are creations of God and, that if we love God, we must also love all his creations", the mood is upbeat and full of mutual appreciation.

But where is the debate about Islamic fundamentalism? Aren't the Sufis just talking to themselves in this forum? How will they get taken seriously if they don't stop talking in abstract notions of love or music, and start politically rebutting the fundamentalists?

Isn't it time for the Sufis to politically reinvent themselves, to offer a solution to the present-day violent world?

Catch spoke to Syed Mohammad Ashraf, president of the All India Ulama and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB), to get some answers. Excerpts:

What lessons does Sufism have to offer to those who commit acts of terrorism in the name of Islam?

I learnt from Mehboob-e-Ilahi that if someone spreads thorns in your path, you don't do the same. Because if you do the same, the whole world will be filled with thorns, and then where will all the people walk?

He never said 'where will the Muslims walk'? He preached concern for all of humanity.

Sufism says you shouldn't be the one who puts thorns in someone's way, you should be the one that picks them up. It's easy to criticise, and that leads to a cycle of action and reaction. Sufism offers a solution.

When we live in a country with so much diversity that our language changes every 100 kilometers, it's not necessary to understand each language or make everybody speak one. We need tolerance and understanding. If there is one force which can counter terrorism, it is Sufism. Hate can never end hatred. You cannot end injustice by committing more injustice. You need strength. You need love to conquer hatred.

Also read - World Sufi Forum: Muslim leaders divided over PM Modi's presence

But aren't you simplifying terrorism? How would you counter the jihadis and fundamentalists who use the Quran to justify violence?

The Quran is being wrongly used by the terrorists to justify their means. The same Quran says La ikraha fid deen, which means there cannot be any compulsion or force in religion. You cannot force anybody to become a Muslim. Going against that is un-Islamic.

The Quran says Lakum deenukum waliya deen, which means 'For you is your religion, and for me is mine'. But we can live together in peace. The Quran approves our diversity and still tells us to care for one another.

The Quran also says forcefully 'hargiz wo musalman nahi, hargiz wo musalman nahi, hargiz wo musalman nahi' three times, to say with certainty that one can never be a true Muslim if his actions and speech fail to keep his neighbours safe.

How can we accept someone saying that if you don't believe in Allah, we will kill you? It is un-Islamic.

In our Nabi's (Prophet's) life, an old woman used to keep throwing her trash on him every single day when he would walk out of his home. He never changed his path, and she never stopped throwing trash at him. One day, however, the trash didn't fall on his head. When he enquired about her, he found out that she was ill. So he went to see her out of compassion. In an instant, her hatred melted. Such is the power of love that Sufism teaches.

If you ask a Sufi what is the aim of your life. A Sufi will say that it is to love Him and to love and protect everything that He has created. It is like a langar - its only aim is to feed the hungry, irrespective of who that may be.

Sufism, Advaita, Baul or Kabir's worship of the Nirguna (formless God) have been seen as fringe religious sects. They have always believed in the abstract. Intervening into everyday politics has never been a role of these sects. What compels you to organise yourself today?

It's true that we have never joined in politics. But we have had a subtle influence on politicians, bringing some purity to their thoughts and values and some influence in their decision-making.

Today, too, we are not entering politics, and never will. People are making global terrorism a political issue. We are together to make clear what our dharm or duty is in Islam. We want to set the notions straight.

But how will you take your ideas outside conference rooms? When will you negotiate with the hardliners to stop their violence?

The World Sufi Forum has been a great way for us to speak to the world the truth about Islam. The fact that you and I are talking about these issues is because of the forum. We have been pointing out what's wrong for years, asking questions to introspect within our religion.

Today, here is a forum that is carrying our voice everywhere. The next step will be to have a face-to-face discussion. We are open to talking to advocates of violence if they come forth and willingly engage in discussions with us.

Are people learning, through madrasas, a more hardline version of Islam?

Sufism used to be in school textbooks in all madrasas. Tasawwuf books and lives of Sufis used to be taught in every madrasa. Today, we demand these be reintroduced. Our youth needs better education. Our Sanjays, Aslams, Pappus and Alis are inseparable friends. Their education should never teach them to discriminate based on their religious differences.

Why are so many young people enthralled by the ISIS life, willing to give up everything and go die in Syria in a futile war?

This is an age factor. They have managed to excite the imagination of the young and the impressionable with false beliefs. They imagine that if they die in this war, they will go to some heaven of their dreams.

The reality is they will go to hell. Our efforts will be in full swing moving forward to fill each of those voids from where radicalisation springs forth.

More in Catch - World Sufi Forum: Intelligence agengies warn of possible protest, terror attack

Fight against terrorism is not against any religion: PM Modi at World Sufi forum

Shriya Mohan

Shriya Mohan @ShriyaMohan