Prime Minister Narendra Modi described Islam as a “faith of peace” and Sufism as one of its greatest contributions, addressing a global audience on the opening day of the World Sufi Forum here on Thursday.
Terrorism dominated the discussion at the three-day event in which Sufi scholars from around the world are taking part. Modi joined the delegates to denounce terror.
“Of the 99 names of Allah, none stand for force and violence and the first two names denote compassionate and merciful. Allah is Rahman and Raheem…Those who spread terror in the name of religion are anti-religious,” Modi said.
“When the spiritual love of Sufism, not the violent force of terrorism, flows across the border, this region will be the paradise on earth that Amir Khusrau spoke about,” Modi said, referring to the 13th century Sufi poet.
Modi has met several Sufi leaders since assuming office and an event to commemorate Sufism had been in the making for months. It was first proposed by the minority affairs ministry.
At the ceremony held in Vigyan Bhawan, Modi received a resounding welcome. Sufi scholars chanted “Bharat Mata ki Jai” (Long Live Mother India) in the backdrop of a controversy over Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi’s stand that the slogan, as endorsed by the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, was not the “only proof of patriotism”.
In an apparent reference to the Islamic State, the PM said, “Parents in 100 countries live with the daily pain of their children lost to the battlefields of Syria.”
Some Sunni groups have opposed the Sufi event, saying it was attempt to “divide Muslims”. “Why are Sufis aligning with divisive forces?” the leader of Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind Arshad Madni had said at a press conference.
This is the second spiritual-cultural gathering Modi has attended in the span of a week. Last week, he inaugurated the World Culture Festival organised by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation.
“The BJP continues to put the question of culture at the centre of its relationship with the people,” said Swagato Sarkar, who teaches at Jindal School of Government and Policy.
The party’s militant wings -- with an eye on electoral gains -- were pursuing a strategy of communalisation and polarisation. The government, on the other hand, was embracing the moderate and non-ritualistic religious groups to project India as a spiritual homeland of multiple faiths, a land of religious dialogue to the world, he said.
“The contradiction between these two strategies,” Sarkar said, “is otherwise unraveling as these moderates have themselves used the space opened by the state to gain political clout and become powerful vis-a-vis their peers.”