Sufism and our media outlets -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Sufism and our media outlets

Syed Kamran Hashmi

It is imperative that we understand that the blatant expression of the possession of an extraordinary yet non-verifiable knowledge can be detrimental to the credulous minds of our young generation, which is already under siege by the extreme religious elements.

For centuries, Muslims of the subcontinent have been mystified with the esoteric and occult religious practices conducted in the name of Sufism. Local traditions have particularly and predominantly focused on the special powers possessed by their spiritual leaders; they have promoted their divine characteristics and have encouraged the illiterate population of Pakistan to kneel and stoop in front of them. Unfortunately, many of the characteristics attributed to these pious, spiritual and respectable individuals are either purely fictional or they are the magnificent exaggeration of a relatively trivial event in their lives.

Currently the present generation of those religious and spiritual leaders also venture into politics in Pakistan; they actively participate in the election process and become immensely popular and extremely powerful in their areas. We all know about these anointed leaders who are scattered all over the country enjoying their sacred place in society.

With the advent of private news channels and the recent liberation of the media policy by the government, it was not unrealistic to expect that the electronic media would reveal the problems in our religious discourse and expose the malpractices of these powerful con-artists acting as Sufis. Initially, like a breeze of fresh air, the television channels focused on these important issues but in just a few years regrettably, it joined hands with these pseudo-religious intellectuals and started promoting them in their programmes.

The complicity of the media outlets with these fake scholars is illustrated with the release of the recent YouTube video of one of the popular religious programme show’s host. On the one hand, the inappropriate and insensitive language of the artist (scholar) is exposed in this video yet on the other hand, even more alarmingly, it demonstrates the insincerity and the irresponsible conduct of some private television channels.

In these precarious times, a new and a different colour of mysticism is introduced in these programmes where a self-proclaimed Sufi has joined the echelons of the religious scholars. He claims to have acquired a personal understanding of the real meanings of “Haroof-e-Muqataat” without any formal education about them. Surprisingly, this splendid and magnificent assertion has not been challenged so far by any religious scholar or institution in Pakistan. Haroof-e-Muqataat are the initial letters of 29 different Surahs of the Quran like Alif, Laam and Meem. They are 14 in number and have traditionally been considered as a secret or a code between the Creator Almighty and His Prophet (PBUH). Many scholars also have suggested that these haroof represented the various names of Allah, the Prophet (PBUH) or the Quran. Some believed in their numerological significance while others ascertained that they provided the timing of the end of the world. In the case of Imam Fakhr-al Din- al Razi, these haroof just represented certain everyday nouns like money, fish or clouds – consistent with the Arabic traditions of describing certain objects with the letters only.

Historically, no one has clearly claimed to know the truth about the reality of Haroof-e-Muqataat and scholars like Ismail Ibn-e-Kathir deliberately did not indulge in their explanation because the Prophet (PBUH) himself had not provided any clarification. In the last 1400 years, Abu Abdullah Ibn-e-Arabi may have been the only religious and spiritual personality who has provided any clue about the possession of some knowledge of the meaning of these letters. Although he has not expressed its complete description explicitly, in his writings one of the stanzas could arguably be interpreted in a suggestive manner.

But in our television productions, the possession of this special knowledge is expressed overtly, repeatedly and indisputably when someone makes a telephone call with a query. The self-proclaimed Sufi inquires about the name of the caller and instantly gives details about the genetic makeup of their names and the impact of the various letters on their personalities. He also explains the shortcomings of their moral fibre and enumerates the strengths of their character. Immediately after the description of the essential components of their personalities, in a matter of a few seconds, the callers are advised to recite certain and specific names of Allah all the time as a prescription for their inherent problems.

The so-called Sufi admits that he does not exactly know about the basics of the knowledge, the method of its acquisition and the authenticity of its claim, but still continues to be invited as a guest to take calls in various programmes. In these shows he expresses his special knowledge confidently, undoubtedly and without any restrictions along with promoting Sufi Islam at the same time. In one of the programmes, he even predicted a divorce between a young couple, without any remorse, after just hearing their names.

Nowadays, it is imperative that we understand that the blatant expression of the possession of an extraordinary yet non-verifiable knowledge can be detrimental to the credulous minds of our young generation, which is already under siege by the extreme religious elements. In these times, it is the collective responsibility of our respectable media outlets, our young intellectuals and the respected scholars along with many of our senior columnists to promote only the reproducible, verifiable and universal facts regarding our religion instead of relying upon concealed and clandestine sources of information.
Source: Daily Times
Date:10/23/2011