The normal misconception about Sufism is that it is very much like the mystic way of the Indian Sadhu, and shows a peaceful path to a Union with God/Allah. Nothing can be farther from the Truth. In the Sufism of today, and since the victory of the greatest Sufi, Al-Ghazali, over the Mutazzalis in the late 11th century, the separation between the Creator and the created is so clear as to aver anything else is to invite a charge of blasphemy.

Whether Sufism began within Islam or Islam adopted it is not very clear, because the Islamic expansion in the 7th and 8th century into the Sassanian and Turkic territories was so swift that Islam hardly had a chance of consolidation, and a course of adaptation was probably the normal outcome. What we do know is that there was a huge churn within Islam against Arab conservatism in the form of the Mutazzali movement. Another strand was the Tahqiqi strand that borrowed from the Sufism that emphasised ‘immanence of divine’. While Mutazzalis laid stress on a synthesis between rationalism and revelation, and refused to recognise the Hadis exegeses, the Tahqiqis and Sufis alternated between complete fusion with the divine and reflection of the divine within the human soul — something akin to advaita and dvaita of Hinduism. However, it stopped short of the One material unity with myriad manifestation. Mutazzalis also did not recognise Qur’an as co-eternal with Allah, stating that the created cannot precede the Creator.

Both Mutazzalis and Tahqiqis honoured the role of free will. The high point of the rationalist school was 833–848 CE, whereas the high point of the Tahqiqis was Mansour Hallaj, who was executed in 922 CE for his pronouncement of Ana’l Haq (I am the Truth). Both the schools, more particularly the Mutazzalis asserted the principle of ‘free will’ in gaining Allah’s favour.

The counter movement consisted of the Asharites, who regarded Shariat (Shari’a in Arabic) as the Word of Allah, and commandments to be followed. However, the Hadis part of the Shariat (a Trilogy consisting of the Qur’an, Hadis — traditions of the Prophet — and the Sirat-e-Rasool Allah –biography of the Prophet) was written in the face of the challenge from the Mutazzalis. The compilation of the Shariat went well into the 10th century, and the first instance of Sirat being made public is from Al Tabari around 900 CE, though he credited it to Ibn Ishaq of the 7th century. The compilation of Hadis was accelerated because of the Mutazzali challenge and was on in 848 CE when the Caliph al-Mutawwakil ordered the Mutazzali privileges withdrawn.

The principle of wahadat-ul-wujud (Existential Unity of God, or God is reflected in all), similar in essence to dwaita principle of Vedanta, was propounded by the Sufis of the early era, later to be propounded in detail by ibn-Arabi of Spain, or al-Andalus.

However, the most definitive intervention was made in the 11th century by Al-Ghazali (1058–1111 CE), who had the favour of the Abbasid Empire. He firmly favoured the Asharites. His treatise ‘Tahaffut — e-Falasafa’ (Confusion of Philosophy, or Incoherence of Philosophers) put paid to the principle of free will. He propounded the principle of ‘ontologically (metaphysically) broken Time’, in which Allah is creating and destroying the Universe every moment. Thus Allah controls the smallest action and event in the Universe. This was a complete antithesis of ‘free will’, and inaugurated extreme determinism among the Muslims. He also put paid to the principle of ‘wahadat-e-wujud’, and favoured ‘wahadat-e-shuhud’, or Observed Unity of God, or there is ‘One God’ without the ‘Oneness’ preached by the early Sufis. Thus he placed a firm barrier between the Creator and the Created.

Till the time of Al-Ghazali, Sufis (Tariqa) were often considered to belong to different sects. After him, this difference was sought to obliterated until it vanished completely. In the 12th century, Ibn Rushd (Averroes) wrote a critique of Al-Ghazali titled Tahaffut-e-Tahaffut (Confusion of Confusion). For this impudence, he was condemned by the Spanish branch of the Caliphate, and he was condemned to be spat on by the believers in front of the Grand Mosque of Cordoba at regular intervals.

The advent of Sufism in India occurred against this background of a churn in the Abbasid scholarly space, with an emphatic victory for the Asharite Ulāmā (Clergy) with help from the devotional Sufis. The intellectuals who believed in spirituality were roundly defeated. The mantle was kept up in Spain by the likes of Ibn Rush and Ibn Arabi for a while, before Ibn Taymiyyah came out firmly in support of the Sufi Al-Ghazali (13th century) and all signs of ‘free will’ and a separate sectarian identity for the Sufis were eliminated.

Sufis were indeed considered to be a separate sect in the beginning of the Islamic history, but they got subsumed later. Tariqat and Shariat were differently comprehended till the time of Al-Ghazali, after which Tariqat became totally subordinated to Shariat. Anybody who has studied even a smattering of Shariat Trilogy regimen would know that it is an exclusive supremacist creed with no space for the unbeliever. It also resulted in the obliteration of the Sufis as separate sects, and they simply became religious orders within their respective fiqh mazhabs (Hanafi, Shafi’I, Maaliki, and Hanbali), fully subordinated to the Ulāmā. That is how someone like Rumi (1207–1273 CE) could dare to be different in his Tariqat from the Shariat. This became rarer and rarer after Ibn Taymiyyah (1267–1328 CE).

Sufism was marked and distinguished by ihsān, or seeing Allah. After Al-Ghazali’s intervention, ihsān was relegated in importance to number 3. Imān or Belief became paramount, and Din or the religion and its observances came next. Reason and rationality were banished completely, and direct experience of divine was relegated to a subsidiary position.


Advent of Sufis in India was mixed. After Al Ghazali, their independent existence as independent sects had been obliterated. They had to be a part of the mazhab in which they operated, which in India’s case was the Hanfi mazhab.

The Chishtis accompanied the invading Army of Mohammad of Ghur, and set base in India. The line of Moinuddin Chishti-Nizamuddin Auliya and Bābā Farid is the Chishtiyya Tariqā, that later got sub divided into many silsilas along Nizami and Sābri divisions. Suhrawardys had come to Sind even earlier. Next was the turn of Kashmir where Sayyid Mir Shah Hamadani (Shah Hamadan), a Kubrawi, wrought such untold misery for the Kafirs that it resulted in the Code of Umar[1] being applied there, and was instrumental in forced conversions and the First Exodus of Kashmir. The Noorbakshi Shi’a silsila of Shams-ud-Din Araqi was even worse, leading to the Second Exodus.

There were still a handful of Sufis who continued to espouse the ‘immanence of divine’ and kept treating the Tariqat as different from Shariat. Some Qadri Sufis were the main among them. Bulleh Shah was the last of them. However, they were just the exceptions and exceptions only prove the rule of intolerance of Sufis, who had now fully subordinated themselves to the Shariat.

However, saints like Bulle Shah, Waris Shah and Sarmad were denounced as heretics by the Ulāmā, exactly in the manner that Raskhan, who was a devotee of Krishṇa.

The definite turn towards full resolution of Tariqat-Shariat became important to the Ulāmā after Akbar’s drift away from hardline Islam into Din-e-Illahi. This effort was led by the Mujaddid Alf-i-Sāni, Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi of the Naqshbandi Tariqa. The Naqshbandis are the only Tariqa that claims their descent from the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, unlike all other Sunni Tariqas, the Qadriyya, the Suhrawardy, the Chishtiyya, the Kubrawiyya (including Owaissiya), that claim their descent from the fourth Sunni Caliph/First Shi’a Imam Ali ibn Abi-Taleb.

As soon as Jahangir ascended the throne, the charismatic Ahmad Sirhindi, who claimed descent from the 2nd Caliph, Hazrat Umar Farooq ibn al-Khattāb, prevailed upon him to move hard against unbelief and shirk. Guru Arjun Dev was a target of Sirhindi. He was arrested and brought to Delhi in 1606 shortly after Jahangir took over, and executed when he refused to convert to Islam. As a Faroqui hardliner (Hazrat Umar’s descendant), his effort was to enforce the Code of Umar in the Mughal Empire (See footnote).

The Mughal Court politics between the Muhaddis of the Mughal Court would cause a brief setback to Sirhindi, when Jahangir put him into house arrest in 1619 in the Gwalior Fort, but released him under pressure from the Naqshbandis and due to some clever manoeuvrings from the Sheikh himself. So much so that before he died in 1624, he was rewarded twice and put in charge of educating the Mughal Army. Not just that, his son Sheikh Muhammad Masoom got an exalted position first in the remaining 3 years of Jahangir, and later in Shajahan’s Court till Dara Shukoh became important. Dara was more under the influence of Qadris of Tariqat persuasion. Sheikh Masoom made his his son, Saif-ud-Din, the mentor of Aurangzeb at his request. He was instrumental in inspiring Aurangzeb to launch the massive project of Fataawa Alamgiri, with 500 scholars and countless support staff, that would be completed long after his death. One of the main architects of this project, Shah Abdul Rahim would also swear allegiance to the Mujaddidi Naqshbandis, and his son Shah Waliullah, and grandson Shah Abdul Aziz would paly such an oversize role that the entire Sufi pantheon would be coloured in a pro or anti hue of their legacy.

It was, therefore, not a surprise, that the Mujaddidi silsila of Naqshbandi Tariqa became the flavour of the season in the remaining period of the Mughal Empire. The Ulaia Naqshbandis drifted apart and as we would see, would join the Barelvis, while the Mujaddidi faction would influence the Deobandis.

Shah Waliullah was terribly distressed by the decline of the Mughal Empire and ascent of the Marathas. He was the one who played the traitor to India, in the classic Dar-ul-Islam/Dar-ul-Harb binary, and invited Ahmad Shah Abdali, set up an alliance for him with Najibullah of Rohilkhand and the Shi’a Asafuddaulah of Avadh, and triggered the 1761 Battle of Panipat. The gains of Panipat did not last long and Abdali had to go back, with Marathas chasing him and winning Delhi and Najibabad back in1771.

Shah Abdul Aziz then declared India Dar-ul-Harb in 1803, alarmed by the power of the Marathas, the British, and the Sikhs.

Shah Abdul Aziz had 2 principal lines of disciples. Syed Ahmad Barelvi, with his disciple Shah Ismail Dehlawi, who was also Abdul Aziz’s grandson on the one side, and Maulana Fazle Haq Khairabadi Chishti and Fazle Rasool Badayuni on the other side. The former followed the Mujaddidi Naqshbandi’s hardline Sufi ways and the latter followed the Prophet’s divinity doctrine.

The immediate cause of dispute was an 1826 book by Shah Ismail titled ‘Taqwatul Iman’, in which he belittled the Prophet as just an ‘Insan-e-Kamil’ or the perfect human being. He was opposed by the Fazle Haq faction with a Fatwa signed by 14 scholars denouncing the book, and as is customary among various faction, labeling Shah Ismail as a Kafir. Syed ahmad Barelvi and Shah Ismail died fighting a Jihad against the Sikhs in Balakot, but the schism persisted.

The Fazle Haq faction insisted on the 3 attributes of the Prophet, viz. that he was the ‘noor-e-Allah’, that he was Hazir-Nazir, or ever present, and that he had the ilm-e-ghaib, or knowledge of the things unseen. After 1857 revolts, Fazle Haq was transported to Andamans, and the followers of Shah Ismail founded the Deoband sect.

Followers of the opposing sect comprised all other Sufi Tariqas and even the other silsila of Naqshbandis (Ulaia). Under Ahmad Raza Barelvi, they would set up the Barelvi sect in 1904 in Bareilly.

Today both Deoband and Bareilly regard Sufi Tariqat as subordinate to Shariat. Not just that, there is no difference of opinion among them on Da’wa and Jihad. The position is the same as that of Hanbalis, and by extension, same as Al Qaida and ISIS. This is what is taught in the madarsas, and the Indian government tolerates it in the name of religious rights.

The Barelvi Sect is owed allegiance to by every Sufi Tariqa and silsila, except the Mujaddidi silsila of Naqshbandi Tariqa, who are theologically much closer to Deobandi, influenced as they are by Ahmad Sirhindi and Shah Ismail.

All one needs to do is to have a look at the ‘nafrat ke ahkām’ (Ordinances/Commandments) contained within the 30-Volume magnum opus Fataawa-i-Razvia of its founder Sheikh Ahmad Raza Barelvi Qadri.


We saw what the Sufis did in the Kashmir Valley in the 14th and 15th century. We have also seen how Ahmad Sirhindi became instrumental in the killing of the 4th Sikh Guru. The influence of these Sufis became all pervasive in Aurangzeb’s time, whose bigotry will need a separate article by itself.

We have also seen the activities of Shah Waliullah and his bigoted disciples, including by Syed Ahmad Barelvi, who was unique in the sense that he was an Ulema, a Sufi, and a Ghazi — all rolled into one.

The 1857 revolt was turned into a jihad by the Sufis. Fazle Haq Khairabadi Farooqui Chishti issued a fatwa of jihad from Delhi. The Sufi aspiration from the 1857 revolt was to reestablish the glory of Mughal Empire by ousting the British.

Except the Fazair movement of Bengal, whose leaders Shariatullah, Titu Mian, and Dhondu Mian were influenced by Wahabbism, in the 20th century, every major massacre of Hindus had a Sufi sub-text to it.

The 1921 Mappilla rebellion and massacre were led by a Qadri Sufi, Abu Musliyar. Today, the Grand Mufti of India, who doubles up as the Chief of Barelvi-Sufis is a descendant, namely Sheiks Abubakr Ahmad aka Kanthapuram Aboobacker Musaliyar. He is also the head of the influential organisation Markaz based out of Calicut (Kozhikode).

The 1946 Calcutta Killings were led by the able Premier belonging to the Suhrawardy Tariqa, Husain Shaheed Suhrawardy.

The 1946 Noakhali massacres were initiated and led by Ghulam Sarwar Husseini, a Nizami Chishti and a member of the Pir family of Diara Sharif Dargah in Noakhali.

The 1947 massacres in NWFP and the bordering J&K areas of Poonch and Mirpur were inspired by the Qadri chief of Manki Sharif in Nowshera district, Amin-ul-Hasanat.

The conversion and abduction being done by the Qadri Pir, Mithu Mian of Bharchundi Sharif in Sind, Pakistan, are well known to all.

Thus violence and fanaticism does not go away only because Sufis like to sing and dance in fulfillment of ‘ihsān’, which is subordinate to Imān and Din.


It needs just a few simple questions to any votary of Sufi syncretism to demolish any claim of peaceful coexistence:

· Do Sufis have an existence apart from their Fiqh (Mazhab)?

· Do Sufis not follow Shariat?

· Does Tariqat (tasawwuf/Sufi way) supersede Shariat?

· Is there a single verse in the entire Shariat Trilogy (Qur’an, Hadis, Sirat) corpus that appreciates the Dharmik way?

· Can a Sufi bless any unbeliever?

Since the answer to each of these questions is an emphatic no, you have your answer. QED

All the above is nicely summed up in this video for our Hindi knowing readers in which I discussed the subject with Tahir Gora. The video is in Hindi-Urdu mix.

[1] Code of Shah-e-Hamadan, in line with the Code of Umar for Christians:

· The Muslim ruler shall not allow fresh constructions of Hindu temples and shrines.

· No repairs to the existing Hindu temples and shrines shall be allowed.

· Hindus shall not use Muslim names.

· They shall not ride a harnessed horse.

· They shall not move about with arms.

· They shall not wear rings with diamonds.

· They shall not deal in or eat bacon.

· They shall not exhibit idolatrous images.

· They shall not build houses in neighborhoods of Muslims.

· They shall not dispose of their dead near Muslim graveyards, nor weep nor wail over their dead.

· They shall not deal in or buy Muslim slaves.

· No Muslim traveler shall be refused lodging in the Hindu temples and shrines where he shall be treated as a guest for three days by non-Muslims.

· No non-Muslim shall act as a spy in the Muslim state.

· No problem shall be created for those non-Muslims who, on their own will, show their readiness for Islam.

· Non-Muslims shall honor Muslims and shall leave their assembly whenever the Muslims enter the premises.

· The dress of non-Muslims shall be different from that of Muslims to distinguish themselves.

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