Chapter 9 – Religion and Philosophy in Medieval India: The Sufi Movement and Importance of Sufi Movement (For CBSE, ICSE, IAS, NET, NRA 2022)

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Nearly every month a programme is going on in any auditorium in the city where songs of the Sufi saints and Bhakti saints are sung. The songs and the teachings of the Sufi and the Bhakti saints are relevant even today. The Sufi and Bhakti saints played an important role in bringing the Muslims and Hindus together.

The Sufi Movement

Background-Rise of Islam

  • Islam was founded by Prophet Muhammad. Islam saw the rise of many religious and spiritual movements within it. These movements were centred mainly around the interpretation of the Quran.
  • There were two major sects that arose within Islam- the Sunnis and Shias.
  • Our country has both the sects, but in many other countries like Iran, Iraq, Pakistan etc.
  • The greatest challenge to orthodox Sunnism came from the rationalist philosophy or Mutazilas, who professed strict monotheism.

The Sufis

  • Contrary to the ulena were the Sufis. The Sufis were mystics. They were pious men who were shocked at the degeneration in political and religious life.
  • The Sufi philosophy also differed from the ulena. The Sufis laid emphasis upon free thought and liberal ideas.
  • They were against formal worship, rigidity and fanaticism in religion.
  • The Sufis turned to meditation in order to achieve religious satisfaction. Like the Bhakti saints, the Sufis too interpreted religious as ‘love of god’ and service of humanity.

Sufism in India

  • The advent of Sufism in India is said to be in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. One of the early Sufis of eminence, who settled in India, was AI-Hujwari who died in 1089, popularly known as Data Ganj Baksh.
  • The Sufis came to India vis Afghanistan on their own free will. Their emphasis upon a pure life, devotional love and service to humanity made them popular and earned them a place of honour in Indian society.

The Chishti Silsilah

  • The Chishti Silsilah was founded in a village called Khawaja Chishti. In India, the Chishti Silsilah was founded by Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti who came to India around 1192.
  • He made Ajmer the main centre for his teaching. He believed that serving mankind was the best form of devotion and therefore he worked amongst the downtrodden. He died in Ajmer in 1236.

The Suhrawardi Silsilah

  • This Silsilah was founded by Sheikh Shahabuddin Suhrawardi. It was established in India by Sheikh Bahauddin Zakariya.
  • He set up a leading khanqah in Multan, which was visited by rulers, high government officials and rich merchants.
  • The Suhrawardi Silsilah was firmly established in Punjab and Sind. Besides these two Silsilah there were others such as the Firdawsi Silsilah, Shattari Silsilah, Qadiri Silsilah, Naqshbandi Silsilah.
The Sufi Movement

The Importance of the Sufi Movement

  • The Sufi movement made a valuable contribution to Indian society. Like the Bhakti saints who were engaged in breaking down the barriers within Hinduism, the Sufis too infused a new liberal outlook within Islam.
  • The interaction between early Bhakti and Sufi ideas laid the foundation for more liberal movements of the fifteenth century.
  • The Sufi movement encouraged equality and brotherhood. In fact, The Islamic emphasis upon equality was respected far more by the Sufis than by the Ulena. The doctrines of the Sufis were attacked by the orthodoxy.

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