How are Sufism and Islam related?

SufismSouth Asia's slightly different Islam

The smell of hash is in the air. Several drummers set the pace in the glow of fairy lights. On a kind of dance floor in the middle, young men turn on their own axis. As if in a trance, they let their sweaty, long hair fly. The bystanders call Ali Haydar! What is meant is Ali, the spiritual leader of the Shiites.

It is mainly young people who have come here. The Shah Jamal Shrine in Lahore, Pakistan is located on a hill next to an old mosque. When not calling Ali or dancing, visitors roll joints and smoke on old stone graves.

"The young people here want to get in touch with Shah Jamal, to whom the shrine is dedicated. Hashish helps them get into a trance state. It's common in our shrines."

Some young men begin to dance in a trance (ARD / Jürgen Webermann)

Many, especially young, people from Lahore come to the Shah Jamal Shrine to listen to the drums, dance themselves in a trance - or just smoke hashish. (ARD / Jürgen Webermann)

Mahmud is one of those people who look after the Shah Jamal shrine. Shah Jamal was a Sufi preacher from Afghanistan who is said to have worked in Lahore 400 years ago. His grave is transformed into a real party zone every Thursday. For some it is an escape from everyday life, for others a meditative search for new, spiritual spheres.

More than a thousand years ago, the first Sufi preachers appeared in South Asia - in their search for God, which they had begun in the Arabian Peninsula. The preachers primarily attracted the poor, members of the lower castes, with stories of equality and love. Many converted them to Islam. Many converted them to Islam.

A meat seller at the Shah Jamal Shrine in Lahore. (Jürgen Webermann)

The Sufis helped their religion gain a foothold on the Indian subcontinent. Muslim conquerors like the Mughal rulers could later build on it. The vast majority of the approximately 500 million Muslims in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh today still follow the Sufi tradition. The war-torn Afghanistan is also inextricably linked with the history of Sufism. The country is the birthplace of the great Islamic mystic Jalaluddin Rumi, whose love poems touch people on all continents to this day.

All have only one goal

New Delhi. Before the subcontinent was divided almost 70 years ago, the Indian capital was an Islamic metropolis. Many monuments still bear witness to this legacy today. But nowhere is this legacy more palpable and audible than in the Nizamuddin district.

It is already dark. The muezzin calls for evening prayer. People take off their shoes and push their way through the narrow, winding streets, crowded together. Past stalls with fragrant rose petals, bright orange flower garlands and sweets. All have only one goal. You want to go to the shrine of the great Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, who brought Sufism from the desert state of Rajasthan to today's Indian capital New Delhi around 700 years ago.

The big crowd diminishes the peaceful atmosphere. An old woman suddenly bursts into tears, a pickpocket has used the crowd to steal her wallet. The world is not locked out in the sacred tomb of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Javed, a young hairdresser, tries to comfort the robbed one. She is Hindu, he is Muslim.

"For me, Sufism is true Islam. But many people no longer see it today and abuse it. Already the holy scriptures of the Hindus and the Bible mention our prophet Mohammed, although he lived much later. Sufism goes directly to our prophet back. Nobody is discriminated against or robbed. In Sufism all people are equal. Unfortunately, today there are people who only want to make money with Sufism. "

After the evening prayer, more and more people sit expectantly on the white marble floor of the tomb. Muslims. Hindus. Christians. A couple of Sikhs too. The Sufi shrine is a melting pot of religions and denominations.

Imran Nizami and his two brothers sing with their eyes closed and rock gently back and forth. Her music combines Persian and Arabic with South Asian sounds - just as Sufism merges Muslim traditions with Hindu ones.

Imran is the youngest of the three Nizami brothers. Father, grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather ... they were all qawwali singers. Imran says he was six years old when he learned to sing qawwali. Today he is 23.

"When a qawwali singer sings in front of a Sufi master, the Sufi master is able, through his spiritual wisdom, to send our message to God. We are the medium to speak to God."

The singing Nizami Brothers (ARD / Sandra Petersmann)

The speed of the music increases. The visitors clap along, many are now also weighing themselves to the beat. Western tourists film with their smartphones. Small ten rupee bills are raining down on the three nizamis. Ten rupees is the equivalent of a little more than ten cents. The three brothers earn most of their money playing at weddings. For Imran, worldliness and spirituality are not a contradiction in terms.

"I can't really describe in words how it feels when I sing Qawwali. It refreshes me, it reaches my soul. And I think it's not just me, it's everyone who listens to us. Our music gives consolation, it brings inner relief. When I sing here in the shrine, then I don't want to stop at all. "

Sufism is more open, more moderate and more pluralistic than other currents of Islam. He does not categorically exclude people of different faiths. He addresses Sunnis and Shiites. But as in most religious communities, women are only the second sex here. For radical Islamists, Sufis are infidels, idol worshipers, and necromancers. In India, Sufism still acts as a link between the religions, but radical religious tendencies are also increasing here. In Islam. And in Hinduism.

The Indian state hardly issues visas to study in Deoband

The students wear white robes and white caps on their heads. They are sitting on the floor, in front of them is a small wooden bench with the Koran in Arabic on it. The students learn it by heart, some particularly gifted recite the holy scriptures of Islam by singing. Everyone is rocking their upper body back and forth.

More than 4,000 boys and young men are currently attending the famous "Darul Uloom" Islamic college in the dusty little town of Deoband in northern India. It is one of the world's leading conservative theological centers of Islam. Because of its home in Deoband, the teaching that originated here is called Deobandism, its followers are called Deobandis. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, almost all of the students have come from India. Less than one percent of the students come from abroad. The Indian state hardly issues visas to study in Deoband

There is no teacher in one of the classrooms. The pupils' eyes are curiously fixed on the reporter from Germany. The boys try their English. At first shy, then a little brisk. The students of "Darul Uloom" rarely see women. And when they do, they are usually fully veiled. In the context of the conservative Koran school, women either wear a black burqa with eye grids or a niqab that leaves a narrow, open slit to see through. Many women also have their hands covered in black gloves.

Mohamadullah Qasmi used to be a student in Deoband. Today the 38-year-old heads the online fatwa department. A fatwa is Islamic legal advice to clarify religious and legal problems. Every year around 10,000 online inquiries come from all over the world, says Mohamadullah. When asked what constitutes the core of Deobandism for him, he answers confidently.

"The thinking here is unadulterated. Islam and its teaching were polluted in many ways. Here in India, for example, Muslims were influenced by Hindu traditions. In Deoband, a purist movement arose to free Islam from un-Islamic influences. Den." Qawwali chanting, for example, did not exist during the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed. That came up much later. We got rid of it. We have returned to the true essence of Sufism. And that is just the closeness to God. "

The muezzin calls for evening prayer. The students and the male residents leave for the mosque. The five calls to prayer determine the life of the people in Deoband. The inconspicuous small town in northern India has around 100,000 inhabitants. About 60 percent are Muslim, the rest Hindus. Most of the Hindus are sugar cane farmers, most of the Muslims are farm workers.

Deoband is not known for religious conflict

The people of Deoband live peacefully side by side. Even when serious unrest broke out between Hindus and Muslims in Muzaffarnagar, just 20 kilometers away, in 2013, in which at least 60 people lost their lives, things remained calm in Deoband. The city is not known for religious conflict. Its world-famous conservative Islamic university "Darul Uloom" is the fulcrum in the middle of the historical core, which is still surrounded by an old city wall today. This wall shields the life and thinking of the Deobandis without completely excluding the outside world. The white-bearded Mufti Abdul Qasim Nomani is Vice Chancellor and is responsible for the day-to-day business of the Deoband Koran school. The petite, older gentleman welcomes you on the red carpet in his guest room.

"We are very reasonable people. I emphasize it again and again: Islam teaches us peace and restraint. Nobody learns to fight in Deoband. We do not fight, we are moderate. We only follow the core of our religion."

Above all, the nationalist, Hindi-speaking media in the predominantly Hindu India repeatedly associate Deoband with terror. Religious Hindu fanatics and right-wing nationalist politicians also equate the ultra-conservative teaching of the Deobandis with extremism. But so far no Indian secret service has found evidence of this.

"In the US, UK, France or Germany, most citizens are Christians. Right? If any of them do harm in the world, do you say that all of Christianity is guilty of the crime? Or do you claim that it is." Christianity teaches struggle? No, you don't! Then your arguments are about a stray lone perpetrator or about politics. But as soon as it comes to the citizen of a Muslim country, it is always just a question of religion. "

The conservative, Sunni theology from Deoband radiates into the world. There are offshoots around the world, especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Koran schools there, which follow the teaching of purist Deobandism, are considered strongholds of the Taliban. Mullah Omar, the founder of the Afghan Taliban movement, was a deobandi. Deobandis are blowing themselves up as suicides in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Your destination: Shiite mosques and Sufi shrines. For Mufti Abdul Qasim Nomani, too, there is only one true Islam.

"I don't think there is a fight between Deobandism and Sufism. This is all about political power games. Politics and the media talk about Sufis and Deobandis, not us. Here in India we all live peacefully together. So it's not about religion but only about power and politics. "

A spiritual oasis - in the middle of the chaos of the metropolis of Lahore

The Data Durbar Shrine in Lahore is the largest shrine in the city. The faithful walk barefoot on the white marble floor to the house of prayer. The area resembles a large, noble square, with the small shrine in the middle and a large mosque with pointed minarets behind it. There are even large underground prayer halls here, in which it stays a little cooler even when the temperatures in Lahore are approaching 50 degrees. In 2010, two assassins blew themselves up here on the Data Durbar. They killed more than 50 believers.

Now every visitor is checked several times. Whoever has the annoying controls behind them, enters a spiritual oasis - in the middle of the chaos of the East Pakistani metropolis of Lahore.

White-clad devotees circle the tomb of St. Data Abul Hajvery. According to legend, he was a particularly successful preacher. 50 older, bearded men are crouching on the marble floor and rocking in a trance with the Islamic creed on their lips.

Waqas Khan has been coming here every Thursday for 15 years. Waqas is 32 years old and a businessman.

"I was at a point in my life where I didn't know what to do next. The world is going crazy. We have the internet and so many influences. But this is like detoxifying my mind."

Waqas leads to another group. In front of the mosque, men sing praises of the Prophet Mohammed. Anyone can take the microphone. Someone makes sure that everything is decent.

"There are no rules or anything like that here. Everyone can express what is important to them."

Others surround an elderly gentleman with a green cloak, delicate features, a long, gray beard and thick glasses. It is Bishar. And here at the Data Durbar Shrine everyone seems to know him. Bishar comes from the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan. The Islamists are particularly strong there. Bishar fled to Lahore before them. The Data Durbar Shrine is his new home.

"Holy Data is my connection to the Prophet Mohammed. I'm just happy when I sit here. I don't want to convert anyone. I want to sit here and meditate until I die. Here I can die a peaceful death."

Then Bishar puts his arm on Waqa's shoulders. For a moment they both pause in their thoughts. They no longer notice their visitors from Germany, and neither do the many people around them. It seems that Bishar and Waqa are feeling very close to their saint right now.