December, 2001, 17:02 GMT

Sufi renaissance after Taleban fall

 

The city of Herat has the largest number of Sufis

By the BBC's Peter Greste

Sufis are free to practice their ancient worship once again - and they are doing so with an exuberance denied to them for the past six years.

Sufis have the right path to Almighty God and the Taleban's version of Islam wasn't real Islam. It was a corruption, an evil hypocrisy. They were terrorists and that is unacceptable in our religion


Mohammed Nirullah
Sufi writer

I was invited to experience one of their first few meetings at a house in Kabul.

Posters of mystic writings were pinned to the walls of the dark room in which more than eight Afghans were concentrating deeply on words recited by their religious leader.

As the minutes went by, the fervour of the session built up into singing and chanting as the members of the Sufi gathering rocked back and forth increasingly dramatically.

I was witnessing Islamic mysticism in its most developed form.

Dancing to Allah

Sufism did not originate in Afghanistan but it was in the hidden valleys in the central highlands that the Sufi sages refined their insights.


Sufis had traditionally shared mosques with other Muslims

Under the Taleban they were driven underground, their voices silenced by the oppressive fundamentalist fighters.

At the core of their beliefs, Sufis maintain that all creatures - human and animal - are equal and that music and dance is the most direct route to Allah.

Outside the house, a birdcage hung from a tree. Nearby a loudspeaker inundated the feathered residents with the mystic singing.

The sect's spiritual leader Said Abdullah Ahmad went into hiding, his ideas an anathema to the extremist Taleban.

"When they first came here, the Taleban invaded all our gatherings and they humiliated and beat up many great Sufis.

"We couldn't understand why, because we were worshipping and praising God."

Brutal crackdown

Sufism has been in Afghanistan almost as long as Islam itself, perhaps 1,300 years, and its followers have traditionally shared the mosques peacefully alongside other more mainstream versions of the religion.


The Taleban forced their own strict interpretation of Islam on Afghanistan

The mystics have been an unmistakeable and integral part of life here in Afghanistan for centuries, but in the eyes of the Taleban they were infidels and the crackdown was brutal.

Mohammed Nirullah, one of Afghanistan's best known Sufi writers, told me life for the last few years had been near to impossible for him.

He virtually stopped his work under the Taleban, retreating into his tiny Kabul bookshop as his fellow Sufis were savagely beaten and imprisoned and their musical instruments smashed to pieces.

"Sufis have the right path to Almighty God and the Taleban's version of Islam wasn't real Islam. It was a corruption, an evil hypocrisy. They were terrorists and that is unacceptable in our religion.

"Now the sect is recovering its place in Afghanistan and its hundreds of thousands of followers are once more emerging from the shadows."

Mr Nirullah went into deep concentration as he recited the profound words which confirm the values of mystic Islam.

Surrounding him, stacked books were piled up to the ceiling.

Here was a man at one with himself again.

Awakenings

This is, in every sense, a rebirth of Sufism.

Its mystical beliefs are undergoing a renaissance from a chapter of oppression to one of the country's most powerful movements.

And this is demonstrates the importance of tolerance in finding the way forward for a peaceful Afghanistan.

Only then, when the nation's people are free to live as their needs tell them, will 23 years of trauma and battle belong to the past.

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