Interfaith harmony is an intrinsically Indian concept. Indian culture, diverse as it is, lends itself to a unique reality where several belief systems find their rightful place in the same milieu. As bizarre as it may seem to monotheistic sensibilities or some western cultures, Indian society manages to seamlessly absorb all religious hues that have ever arrived at its threshold. It could well be said, we as a people, make no bones about accepting a multitude of faiths and traditions. Evidently, we are more than happy to tap into them and evolve with them. Evangelists, Sikh gurus and Hindu Yogis, all find a unique following within the fascinating Indian culture. Hindu rituals, Christian customs and Islamic traditions, while seemingly may present unique dichotomies, manage to thrive in synchrony.
One of the oldest traditions of India that continues to intrigue seeking minds is Sufi asceticism. Ever since its advent approximately 1000 years ago, Sufism got embedded into the cultural fabric of Indian society. Historically, Sufi mystic traditions became prominent during the rule of the Delhi Sultanate in the 10th and 11th centuries.
Sufi thought, with its syncretic philosophy, and message of divine love and cosmic harmony, resonated with laypeople providing them the much needed motivation in an age of strife and division. Over the years, Sufi mysticism has blended perfectly in the pluralist society of India. It evolved in ideal harmony with the Bhakti Movement and even shared some of its theological notions with the Hindu devotional movement.
Sufi shrines have become places of worship for all communities, their religious persuasion notwithstanding. The miracle and solace seeking mind, for the most part, has led to myriad Sufi shrines being patronized by Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims alike. Ajmer Sharif, the shrine of Sufi Saint Moinuddin Chishti is the most obvious name that comes to mind. Several Sufi mystics and saints have been revered by generations of Hindus including the 17th century Maratha chieftain Shivaji.
Whether it is through education, rituals or music, Sufism has unquestionably enriched the collective spiritual experience and cultural heritage of a distinct society like India. In the end, it begs to be pondered if tolerance, acceptance and mutual respect are virtues whose presence or absence determines the fate of a composite culture like ours?
From the Festival of Faiths 2013 : The Sacred Silence in Sufism and the Vedanta
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