The virtuous Sufis would call upon those taking bai’at (the oath taken by a person at the time of becoming disciple the of a saint) at their hands to;
- Offer earnest repentance for their sins
- Make a solemn affirmation of loyalty and obedience to God and the Prophet.
- Refrain from licentiousness and self-indulgence, injustice, oppression and violation of the rights of others.
These pious teachers addressed themselves to the moral elevation of their disciples by
- prescribing measures for the eradication of vices like vanity, malice, jealousy and lust for wealth and power.
- They urged their disciples to remember God and to do well to His creatures and practice self-abnegation and contentment.
Besides the bai’at which symbolized forging of a special link between the guide and the disciple, the revered teachers also exhorted and gave good counsel to whoever came to them and strove to awaken in their hearts the love for the Divine and the ambition to seek His pleasure and to strive with all his might for self-correction and inner reform.
Illustrative of the powerful, inspiring and morally regenerating influence exercised on the society by the Sufi leaders through their tremendous sincerity, moral excellence, preaching and instruction is the following extract from the renowned historian, Ziauddin Barni, depicting the social conditions prevailing in India during the reign of Alauddin Khilji.
“The leading Sufi saints at the time of Alauddin Khilji were Sheikh-ul-Islam Nizamuddin, Sheikh-ul-Islam Alauddin and Sheikh-ul-Islam Ruknuddin. A world received enlightenment from them and took the bai’at at their hands. Sinners were inspired by them to repent for their sins and thousands of evil-doers and habitual defaulters of Namaz (Daily 5 times Muslim Prayer) abandoned their evil ways and became devout worshipers; a strong fervour was created among them for religious deeds and their repentance attained perfection. The obligatory duties of worship and Divine ordinances in the other spheres of life began to be observed as a matter of course. Excessive attachment to worldly desires and aspirations, which lies at the root of most of the evils, got reduced under the force of the high morality, asceticism and profound self-denial of these spiritual masters……………… People grew truthful as a result of their blessings; they became honest in the management of worldly affairs and were fired by the ambition to improve and evolve their inner selves due to the inspirational influence exercised by the laudable moral conduct, abstinence and spirituality of the Sufi leaders……..”1
The historian goes on to say:
“In the last years of Sultan Alauddin’s rule the general moral level had improved so much that a majority of the people abstained from drink, adultery, gambling and other social and moral perversions. The major sins were shunned as equivalents of infidelity. Muslims refrained from open usury and hoarding for fear of each other’s censure. Adulteration, deceit and under-weighing were eliminated from the market.”1
It is manifestly impossible to give a coherent, historical picture of the reformation brought about in public morals by the Sufi divines in few lines. It is enough to know here that the Sufi saints have made an enormous contribution towards the evolution of a healthy, conscientious environment in India which is the nation’s greatest asset and which has provided it with worthy leaders and redeemers at every critical turn of history.
Leaving aside the intervening centuries, the material on which is widely available in the memoirs and biographies of the spiritual leaders, we give an instance from the life of Syed Ahmad Shaheed, a religious reformer and Sufi saint of the 19th century, to show the extent of the moral impact of his personality on society. It is recorded in connection with his brief stay in Calcutta that;
“the liquor business in that great city was suddenly brought to a standstill. The liquor merchants complained to the authorities that though they wore paying the taxes regularly, they had been forced to close down their business since the arrival in the city of a saint under whose influence more and more Muslims were getting reformed daily and taking the vow not to indulge in intoxicants any more. They did not even look at the liquor shops now.”2
These venerable divines enjoined upon their new disciples to observe
- fairness in monetary dealings
- paying back of debts
- scrupulous satisfaction of the claims of others.
To cite an example, the great Sufi Khwaja Nizamuddin Aulia was bidden emphatically by his spiritual mentor, Khwaja Fariduddin Ganj Shakar “to do his level best always to placate the opponent and render to everyone what was his due.”
Khwaja Nizamuddin Aulia owed a person some money and a book he had borrowed from someone had got lost. When on arriving Delhi, he went to settle these accounts, the person to whom he owed the money remarked, “It seems you are coming from the society of Muslims” while the owner of the book said, “Is it always like that at the place from where you are coming ?”3
People likewise were imbued with the desire to oblige and be of help to others under the guidance and instruction of the Sufi saints. During the entire course of the long Haj journey, Syed Ahmad Shaheed and the large band of his companions missed no opportunity to do an act of public service. While they were sailing down the Ganges they came across a boat which was laden with cotton at the landing-ghats of Mirzapur. The owner of the cotton was in need of labourers to remove it to the godown. Seeing his plight, Syed Saheb at once told his companions to unload the boat and so energetically did they apply themselves to the task that in a couple of hours the whole cotton was taken off and deposited in the godown. People who witnessed the deed were left thoroughly amazed;
“What sort of men they are” they commented among themselves. “They did not even know the cotton merchant and yet they have toiled so hard for him without charging a pie. Surely, they are the devout men of God.”4
What was achieved by the Sufi divines in India in the sphere of general moral upliftment was solely the result of their evolved spirituality and loftiness of character. No government, no law no other institution could bring about so much improvement in so many people or keep them so steadily within the bounds of moral propriety and rectitude.
Condensed from Tarikh-i-Firoz Shahi by Ziauddin Barni p. 346
Seerat Syed Ahmad Shaheed, pp.249