Sufism: The latest fashion statement among Hindus

This introductory post on 'Sufi' brings to your attention how Hindus are constantly found wanting in assessing the dangers that will eventually confront them if they are not vigilant to the modes and forms of digestion prevalent around them today. Sufism is one such attractive and subtle mode of inculturation and digestion that has enticed a large number of Hindus particularly among the elites (read 'secular') in India and the diaspora in the West.

While this post focuses primarily on a current thread in the forum, we also provide links to other threads where the subject has surfaced before and highlight some of Rajiv Malhotra's comments. Interested readers can navigate to the discussions to gain a more in-depth understanding of the what is going on. First to the particulars of this thread:

As we have just celebrated Ganesh chaturthi, Rajiv Malhotra wrote in to say:

Last evening there was a high class event in my neighborhood thrown by a wealth Hindu family. It featured sufi quwalli singers.

I have been down with flu for 3 days so I could not have gone in any cse. But it was called a great success by many. Strange way to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi!

Clearly, the digestion into Islam/Sufism/Urdu is a serious issue deserving discussion. This is the high fashion among north Indian Hindus.

Ashok replied:

A couple of months ago I sat through a very Hindu wedding reception with similar 'Alla-hoo, Alla - hoo' and 'Khwaja mere Khwaja' being sung and danced to with great enthusiasm by the troupe. 

I lightheartedly objected amongst those at my table and although they too felt a bit uneasy when I mentioned it, the general feeling was 'what a good singer - he reached the finals in the Britain Has Got Talent TV show, you know'. 

It would have been very rude of me to mention it to the host (who obviously paid for this) but I would not be surprised if he was ambushed into this and was feeling sorry for not having vetted the songs in advance. 

I am mentioning this here, so none of us make a similar mistake. 

To the above, Rajiv responded by saying that he was in disagreement about the fact that those Hindus who are actually sponsoring such sufi programs at their celebratory gatherings might be naive or careless about checking facts. Rajiv was of the opinion that such Hindus genuinely loved the music and that they were willing to pay for this. He added:

I am told yesterday's event [the one near his place for Ganesh Chaturthi] was paid by every attendee. 90% were Hindus, the same ones who go for pujas to the temples. 10% were Pakistani Muslims, delighted to see this easy entry.

The sales pitch yesterday was that sufism unites all religions. God is one. So whats the problem singing to God this way? There was a nice intro explained to sufism, which the Hindus lapped up. Nobody disagreed at all. It was a huge success. Many more Hindus now want to host a similar event in their homes.

Rajiv also provided a link which profiles the group that had performed at the puja.

Ananth then wrote in referring from a paper titled "The Mughals, the Sufi Shaikhs and the Formation of the Akbari Dispensationby Muzaffar Alam. He said:

Muzaffar Alam (Ref 1, p171--172) says that Baqi-Billah, a Naqshbandi Sufi, opposed the importance of music, considered mysticism of secondary importance, and emphasized the dividing line between a believer and an infidel.  When Baqi-Billah fell ill, his mother recommended a Hindu doctor.  Because Baqi-Billah emphasized obedience to parents, he obeyed his mother, but when the Hindu doctor examined him, Baqi-Billah refused to make eye contact with the doctor.

What this shows is that among Sufis, there was disagreement about how much tolerance Muslims had to show to Hindus.  It is true that some Sufis did consider other religions on par with Islam (Ref 1, p 162).  Those Sufis would satisfy Rajiv's criterion of mutual respect (Being Different).  But many Sufis were not interested in the principle of mutual respect. 

The practice of left-leaning secularists is to gloss over this fact.  Left-leaning secularists only speak of the those Sufis who actually showed mutual respect.  But how important were they to practicing Muslims?

Sant wrote in to give a perspective on the lead singer of the group that was asked to perform at the puja near Rajiv's place. He said:

The lead vocalist is Sonny K Mehta has been the President of Hindu Students Association.

Years ago, I together with a number of Hindu elders in Washington DC area had collected funds to promote their activities. Sometime later to my surprise turned to this form of entertainment.

The original Hindu Students organization at the university campuses in the US were getting discredited.

Rajiv responded that it was interesting to see how change happened in individuals within as short a time span as 3 years (the article linked above in Sant's post is dated in 2011); the fact that it seemed that less and less of the people considered leaders and role models by the Hindu diaspora were real "Hindus"; that a Hindu student leader in the USA had turned into a sufi singer.

Other forum members responded on this thread. Champak wrote in to say how sufi music had become a regular fixture at the Ganga Mahotsav held at Varanasi every year. Saptaswara talked of how there was a a qawwali performace at Chinmaya Mission temple in Boston. Prayas wrote in to say that while Hindus agonized about sufi music becoming so popular, it was also important that Hindus questioned themselves on why they stopped popularizing and patronizing Hindustani and Carnatic classical music among their kids. Rohit spoke about the recent trend of dharmic festivals being corrupted these days with the introduction of extremely frivolous forms of entertainment. In response, Rajiv expanded on the topic thus:

1) How far back the digestion occurred is irrelevant: Our calendar got replaced by western calendar long back. But the effect of this change is v. important to understand. One day people will say we are English speakers for generations, so why bother discussing it? Maybe in 20 years most Indians will practice Christian Yoga and scholars trying to uncover the dogestion will be told this is an old thing so leave it alone. PointThough sufism might be old in India, that does not make any difference on what we must think of it.

Analogy: Smoking tobacco became popularized in India by the Mughal court long ago. That should not prevent us from fighting against it.

2) Understand the philosophical dimension first: I have explained in Youtubes and/or blogs how advaita vedanta and sufism differ in serious ways. Similarity, eys. But apple is similar to orange does not make them interchangeable or the same. Similarity means certain overlap exists between x and y. Thats true of any to objects. Even shit and prasad share the fact that both are made of the same electrons, protons, neutrons; hence one could say they are the same because they are made of identical ingredients. Difference is what makes an entity what it is. At the human level of consciousness where dharma is enacted, how we relate to something is as per whats distinct about it. Otherwise there would be no difference between dharma and adharma, between tamas and sattva, between right and wrong. Once you appreciate whats different about sufism then you can converse intelligently, beyond superficialities.

3) Understand the political past of sufism in IndiaSufis were the Good Cops sent to soften the target, and then the Bad Cops (tough, radical Muslims) could then defeat the compromised Hindus. Please try to understand this history.

4) Pop culture can be understood only after 2 3: All digestion facilitators are nice guys, goody-goody, we are same, global brotherhood, no boundaries, etc.Tell them to practice this in the other side. Why dont the Sufi festival people in Delhi hold it in Jama Masjid? In Mecca? After all, this would present the world a great face for Islam. The Nawab running the Delhi Sufi fest was shocked at my question in a delhi elite farmhouse gathering of Hindu morons - all in awe of his aristocracy. Most Hindus present sided with him that we need not go into it, just sit back and enjoy. But I persisted. Finally, he told me that the "authorities at major mosques will not allow music, sufi or not". So this should be one's opportunity to open the door to further inquiry. 

5) Read Muslims scholars on the differences between Sufism and mainstream Islam: You must realize Sufism is outside the fortress, meant to appease and tempt non Muslims in the door. Its a strategic deployment, just like inculturation by the church in the third world to make the natives happy, and remove barriers to conversion.

Shalini added to the discussion by providing some links on sufism. Some of the links are provided below.

The Wiki entry on sufism states:

Muslims and mainstream scholars of Islam define Sufism as simply the name for the inner or esoteric dimension of Islam[2] which is supported and complemented by outward or exoteric practices of Islam, such as Islamic law.[15] In this view, "it is absolutely necessary to be a Muslim" to be a true Sufi, because Sufism's "methods are inoperative without" Muslim "affiliation".[16] In contrast, author Idries Shah states Sufi philosophy is universal in nature, its roots predating the rise of Islam and Christianity.[17] Some schools of Sufism in Western countries allow non-Muslims to receive "instructions on following the Sufi path".[18] Some Muslim opponents of Sufism also consider it outside the sphere of Islam.[2][19]...

Its also states:

The rise of Islamic civilization coincides strongly with the spread of Sufi philosophy in Islam. The spread of Sufism has been considered a definitive factor in the spread of Islam, and in the creation of integrally Islamic cultures, especially in Africa[52] and Asia. 

Here is a google books link which in fact shows that sufism in medieval times, was a way for forcible conversion particularly in Bengal. Interestingly, the book is a critique of Islam by M.A Khan, a person who left Islam for reasons mentioned here.

In an earlier thread relating to this topic, the context for Rajiv's response above was provided by Vijendran who noted:

The irony is that the US/European universities like Harvard are introducing Bhagawad Gita as a part of the standard texts for their MBA programs, while the Indian IIMs are stuck with the western ideals! ..

This comment from Rajiv underlines how mentally colonized Hindus believe sufi is "cool".

Rajiv responded thus:

 Indian universities are also teaching BG in IIMs. ...The problem is different. 
Indians are borrowing spirituality from the west which the west appropriated has from India - this is called stage 5 of Uturn, the Pizza effect. Hence, [Howard Gardner?] teaches multiple intelligences at Tata, Infosys and other corporate houses even though we have more profound versions of it in dharma; Andrew Cohen and Eckhart Tolle type of frauds impress Indians because they see it as "Made in USA" spirituality. Many secular folks I know in Delhi who are outright embarrassed by things Hindu, flock to such events because its cool. In the same way, its cool to get "sufi" teachings even though the same or deeper versions are found in Hinduism.

To follow this entire thread go here on this blog.

On another thread, Rajiv touched upon the use of sufism as a tool for digestion. The context was provided by a conversation between Jeffrey and Maria, on the point of how Hindus are different and how one needs to take firm positions.

Rajiv response was to point out that those who didn't take clear positions and preferred to sit on the fence advocating sameness of religions, were generally stage 2 u-turners. He reiterated that this phase was dangerous because the mirage of sameness led to a false "feel good" factor among Hindus who believed they were legitimized by a westerner. He also gave the example of Unitarians who tried hard to make "whitened Bengalis" (or sameness experts) of Ram Mohan Roy and other Bengali bhadralok with the result that they are an extremely marginalized (<1%) group among the US Christian population. He uses this example to drive home the point that most other Christian denominations reject "sameness". Rajiv also uses the fashion for sufism (a digestion tool) among Hindus today, pointing out that only a very small portion of mosques allow sufi music and dance. He stresses that the core of Islam has no place for sufism.

To follow the entire thread, join the discussion. Here is the link to that particular discussion on yahoo groups. Here is the summary of that thread on this blog.


  1. sufism is the best to follow, it is the right path

    1. Great. You follow it and Hibdus will follow our own religion. If desired you to can come back and follow your ancestors faith.