Saeed Naqvi responds:

Since Hafiz Saeed's figure loomed large during President Asif Zardari's visit, I thought there was soothing symbolism in his pilgrimage to Ajmer. Nowhere in my piece have I endorsed or recommended that the state should patronise Sufism, Wahabism, Deobandism, or, why not, even Hinduism.

Of course, the melee of Pirs and guides at Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti's Dargah, as at most such shrines, cannot have been a wholesome experience for the Pakistani delegation, as it never is for an infrequent visitor. But that was not my focus.

The all embracing love as a universal value, equipped with which the Sufis expanded their message throughout the length and breadth of the subcontinent, contrasts sharply with the subsequent puritanism designed to regiment the spontaneous surge. The Sufis were pious not puritanical.

They could spread their prayer mats at their hospices, at holi melas, or in the shadow of a wall decorated with Deepavali lamps. They did not sermonise or patronise; they adopted cultural motifs they found elegant, without any prejudice to their Islamic faith. In this way, they opened the floodgates of cultural commerce. Sohar is a song sung during childbirth in rural Awadh. A favourite sohar of my mother, now 94, was:

“Allah Mian, morey bhaiyya ka diyo Nandlal

(Oh my Allah, give my brother a son like Lord Krishna”).

She says her namaz five times a day!

Iqbal describing Rama as Imam-e-Hind derives from the same cultural percolation.

Of course, Sufis as an emancipating, integrating force are near extinction. Their institutions are dying. But the frenzied gatherings at shrines remain an expanding constituency. True, the intellectual content has been short of replenishment for decades. Their attitudes, though challenged by politics, permeate our lives to this day.

Just as Thyagaraja kritis or Beethoven's music decorate our senses today, the avenues of cultural fusion opened by the sufis in the 12th-13th centuries have not evaporated from our lives. Indeed theirs is the only path to tread if discord is to be kept to the other side of the horizon.

Ayesha Siddiqa laments that “pirs do not offer a varied view on blasphemy.” The pirs, in the chishtiya mould, do not exist anymore to engage in any theology. The pirs in her focus are not in my ken at all. In fact, it is touching that blasphemy should be her concern. In her piece, she is probably referring to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and the then Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Both are pirs, but rather like our princes without the trappings, sans theological equipment and therefore confused on Salman Taseer's murder.

Well, blasphemy has never been much of a concern for me. Let me toss at her this verse by Yaas Yagana Changezi and ask whether she would consider it blasphemous.

“Sab tere siwa kafir, aakhir iska matlab kya?

Sar phira de insaan ke aisa khabt e mazhab kya

(All, except you are kafirs fit for damnation! A faith which causes you to lose your mind should be shunned”).

There is not a single Urdu poet who would disagree. This attitude has seeped through from the sufis.

(Saeed Naqvi is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.)

Click here to read the article "The road from Ajmer leads nowhere" by Ayesha Siddiqa

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