What is Sufism? Part 4: Ritualism and Spirituality

by Navid Zaidi

Every orthodox religion is wedded to its own body of rituals, customs and external observances. Also, it considers its own system superior to others. Consequently that becomes a source of conflict.

But Sufis look at all humanity with the same eye. The Lord belongs to the whole world. He is not the possession of any particular group. Says Bulleh Shah:

Having understood, why create all the fuss,
What is in the names Allah, Ram and Raheem?

The Sufis are not tied down to any particular set of rituals. They are well-wishers of all mankind because they see God reflected in everyone. Says Bulleh Shah:

Sitting in the company of the Spouse,
Bullah is free from all rituals, O Friend !

The Sufis’ playing down of external observances is directed against the ritualistic priests of various religions who delude innocent people for their selfish ends. In the name of religion they wean people away from true spirituality. These priests then excite and instigate people to rise against saints and mystics. Most of the world’s great spiritual teachers suffered grievously at the hands of these priests. Guru Nanak, Prophet Muhammad, Jesus Christ and Socrates were all labeled ‘enemies of piety and righteousness’. All of them were subjected to indignity and victimized in the name of religion and humanity. It was in such a mood of aversion to the hypocritical ways of the priests that Bulleh Shah blurted out in one of his couplets:

In shrines dwell robbers
In idol houses, thugs
In mosques live vagabonds
The lovers of God remain aloof.

So long as one’s mind is not pure and God has not been realized, the display of religiosity is useless. Says Bulleh Shah:

You have wasted your life in the mosques
Your heart is still filled with impurity
Never did you realize the unity of God
Now why do you raise a hue and cry?

About the futility of visiting religious places without purity of the heart, Bulleh Shah writes:

People advise Bullah, ‘Go sit in the mosque.’
He asks, ‘What happens by going to the mosque,
If the prayer does not come from the heart?’
What use are external washings of the person,
If the filth is not removed from the heart?’

The value of rituals is derived from spirituality. Ritualism devoid of spirituality is like an empty box. The value of jewelry does not depend on the kind of box that contains it. Of what use is a box with a velvet cover if it is filled with worthless pebbles? Where ritualistic practices are devoid of love of God and practice of the Word (Kalma), there the best of rituals are futile.

Sultan Bahu writes:

Bahu! Don’t spend too much time calculating on the rosary
Why do calculations on the rosary with the One
If  the One does not do calculations with you ?

This entry was posted in Classic Poetry, Classic Teaching, Navid Zaidi, Original Essays and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to What is Sufism? Part 4: Ritualism and Spirituality

  1. Himani B says:

    ah Sultan Bahu! very refreshing, thanks for sharing this 🙂

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