Monday, September 11, 2023

Music & Sima’a in the Sufi Discourse of Makhdoom Ashraf Jahangir Simnani: Revisiting “Lataif-e-Ashrafi” for Understanding the Theological Position of Sufis on Music

By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam 11 September 2023 Makhdoom Simnani Considers Sima’a A Contentious Issue In Islamic Jurisprudence. However, He Accords Complete Theological Legitimacy For Those Who Have A Great Flair For Music For Lawful Pursuits (Mubaah) Main Points: 1. Mindless violence has been perpetrated against Muslim musicians, singers and many other artists by extremists on theological grounds. 2. Fatwas against music and musicians, especially the Sufi singers have often been launched in India without fearing the law. 3. Against this backdrop, revisiting and reading the Sufi discourse on music and musical instruments, with a special reference to Sufi music known as Sima’a is not uncalled for. 4. The recently published Urdu book “Music in Islam: A Study of Fiqhi and Sufi Traditions” by Dr Zishan Ahmad Misbahi, senior lecturer in Jamia A’arifia at the Khanqah-e-Arifia, Allahabad, UP. is a sharp rebuttal to the Ulema and Muftis who indiscriminately issue fatwas against all types of music, especially the Sufi music. ------ Makhdoom Ashraf Jahangir Simnani Tomb ------ Mindless violence has been perpetrated against Muslim musicians, singers and many other artists by radical Islamists and extremists on theological grounds. In the so-called Islamic countries like Pakistan, Sufi musicians and famous Qawwals such as Amjad Sabri have been murdered for singing devotional songs. The gruesome killing of prominent Pakistani Qawwal Amjad Sabri in June, 2016 was not the first case of silencing the Sufi singers. Around two dozen Muslim musicians, singers and artists have been killed across the country so far. In India, it is not so easy to kill an artist on theological grounds. However, Fatwas against music and musicians, especially the Sufi singers have also been launched in India without fearing the law. For instance—In Assam in 2017, around 40 Ulema unanimously issued a decree against 16-year-old singer Nahid Afreen who sang some devotional songs. In Mumbai, Raza Academy, a political outfit of the Barelwi School of Thought issued a fatwa against the music maestro AR Rahman for composing music, even in his ‘good faith’, for an Iranian film—Muhammad The Messenger—directed by Majid Majidi. Deobandi Ulema have also been in the forefront issuing fatwas against music and even devotional songs. Last year, some of them launched a ‘Fatwa’ against a YouTuber and female Muslim singer Farmani Naaz, a resident of Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh. While many Indian Muslims and Hindus were praising her for beautifully singing a devotional Hindi poem with a non-stereotypical approach, some Deobandi Ulema were out there to boycott her from the community. Against this backdrop, revisiting and reading the Sufi discourse on music and musical instruments, with a special reference to Sufi music known as Sima’a is not uncalled for. An objective probe into the Islamic literature on this subject reveals that both promoters and opponents of Sufi Sima’a in the past and even now have often indulged in exaggeration. There has been a lack of objectivity, generally among the anti-music Islamic theologians, who abysmally lacked the intellectual and spiritual capacity to understand the Sufi discourses on music and Sima’a. Therefore, I have chosen to study an authentic Sufi perspective on music from the viewpoint of a Chishti-Sufi saint and theologian Makhdoom Ashraf Jahangir Simnani. Recently, the 637th annual Urs-e-Makhdoomi has concluded in Kichchhaucha Sharif, the popular Sufi shrine located in Uttar Pradesh, India. Among the most notably famous Chishti Sufi masters of India, Makhdoom Ashraf Jahangir Simnani Noor Bakshi (RA) is as bright and shining as the sun and the moon on the horizon of the world. In the spiritual realm, his stature and persona with his magnificent work and magnanimous character coupled with his unceasing grace and blessings continue to capture the attachment and attraction of the masses to the saint. More to the point, he belongs to the noble family which has historically been the cradle of divine wisdom (Marifat), spiritual intellect and deep interest in gnosis or Haqiqat (knowledge of spiritual realities). Furthermore, Faizabad (now Ambedkar Nagar) in Uttar Pradesh where the Khanqah-e-Ashrafiya is located has been a great abode of Sufi scholars, Urdu poets and Ulema. From the Ashrafiya family, in every era, great personalities of grace and perfection were born to the country, and their eminence, immense local popularity, cultural connections and a wider embrace for the indigenous people and universal values have benefited all. Distinguished because of their 'scholarly Sufism' and various other achievements in different lawful pursuits, these Sufi Mashaikh have lit such lamps of wisdom and knowledge in their times, that the whole world is enlightened today by their rays. One of these spiritual luminaries was Hazrat Syed Shah Abu Ahmad Ali Hussain Ashraf Ashrafi Mian Al-Hasani Al-Hussaini Al-Jilani (r.a). He was a disciple of his elder brother Qutb ul-Mushaikh, Hazrat Shah Ashraf Hussain (a.r.) and he received the spiritual authority (Ijazat and Khilafat) only after performing complete Suluk (treading the spiritual path). In addition, the alchemy of the close companionship with dozens of Masters and Mashaikh made him a master of various chains of Sufism combining Ma'rifat, Haqiqat and Tariqat. Significantly enough, the shared blessings and bounties of 17 Sufi Silsilas (chains) were combined in him, and thus his soul was the treasure of the grace of all Indian Sufi masters and their greatness. Makhdoom Ashraf Jahangir Simnani: A Brief Introduction Following in the footsteps of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti (R.A), the most celebrated Chishti Sufi saint of India, Hazrat Sayed Ashraf Jahangir Simnani (1287 – 1386 CE) left his birthplace Simnan in Iran and settled in India. Revered and respected by both Indian Hindus and Muslims, Makhdoom Simnani, more popularly known as “Makhdoom-e-Paak” was an eminent saint belonging to the Chishti and Qadiri Sufi orders. He was the chief disciple of the well-known Sufi sage of Bengal, Hazrat Alaul Haq Pandavi (r.a), a remarkably generous saint who used to spend large sums of money to feed the poor, and was also a disciple of the prominent Chishti master Hazrat Akhi Siraj Aaina-e-Hind (r.a). Makhdoom-e-Paak established his own Sufi order (Silsila) through his spiritual disciple Syed Shah Abdur Razzaq Nurul-Ain, the 11th direct descendant of the renowned Sufi Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani (r.a), the founder of Qadiriyya Order. Makhdoom Simnani's shrine is still revered as a great Sufi hospice and is known as “Aastana-e-Hazrat Jahangir Simnani”. In fact, the Persian-origin Indian Sufi Mystics fervently taught and promoted global peace, inclusive spirituality, and non-violence. As a result, the shrines of these saints are still attracting people from all faith traditions even after hundreds of years. In the current situation of growing religious disharmony, communal hatred and faith-inspired extremism, the Indian Sufi saints of Persian origin are the beacons of hope, light and guidance. For they have richly contributed to the beautiful mystical traditions in India. Their essential message included the brotherhood of mankind, inclusivity and a wide embrace of religious pluralism and multiculturalism. This was the key behind the vast popularity of the Sufi sages in the country. The Relevant Teachings and Traditions of Makhdoom Simnani Makhdoom Ashraf Jahangir Simnani (RA) formulated his own spiritual theories in his Sufi discourse known as “Lataif-e-Ashrafi”, which is a guiding light today. His discourse seeks to deepen our understanding of the two basic tenets of Islamic spiritual wisdom: Wahdat e Khudawandi (Unity of the Divine or Oneness of God) and Wahdat-e-Insani (Unity of mankind). He was the first to introduce Wahdat as a deeply nuanced and wider notion of love. “Wahdat means annihilation of the lover in the characteristics of his/her beloved”, he said. Remarkably, Makhdoom Ashraf has mentioned five causes of love and a list of different categories of lovers in detail. In the chapter titled "Teachings and Instructions" (Ta'aleemat o Irshadaat), he mentions such precious and rare sayings in the Persian language, which if you read well, you will feel a true spiritual sweetness, and an unshakeable faith in the divine existence. In fact, you will bear witness to being intoxicated by the unseen divine intervention. These teachings and sayings are certainly short and precise, yet they contain vast and valuable concepts. For example, look at some of the following statements: (1) He said: "May Allah forbid it! Never be miserly, because miserliness is characteristic of the disbelievers, and the clearest proof of their miserliness is that it is easy for them to dig a mountain with their nails, but it is difficult to bring the Kalima on their tongue." (Lataif e Ashrafi, p. 177). (2) Hazrat also said: "Adorning one's limbs with good acts of worship and beautifying one's inner self with desirable virtues is the source of divine grace and endless blessings." (3) He further said: "Fasting is better than all acts of worship because it includes austerity, struggle, observation, generosity, dignity, and enlightenment, both spiritually and physically, and insomnia arises with it and the heart awakens." Makhdoom Simnani’s Theological Views on Music Notably, Syed Ashraf Jahangir Simnani (RA) was not just a spiritual luminary known as "Huzoor Ghosul Alam" (the benefactor of the world) but also an influential Islamic theologian. He popularized Wahdat-e-Imani (oneness in belief), Wahdat-e-Ilmi (oneness in knowledge) and Wahdat-e-Hali (oneness in spiritual condition) with a robust theological contention. In his special discourse on Sufi music or Sima’a encapsulated in the 20th chapter of “Lataif-e-Ashrafi”, he says: “When the Divine lovers and Seekers listen to the voice of musical instruments—chords, strings, harps and the Ney (an end-blown flute used in Persian, Turkish and Arabic music), their memories get deported back to their real homeland and their hearts get enlightened by the lights and love of God”. Although Makhdoom Simnani considers Sima’a a contentious issue in Islamic jurisprudence, however, he accords complete theological legitimacy for those who have great flair for music for lawful pursuits. Having extensively quoted from the Qur’an and Sunnah, sayings of the Sahaba (Prophet’s companions) and their Companions (Taba’een) as well as the well-established Imams and Ulema, he infers that singing, dancing, playing drums or Duff (Middle Eastern musical instrument) and holding a Mehfil-e-Sima’a (Sufi musical event) is not forbidden in Islam. “All this is allowed and their permissibility has been substantiated by the traditions and sayings of the Hanafi scholars and jurists”, he says. In this regard, Makhdoom Simnani has also quoted Imam Abu Yusuf and Imam Muhammad, the two top disciples of Imam Abu Hanifa, stating that the fatwa of Imam Abu Hanifa and other early Ulema forbidding music in Islam and declaring it ‘Haram’ cannot be generalized. For, they were only against the particular types of music which was used to promote vulgarity and vanity in society, not against music per se (Mutlaq e Ghina). More to the point, the spiritual state of a listener (Saame’) is accorded great importance in Sufi Sima’a, according to Makhdoom Simnani. He was of the view that whosoever listens to Sufi music must consider everything that he/she hears as an invocation to the holy attributes of Almighty Allah, just as Imam Ali has been quoted as saying (when he heard a musical voice): “Subhan’Allah! Only Allah the Almighty will last”. Various other interesting points have been made and several authoritative quotations have been cited by Makhdoom Simnani in his Lataif-e-Ashrafi, as detailed in the recently published Urdu book “Music in Islam: A Study of Fiqhi and Sufi Traditions” by Dr Zishan Ahmad Misbahi, senior lecturer in Jamia A’arifia at the Khanqah-e-Arifia, Allahabad, UP. The book has been received reasonably well on this subject and is being seen as a sharp rebuttal to the Ulema and Muftis who indiscriminately issue fatwas against all types of music, especially Sufi music. In his answer to an intellectual query on the legitimacy of the music using drums in the Muharram processions (Azadari or T'aziya), Makhdoom Ashraf Jahangir Simnani said: "There are two types of drums - one that is played just for fun; that is the drum which is prohibited or forbidden [in Islamic law/ Shariah].” He continues: “But the drum (Naqqara) which is played on the battlefield or when the army is marching is permissible (Mashr'u). To this point, there's a shred of great evidence at the holy shrine of Hazrat Ibrahim Khalilullah (pbuh). It is routine until today to play the drum when the Langar (shrine food) begins to be distributed so that all shrine visitors, strangers, travellers and neighbours are informed and everyone takes their share. Even some Mashaikh (Sufi masters) play the drum at the time of their descent. In fact, the drum was also played at the time of distribution of Langar at Hazrat Sheikh Abu Ishaq Ghazrooni's shrine from where this writer (Syed Ashraf Jahangir Simnani) was also allowed to play the drum and was bestowed with special knowledge of it. For the saints and dervishes (Faqeers), having food is also a form of worship and any act that leads to worship is legitimate in Islamic Shariah." (Source: Lataif e Ashrafi Urdu, Latifah 19th p. 484, published by Makhdoom Ashraf Academy). ------ A Regular Columnist with, Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is an Indo-Islamic scholar and English-Arabic-Urdu writer. He has graduated from a leading Sufi Islamic seminary in India and acquired a Diploma in Qur'anic sciences and a Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies. He has also participated in the 3-year “Madrasa Discourses” program initiated by the University of Notre Dame, USA. URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

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