The Sufi weltanschauung was based on three basic postulates which determined their attitude towards God, man and society.
1. All people are the children of God on earth The Sunnan-i-Abu Da’ud reports that the Prophet used to pray at night: ‘Oh God! I bear witness that all Thy creatures are brothers ’.
Sa’di said that the reason for human brotherhood was that all human beings were made of the self-same clay and were as interdependent on each other as the limbs in the human body.
Once Dara Shukoh asked Shah Muhibb-ullah of Allahabad, a distinguished saint of the Chishti order, if religion permitted making a distinction between a Hindu and a Muslim. The saint’s emphatic reply was ‘no’. To strengthen his point further he said the Prophet was sent as a ‘Blessing for all Mankind’ and therefore no distinction could be made between one individual and another on the basis of religion (Maktubat-i Shah Muhibbullah, MS). Shaikh Hamid-u’d-din Nagauri, a distinguished disciple of Khwaja Mu’in-ud-din Chishti of Ajmer, did not permit his disciples to use the categories of kafir and momin as the basis of any social discrimination. Shaikh Abdul Quddus of Gangoh, a renowned Chishti saint of the sixteenth century, thus admonished his disciples in a letter:
Why this meaningless talk about the believer,
the kafir, the obedient, the sinner,
the rightly guided, the misdirected, the Muslim,
the pious, the infidel, the fire worshipper?
All are like beads in a rosary.
(Maktubat, p. 205)
It would be vain and whimsical to think that they did not believe in their religious identity. While firmly adhering to the basic principles of their faith, they did not carry this difference to social relationships. Their toleration was the toleration of a spiritually powerful man who, while jealous of the frontiers of his own faith, admires other forms of thought and behaviour. When Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din Auliya saw Hindus bathing in the Jumna and singing devotional songs, he said,
(Every people have their own path, their
own religion and centre of worship).
A whole world of religious broad-mindedness and tolerance is epitomized in this hemistich which came to be frequently cited inside and outside the khanqahs of medieval saints. Iqbal considered the following verse of Amir Khusrau as the best illustration of religious toleration:
(O you! who sneer at the idolatry of the Hindu,
Learn also from him how worship is done.)
The spirit of toleration, as Gibbon has remarked and Iqbal has approvingly quoted, springs from very different attitudes of the mind of man. There is the toleration of the philosopher, to whom all religions are equally true; of the historian, to whom all are equally false; and of the politician, to whom all are equally useful. There is the toleration of the man who tolerates other modes of thought and behaviour because he has himself grown absolutely indifferent to all modes of thought and behaviour. There is the toleration of the weak man who, on account of sheer weakness, pockets all kinds of insults heaped on things or persons whom he holds dear. It is obvious that these types of tolerances have no ethical value. On the other hand, they unmistakably reveal the spiritual impoverishment of the man who practises them. True toleration is begotten of intellectual breadth and spiritual expansion. (Islam and Ahmadism). The Sufis’ toleration was an expression of confidence in their faith. For them all people were the children of God on earth and any social discrimination was a negation of the true spirit of faith.
The second foundational principle of the Sufi approach and ideology was their firm faith in (adopt the ways of God). It meant that the aim of human life is to reflect in one’s own thought and activity the attributes of God. Perfection in human life could be reached only by expressing in one’s life more and more divine qualities. God’s way is that He extends his bounties to all — the pious and the sinner, the believer and the non-believer, the high and the low. When the sun rises, it gives light and warmth to all living beings; when it rains, all benefit from the showers; the earth keeps its bosom open for all. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad calls it the mark of Rububiyat and thus explains its spirit: ‘The strangest thing about this scheme of Providence, though the most patent, is the uniformity and harmony underlying it. The method and manner of providing means of sustenance for every object of existence are the same everywhere. A single principle is at work in all things. The stone may appear different from the fragrant flower, but the two receive sustenance in the same way, and are granted growth in the same style. . . .’ (Tarjuman ul Quran, Eng. tr. Vol. I, p. 24)
Khwaja Mu’in-u’d-din Chishti, the founder of the Chishti silsilah in India, advised his followers to develop river-like generosity, sun-like affection and earth-like hospitality (Siyar-ul-Auliya). As these phenomena of nature make no distinction between any creature of God, likewise man should not discriminate between one human being and another. Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din Auliya told his audience that once Prophet Abraham was reluctant to ask a non-believer to partake of food with him. Prompt came the admonition from God: ‘Oh Abraham! We can give life to this man but you cannot give food to him.’ The Sufi khanqahs supplied food and shelter to all sorts of people, no matter to what religion they belonged. Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din Auliya used to fast regularly. When food was brought to him at the time of sahri, morsels would stick in his throat as his mind went back to persons who had gone to bed without food.
Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din Auliya often cited in his assemblies a remark of Shaikh Abu Sa’id Abul Khair (ob. 1049) that though there were myriads of routes and roads leading to God, none was quicker and more effective than bringing happiness to the hearts of men. Ibn Battuta found in Damascus a trust which existed for providing balm to afflicted hearts.
Rabindranath Tagore’s said, ‘set at naught all differences of men, by the overflow of their consciousness of God’. For them God was not a logical abstraction of unity, but a living reality who can be approached through the service of mankind. Their efforts were, therefore, directed towards the creation of a healthy social order free from dissensions, discords and conflicts.
A necessary concomitant of this approach was that man promptly responded to human misery and strained his every nerve to save people from hunger and misery. Sahih Muslim contains the following Hadis-i Qudsi:
On the Day of Judgement God will address a particular individual: ‘O Son of Adam! I fell ill but you did not attend on me.’ Bewildered, this individual will say: ‘How is that possible? Thou art the Creator and Sustainer of all the worlds.’ God will reply: ‘Doesn’t thou know that such and such a creature of mine living near thee fell ill, but you did not turn to him in sympathy? If you had but gone near him you would have found Me by his side.’ In like manner, God would address another individual: ‘O Son of Adam! I had asked of you a piece of bread but you did not give it to me!’ The individual would submit: ‘How could this happen? Thou doesn’t stand in need of anything’. And God will reply: ‘Do not you remember that so and so among the hungry creatures of Mine had asked you for food and did you not refuse to give it to him? If you had fed him, you would have found Me by his side.’
The Sufis identified service of God with the service of man. Shaikh Junaid Baghdadi was quoted in the mystic circles of Delhi as saying that he found God among the poor people in the streets of Medina.
Bibi Fatima Sam, a very respected mystic woman of medieval India whose hut in Delhi attracted people from far and near, used to say that the divine reward for giving a piece of bread and a glass of water to the hungry was greater than offering thousands of genuflexions of prayer and keeping thousands of fasts (Ma’arij-ul-Walayat, MS).
Shaikh Nizam-u’d-din Auliya classified devotion to God into two categories: ta’at-i lazmi and ta’at-i muta’addi. Ta’at-i lazmi consisted of prayers and penitences that an individual performed; the ta’at-i muta’addi consisted in helping the needy and the poor and feeding the hungry. He told his disciples that the reward of ta’at-i-muta’ addi was greater than that of obligatory prayers. Sa’di, the famous Persian poet, echoed the same sentiments when he said:
(Higher spiritual life is nothing but service of humanity,
It is not (chanting) the rosary, (remaining on the)
prayer carpet or (wearing) coarse garments.)