On history of Sufism in Kerala
Islam had reached Kerala during the very era of companions who were themselves ‘Sufis’, but were not known by the mystic title.
Later sayyids & scholars came from Arab countries, particularly Yemen. They were mostly Shafie’s and followers of Shaykh Jeelani.
Most of Muslim Kerala’s scholars are followers of Shaykh Jeelani’s Path of Tasawwuf (Qadiriyya Tariqa)
Keralites are greatly influenced by the Ahl Bait (family of Holy Prophet)
Makhdoums, who arrived 500 years back (from Yemen) at Ponanni (coastal town in Malappuram), were also followers of Qadiriyya Tariqa. They initiated the systematic religious education of the masses. Qadiriyya Shaykhas often commemorate the devout memories of their Master with the mawlid.
Rifai Tariqa also exists in Kerala, although not as prominent as Qadiriyya.
Some Shaykhs do not preach openly but their influence is evident.
Tasawwuf came to be questioned like never before after the advent of the Wahhabi movement in Kerala.
On the conflict between Sufis and organized religion/ state religion
Some of the Ulama in Kerala criticized the Sufi Shaykhs for their breach of Shari’ah. But real Sufis were never criticized prior to the influence of Wahhabis.
True Tasawwuf has been followed by the Ulama. In Dars system, they would pray for Imam Gazzali’s soul when commencing their lessons. His masterpiece, Ihya Uloomuddin is well-known here in Kerala. Unlike now, this treatise was widely taught in the seminaries.
Shaykh Makhdoom Kabeer composed a poem named ‘Azkiya’, which is well known even outside of Kerala. Azkiya has had commentaries written from outside Kerala Too.
On the lack of documentation about lives of saints
There are documentation available about some tombs. When some members of Ahl Bait arrived, the people flocked around them. After their demise, people created maqbara over their tomb. However some of these were well known in the society.
Once when I attended a program in Kerala, some people who arrived from a remote area requested me to visit a tomb, which had this Persian inscription:
“Oh my mother, I started my journey intending the House of God. Now, I am directly going to Him.”
That saint may have set out from some place, possibly Afghanistan, and arrived there and finally passed away without revealing much about his whereabouts. He lived around Eight centuries before.
On the hyper religious activism in Kerala and space for Tasawwuf in contemporary Muslim Kerala
The space for Tasawwuf is on the decline. Common people used to depend upon Ulama and Saints whom they followed. But when the latter became rich and began to lead luxurious life, their claims were mostly hollow. Tasawwuf is being preached only as a subject of academic research, not as a lifestyle, which is what it really stands for.
On Rumi’s influence in Kerala
Rumi is widely read in Kerala. Translations are also available in Malayalam. But he commands no loyal followers. I have myself translated the first part of Masnavi, Rumi’s magnum opus. The real Rumi is not known to many. Many misinterpret his poetry. The ultra-secularist use him for their vested interest.
On the criticism that Sufism retards the vigorous lifestyle of its seekers
That is not correct. We can see sufi saints as freedom fighters. The chief of the 1921 rebellion was Ali Musliyar, a leading saint of his times. He was a sufi of Qadiriyya Tariqah. The Makhdooms of Ponnani were also active anti-colonial voices.
In Afghanistan, the anti-Communist fight were led by Sufis. The First President of Afghanistan was a disciple of Naqshabandi Path.
On the organic link between Tasawwuf and veneration of Ahl Bait
The spiritual link of the Masters all Tareeqas goes through Ali bin Talib. Every Ahl Bait member has a secret. Sayyid Pookoya Thangal, the legendary spiritual leader of Malabar, also had a private room in which he used to meditate when he had to tackle a complicated issue.
On popularity of Tasawwuf in the west
People in the west are fed up with the dunya. So they approach tasawwuf and its books.
On the future of Islamic education in Kerala
Religious scholars are to be produced from mosques itself. The combined education is not functioning with a clear vision; it lacks depth. They started these kind of institutions to attract students as the number of enrollments was fading for traditional Palli Dars.
On managing loyalties to different languages, profession and passions
Hard work is the key to my diversity. I understand my duty and my responsibility towards my life. I have not undergone formal academic education. When I was 17, I lost my father and after which I was the only breadwinner for my family of four sisters and a brother. I was compelled to work and wander many places looking for a job during which I did lot of self-study. I am very keen in languages, literature and philosophy as well.
On importance of philosophy for the youth who are mostly only interested in technical education
Once there is no philosophy, you can’t understand the world you are living in. It is similar to not knowing the parts of house you are residing in.
On Favorite Sufi
This is a difficult question to answer. At first, I was influenced by Imam Gazzali. When I was 9 years old, while going to madrasa, I listened to a speech of a half naked-man, considered mad man by the people, who was reciting a book from Imam Gazzali. Since then I developed a liking for the Imam. Years later, when I saw his ‘Ihya’, I read the four volumes in Arabic from cover to cover.