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Sufi-Wahabi Controversy, Islam, Buddhism ...
|by K. Gajendra Singh|
Origins of Sufi Islam and Influence of Buddhism
According to the Pakistani sociologist, Hamza Alavi, Sufi and Barelvi Islam represent the peasant's religion, a form which is getting rapidly challenged due to increased urbanization and socio-economic development. Sufism cannot catch up with this trend unless it offers an alternative narrative in a convincing and modern way. Under the circumstances, I would only ask Saeed Naqvi to reassess his conclusion and discover for himself that the road from Ajmer leads nowhere. “It's a fact that Islam expanded in the subcontinent mainly due to the efforts of the hundreds of Sufis who were willing to accommodate local culture and eccentricities.” - Ayesha Sidiqqa, a Pakistani intellectual, social scientist and civil servant in retort to Naqvi
The Jihadis do not understand what true Islam is, late Hashemite King Hussein of Jordan to the author in 1992 during farewell audience.
"What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?"." Nonsense--" added Brzezinski when asked in 1997 "If Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today." Brzezinski was President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser.
"The United States has supported radical Islamic activism over the past six decades, sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly," and is thus "partly to blame for the emergence of Islamic terrorism as a world-wide phenomenon." Robert Dreyfuss
“The limits of American military power have been laid bare in the killing fields of Iraq; ... Pakistan is being ripped apart by the fallout from the Afghan occupation. If the US escalates, the impact will be devastating ... The country now shows every sign of slipping out of the control of its dysfunctional civilian government - and even the military that has held it together for 60 years", Seumas Milne in The Guardian 5 March,2 009.
“Of the oldest of the three revealed religions, Judaism’s only state since ancient times, Israel, founded on leftist tenets has since morphed into a rule by Zionist-Military oligarchy. Christians after centuries of warfare in Europe managed to create secular polities which are still underpinned if not haunted by sectional religious ideologies. In the last of ‘the Book’ based polity Islam, the lines between the Mir and the Pir, the temporal ruler and spiritual ruler still remain blurred ,contested and changing.“ The author in Al Qaeda, Taliban and the Military in Pakistan; Conflict between Rulers and Clerics.
Ayesha Sidiqqa in ‘The road from Ajmer leads nowhere’ in the ‘Hindu’ newspaper, as a retort to Saeed Naqvi’s ‘A Sufi message from a Pakistani President” also in the ‘Hindu has ignited the Sunni Wahabi and Shia/Sufi differences and conflict.
Prima facie Ayesha Hanim should learn more about Islam i.e. its empires, their history, culture and civilization and the richness and diversity, the majestic range and vision of Islam. Hers is the usual rant by Wahhabis and their nihilistic and kill joy philosophy against the core of aldin embedded in richer and more cultured and civilized societies, from the very beginnings of the origins of Islam itself in the barren ‘Jahilia’ sands of Arabia. But her 2007 book ‘Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy’ gives some hope that she might at least realizes the malevolent impact of military dictatorship on Pakistan’s national economy. A balance between rulers, military and religion is an absolute necessity to be even called a modern state. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia do not fall in that category while US is oligopoly of ruthless and greedy corporate interests.
One must also remember that the seeds of disunity in the embryonic Muslim Ummah were sown soon after Prophet Mohammed lay dead in Medina. More on it and history of Islam below.
But then misinterpretations and misuse and abuse of the three revealed religions has been the bane of humanity for more than a thousand years and the cause of many wars in history. Gods have been exploited to grab and maintain power. Such wars and battles are still going on.
To begin with Ayesha Hanim could read with profit Karen Armstrong’s many books on the revealed religions including among others ‘Holy War: The Crusades and their Impact on Today’s World’, ‘Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet’, ‘The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam’ & ‘A History of God‘ etc. I wonder if some of the intellect enlarging historical and other such books are not prescribed in Saudi Arabia, the land of Wahhabis and Salafis or if are easily available in Pakistan, an example of Satanic experimentation of the toxic combination of US neoliberal ruthlessness and obscurantist Wahhabi ideology.
Would Ayesha Hanim like to live in the Wahhabi ‘Saudi paradise’ i.e. what she describes as modernity represented by Deobandism and Wahabism or Taliban ruled Afghanistan which existed till end 2001, financed by Saudis and midwifed by Pak ISI to facilitate contract for US oil company UNOCOL to transport energy resources from central Asia to south Asia and beyond . The dead end ideological and tribal customs covered early Arab empires based on Byzantine and Persian state systems and apparatus but power was soon lost to Persians and Turks, more civilized and catholic in their outlook. By 9th century the Arabs had lost power in Baghdad, with the Iranian, Turkish Sultans and other rulers becoming the protectors of the Arab Caliph .Since early 20th century, after the collapse of the Ottomans in WWII, the British and then the Americans have become the protectors of the Saudi dynasty ruling over Mecca and Medina.
Acclaimer; Before I wade into the controversy any further in ‘The Hindu’ newspaper mentioned above between formidable Pakistan scholar Siddiqa (a Sunni, I presume) and a intimidated and defensive Seed Naqvi (a Shia, I presume) let me state why I have the temerity to do so.
I spent a year learning modern Arabic (unlike the archaic form taught in Hindustan) with an Egyptian teacher in Cairo in early 1960s and after a 10 year stay in Turkey (1969-73 and 1992-98) enough Turkish to write a paper on the influence of Turkish on Hindustani now hosted by many websites around the world.
Apart from posts in Turkey (and concurrent charge of Shia Azerbaijan), and the first post in Egypt, I also served in Algeria, Jordan and Muslim majority Senegal, with concurrent accreditation to Mali where I traveled to the fabled ancient city of Timbuktu, a place of great Islamic culture and civilization in middle ages. As part of my job I travelled to many Arab nations including Iraq, Syria etc. but not Saudi Arabia; and also Iran, Turkmenistan and lectured at the universities of Bokhara, Samarkand, Tashkent and Andijan, all in Uzbekistan.
I spent 1976 at India’s prestigious National Defense College in New Delhi to study threat perceptions and strategic studies for officers of the rank of Brigadiers and equivalent from India and other countries. I have since then maintained contact with defense service officers and lectured at defense institutes and colleges. During my stay in Ankara, I was a witness to a half coup in 1971 and quarter coup in 1997 and have watched the struggle, since 1967, now becoming bitter, between the secular and religious forces in Turkey. And an Indian diplomat has to study Pakistan and its policies, where military has ruled directly or indirectly most of the time. I have lectured and written on military in politics in Turkey and Pakistan. My articles on military and civilian conflict in Turkey were copied by Turkish Daily News, Zaman, and Cumhuriyet, representing the whole spectrum of politics in Turkey and also elsewhere.
Yes, I also declined the offer to be associated with US centers where Ayesha Hanim Effendim studied and lectured at (mostly corporate /establishment outfits where many times, Washington’s catastrophic foreign policies against Muslims have been cooked up)
What is Sufi Islam?
Before we proceed further let us look at the origin of the word Sufi, which according to Arab and western narrative comes from suf yani wool. It is too simplistic and even illogical since Arabic is one of the most logical and sophisticated languages. In my opinion it comes from Philsapha, Sophia, which was also the opinion of central Asian scholar and traveler al-Biruni. Perhaps Sufi was used in the pejorative sense in Arab lands, where it was persecuted, as Brahmins and Hindus still use buddhu (from Buddha) for a dimwit.
Sufism or tasawwuf is defined by its adherents as the inner, mystical dimension of Islam. A practitioner of this tradition is generally known as a Sufi. Classical Sufi scholars have defined Sufism as ”a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God”. One tradition especially in Middle East word Sufi derives (from wool) and refers to the simple cloaks of wool that the early Muslim ascetics wore. According to the medieval central Asian scholar Abu Rayhan al-Biruni, the word sufi is derived from the Greek word Sofia, meaning wisdom.
During my extensive travels in Turkey from coast to coast and up to the borders with all its neighbors, I visited Konya often and was fortunate to be part of celebrations by Whirling Dervishes many times and even as far out as Turabdin and key holy places of Alevis and Turkish shock troops Janissaries Bektashi order, also of other orders (Tareeqas) like Nuris and other Sufi orders. In Uzbekistan I visited the central place of Nakshabandi order, near Bokhara. Which boasts of allegiance of many modern secular Turkish political leaders and leaders in many other countries. By the end of my stay influence of Fathallah Gulen followers in pinstriped suits and black ties and yeshilsurmaye (Green money aka from Saudi Arabia) was becoming very pervasive and visible.
Ayesha Sidiqqa trivializes Sufism and other sects, which only shows her ignorance of all facets of Islam. Quite obviously Ayesha Hanim has drunk deep from the neoliberal US establishment universities and centers and support and protection from Rawalpindi, which underpin the anti-Ummah axis of US-Military-Industry- Complex and corrupt Saudi Dynasty-Wahhabi combine with open support from Zeo=cons ( i.e. Zionists and neo-Christians). In fact the axis of US/UK/Israel-Saudi Dynasty/ Wahhabis –Pak Military/ ISI, benefits Christian West led by USA for exploiting Arab and Muslim energy resources and keeping them down and in humiliation. Yes, the Saud dynasty princes revel in uninhibited luxury.
Had not Islamabad once moaned after the departure of Soviet forces from Afghanistan that its masters and puppeteers were ignoring Pakistan after using it to enter Afghanistan? It was only the blunt threat of being reduced to medieval rubble that Gen Pervez Musharraf sided with Washington against Taliban (Chances are Taliban will move away from Pakistan after US exits Afghanistan).
Ignorance of Wahhabis and Salafis
A few months before the illegal US invasion of Iraq in March 2003, President Bush enquired what the difference between Sunnis and Shias was. One can understand Zionists and Neo-cons not understanding Islam in all its richness, but Sunnis know not much about Shia Islam or Sufi Islam either. In fact the dislike and even hatred of fanatical Sunnis for other sects is visceral.
Let us now look at Islam and its majestic streams.
The Sunni-Shia Divide
It is necessary to look at the historic Shia-Sunni divide in depth to comprehend the problems. The fissures in Islam are almost as old as the faith itself. In the Muslim community (Ummah) of over a billion faithful spread almost all around the world nearly 12% are Shias. Majority of Shias are Twelvers – believers in 12 Imams (as in Iran, in a majority), but there are others too, like the Ismailis (of Agha Khans, Mohammed Ali Jinnah), from whom emerged the "Assassins" in early 2nd millennium, Alevis in Turkey (around15%), ruling Alawite elite (12%) in Syria, Hezbollah and Amal in Lebanon (over40%), and Bahrain (a clear majority), Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan. In Iraq nearly 60% of its population are Shias, the rest are mostly Sunnis. There are some very extremist groups too, spread all over the Islamic world.
India has a large Shia population of over 25 million in a total Muslim population of 140 million, making it perhaps the 2nd largest Shia community in the world after Iran. After the US attacks in Najaf in 2004, Muslims of Lucknow (India), a big Shia center, had declared that Americans were not welcome there.
Tangled Sunni-Shia History
The Shias emerged out of seeds of disunity in the embryonic Muslim Ummah, sown as soon as Prophet Mohammed lay dead in Medina. While his cousin and son in law Ali and the family were preparing the body for the burial, another clan of the Quraysh tribe elected Abu Bakr as the first Caliph i.e. Prophet's deputy, countering the claims of Ansars of Medina, who had welcomed the Prophet (in Hijra). Abu Bakr's supporters claimed that he was closer to Mohammed, one of the very first converts to Islam and was from Mecca's Quraysh tribe. His daughter A'isha was wedded to the Prophet.
According to Shias, Prophet Mohammed had given enough indications for Ali to be his successor and cite many hadiths in support of this claim. The Prophet had lived with his uncle Abu Talib, Ali's father and Mohammed's only child Fatimah was married to Ali. Ali also became Muslim before Abu Bakr and had decoyed with risk for the Prophet when he escaped from Mecca. Ali was perhaps his most trusted and the closest companion, even though he was much younger than the Prophet.
Ali's election as the Caliph would have denied a chance to the older generation of power brokers, so they played politics and got their way. Ali was overlooked twice with Omar and Uthman succeeding Abu Bakr in cleverly manipulated successions to keep Ali out. As a result Ali mostly kept to himself and stayed aloof.
Following the murder of Uthman, Ali was invited by the Muslims of Medina to accept the Caliphate; reluctantly, he agreed but only after long hesitation. His brief reign was marked by problems of inheriting a corrupt state, as the Quran and the traditions of Mohammed had been neglected. Ali based his rule on the Islamic ideals of social justice and equality which clashed with the interests of the Quraysh aristocracy of Mecca grown rich through the Muslim conquests. A rebellion was instigated against him. Ali was victorious in many wars, but was trapped into arbitration. He was assassinated by a Kharijite and Mu'awiya of the Umayyads established the dynasty at Damascus.
Ali was a devout Muslim with an outstanding reputation for justice, unlike Uthman or the Umayyad dynasty that followed him, mired in nepotism with worldly and autocratic ways. Many Muslims feel this way about the Umayyad Caliphs except for Omar II. To many it was a betrayal of the Quran, which enjoins creation of a just and equal society as the first duty of Muslims.
Those opposed to Umayyads called themselves the Shia't-Ali (partisans of Ali) and developed a doctrine of piety and protest, refusing to accept the Umayyad Caliphs, and regarded Ali's descendants as the true leaders of the Muslim community. This schism became an unbridgeable chasm and remains so, when in 680, Shias of Kufa called for the rule by Ali's second son Hussein and invited him. Hussein set out for Iraq with a small band of relatives and followers (72 armed men and women and children) in the belief that the spectacle of the Prophet’s family, marching to confront the Caliph, would remind the regime of its social responsibility.
But Umayyad Caliph Yazid dispatched his army, which slaughtered Hussein and most of his followers on the plain of Karbala with Imam Hussein being the last to die, holding his infant son in his arms. This event is now commemorated as Muharram. Both Karbala and Najaf, where Imam Ali is buried are very holy places especially for Shias.
For Shias, the Karbala tragedy symbolizes the chronic injustice that pervades human life. Shia Islam provides spiritual solace and shelter for the poorest and the deprived among the Muslims, as in as - Sadr city in Baghdad and elsewhere in the Muslim world. In almost all Sunni majority countries Shias are ill-treated and persecuted.
Imagery and this Shia passion informed Khomeini's Iranian revolution, which many experienced as a re-enactment of Karbala - with the Shah Reza Pahlavi cast as a latter day Yazid.
There is no agreement among Muslims on the Caliphs. Shias do not recognize the first three and in many places curse them. For them Ali is the first rightful Caliph and the Imam. For Sunnis, Imam is only a prayer leader and could be anyone. But for Shias, he is a spiritual leader with the divine spark and juris-consult (Vilayet-el-Faqih). The sacred Islamic law Sharia enacted under different situations and times has many schools among Sunnis, who unlike the Shias have closed ijtihad, independent reasoning in Islamic Law to meet new situations. The Shia Iranians (Aryans) perhaps created the office of Imam (like Shankaracharya among Indo–Aryan Brahmins) as only an Arab from the Quraysh tribe could become a Caliph. Later the Turks, who came as slaves or warriors to the Arab lands, captured power by the sword and raised the minor office of the Sultan to a powerful one, by now protector of a hapless Caliph. Then Turkish Ottoman Sultans in Istanbul appropriated the title of Caliph for themselves.
After the first dynastic Umayyad Caliphate based in Damascus ended, another branch of Quraysh tribe, Abbasids took over and shifted to Iraq in 750, but after having made false promises of installing the Prophet's family as the Caliph. Muslim Ummah's unity under the Sunni Caliph was finally broken when Fatimids anointed their own Caliph first in Tunisia, then in Egypt in 10th century. So an Umayyad prince in Cordoba too declared himself the third Caliph.
Evolution of Shi’ism
There are two things to note. First, political Shi'ism indicates a belief that members of the Hashim clan in the Quraysh tribe are the people most worthy of holding political authority in the Islamic community, but has no belief in any particular religious position for the family. As for religious Shi'ism, it is about the belief that some particular members of the house of Hashim were in receipt of divine inspiration and are thus the channel of God's guidance to men whether or not they hold any defacto political authority. This view was augmented by the Iranians who believe in the tradition that the mother of fourth Imam Zaynul-Abdin was Shahrbanu, the daughter of Yazdigird, the last Sasanian King of Iran.
From the very beginning all the Shia Imams, descendants of Ali, every single one was imprisoned, exiled or executed or poisoned by the Caliphs, who could not tolerate an alternative center to their rule. So by 8th century, most Shias held aloof from politics and concentrated on the mystical interpretation of the scriptures. Says scholar Karen Armstrong:
"Long before western philosophers called for the separation of church and state, Shias had privatized faith, convinced that it was impossible to integrate the religious imperative with the grim world of politics that seemed murderously antagonistic to it. ...
"The separation of religion and politics remains deeply embedded in the Shia psyche. It springs not simply from malaise, but from a divine discontent with the state of the Muslim community. Even in Iran, which became a Shia country in the early 16th century, the ulema (the religious scholars) refused public office, adopted an oppositional stance to the state, and formed an alternative establishment that - implicitly or explicitly - challenged the Shahs on behalf of the people."
The picture of early Shi'ism was created (as not much is available from records) from the point of view of Twelver Shias, ignoring the Ismailis, Mutazilites or orthodox Sunnis. Modern scholars believe that this picture was retrospectively imposed over the facts by historians of 3rd and 4th Islamic century for doctrinal reasons.
It is only after 6th Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (died 765) that there is any firm evidence that any kind of religious leadership was being claimed for Twelver Imams. He was a well-known and influential figure in the Islamic world. Several of his students later became prominent jurists and traditionalists even among non-Shia Muslims. Jafar as-Sadiq did not make an open claim to religious leadership, but his circle of students evidently looked to him as Imam, including some leading figures such as Abu'l-Khattab, who held beliefs of aghuluww (extremist) nature regarding him, indicating that as-Sadiq was a focus of religious speculation and leadership in his own time.
Evolution of Islam into Shia and other forms
The number of ghulat groups, increased dramatically especially in Kufa during as-Sadiq's lifetime. It is therefore useful to consider the origin of the ghulat.
When the Arabs arrived in the Fertile Crescent, they encountered ancient civilizations with sophisticated religious systems. Iraq was already the center of intense religious ferment with the ancient Babylonian religious systems, Zoroastrianism, Mazdaism, Manichaeism, Judaism and various forms of Christianity contributing to a kaleidoscope of religious view points, debates and speculation. Islam by comparison was as yet simple and undeveloped. And with the Prophet already dead, there was no one to whom the Muslims could turn for an authoritative ruling on sophisticated religious speculations being posed by the ancient civilizations. There arose a ferment of discussion around some of the concepts introduced by these older religions and philosophical systems.
In the initial years the Arabs lived in their military camp cities and avoided intermingling with the native populations and their disturbing religious speculations but as more of the native populations embraced Islam, such discussions increased. In this spiritual and religious ferment ideas were injected into the Muslim community and intensively discussed by people interested in such matters which could be considered by the majority of Muslims heterodox concepts and called ghulat or extremists.
Among the ideas injected were such concepts as tanasukh (transmigration of souls), ghayba (occultation), raj'a (return), hulul (descent of the Spirit of God into man), imama (Imamate, divinely-inspired leadership and guidance), tashbih (anthropomorphism with respect to God), tafwid (delegation of God’s powers to other than God), and bada (alteration in God's will). But the ghulat needed a priest - god figure onto which to project their ideas of hulul, ghayba, etc., a role admirably suited to the persona of Ali.
While the ghulat adopted Ali and his family as the embodiment of their religious speculation the Shias of' Ali always looked on the ghulat with a certain amount of suspicion. However, the martyrdom of Hussein and the pathos of this event gave the family of Ali a cultic significance. It bestowed on Shias, earlier primarily a political party, a thrust into a religious orientation directing it firmly towards the ghulat, and giving the ghulat milieu a hero-martyr and a priestly family with which they could associate much of their speculations.
Sufi Islam and Influence of Buddhism
Throughout history, there was natural interaction through migration and conquest, travel and trade, between the Fertile Crescent, Asia Minor, Persia, Khorasan and Central Asia and Hindustan. Alexander the Macedonian went up to Bukhara and then northwest Hindustan. Earlier some Indo-Aryan tribes like Mitannishad migrated from Eurasian steppes and ruled in upper Mesopotamia. Then the Arab armies marched north east and conquered areas up to the steppes. Then the Turkish tribes marched from eastern Asian steppes to Persia and Turkey (and the Indian sub-continent). Then came Chengiz Khan and the Mongol hordes.
Culturally, linguistically, ethnically and spiritually there is no area in the world that has so much in common as that formed by the regions connecting the river basins of Euphrates, Tigris; Amu and Syr Darya: Indus and the Ganges. This is an area with a continuous history and cradle of most civilizations and religions; Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Judaism and Christianity and Islam and their variations. The intermingling of Semitic, Indo-Iranian and Ural-Altaic languages with local languages produced a mosaic of new languages and tongues.
Influence of Buddhism in Central Asia perhaps started from the time of Greek King Menander in Bactria. During the rule of Kushana Emperor Kanishka (who was converted to Buddhism) from Peshawar, not only traders but also religious teachers moved freely throughout his Empire which then encompassed today’s Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang, Pakistan and Northern India and laid the foundations for the spread of Buddhism. Earlier Asoka had undertaken energetic steps to spread the Dhamma, but his efforts were more successful in South East Asia and Ceylon. Buddhism was taken to Central Asia either directly or via Tibet or Eastern Turkestan (Xinjiang) where with little competition, it was easily accepted. But it was not so in Sogdiana and around it, where Zoroastrians were well entrenched, later came followers of Manichaeism and Nestorian Christians. Conquerors (and traders) spread their religions, but they were also influenced by the cultures and the creeds of the ruled.
To begin with in Buddhism symbols represented Buddha and Tantras. Sculpture representing Buddha in human form is a Greek contribution through Gandhara art from Afghanistan. Starting from Bactria, Buddhism evolved the concept of Bodhisattva Maitreya as incarnations for attaining Nirvana and return to guide and help the laity. This universal and secular religion found favor with Central Asian Turks and Mongols (also Uyghur’s in Xinjiang) when it reached there.
Influence of Viharas and Stupas
Excavations have revealed Viharas and Stupas all over eastern Turkistan, up to Bukhara and into Turkmenistan. To begin with, Stupas were built to keep sacred relics (of Buddha and some of his disciples) although Buddha himself was against such practices. Later Stupas became associated with the symbols of remains of saints and cemeteries. The respect and veneration is, perhaps, based more on Aryan belief in Brahman or the Reality (Universal Soul) and Atman (individual Soul) with the saints having achieved the Union with the Reality. Prophet Mohammed had underlined that God and man are different. (Christians have still not resolved this dilemma fully). Miracles and veneration of dead persons are denounced in Quran (Sura XI, 31).
Stupas started as simple structures, as in Sanchi in Central India (1st or 2nd Cent BC) with a semi-spherical dome for the remains, fenced by a wall and 4 entrances and a Chhatri (umbrella symbolizing the Lord and the Sovereign). Later a raised square platform was added under the dome with the structures then becoming more complex and sophisticated, adorned with sculptures like Bamiyan Buddhas and paintings (sometimes in caves i.e. in Ajanta and Barhaut in India). Viharas are monasteries with cells constructed around a court yard, with Stupa in the middle, for monks to stay during the heavy Indian monsoon rains. Normally the monks were not to attach themselves to any fixed place.
With the spread of Buddhism Central Asians including Turks and Mongols adopted and assimilated phrases from Buddhism i.e. Sanskrit and Pali words like Nirvana =Nirvana (Nibanna), Dhamma =Dharma, Cindan =Chandan (sandalwood), used for funerary ceremony, Aratna =Ratan, Stup =Stupa, Mandal=Mandala, Chakra= Chakra, Bodhistava =Bodhistav, Bakshi (accountant) =Bhikku/Bhikshu (because a Bhikshu once did accounts for the Mongols in Xinjiang) etc.
An excavation in 1930s at Moghoki Attar mosque in Bukhara, perhaps the oldest surviving mosque in Central Asia, revealed under it ruins of a Zoroastrian temple destroyed by Arabs and an earlier Buddhist temple beneath it. The name Bukhara itself perhaps derives from Vihara. (Tashkent could be from Tashkhund; region of stones in Sanskrit). There are many ruins of Viharas and Stupas in Termez on Amu Darya (Uzbekistan), Merv (Turkmenistan), Afrasiab (Samarkand), Khojand etc. in Ferghana valley and around Lake Issik Kul in Kyrgyzstan. Of course in Eastern Turkistan (and Tibet) apart from the ruins, many thousand old Buddhist manuscripts (300 pages found in Merv too) and books were recovered. Buddhist paintings have also been found in Afrasiab and elsewhere in Central Asia. It is not a simple coincidence that after Islam’s arrival all these places became centers of Sufi Islam. From Stupas and Viharas have perhaps emerged sacred tombs, khankahs, darghas and madarsas.
Tombs were not popular in Arab heartland around Saudi Arabia. But the Persian, Turkish, Asian and African, even Berber Muslims accepted Pirs, Calandars, Sheikhs, Babas, Dervishes and others and their tombs became places of worship. Freedom loving eclectic nomads and others resisted Arab warriors in Sogdiana and Central Asia and their still austere Islam. It was only the modified, personalized and spiritual Islam of Persian Samanids based in Bukhara (Ismail’s tomb looks like a simple Stupa) that was first accepted by Turks and others in Central Asia. To Islam had been added strands of local religions and beliefs. It is this form of Islam that was spread in India mostly by Sufi saints, but also by forced conversions or inducements.
Sufism developed fully by 12th century by which time Arab Islam had been modified and enriched by streams from Persian, Central Asian and other religions, beliefs and philosophies .It was in the heartland of Arab Islam i.e. Baghdad and Aleppo, where Sufis saints Al Hajj (for insisting " Ana Al-haq "-I am the Truth) and Suhrawardy were martyred. Because of Sunni hostility tombs were erected much after the martyrdom of Imam Ali and Imam Hussein in Najaf and Karbala. The Wahhabis, Salafis remain deadly opposed to Sufism.
The major Sufi Tariqas (ways) had central Asian origin or influence i.e., Qadiriyas, Nakshabandis (many current Turkish leaders are its adherents), Rumi’s dervishes, Bektashis, the patron saint of non-Turkish (mostly Slav), non- Muslim (mostly Christian) born Janissary corps and top Administrators of the Ottoman Empire based on devshirme (slave) system. Turkey’s Shia Alevis’ faith (majority from Turkmen Oghuz tribes) has strands from Christian, Shaman and other beliefs.
Intermingling of beliefs and faiths
Human wish to comprehend and experience the Reality is as old as the natural talent to transcend beyond oneself, until this faculty was dimmed by technological afflictions. There are glimpses of it in earliest Aryan writings like Vedas and Avestan, even among Greek philosophers like Orpheus, Pythagoras, Socrates and others. So the environment and tools existed before formal religions evolved or were revealed.
Buddha himself went through the whole gamut of experiments and meditations including Jain like and other austerities, Hindu systems before realizing Nirvana. And his path and method of meditation were modified in east India, Tibet, China and Japan. If Buddhism influenced the evolution of Sufi Islam then Buddhism it was influenced earlier by other religions and practices.
Indo-Iranian religion Mithraism flowered between the2nd and 4th centuries in the Roman world and became very popular among the Roman aristocracy, military leaders and soldiers, traders and slaves with powerful patrons among Roman emperors, like Commodus, Septimium Severus, Caraculla and others. Diocletian built a temple for Mithra near Vienna on Danube as "the Protector of the Empire". He was the god of Light and Sun, contract, loyalty and justice. Celebrations for Mithra's birthday on December 25, the sun's solstice, was so popular in the Asia that Christmas had to be shifted to this day from January 6 to make it acceptable among the masses. Christianity also took over many of the rituals and symbols of Mithraism, like baptism, resurrection and prayers to honor the Sun.
India’s Sikh religion also known as gurmat, the teachings of the guru, founded by Guru Nanak (1469-1539), combines many elements of Hinduism and Islam. Guru Nanak believed that one could come close to the God through meditation and devotion. God is the true guru and his divine word has come to the humanity through the 10 historical gurus. Their sacred scripture Adi Granth is also called “Guru Granth Saheb“. The Sikh temples are known as gurdwaras, Guru’s door. Many Shi'ites Ghulat groups believe that Ali and the Imams are doors to God. When the Sunni Moghul emperors persecuted the Sikhs and their gurus, Sikh religion took to militancy and those who died for the panth (gurus’ path) became martyrs.
Human beings have evolved many paths to the Reality i.e. various Yoga systems; Tibetan, Zen, Vipassana and other Buddhist Margs, Jewish Kabbalah, Christian Hesychasm, Gurdjief way, Sufi Tariqas and Transcendental Meditation (TM) in modern times for spiritually challenged materialists. The masses accept what the saints and holy men they trust teach them.
Mosque and Tombs
The word mosque itself derives from the Arabic masjid, “a place where one prostrates one's self (in front of God).” In earliest times any place could be used for private prayer with correct direction (qiblah, originally Jerusalem, but soon after Mecca). The collective prayer on Fridays, with a collective swearing of allegiance to the community's leadership also strengthens common bonds among all members of the Ummah.
According to some experts, the Quran does not utter a word for or against the representation of living things. But from about the middle of the 8th century a prohibition was formally stated. It became a standard feature of Islamic thought, even though the form in which it was expressed varied from absolute to partial. It has been suggested that Islam developed this attitude when it came into contact with other cultures and it was felt that the dreaded idol worship might return. The Qur'an (Sura ix, 31) prohibits the veneration of holy men and saints. In early Islam there was no special embellishment of funerary sites; 'the tombs of the rich and poor area like'. But the human desire to venerate and by many to be venerated is too old and deep rooted. The first changes occurred through veneration of the tombs of holy persons.
It appears that the construction of commemorative buildings over certain burial places began in the late 9th and 10th centuries especially over those of Shi'ite saints. Then over the tombs, mostly in Iran and Central Asia, of rulers of marginal or semi-independent regions, who often followed non-Sunni beliefs? They were to project status symbols of secular power and were rather ambitious. In contrast, the tombs of holy men were simpler – which went towards satisfying the devotional needs of the population. Generally complex ensembles grew up around the tombs of many saints, like that of the mystic Sufi poet Jalal ud-Din Rumi, in Konya, or of Bayazid, in Bistam (1313).
Therefore the earliest surviving tombs belong to Shi'ite persona; the shrine of Fatima, sister of the Imam 'Ali ar-Rida at Qum, and that of the Imam Ali in Najaf. The earliest rulers’ tombs are of 'Abbasid Caliphs al-Muntasir (in Samarra in 862), al-Mu'tazz and al-Mohtadi (built as a domed square building enclosed in an octagonal ambulatory) and are better preserved. A feature of royalty mausoleums was its concentration, like the Timurid Shah-i-Zinda ensemble in Samarqand of 14th and 15thcenturies or the Mamluk tombs of Cairo.
Mausoleums were also built to commemorate Biblical persons, companions of the Prophet and scholars, popular heroes and ghazis (fighters for the Faith). From 12th century secular mausoleums proliferated all over the world, in Egypt and Central Asia, northern and north-eastern Iran and Anatolia, and also in India and North Africa. They continue to be built, both for spiritual and secular leaders e.g., Firdausi, Avicenna, Umar Khayyam, the late Agha Khan and the poet-philosopher Iqbal, and particularly imposing structures for Riza Shah Pahlavi, Ataturk and Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
The mausoleum of the Samanids in Bukhara, commonly referred to as the Tomb of Isma'il, was constructed before 943 and consists of a square structure with a large central dome and four small corner ones set over a gallery. Especially noteworthy is the use of bricks to create different patterns in its various parts.
Then of course there are the famous imperial Moghul mausoleums, of Humayun (d. 1556) in Delhi, built of red sandstone and white marble; and the marvel in marble, the Taj Mahal, built in Agra by Emperor Shah Jehan for his favourite queen Mumtaz Mahal. The mausoleum of Akbar (d. 1605) is at Sikandra, and of his son Jehangir (d1627) near Lahore. The word mausoleum comes from the structure built in Asia Minor (Bodrum -Western Turkey) for an Asian ruler, Mausolus built by his Queen, around the time Alexander the Great passed that way.
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