New Delhi: At a time when Islamophobia is riding high with US President Donald Trump’s ban on citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, Pakistani journalist-writer Reema Abbasi believes Sufism can counter the very negative message about Islam that is going out to the world.
“This is a time when there is an absolute need for somebody like Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti and the teachings of Sufism. It counters the whole hardliner Islamist acts, those kind of fundamentalist elements and the very severe message that is going out to the world.
“I think Sufism gives a very beautiful and all-encompassing message, which is generally not perceived of Islam,” Abbasi told IANS in an interview.
Abbasi, who has worked with The News International, The Herald Magazine and as Assistant Editor at Dawn newspaper, was in the capital to launch her second book “Ajmer Sharif: Awakening of Sufism in South Asia”.
Her well-researched work traces the spiritual journey and mystical influence of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti. Describing his life and times, the Mughal emperors who were his devotees, and his enduring legacy, the book highlights the special features of his dargah at Ajmer Sharif.
“The message of Khwaja ji is very different from what is generally perceived of Islam these days. The difference between Sufism and the rest of Islam is the message of inclusiveness and plurality, which the hardliners do not believe in,” she said.
Abbasi, the recipient of the 2003 Gender in Journalism Award from Unesco and the 2014 Rajiv Gandhi Award for Literary Personality of the Year, said she believed that terrorism in Pakistan and elsewhere has a lot to do with poverty.
“The terror sweeping across Pakistan and the rest of the world has a lot to do with poverty. Even madrasas (religious schools) are exploiting the poor. Parents are often given money to send their children to madrasas, where they are indoctrinated.
“There is a lot to learn from his life and his teachings. Madrasas want to dominate Sufism but I am sure that with the fighting spirit that Pakistan has, we will reclaim Sufism,” said Abbasi.
With this book, she aims to spark a discourse that dispels intolerance towards any faith and shuns the concept of religious power.
Abbasi said that India is like a second home to her and she has not faced any instance of discrimination based on her nationality here.
“I am very grateful to the press and the people because I have received a lot of love from the people here. I have not faced a single instance of discrimination or where I was treated badly just because I am a Pakistani,” she said.
The only problem she did face was the dearth of information about the subject of her research.
“There was very little information about Moinuddin Chisti, especially around the monuments and historical sites associated with him. I got some information from foreign writers, scholars and the British Council. I also received a lot of inputs from the Aligarh Muslim University. They have some fine scholars and researchers, who have studied the subject in great depth,” said Abbasi.
On women being barred from entering many of the shrines, the author said that these saints were shaped by the women in their lives — their mothers, sisters or wives — and there is no evidence to suggest that they would have segregated men and women.
“Those who are segregating and not allowing women to enter the shrines are doing so not to follow the teachings of saints but to exhibit their dominance. These are sensibilities of today and not the teachings of our saints,” she said.
Her first book, “Historic Temples in Pakistan: A Call to Conscience”, was an attempt to record the history of an Islamic country’s Hindu past, particularly as extremist activity increases against Pakistan’s religious and ethnic minorities. The book received critical acclaim internationally.
“In both the books I am not talking about faith at all. I am talking about our heritage, unity, pluralism and roots. We are far too ancient and far too diverse to lose these values,” noted the author.
Born a Pakistani in the Netherlands, she went to school in England, college in Karachi and has been involved with the mainstream media for about two decades.