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Sufism, or ‘Tasawwuf’ as it is known in the Muslim world, is slowly recovering in Afghanistan after years of suppression and its role in the Afghan society could lend a much needed hand to the continuous effort of bringing a political solution to the country. Sufism or Islamic mysticism has been an integral part of Afghanistan almost as long as Islam itself – more than 1.300 years according to the BBC. The mystics have influenced the life of the Afghan people for so long that Afghanistan is commonly called “the home of Sufi saints”.
People without a Muslim background are said to often mistake Sufism as a sect of Islam but the order is more accurately described as an aspect or dimension of Islam. Ibn Khaldun, a 14th century Arab historian described Sufism as: “dedication to worship, total dedication to Allah most High, disregard for the finery and ornament of the world, abstinence from the pleasure, wealth, and prestige sought by most men, and retiring from others to worship alone”.
Sufis are known to have considerable influence in both rural and urban settings and are considered disinterested mediators in disputes. People in Afghanistan generally respect Sufis for their learning, and their shrines, the so-called Ziyarats, are popular pilgrimage sites all over the country. It is also said that the order possesses ‘karamat’ – a spiritual power that enables generosity and blessing power to a Sufi master. The Sufi order equally has millions of followers in Pakistan and India.
Despite the mysticism’s anchor in Afghan history, the Soviet invasion in 1979 and the subsequent armed resistance by the mujahideen introduced Wahabism which challenged the foundation of the Sufis. The ideology of Wahabism insists on a literal interpretation of Islam and view the Sufi ideas as anathema which drove a wedge between the two groups. The big blow came when the Taliban controlled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001 – many Sufis were driven underground or prosecuted. It was especially members of the Chishtiyya Sufi Order who were vulnerable; this group considers music an effective route to reach Allah but as Afghan Culture Minister Sayed Makhdoom Rahin told the BBC “The Taliban invaded Sufi gatherings, humiliated and beat many of them and their musical instruments were smashed.” Sayed Makhdoom Rahin is himself of Sufi background.
Some believe that the revival and continuous respect of the Sufi order could influence the peace process at the grass roots level of Afghanistan. Sufi leader, Ahmad Shah Maududi explained to the BBC; “Influential and knowledgable Sufis can persuade a large number of Taliban to lay down their arms and can also provide guarantees to the Taliban about their safety and peaceful future.” Sufis believe that humans, as creatures of Allah, should be respected. “Tolerance, kindness and love to all and malice towards none are the virtues of Sufi,” a prominent Afghan Sufi master told the BBC. “This is the solution to the nation’s trauma and battle of the past 30 years.”