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Mysticism, the Vedic Legacy - Part 1
Mysticism, the Vedic Legacy - Part 2

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The Vedic Legacy (Part 1)

by Anwar Shaikh


Islam is the most violent and intolerant faith that has ever been presented to mankind. Those, who hold this view usually quote, The Disputer, LVIII: 20, which declares that non-Muslims are Satan's party but the Muslim's are God's party. Thus, it is the most sacred duty of the Muslims to annihilate the non-Muslims or at least reduce them to the status of tributaries.

On the contrary, the enlightened Muslims protest against this non-Muslim attitude: they quote Sufism to prove that Islam is an international ambassador of love. Of course, there is some truth in it, but who deserves the credit - Islam or Hinduism?

Basing his judgement on the historical and scriptural evidence, Anwar Shaikh concludes that what is called Sufism or Tasawwuf, collides with the basic principles of Islam, but it does conform to the Vedic doctrines. Therefore, Sufism, broadly speaking, is an offshoot of Hindutva. Then, why is it considered an extension of Islam? The article: "Mysticism, The Vedic Legacy" also answers this question at length.

Mysticism or Sufism is an international "faith," which is deeply rooted in the vedic philosophy. It is a pity that the people of India have forgotten all about their ancestral glory.

Mysticism - The Vedic Legacy

(Part 1)

The man who had been brutally tortured, when eventually crucified in March, 922, boldly defied his persecutors by repeatedly declaring: "Ana al Haqq" (I am the Truth i.e. God).

Who was he? He is popularly known as Mansur, though his full name was Abu Al-Mughith Al-Hussayn Ibn Mansur Al Hallaj. He was born c. 858 in the southern Iranian community of Tur in the province of Fars. As the tradition goes, his grandfather was a descendant of Abu Ayyub, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad.

He is considered a great Muslim by his admirers as he had learnt The Koran by heart, and had performed hajj twice. Yet he was put to death as a heretic, who challenged the authority of the Koran and Sunna. He was declared a Kafir by the Mullahs and the Orthodox Muslim intellectuals of his time. It happened because he was a Sufi, a follower of what is called Tasawwuf or "Islamic Mysticism." It raises the question: "Is Mysticism really an Islamic practice or an imported discipline disguised as Islam."

It may help to understand the issue if I add that the ninth century A.D was a formative period for Sufism, and stood in sharp contrast with the Islamic principles, which lay down:

    1. God is the creator, and the universe including man, is his creation.

    2. Man has heen created by God as a menial to serve Him.

    3. Man must obey God's commands, which He reveals through His apostles, and must not inaulge in metaphysical speculation or follow his own conscience.

    4. Man's ultimate aim is to seek paradise which abounds in physical pleasure, and that is possible through faith and the Intercessory powers of the Prophet Muhammad only. Therefore, he must avoid asceticism and live a full life.

    5. The faithfuls, must be friendly with one anothel but hate the Kafirs (infidels) and perpetually remain on a war footing with them.

    6. There is no such thing as unity in diversity. God is independent of His creation, which is the product of His command: "Kun Faya Koon" that is, God orders a thing to be and it becomes.

    7. The way to achieve salvation is through the observation of prescribed rituals such as praying, fasting, hajj, Jehad etc., and not by control and development of one's self.

    8. A Momin i.e. a true Muslim needs no Waseela except that of the Prophet Muhammad. Therefore, the Sufi practice of Pir-and-Murid (the perceptor and follower), which makes the Muriad a seeker and the Pir, a guide, is un-Islamic.

    9. The world is not an illusion; it exists because it has been created by God.

    10. Music, like all other fine arts such as drama, dance, painting, etc., is forbidden because it is a devilish act.

These basic precepts of Islam, received verbal reverence of the Sufis, but they practised exactly the opposite, because their articles of faith, which constituted Sufism, were far- fetched and bore only a feigned resemblance with the Islamic principles.

Ordirarily, description of the un-lslamic principles, which the Sufis hold as the true Islam, would not be necessary, but in view of the conclusions that I have in my mind, I must state them categorically for the clear understanding of the issue:

    1a. The Sufis believe in monism which negates the principle of a Creator God, and hold that God and the universe are one in essence.

    This is confirmed by the universal Sufi tenet: HAMA OST (God is imminent in everything). It is quite different from the Koranic description of Allah, which declares Him Omnipresent.

    Dr. Iqbal of Pakistan has explained this point poetically:


    It means that God is imminent in everything, concrete and abstract. To say that He is here and there, is just a way of describing Him. If a fish questions Khizer, the legendary Prophet of the waters, "where is the sea?" How and what can he answer ?

    2a. The Sufi, who knows his lore well, believes that man is born with the highest dignity, and not as a slave, who must spiritually rise higher and higher.

    Of course, there is a hadith which repeats the Biblical assertion that God created man in His own image but this is not the correct Koranic attitude, which states categorically that Allah has created (the Jinn) and man for no purpose other than to worship Him most humbly.

    3a. A Sufi does believe that the Koran is a revealed book but his interpretation of it ranks as a blasphemy according to the accepted Islamic faith; he holds that the Shria (Islamic law and practice) is like a mother; a person requires mother's care during childhood only; an adult does not need it. A Sufi, being a grown up, is immune from the authority of the Koranic law. Therefore, he seeks salvation through personal quest, which is the essence of Myticism.

    4a. A true Sufi is not interested in social dominance or luxuries of life. Of course, he is not a celibate, but he is an ascetic, and exercises a strict control over his dietry and sexual affairs.

    He thinks of God as a friend and not as a Master. Thus, he seeks union with God, and treats paradise just a similitude to describe a happy state of the mind, totally removed from physical pleasures.

    5a. Attitude towards the non-Muslims is another major difference between a Sufi and an ordinary Muslim.

    To a Sufi, philanthropy i.e. love of mankind is the best form of worship; discrimination on account of race, colour or creed, is alien to him. Hafiz, the famous Sufi Persian poet has said:


    O, HAFIZ, if salvation is your object, then keep peace with the high and low. Recite Allah Allah (in the company of) a Muslim, and Ram Ram (in the company of) a Brahman i.e. a Hindu.

    Dr. Iqbal of Pakistan, has expressed the same Sufi principle in the following words:


    Men of God, who roam the jungles are numerous, indeed, but I will serve the person who loves his fellow-beings.

    These great poets, who preached the Sufi ideal of love in their verses, are the true authority on the subject. Conversely, Islam preaches hatred against the unbelievers and advocates their destruction:

    a. "Certainly, God is an enemy to unhelievers." (The Cow: 90)

    b. "Oh ye who believe! Murder those of the disbelievers ... and let them find harshness in you. " (Repentance: 123)

    c. Oh believers, do not treat your fathers and mothers as your friends, if they prefer unbelief to belief, whososever of you takes them for friends, they are evil-doers." (Repentance: 20)

    6a. Belief in the unity of the universe is a fundamental concept of Sufism. It means that everything from a particle of dust to God himself, is exactly the same in essence. There is unity in diversity, and multiety is governed by the principle of oneness.

    It is believed to be Muhy-Ud-Din Ibn Al Arabi, venerated as the greatest spiritual master of The Muslim World, who declared Islam, as the pantheistic religion. In simple English, it means that God and the Universe are one in essence, and thus there is a unity in diversity. This view created friction among the Muslims: one section held him a Kafir and prohibited the study of his books whereas his admirers equated him with saints and prophets.

    7a. A Sufi may condone the prescribed rituals such as Namaz and Roza, but his spiritual practices vary a good deal from those of the ordinary Muslims. His worship is less ritualistic and more meditative.

    8a. Of course, the Prophet Muhammad is treated as the Chief Guide, but in practice, it is a figurative acknowledgement because the practical source of guidance is the mentor-pupil relationship. The latter receives "light" from the former and pays him godly respect in words and deeds.

    This mentor-pupil relationship, or the path (Tariqah) emerges when a person is accepted as the novice (Murid) by his mentor (Pir). He is made to repent, taught formulas of meditation, and required to take a view of abstinence, renunciation and poverty in accordance with the Prophet Muhammad's saying: "Poverty is my pride."

    Through various stages such as gnosis or esoteric knowledge, the Tariqah culminates in Mahabbah, which implies a union of lover (the seeker) with the beloved (God). This is considered a process of complete self- effacement i.e. saul's absorption into God. It is akin to a drop of water joining the ocean and becoming its integral part. Technically, it is called Fana i.e. annihilation, which acts as the source of Baqa, that is, eternity.

    9a. The Sufis have developed their own spiritual hierarchy which consists of forty Abdals (substitutes). It means that when one saint dies, another is elected from these Abdals by God himself. Then there are seven Awtads ( props ) in addition to three Nuqba ( leaders ) headed by the Qutb (axis).

    The Sufi, who becomes close to God, is called a Wali (saint). The one who has reached the stage of Haqiqah (reality), practically ranks as God-incarnate for losing his own personality and attaining Divine qualities. Such a Wali possesses his own seal; this marks the end of the process of sainthood the same way as prophethood reaches its culmination in Muhammad.

    There is no evidence of such a process in the Koran. Sufism, in fact, denotes jealousy and rivalry of prophethood, from the Islamic point of view. Therefore, it is condemned as Kufr (unbelief) by the orthodox Muslims.

    10a. The Sufis do not treat the phenomenal world as real. To them, it is an illusion, which serves as a cover to conceal the reality lurking behind it.

    This is the Sufi concept that Mirz Ghalib, the great Urdu poet of India, expressed as follows:


    Oh ASAD (the poet) do not be taken in by existence i.e what looks real; the universe is just an illusion like a fleeting thought.

    11a. A Irue Sufi is a lover of music. All his spiritual sessions are attended by musical performance, and are called "SAMA.' This is a totally un-Islamic ritual but the Sufis justify it on the authority of a single hadith, which is considered apocryphal.

From the study of the above, it transpires that all the fundamental principles of Sufism or "Islamic Mysticism" are totally opposed to the basic doctrines of Islam despite having some superficial resemblance with them. This is the reason that Mansur Al Hallaj was crucified as a heretic and Dara Shakoh, the Crown Prince of India, suffered a similar fate for being an advocate of Mysticism.

From the study of the above, one can observe a glaring contrast between the basic principles of Islam and Sufism. Therefore, one is inclined to ask if the Koran is not the source of Sufism, then what is its fountain? Sufism is undoubtedly a reflection of the Vedic doctrines, which became gnosis or esoteric principles of Islam owing to their depth and rationality.

To understand this truth, the reader ought to realise that the Sufi divines who founded their orders or fraternities as the Qadirya, Naqshbandya, Suhrawardiyah, etc., all came from those parts of the Muslim world, which practised Buddhism before embracing Islam; Buddhism, an Indian doctrine, has a definite mystical discipline, which derives its rational ethos from the Vedic attitudes, despite Buddha's hostility to the Vedas. He had imbibed nis mystical leaning from the Indian culture, which is rooted in the Vedic traditions. This fact equally applies to the Muslims of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh even today because of their Indian origin. Hard, very hard indeed, it is to separate one's self from one's cultural roots.

Traditionally, it is stated that these Sufi saints were directed by their Pirs (spiritual mentors) to establish their mystical orders in India to promote the cause of Islam. The truth is that they were considered heretics by the orthodox Muslims, who commanded the political power, and would have checked their migration into India as missionaries of Islam. These Sufi saints knew that India was the cradle of mysticism. Being not satisfied with the Islamic culture, and being driven by their mystical zeal, they thought of India as their natural home where they could learn more about this lore and practise it freely. One ought to remember that Mansur Al Hallaj himself had visited India, and other countries of Central Asia, dominated by Buddhism, but still untouched by Islam. He had no purpose of travelling abroad but to learn more about mysticism.

Sufism derives its name from "suf," meaning "wool." However, its usual description is Tasawwaf, called "Islamic Mysticism." It is supposed to have appeared during the Umayyad period (A.D. 661-749) as a protest against the luxurious life-style of the Arabs, who practised savagery through the doctrine of Jehad to plunder other nations as a mark of holiness.

Other people's luxurious living is a flimsy reason for someone else to practise an ascetic life. In every society, there is a minority which is inclined towards spirituality in contrast with materialism. Those who sought spiritual satisfaction turned to Mysticism because they realised that Islam served as a political vehicle for its followers because it sanctified murder, plunder and rape, universally acknowledged as the worst evils.

Among the teachers of Mansur were the highly respected Sufis of his time, namely, Sahl At-Tustri, 'Amr Ibn Uthman Al Makki, and Abu Al Qasin At-Junaid, who were considered the masters of Mysticism. The point to remember is that the Sufi movement was in its embryonic form at that time, but it had aroused a considerable suspicion and opposition among the Muslim faithful owing to its principles and practices. For example, Islam is based on the concept of reward and punishment i.e. heaven and hell, but Sufis showed a marked hostility to it and expressed their preference for the Hindu precept which says:

    "Your right is to work only, but never to the fruit
    thereof. Let not the fruit of your action be your
    object, nor let your attachment be to inaction."
    (Bhagavadgita, 2: 47)
In fact, this principle of total disregard to the fruit of action is repeated in the ensuing stanzas as well. Rabiah Al Adawiyah, who died in 801, was the first Sufi saint to declare the ideal of love and disparage the concept of fruit, considered the whole purpose of the Islamic faith. She was a woman of tremendous courage and piety; her loud and clear assertions. emanating from the Vedic principles set the trends of the "Islamic Mysticism."

Another blow was struck by the early mystics of Islam, who denied intercession and preached Tawakkul i.e. absolute trust in God. The Iraqi School of Mysticism, headed by Al Muhasibi, rendered the Islamic Mysticism a direct echo of the Vedic philosophy by declaring that the purpose ot a Sufi was to purge his soul for companionship with God. Mansur, who claimed on the gallows: "I am the Truth," i.e. God, was a product of this attitude. Ibn Al Arabi went to the extreme when he propounded a theosophical system based on the relationsnip of God with the universe. He declared that all existence is one, which is a manifestation of the underlying Divine reality; things look different but in essence they are one.

In Iran, Jalal-Din Ar Rumi ( 1207-73 ) gave the Islamic Mysticism an erotic touch which is less rooted in the Koran and more in the Hindu philosophy represented by the god Kama. However, he seems to have borrowed the principle of erotic love from Plato, and not from the Vedas because he equates love of one man with another man as a possible symbol of Divine union. It is Rumi, the acknowledged Murshid of Dr. Iqbal, who introduced music and dance in Tasawwaf.

Islam owes its spread in India more to the enthusiastic preaching of the Sufis than to the terror of the Muslim rulers. Though Sufism is an anti-Islamic discipline, it came to be centered around the person of Muhammad. The reason for this happening, though simple, is amazing, that is, survival has almost always been the first priority of humans, and the Sufis were no exception to this rule despite their love of God. They all did not have the courage to be Mansur. As the shouts against their un-Islamic principles grew intense, and the threats to their safety became alarming, they started showing extraordinary reference to Muhammad for proving their tenacity of faith in the Prophet. Eventually, this tendency, which started as a device of self-defence, degenerated into Muhammad-worship through ignorance and tradition. Eventually, this device of self-defence became a contrivance for spiritual self-aggrandisement: by exaggerating the divine stature of Muhammad, a Sufi projected himself as the "Aashiq" i.e. a true Muslim through extreme love of the Prophet to gain distinction, and the high reverence that goes with it. A case in point is Ahmad Sirhindi, who died in 1624. He preached that God had created this world from the "light of Muhammad." To support his theory of creation against the established Sufi view of monism, commonly known as Wahdat al-Wujud (existential unity of being), he advocated the Naqshbandiyah doctrine of Wahdat Ash-Shuhud (unity of vision) meaning that unity in diversity is not real but a subjective mental experience. This amounted to denying the basic tenet of Sufism i.e. the purpose of life is man's search for union with God. His innovative stance won him favour not only in the Mughal Court of India but also abroad. Thus, he was able to make an extraordinary claim about himself: he declared that he had been appointed as the divine master of this universe!

Without exaggerating the status of the Prophet, he would not have been able to equate himself with God because it is only Allah who is called the Master of the universe by the Koran. Here one can see why Muhammad has been given the focal position in the "Islamic Mysticism," which has been condemned as Kufr (blasphemy) by the Muslim scholars.

If the Koranic authority is decisive on this issue, then the Islamic Mysticism has no validity because its origin lies outside Islam.

I have no doubt in my mind that the Vedic doctrine is the true source of the Islamic Mysticism but as it is a serious enquiry, I ought to mention that it has become customary to treat Greece as the "Fountain of Wisdom" and regard India as the "cradle of ignorance." One of the reasons for this attitude is the political degradation that India has suffered for the last 1000 years, and it is a fact of life that even the virtue of the weak appears as a vice. Secondly, the Hindu scholars betrayed their nation by showing gross contempt for writing down their national history, and thus recorded nothing about the glorious achievements of their land.

Despite all these drawbacks there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that it is India, and not Greece, which is the fountain of international Mysticism, including Tasawwuf. As a passing reference, I may state that historians have concluded that people of India, Italy and Greece are members of the same racial stock. As India is a much bigger and most populous country, it is reasonable to assume that emigration must have taken place from India to Italy and Greece and not the other way around. Also, all the social customs, religious beliefs and superstitions, which were once practised in these countries, are still live and kicking in India as they ever were. Again, the Indian civilisation is much older than the Greek culture. The Greek age c.750- c.500 B.C. is termed as Archaic for its primitiveness, and the classical period, known for literary and philosophical excellence, follows it. The metaphysical and mystical ideas associated with Pythagoras and Orphism, have a good deal in common with the Indian thought, custom and religion.

However, the Western attitude must be noted in this context; they love to anti-date the Greek thought, and go out of the way to postdate the Indian cogitation. For example, first they claimed that the Rgveda was composed 500 B.C., but afterwards begrudgingly acknowledged its composition dating back to 1500 B.C. This is totally unfair because the Indus Valley Civilisation is being dated 3000 B.C., which is an offshoot of the Vedic culture. Therefore, the Rgveda must have existed centuries earlier.

Similarly, Upanishads, the philosophical treatises, are given an antiquity of 600 B.C., and it is emphasised that they were written at the same time as the Lord Buddha preached against Brahmanism during the 6th century B.C. The Upanishads number more than 200, and therefore all of them could not have been written at the same time. Since they form the basis of Buddha's protest, they must have been written a lot earlier, and their chronology cannot be later than 900 B.C.

It will facilitate understanding to remember that the European Reformation took place 1500 years after the advent of Christianity. Both the Vedas and Upanishads had to exist long before Buddha's Reformatory Movement.

Why is the origin of the Islamic Mysticism ascribed to the Greek influence? It is because the Abbasid Caliphs had set up Bail-ul-Hikmat for translating the foreign books. This is how the Arab world became acquainted with the works of Plato and Aristotle. But what is not mentioned is translation of the Sanskrit treatises. One should remember that during the said period, the majority af medical practitioners in Baghdad consisted of the Hindus.

The Islamic Mysticism is considered an offshoot of the Greek thought for the following reasons:

a. Plato did not believe in a creator God. He stressed that this phenomenal world, which is illusory, was not created but moulded by Him as an imitation of the eternal models of Forms that He had before Him; the subordinate gods were formed subsequently.

Parmenides (515 B.C.) another Greek philosopher, believed that the multiplicity of existing things, their changing forms and motions are nothing but an appearance of a single eternal reality (Being). This is how the principle of "all is one" arose to make the universe a monistic existence.

b. Plato propounded the Socratic principle: ''look into the self" by emphasising moral development of personality in accordance with the requirements of rationality. It is this maturity of personality associated with the true scale or good, which is the key to human felicity. The cause of missing real happiness lies in the fact that people mistake apparent good for the real good. If they were sure of the truth, tney would never pursue falsehood.

c. Since knowing is the only way of differentiating between the true and false, knowledge is all virtue.

d. Immortality of soul is yet another doctrine of Plato. After death, soul survives the body for being the divine element.

Not only that, soul has a succession of many lives. As in nature, winter is followed by spring, this cyclicity equally applies to death, which is inevitably accompanied by life. If this were not true, the process of death would put a complete stop to life.

e. Plato's doctrine of Forms suggested that the physical phenomena i.e. the world around us is not real but an illusion. His judgement is based on his theory of Ideas or Forms. Simply stated, it means that everything which appears to exist, is in fact, a reflection of a single determinate and immutable reality which lurks behind it. Something appears to exit only because it temporarily partakes with the Idea or Form, the reality behind it. When we say that a flower is beautiful, it means that the flower is temporarily reflecting the Form beauty. When it cannot represent this Form, it ceases to be beautiful.

To understand this point, one ought to think ot a pretty young lady looking at herself in a mirror. In this context, she is the Form i.e. real, but her reflection in the mirror is an illusion, which lasts only as long as the maiden looks at herself. When she stops looking at herself, her image (the illusion) vanishes because the communication between the two is no longer there.

This principle of illusory existence is known as Maya in the Indian thought.

f. In the platonic metaphysics, the goal of soul remains union with God, who is considered the eternal and supersonic beauty. This union is to be sought through eros i.e. desirous love. However, this love is between an older and a younger man. The former is the teacher and latter is the people.

Plotinus emphasised the Platonic doctrine of mystical union by declaring that once a person has completed his philosophical conversion to become Intellect, the One (God) manifests His presence through him continually.

Realising that the issue under discussion is a serious one, I have stated the fundamental principles of Islam, and also described the doctrines of Tasawwuf i.e. Islamic Mysticism so that the reader can see the truth for himself. A person cannot be a Muslim if he believes that:

    a. God is not the Ceator, and the existence is monistic.

    b. The purpose of life is union of soul with God, and not a search for paradise, abounding in physical pleasures.

    c. The ultimate success depends on one's own deeds guided by one's inner light, and not on prophetic Intercession.

For further elucidation of the subject, I have also narrated the Greek point of view, and emphatically added that it is erroneous to think that the Islamic Mysticism is an offshoot of the Greek thought. It is essentially an extension of the Vedic doctrine, and therefore, Tasawwuf is a form of Hinduism and not Islam. However, this fact has been obscured by the dark clouds of history, and requries evincing argument to sift the truth from triviality.

I will deal with the issue in Part-II of this article. However, for the sake of clarity, it will not be possible to maintain the same order of description in the concluding part, as observed in this section of the discussion.

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