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After AoL’s Soft Hindutva, Modi to Embrace Sufism’s Soft Islam

The WSF event provides PM Modi an opportunity to position India as a global centre for Islam’s moderate ideology.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
After AoL’s Soft Hindutva, Modi to Embrace Sufism’s Soft Islam

When it comes to global outreach, no one can beat Prime Minister Narendra Modi. After attending the World Cultural Festival showcasing a gigantic, global artistic melange by 155 countries and chaperoned by Art of Living patron saint Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on the banks of the Yamuna last Friday, Modi will hop on to yet another global stage on Thursday—the World Sufi Forum.

He will inaugurate the four-day meet which will be held at Vigyan Bhavan beginning March 17. The event will be attended by participants from 20 countries, including the US, Europe, Central Asia, South and North Africa, South East Asia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

Modi took part in the AoL festival despite the event being mired by controversies with environmentalists red-flagging the venue. He saw an opportunity in it to instantly connect with a global audience.

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Snapshot

Tryst With Moderate Islam

  • With the AoL having presence in more than 120 countries, the Modi government has been using Sri Sri for “soft diplomacy”.
  • The World Sufi Forum (WSF) conference provides Modi with another platform for global engagement.
  • WSF organisers had reportedly approached the UPA, but the Manmohan Singh government showed little interest.
  • The Modi government, eager to back a moderate Islamic ideology, promptly endorsed the WSF proposal.
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Sri Sri’s Nobel Ambition

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravishankar during the opening day of World Culture Festival on the banks of Yamuna River in New Delhi. (Photo: PTI)

With the AoL having presence in more than 120 countries, the Modi government has been using Sri Sri, a self-proclaimed ambassador of peace and culture, for “soft diplomacy”. While events such as the cultural festival provides the PM an opportunity to further India’s global interests, cynics say the spiritual guru has his eyes set on the Nobel Peace Prize.

PM’s Global Engagement

The World Sufi Forum (WSF) conference, the first of its kind in India, provides Modi with yet another platform for global engagement. And interestingly, the WSF’s main agenda will be to write a counter-narrative to the violence and terror unleashed by the jihadis and the dreaded Islamic State (IS) and showcase Sufism as the real face and soul of moderate Islam.

There is concern in New Delhi that India, despite being home to the second largest Muslim population (after Indonesia) in the world and the second most populous country (after China), has not been able to influence the course of Islamic politics in the context of global terror.

While Sufism has been declining, terror, particularly of the IS variety, and Wahhabism (exported by Saudi Arabia), has been growing.

UPA’s Disinterest

Former P M Manmohan Singh, whose UPA government showed little interest in the World Sufi Forum programme. (Photo: PTI)

Sources said the WSF organisers had earlier approached the UPA dispensation, but the Manmohan Singh government showed little interest. Insiders claim that the event was sabotaged by some Congress leaders close to Wahhabis. The Modi government, eager to back a moderate Islamic ideology, promptly endorsed the WSF proposal.

The IS has its roots in Wahhabism, a form of radical Islam which took form in 18th century Saudi Arabia. In 2003, the European Parliament had identified Wahhabism as the main source of global terror. In contrast, Sufism is an ascetic movement whose followers seek to find divine truth and love through direct commune with god.

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Sufism as a Counter-Narrative

In the backdrop of IS’s rapid spread, the WSF deliberations are targeted at finding a counter-narrative to spread Islamic message of peace and tolerance against rising global terror.

India has been under the IS’s radar for long, targeting and recruiting educated Muslim youth for radicalisation. The WSF event provides all stake holders, including Modi, an opportunity to position India as a global centre for moderate ideology in Islam and help Sufism tackle radicalisation and use of terror by Islamic extremists.

Among the 200-odd delegates will be leading theologists, scholars, spiritual leaders, academics, writers and journalists.

Challenges Islam Faces

Organised jointly by Ajmer Sharif and All India Ulama and Mashaikh Board, India’s apex body for Sufi shrines, the conference, will also discuss the role of Sufism on the challenges faced by Islam in the modern world and deliberate on long-term solutions.

Today, it is time to reassert the peaceful, soulful message of Islam, which has been hijacked by some extremists.
Syed Salman Chishty, national secretary, AIUMB

More than 85 percent of Muslim population is connected with Sufism, he said, adding that “Sufism is the soul of Islam. It is regrettable that something which is not connected with Islam makes headlines, but not Sufism. Celebration of life is not reported (by the media), rather violence and terror attacks are.”

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Towards Tolerance

Muslims shower flower petals on RSS volunteers as they march past the shrine of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. (Photo: AP)
The call is for unity in multiplicity, unconditional love, tolerance and acceptance and spreading the spiritual and universal message of Islamic faith.
Syed Salman Chishty, national secretary, AIUMB
We believe it is high time for us to create a platform to seriously ponder over the radical interpretations of Islam by terror groups for political gains. The spread of terror and tyranny by jihadist forces in Syria and other parts of the world has damaged the image of Islam more than ever before.
Hazrat Syed Muhammad Ashraf, AIUM founder

But, Ashraf said, Indian Muslims can “provide a real alternative to all the bloodshed across the world in the name of Islam, by promoting their rich history of Sufism.”

(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist.)

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