From the Jacket
The common heritage of Indian is an active concept expressing itself in the myriad forms of integration of diverse cultures and traditions. Change and Continuity in Indian Sufism explores this common heritage through a study of the esoteric relationship between India's two major religious traditions, Hinduism and Islam as expressed in the sufi tradition.
Dr. Thomas Dahnhardt focuses on the evolution of the Indian lineage of the Naqshabandiyya, generally known as the Mujaddidiyya, in Indian sufism as an example of the intense spiritual symbiosis between the Hindu and Muslim communities. Based on a field study among the Hindu and Muslim representatives of the Naqshabandiyya lineage, he presents a social and historical study of the Naqshabandiyya Mujaddidiyya, surveying the various masters of the tradition and taking up specifically the establishment of a new khanaqah of the Mazhariyya branch of the Mujaddidiyya in Old Delhi, one of the most important Naqshbandi centers of the tradition in the Indian subcontinent. The work goes in detail into the emergence, doctrines and methodology of the Hindu offshoot of the Mujaddidiyya Mazhariyya along with creation of regional sub-Hindu branches.
The book would be useful to scholars of inter-religious studies, Sufism and Indian religious traditions as well as general readers interested in the process of integration of traditions in the process of integration of traditions and communities.
About the Author
Thomas Dahnhardt (Ph.D.), a scholar dedicated to exploring the contact between Islamic and Hindu spirituality over centuries of their co-existence, is currently a research fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies and a lecturer of Urdu literature and the Islamic civilisation on the Indian subcontinent at Venice University.
In the 1970s, as a young Indologist, I dedicated myself to the comparative study of some aspects of Hindu bhakti and Sufism. For five years I spent the months of the monsoon along the banks of the Yamuna, going to visit asramas of the sant tradition, especially in Braj, and khanaqahs of Cisti and Naqshbandi derivation. I had the privilege of knowing and be close to the pir of the Naqshbandiyya, Shah Abul Hasan Zaid Faruqi, a fine intellectual with also a surprising wealth of knowledge in yogic and Vedantic Hindu spirituality. During my stays in Delhi, I used to visit the old sufi at dawn, and I still treasure a few notebooks in which I wrote down the profound and wise teachings he offered me during our conversations. He often told me that some Hindu yogins, hailing from Uttar Pradesh and Bengal (?), used to come in pilgrimage to the tomb of his predecessor Mazhar Jan-i-Janan, situated right in the courtyard of the khanaqah where he lived, honouring it with the chanting of hymns and sprinkling it with petals and water. Despite the profound tie which united me to Shah Abul Hasan and which lasted till his death, I never had the chance of meeting a Hindu devotee of the great Mazhar within the khanaqah, The pir himself, who remembered with prodigious memory the Mazhariyya interpretation of Sankara's Vedantic doctrine, exhibited a curious amnesia regarding the precise whereabouts of the Bengali and U.P. yogins. None the less, destiny would subsequently bring me in contact with this peculiar sant parampara quite a number of times. Around the end of the 1980s, my dearest Indian friend, Hazari Mull Banthia, an old Jain gentleman from Kanpur, confided to me quite casually of the existence in his town of a Hindu sampradaya following a sufi spiritual method. Few years later, I was drawn to a study of some stanzas in the Mahabharata, a research which led me to embark on an archaeological campaign of excavation in the Farrukhabad District. I thus discovered that I was treading along the pilgrimage paths leading to the funeral monuments of Maulana Fadl Ahmad Khan and Sri Ramchandrji Fatehgarhi. But I had the most welcome surprise when Dr. Thomas Dahnhardt - now my colleague but in those days one among my most brilliant students - came to visit me informing me that during one of his sojourns in India he had met with Shah Abul Hasan Sahab. With him he had discussed at length about those yogins who followed the Naqshbandi method. Having gone to Kanpur, he was then able to identify their milieu and to become quite close with them. In fact, the young researcher had come to see me precisely to propose this topic as the subject of his research. It looked as if an invisible hand had been guiding his steps: indeed he was in no way aware of the antecedents, since on the matter I had been as discreet as Shah Abul Hasan. The research of Dr. Dahnhardt continued in India as well as in Europe, especially in Venice, London, and Oxford, through meetings with the living protagonists and via the analysis of the fundamental texts of both traditions, i.e., the sufi and the yogic. In this way, an important spiritual patrimony of India has been salvaged, which illustrates the intimate identity of vision on ultimate truths between a Hindu environment and a Muslim one. And this ultimately proves how love and knowledge lead to union, whereas, on the contrary, separation leads humans to reciprocal hate and ignorance. In the asramas of Purl, Kanpur, and Mathura as well as in the khanaqahs of Delhi, Sirhind, and Quetta that synthesis which in vain Mogul emperors sought has truly been achieved.
This book and his author have the merit of unearthing for the benefit of scholars an important component of Indian culture, which uptil now has remained practically unknown. This book and his author have also the merit of opening up a spiritual treasure which chronicles, politics, and ideology utterly ignore.
The present study consists of an attempt to delineate the meeting of two different esoteric currents in a cross-cultural encounter between Islam and Hinduism on the Indian subcontinent from the second half of the last century down to the present. Against the background of the millenary co- habitation of these two major world-religions in that part of the world, it describes the particular outer and inner circumstances that made such an encounter possible, trying, moreover, to focus on the spiritual history of the traditions involved. Based largely on the data collected during an eight- month field research conducted in 1995-6 among the Muslim and Hindu representatives of the Indian lineage of the Naqshbandiyya generally known as the Mujaddidiyya, the book seeks to highlight through a concrete example the possibility of an intense spiritual symbiosis between India's two main communities that contrasts sharply with the widespread idea of prevalent social and religious tension.
After ascertaining the social and historical background of the cultural components involved, viz. a lineage of the Naqshbandiyya Mujaddidiyya on one side and the contemporary heritage of the sant-tradition on the other, and furnishing a biology of single members of this peculiar initiatory chain, the research concentrates on the theoretical elaborations which, from a doctrinal point of view, stand at the base of the synthesis operated by the figures directly taking part in this process. Special attention is given to the possible parallels traceable in the symbols and metaphors traditionally employed by the respective perspectives of Sufism and Yoga in formulating their cosmogonical and metaphysical theories. This predominantly gnostic point of view is then integrated by a description of the methodological aspects arising from this theoretical back-ground. The concluding part of the study is concerned with a brief description of different sub-branches within the Hindu environment which began to develop from the mainstream lineage over the last fifty years and sharing the gradual process of cultural absorption and progressive Indianisation of a corpus of teachings originally pertaining to an orthodox Sunni environment.
Much has been written about the relationship and the reciprocal influence Hinduism and Islam have exercised on each other over the ten centuries of their cohabitation in South Asia. The innumerable works revolving around this topic include a wide range of studies dealing with one or the other aspect of this encounter which has so decisively contributed to the formation of the present-day cultural environment of the Indian sub- continent.
Especially in the wake of recent developments such as the destruction of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya in December 1992 and the constant political tension between the two newly emerged nuclear powers India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue, the present situation of that area and the division of its societies along communal lines have attracted the world's attention. Major stress is thereby laid on the dividing factors which have led to an increasing distance between Hindus and Muslims over the last century. If these certainly represent a continuous feature in the twentieth-century history of the subcontinent, it is nevertheless equally true that this situation does not reflect the whole reality and relegates many fertile contacts between these two communities to the margin of attention.
In the wave of enthusiasm for the secular policy pursued by the Republic of India after Independence in 1947, many indigenous scholars had begun to exalt the glorious past of the India's middle ages during which an intense symbiosis involving many charismatic personalities on both sides stimulated and produced some of the finest cultural achievements in Indian history. These ranged from the development of an Indo-Islamic architectural style and the distinctive tradition of north-Indian classical music to widely acclaimed poetic currents and a richly blended cuisine, all of which survive in various forms till the present day and contribute much to the attractive picture of India's exotic culture.
Less attention has been given outside academic circles to the often intense spiritual contacts between the elite representatives of both traditions, operating from the top and reaching down to the level of popular understanding, where they have largely contributed to the creation of a common basis for a peaceful cohabitation of the members of both religious groups. It was in this field too that India's extraordinary capacity of assimilation has given rise to some extremely stimulating examples of collaboration and synthesis transcending the numeorus divisions that characterise the religious, social and ethnic peculiarities of each tradition.
From the thirteenth century AD onwards, the devotionally oriented bhakti movement provides us with a series of outstanding saints, both Hindus and Muslims, who were drawn by their sincere love arising from the depths of their longing hearts to experience the immutable Divine truth and were able to bridge the gap between their respective communities by stressing that common aim all sacred traditions have described since time immemorial. Culminating in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries with Kabir and Guru Nanak, both pertaining to the nirguna current that emphasises the unqualified, transcendent aspect of the Divine while openly mocking the rigid ritualism of priestly orthodoxy as narrow-minded and hypocritical, many of these sants, although hailing from the lower sections of society, were able to maintain a truly synthetic vision that goes beyond the formal barriers of institutionalised religion. Basing their teachings on the assertion of an underlying common human ground, irrespective of the religious and social background and any erudite expertise in the holy scriptures which if cultivated in its purest aspect of love for God and the world would allow every earnest seeker to experience the presence of his Lord and thereby render meaningless any religious discrimination. Their nearness to the people was expressed in their poetry using the simple and straightforward style of the north-Indian vernaculars used in their poetry. They there by contributed decisively to the formation of a multi- cultural and multi-religious society long before modern secular' ideas began to penetrate into the subcontinent from the Western world.
As a matter of fact, for centuries religious hatred, intolerance and communal divisions were phenomena largely unknown to Indian society. If ever, they remained mostly confined to the sporadic initiatives of zealous rulers or governors eager to promote their image as firmly orthodox Islamic potentates. It was with the beginning of the modern age introduced to India during the colonial period that many indigenous intellectuals grew up in the imported educational system of their foreign rulers started to reinterpret the teachings of many religious and spiritual leaders of the past in a key that contrasted with the traditional perspective and which was prone to promote a growing division between the two communities. Although initially this did not reach down to the hundreds of thousands of Indian villages where Hindus and Muslims had since long shared the anxieties and needs of common life, they nevertheless began to gain ground in the circles of the nascent Indian bourgeoisie. Later, during the years of struggle for political freedom and assisted by the increasingly efficient means of propaganda, these ideas gradually penetrated further down to the masses. This process of growing division led eventually to the partition of the subcontinent into two separate nations: an almost entirely Muslim Pakistan oriented along lines of religious cohesion, and a secular India whose Western styled Constitution reflects the concern of its founders to guarantee freedom of expression to its innumerable religious groups.
The rise of a nationalistic ideology with both communal and secular dimensions which accompanied India's passage during the later nineteenth century from a feudal society for hundreds of years governed largely by Muslim dynasties to a colonial system concerned with imposing a modern European mentality, is an impressive example of the impact of this process. It demonstrates at the same time impressively the loss of influence of traditional authorities on policy and society.
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