By Zia Ur Rehman and Qasim Yousafzai

KARACHI — Peace, harmony, art, culture, music, poetry and non-violence make a strong basis for Sufi Islam, its adherents say.

“Sufi Islam has nothing to do with swords or guns”, said Abaseen Yousafzai, a Pakhtoon poet and intellectual.

In addition to Yousafzai, Afghan Cultural Attaché Parveen Malal and Prof Taha Khan attended an April 29 seminar in Karachi to pay tribute to the Pakhtoon Sufi poet Rehman Baba (1653-1711).

They were among dignitaries and scholars who gathered for “Rehman Baba and the philosophy of humanism”, organised by the Pakhtoon Thinkers Forum, a Karachi-based political group.

A similar event in Islamabad, “Ghazal Night in remembrance of Hamza Baba”, honoured Pakhtoon Sufi poet Baba e-Ghazal Amir Hamza Khan Shinwari. The Community Appraisal and Motivation Programme organised that seminar. Syed Tahir Bukhari, a Sufi and spiritual follower of Hamza Baba, spoke about the peaceful nature of Sufi Islam.

“Sufi Islam has nothing to do with violence”, Bukhari told Central Asia Online by phone. The way of the Sufi, he said, is to leave the scene of conflict to avoid violence and the slaughter of innocents.

The Taliban are “Khawarij”, Bukhari said, evoking those who fought against the fourth caliph, Hazrat Ali. “(The Taliban) also love to destroy and kill”.

“Instead of using armed force, it is time to explore other avenues like Sufism to bring peace to the region”, Yousafzai said. “Sufi religious leaders and poets like Rehman, Khushal and Hamza Baba enjoy respect and influence amongst the local population”.

“Sufism … is in our music, it is in our poetry, it is in our folklore, it is in our paintings and architecture”, Yousafzai said.

Others among the numerous poets, media and literary personages, activists and civil society representatives at the Karachi event echoed Yousafzai’s thoughts.

Rehman Baba, nearly 300 years after his death, could play a vital role in bringing peace to the Pakhtoon lands, consisting of Afghanistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, they said.

Peace and love infuse every line of Rehman Baba’s poetry, helping readers rise above racial, geographical, tribal and national prejudices, Yousafzai said.

Sufi poets possess a distinguished place in Pakhtoon society and have a visible impact on daily life, he added. Rehman Baba is probably the best known Afghan poet, even after the passage of three centuries, Malal, a poet herself, said. In his poetry, he pointed out common shortcomings and powerfully urged his readers to take the right path, she added.

“His effusions are of a religious or moral character and mainly concern the subject of divine love, touched with the mysticism of Sufism”, Malal said.

Rehman Baba’s poetry stands on the three basic foundations of Sufism: morality, knowledge and divine love, said Taha Khan, who translated Rehman Baba’s entire oeuvre into Urdu. The poet is considered a great social reformer, since his every verse preaches peace and virtue, the professor added.

Modern-day Pakhtoon poets strive to uphold the Sufi traditions of high human virtues and positive social ethics for effective social change in their poetry, Zafar Kareemi, a Pakhtoon poet associated with Jaras Adabi Jirga, said.

Most Pakhtoon Sufi poets have advocated humanism, sympathy, fear of God and good moral conduct, with Rehman Baba, Bayazid Ansari, Mullah Arzani Kheshgi and Mirza Khan Ansari being famous examples, Kareemi told Central Asia Online.

The rationale behind the event in Karachi was to spread Rehman Baba’s poetry and peace-loving message, said Muhammad Arshad Khan, a leader of the Pakhtoon Thinkers Forum and an artist.

International observers, including those within think tanks like Rand and the Heritage Foundation, also suggest supporting Sufism to counter the Taliban and to bring peace to the region, he told Central Asia Online.

“The solution to today’s militancy is Sufi Islam,” Bukhari said.


First published at Central Asia Online