A significant dimension missing in finding ways forward on the Kashmir issue is the urgency to preserve and promote the profound syncretic spirit of Kashmiri Sufism, which is the soul of its way of life. It provides a common bond for communities and religious diversity. It has the moral basis and ethical force to regenerate tolerance, peace and reconciliation. It is critical to promote this legacy systematically in institutions of Islamic and secular learning, as it is under grave threat from fundamentalist versions of Islam.
Tariq Mir writes about the Wahabi Mulla Al Kindi in Kashmir, who, during a sermon at a Srinagar mosque, lauded 'pure' Islam, as observed 14 centuries ago in the time of the Prophet, and emphasised the need for a total break from local traditions. He ranted against the worship of tombs and relics of saints and described them as leftovers of ancient Greek and Hindu mythologies. Mir asked Al Kindi why Salafism was suddenly becoming popular in Kashmir. The reply was, "Before, we didn't have the support that we have now. The Saudis provide free literature to anyone who cares to read, and they distribute the Salafi message over the Web, cell phones, and satellite television." Sufism in Kashmir has deep roots, and shrines like Charar-e-Sharif still attract people from all faiths.
Mir concludes - "In a region already wracked by internal division and foreign pressure, Al Kindi represents yet another potentially destabilising force: orthodox Salafism, aggressively expansionist and imported from Saudi Arabia." Such a process, propelled by the Deoband Seminary, is converting Muslims to this 'pure' fundamentalist Islam all over South Asia, through the Maulavis they train.
Sufis neither condemn unveiled women nor censure modern means of entertainment. For them the distinction between virtue and vice is determined by intent, not by appearance. According to Maulana Wali Rehmani Mongeyri, it is the fusion of spirituality and modernity that creates the unique aesthetic experience that is so appealing to the young and that is what makes them reject extremism.
William Dalrymple narrates that during his visit to Pakistan, it was clear that while the Wahhabi-dominated North-West was on the verge of falling under the sway of the Taliban, the same was not true of the Sufi-dominated province of Sindh. In southern Pakistan, on the Indian border, Sufi Islam continues to act as a powerful deterrent against fundamentalist Islam of the Wahhabi mullahs. Dalrymple observed that the Saudis have poured in a lot of money in Wahhabi madrasas in the North-West Frontier Province and Punjab, radically changing the religious culture of an entire region. He proposes, "Here is an entirely indigenous and homegrown Islamic resistance movement to fundamentalism, with deep roots in South Asian culture. It is one of the few sources of hope left in the increasingly bleak political landscape of this strategically crucial country."
Ali Alawi of Princeton University affirms in his book Crisis of Islamic Civilization that Sufism is integral to the revival of Islamic civilisation, which is facing grave threats on the one hand from Modernist Islam and, on the other, from Wahhabi Islam, which is against heterodox and individualist folk Islam like Sufism
The Research And Development (RAND) Corporation came out with a report in 2007, titled 'Building Moderate Muslim Networks', which stressed the Sufi role as moderate traditionalists open to change, and, thus, as potential allies against violence. Britain is befriending the Sufi orders and has made groups like the British Muslim Forum and the Sufi Muslim Council - its main dialogue partners in the Muslim community.
Philip Jenkins of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, makes a plea that, "Sufis, better than anyone, can tell disaffected young Muslims that the quest for peace is not a surrender to western oppression, still less a betrayal of Islam, but rather a return to the faith's deepest roots." Let us carry forward the message of 'aman' (peace), 'garib nawazi' (welfare of the poor) and 'insaniyat pasandgi' (love and spirituality) for common humanity, preached by great Sufi saints.
Prahlad Shekhawat is director, Alternative Development and Research Centre, JaipurThe views expressed by the author are personal.