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Sufi Tradition:Wisdom of the Heart


Gillian Wright

SACRED SPACES: A JOURNEY WITH THE SUFIS OF THE INDUS
Edited by Samina Quraeshi
Peabody Museum Press, Mapin Publishing, 2010, pp. 280, price not stated.

THE WAR THAT WASN'T: THE SUFI AND THE SULTAN
By Fatima Hussain
Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 245, Rs. 695.00

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 8 August 2010

There is something sad about Samina Quraeshi’s wonderful book on Sufi shrines and that is the context in which she writes it. Only a few decades ago hers could have been a straightforward story—the journey of a Pakistani artist on a personal quest to experience within herself and at Sufi shrines the mystical and spiritual dimensions of Islam. In today’s changed world she finds herself sandwiched between the intolerance of powerful but narrow-minded Islamists and the lack of understanding of non-Muslims convinced that Islam equals intolerant bigotry. In response, she challenges the narrow-minded with a different view of their faith, argues for moderation and sanity, and at the same time attempts to correct misconceptions in the West.Sacred Spaces’ illustrates, in photographs and in lucid, accessible prose that Islam is not a monolithic construction but has in South Asia always been ‘multiple’ and ‘locally inflected’. Samina does not pretend to present all the complexities of local traditions, but through her personal journey and study attempts to reflect a part of this diversity. Her inspiration was her teacher, the late Annemarie Schimmel, one of the greatest western scholars of Sufi Islam. A spiritually evolved soul herself, she told Samina that she was in the ‘sleep of heedlessness’ and that working on this project would help her awaken to the wisdom of the heart. Samina’s family has a generations’ long association with the Sufi tradition, specifically the shrine of Muinuddin Chishti at Ajmer. Her father migrated from Ajmer to Karachi at partition. Until then his three wives had kept separate households, but in Pakistan they all moved in together and Samina grew up with nine brothers and sisters. Her father was happy to appoint an educated woman refugee from his home town as his daughters’ tutor in religious matters. Samina uses her memories of conversations with this Ustaniji to explain who Sufis are (‘unusual human beings who have given themselves to the service of mankind in the name of Allah’) and certain basic principles of conduct at dargahs, for example that at a saint’s tomb you pray for his soul, and request his intercession with God, but that you worship Allah alone. There is an evocative description of Samina’s first visit to a Sufi shrine in Sindh, the province that is now her family home. She reminds readers that just forty miles from Karachi lies Bambore ...


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