Of Constructed Morality, Sufism and an Appeal to Nietzsche

Written by  //  August 1, 2011  //  Philosophy, Religion, Culture  //  3 Comments

I once remarked to a friend, a while back, that if Amir Khusro wrote what he had in today’s world, he might have been killed in a bout of frenzied violence. I stick to that view today, and would like to elaborate somewhat here. Khusro, a great poet and a Sufi, was the beloved disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya whose mazaar is a great attraction in Delhi. That is Khusro’s final resting place as well, for he wished to be buried near the feet of his spiritual guru, the Auliya. And indeed, if one reads through or listens to the kalaam of the poet in praise of the Auliya, and does not attempt to delve into the deeper meanings of them all, the text would seem sensual, as all Sufi pieces do, and sensual for whom? The Auliya of course. Now, did I offend some of your sensibilities? Well, in case you still entertain your doubts, let me quote some verses for you.

“Khusro Nizam par bali bali jaiyeh,

Mohey suhagin keenhi, mose naina milaake.”

(Khusro would die for you, my Nizam,

Your eyes met mine, and thus, you were my groom.)

There, how does that sound for starters? Now, I hope I’m not misunderstood to imply that the verse is indeed sensual. The verse in particular, and the entire kalaam (this one is called Chhaap tilak) is highly devotional and spiritual, and has a deep meaning beyond the grasp of many. And it is precisely this reason why the Sufis have been considered to be a mystic band, whose myriad practices enter and leave the contours of religion as and when they desire and are almost always outside the limits of organised religion at any rate. It is precisely because of, or perhaps in consequence of the pliability of their kalaams to differing interpretations, that the Sufis have traditionally offended a lot of our moralists and fundamentalists, and in recent times the offence taken has heightened. Indeed, the line between moral policing and fundamentalism is a thin one, but let us not digress into that right now.

Let me take the historical view first before rounding up with the contemporary views on the Sufis. In the Medieval times, at least in the Indian subcontinent, the Sufis were given a high degree of respect and freedom in their religious practices. The Mughal kings were devotees of the Sufis, so also was the general public. Sufis had that quality which most political unifiers of this subcontinent have lacked, the ability to command respect and reverence from all religions and all communities. Hindus hold Sufis in high regard, and the foundation stone for the Golden Temple at Amritsar was laid by a Sufi saint. The spiritual fulfilment found here is often perceived to be lacking in the organised and mandated systems of worship. Obviously, that does not go down well with the people who should be telling us what is right and what is wrong, right?

The trouble in this world is that even if you preach universal love and brotherhood, someone will take a grouse on you. The Sufis were otherworldly, they did nothing to cover their backs and for someone who wanted to have a problem with them, they were easy targets. So, their practices were denounced as immoral, they were branded heretics, and their conception of worship was ridiculed as idolatry and immoral.

One would notice that the rise of Wahhabism and the destruction of the Sufi tradition happened quite contemporaneously. I will not attempt to make a judgment of the views held by Wahhabis, nor do I wish to. Suffice it to say that this sect, responsible for the destruction of the tomb of the holy Prophet at Mecca as a sign of idolatry, believes in stringent and direct action to enforce its ideals. The current wave of fundamentalism in Pakistan has targeted the tombs of Sufi saints with special care, one would begin to wonder, even if one does not know about Sufism, whether just by default the Sufis were right about what they said.

Now let us turn to the more problematic issue of morality. Is morality something which has always existed? Are values of virtues assigned by nature itself, or are they constructed and deconstructed as one pleases? I don’t claim to be an authority on the subject, and the little analysis that I have recently subjected this to, comes from the study of others who have argued forth, particularly, Nietzsche. So, morality has been constructed and perpetuated, by the powers that be. Thereafter, morality was constructed for the oppressed, in promising them the Kingdom of Heaven, in return for lifelong servitude, passivity and kindness, all virtues, very well established. I would recommend Nietzsche’s The Genealogy of Morals to anyone who is interested further.

However, this establishment of morals, favouring one set of people, and firmly establishing the Other as immoral would lay the path for strife, it would justify oppression, ridicule and control. One may ask why we revel in doing this and just why we cannot live, and let live. I have no answer. All that I could say would be that this hierarchy of values and the action which is taken on them gives cause to much justified resentment and much unjustified persecution. The Sufis were persecuted for their use of music, for thinly veiled homosexuality (refer to the excerpt from Khusro’s writing above and try to misinterpret it, it will not be difficult.) The persecution again was justified on the basis of a constructed sense of morals and values. These persecutions and this ridicule continue today everyday in life around us. Why life must be made difficult for someone is something beyond me. Khusro, if he lived today, would perhaps have smiled sadly and repeated what he had written about an evening, the realisation that love had gone unrequited, or perhaps, the end of a way of life:

“Gori sovat sej par, mukh par daale kes,

Chal Khusro ghar aapne, ab saanjh bhayo iss des.”

(That lady fair, has slept, with hair strewn on her face,

Come Khusro, to your own, dusk now falls on this land.)

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