Think up some facets or concepts that are intertwined with the name "Sylhet". There is a very good chance that the term "Sufism" would cross your mind at one point or another. Bricks of worn out buildings in Sylhet might gradually transmute to powder but the ambience created by Sufism is far from fading away from the minds of the people living here. Interlaced with the history and faith of Bangladeshi Muslims, Sufism has been never stilted or pockmarked with implausible notions. Rather it has played a crucial role to weave cocoons of harmony among different religions.
Sufism can be construed as a Muslim philosophy which has a different ambience compared to the legalistic, formal Islamic theology of the ninth century. Its rudimentary preaching consists of forming a unique spiritual relationship with the Almighty instead of clinging to the worldly aspects. Sufism is synonymous to mysticism and encourages a person to glean the true essence of one's religion.
The advent of Sufism in Bengal dates back to the mid-11th century and it began to permeate a huge portion of lifestyles of people living in the region. The Sufis were assiduous in spreading Islam to the different parts of Northern India and they had no qualms about enlightening the people about humanitarian values. As time went by, Sylhet became a sort of epicentre of Sufism due to the arrival of a large number of Sufis here. The Sufis played a significant role in shaping people's repertoire through constant preaching of Islam and humanity. Sufism never entertained the notion of demeaning other religions; the Sufis were always parting knowledge on how quintessential it is to live in harmony.
The waters of the river Surma had been stippled with the arrival of great Sufi scholars including Hazrat Shahjalal (RA). Hazrat Shahjalal (RA) expunged the atrocious rules of the then ruler and acceded to the hearts of people as the benevolent propagator of Islam.
While talking to the present Mutawalli (Supervisor) of Hazrat Shahjalal (RA) dargah, I came across some interesting stories. Fateh Ullah Al Aman, the current Mutawalli of the dargah was recounting the story of how Hazrat Shahjalal (RA) rescued the people from the burden of paying unconscionable revenues by abolishing the corrupted tax system. It's believed that he wrought miracles which inexorably drew people to accepting Islam. What's more, the dargah-e-Hazrat Shahjalal (RA) is an exemplary embodiment of harmony as people from different religions visit this place throughout the year. The roads of Sylhet are usually packed with unusual traffic on Thursday owing to the fact that a large number of Sufi proponents set out to pay their weekly visit to the dargah, on the threshold of the weekly Jummah prayers. People seek out solace here as they offer prayers and recite from the Holy Quran. Some insomniac visitors even claimed that a visit to this place helped them with their peace of mind more than their regular dose of sedatives. It all comes down to the beliefs and perspectives of people. The Sylhetis are mostly tuned to the spiritual essence of religion and they crave for spiritual tranquillity.
Sylhet is dotted with many shrines; shrines can be even found on the outskirts of the town. People visiting the Hazrat Shahjalal (RA) dargah usually make a mental note to pay a visit to the shrine of Hazrat Shah Paran (RA) as well. Hazrat Shah Paran (RA) is believed to be the nephew of Hazrat Shahjalal (RA). The face of Sylhet changes by a wide margin during the time when Urs (death anniversary) observations begin at the shrines. The two-day programme is carried out with a plethora of arrangements including prayers and distribution of food. Schools are often declared closed on those days as it's a well-known fact that the traffic would skyrocket, providing little to no scope for students to reach their respective institutions.
Now let's come to the perceptions and thoughts of Sylhet locals revolving around the notion of Sufism. A large number of the Sylhetis are devoted to respecting the preaching of Sufism as they believe it paves a path for them to connect with the Almighty. Many of these proponents are dedicated to supporting the overall maintenance of the shrines through financial means; some even put away a share of their monthly income to contribute to the maintenance of the shrines.
However, there is another group of people who think differently about Sufism. Some believe that while the philosophy itself is free from errors, it's incorrect to assume that all rituals and practice carried out in the name of Sufism are valid. Some even go as far as to voice out their suspicions on how people are straying away from the main concept of Islam by clinging on to the belief that the shrines alone can help to mitigate their problems. They express their contempt that the funding process related to the maintenance of the shrines is neither satisfactory nor convenient.
Albeit Sufism is an intriguing philosophy, its misinterpretation can lead to severe ramifications. For instance, people with little academic qualification end up ignoring medical emergencies. The reason behind this is their misconception that a visit to the shrines alone can solve all their problems. While prayers can go a long way, one must not stick to such erroneous concepts. Therefore, people must keep some points in check before delving into the world of Sufism. Sufism should be a key to accruing tranquillity; it doesn't encourage adding condiments namely exaggerations and innuendos to its interpretation.
Overall, Sufism is a riveting way of perceiving the world. Its kaleidoscopic preaching can surely lead the way to a placid and focused mind. The teachings can go a long way in helping us to take portentous decisions. However, one must not breach the line between right and wrong interpretations surrounding Sufism. Obnoxious interpretations could only lead to travesties – the exact opposite of what Sufism stands for. The amicable people of Sylhet should address these problems with tangible approaches so that the essence of Sufism can continue to thrive with utmost clarity. Sufism and Sylhet are intertwined, indeed.
The writer is a student of Computer Science and Engineering at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org