Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Sattyer Gahiney | A Glimpse into the Mystic, Folk Islam of Bangladesh

1.
Counterfeit gold exists
because there is such a thing
as real gold.
- Rumi

Contrary to popular misconception, Islam is not monolithic. In the traditional sense, Islam is not even a religion. Then what it is, you would ask? But wait a second before one even attempt to answer you because the conditioning of your mind and what you see and what distortions have been carried over from centuries after centuries, what was the essence of Islamic teachings and embodiment are rare to be visible in obvious visible spectrum.

But this shouldn't dishearten anyone, even though this phenomena of 'seeing only the false and taking it for real' deceive us many. Rumi says, "Counterfeit gold exists because there is such a thing as real gold." Remember that, because its important that you remember this. Not only for this posts context, but for many things and many situations in life.

So first of all if we are interested to understand what Islam is for real, we have to de-condition and neutralize (empty) our mind from all the poisons of misconception, false propaganda and media biases which again and again feed on falsehood. And to remain open is the first pre-condition to begin with. Spiritually explaining, Muslim means one who surrenders to the Divine. The word Islam meaning to surrender to the Divine, is a state which unfolds moment by moment.

Islamic state is not a geographical location or political identity (as it might sound because of our conditioned mind) but it is a state which is better understood through a form when a person place his or her head on the floor, on the prayer carpet - in surrender to Divine. When one is in that state physically, it requires that the heart be above the head, which ever symbolizes that the real heart be above the mind because God can only be known through the real heart, not the mind; and surrender is a quality of the real heart, not a function of mind.

If one understand what an Islamic state is, one can get some hint what Islam embodies. To mention very briefly, Islam embodies every intention, thought and action to be for the Divine in humble submission to that Majestic Presence. When intentions and actions (both inside and outside) issues forth from surrender to the Divine, one enter into the sacred space of what it means to be a Muslim and from that emerges peace of the heart. When our whole humanness is soaked with ceaseless remembrance of the Divine, a silent revolution happens at the core of our being and this revolution brings us to our original nature of soul - which is to be at peaceful rest. 'Only in the remembrance of God the real heart finds rest' - affirms the sacred tradition.

Islam is not a new religion but a continuation of divine revelation of earlier age through great beings such as Abraham, Moses, David and Christ, upon them all be holy benediction. And Islam's universal spirit doesnt make any distinction between any of the Prophets because of all them were sent as divine guide to mankind. Yes Prophet Muhammad is the Seal of Prophet, but he is also the culmination of divine revelations and one of his major task was to revive the primordial way of divine submission. Hence Islam is not like Christianity, centered around devotion of Christ only or Buddhism, centered around a central figure of Buddha. Infact Quranic text re-introduce all major Biblical Prophets and their way of divine messengership. Islam is the same embodiment of great illuminated beings and their state of divine surrender coming in fruition through the Seal of Prophethood and Quran being the Seal of Scripture. After which no new way will be unfolded, no new messenger will be sent because the basic teachings are already been unfolded through Abraham, Moses, Christ and Muhammad already.

Going back to where the introduction of the post began, Islam is not monolithic - and for very good reason because the embodiment of divine submission has the capacity to be accommodated into an infinite spectrum of human diversity. A famous sufi saint said, "Islam is like clear water poured into different vessels. It takes the color and shape of each vessel."

And history testifies this very well because as Islam spread in East, West, North and South, those who came under the folds of Islam, that is, those who accepted a way of life where divine submission - is center of human universe - every culture brought its uniqueness into the same vessel of Islam and enriched it in many dimensions including development of school of thoughts (madhab), art, music etc.. That is why the mood of Islam in Turkey is uniquely Turkish, in Malay Peninsula (Malaysia, Indonesia) it is uniquely Malay, in the shores of Spain it is uniquely Spanish and so on and so forth. And this is very natural because embodiment of divine submission doesnt mean one has to discard their mother tongue, nor does it require one to develop a different kind of food habit or do away with the culture.

This last thing, the local culture of particular land, with time, greatly infused into the lifestyle of muslims and with time Islam of that land took a distinct shape. This shaping has given birth to followers of Islam of many diversity. And this is perfectly fine because the creation is inherently diverse and God created humanity with many diversity such as race, color and language. The vision of the Prophet was appreciative of this diversity because he spoke of his community saying, "the difference in my community is a blessing."

Also Quran celebrate the diversity and affirm that this differences must never be a point of dispute or argument but should be seen as divinely fashioned.

To every community have We appointed [different] ways of devotion, which they ought to observe. Hence, do not let those draw you into disputes on this score, but summon unto your Sustainer: for, behold, you are indeed on the right way. - The Quran 22:67

To every one of you have We appointed a [different] law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you ... - 5:48

For, every community, faces a direction of its own, of which God is the focal point. - 2:148

This all points to the reality of pluralism, diversity and acceptance of wide range of variation among human community. None is superior to other, but all belong to the family of children of Adam - belong to 'God's funny family' as one great sufi saint used to say.

2.
Sometime when we are too confined to our own limited world-view and make our own world too narrow without leaving any room for others, then as we encounter the others we seem to label and reject them or that as strange.

Interestingly this word, "strange" is not foreign to the mystics, specially for the Sufis for whom the esoteric dimensions make them friend with strange-ness and they themselves are often perceived as strangers. Infact all major mystical tradition and mystics are seen by the common people as 'strange' (one of the basic reason why there ar often misunderstood and even persecuted by the mass). Every Biblical Prophet appeared to his people as 'strange' and was rejected for that reason. Christ appeared to be strange and hence had to be crucified. Muhammad was openly called mad.

While the word strange carries negative tag for common people, but for the Sufis (and other mystics) strange is celebrated by terms such as madjhub (divine mad, synonym as holy man) and reserved for specially attained and absorbed ones who almost always appear to be strange to common people.

In this connection of "strange-ness" worth mentioning a much loved Prophetic tradition:
"Islam began as something strange,
and it shall return to being something strange,
so give glad tidings to the strangers."

3.
The reason for this preface is to introduce you to a documentary film that features the strange Islam, the Folk Islam that took root in Bengal, the land where I come from. Bengal or Bangla covers what is now independent nation of Bangladesh and also part of India (called West Bengal).

The title of this film is called "Sattyer Gahiney" or "Truth and Beyond". It is a documentary on Mysticism infused Islam of Bangladesh by Ahmed Muztaba Zamal. The land of Bengal is the land of one of the most tolerant streams of Islam. Its appropriate to call the expressions of indigenous Islamic religion 'streams' because Islam have taken many colors, trodden many paths and partook in many fragrance while mingling into this fertile delta.

Sattyer Gahiney (Truth and Beyond) / 2006 / 49 MIN / BENGALI

Narration: Ahmed Muztaba Zamal
Cinematography: T. W. Sainik
Editing: Fawzia Khan
Script: Saymon Zakaria
Producer: Faridur Reza Sagor
Directed by: Ahmed Muztaba Zamal

The mystics who came out of a background in textual Islam (literal Islam) made a communion between the orthodox Islam and less ritualistic bindings. This significant simplification won the hearts of the common people of Bangladesh, who might not have otherwise been influenced by a formal religion shackled in edicts. In the process, a new Islam, or a “popular Islam” was born. It comprises people who are dedicated Muslims, but don’t accept religion as dogmatic or fundamental. Rather, they use religion as a bridge of love between man and his Creator.

"The documentary features the essence of any religion. In fact, religions are meant for the welfare of man. In the documentary, I've focused on the diverse mystic sects in Bangladesh and their way of worshipping. Moreover, comments from the mystic gurus and experts on mysticism have been included in the documentary," said the film director Zamal.














Zamal further said, "The aim of the documentary is to present a realistic image of religions in Bangladesh, though there is a propaganda that Bangladesh is full of fundamentalists at present. However, the fact is that Islam was preached by the mystic Sufis in this part of the world, and not through any jihad. The simple ways of the Sufis won the hearts of the common people who later converted to Islam."

Besides the touching, subtle and humane nature of conventional Islam (Islam of Shari'at) or classical Islam, the practice of other sects of Islam through songs and other non-fundamental popular way have also been addressed in the documentary, informed Zamal. The documentary was filmed at districts where the mystic sects live such as Kushtia, Chittagong, Sylhet, Manikganj and Tangail.

[>] Click here to Watch the Movie

The documentary film opens up the viewer to a portal of strangeness which find its place within the folds of Islam and offers an insight of folk islam that combines the indigenous culture with Islamic embodiment. This particular brand of Islam is heavily influenced by the indigenous way of living and also that of universalism of mystics of different faith traditions that this land continued to host for thousands of years. One can not ignore the fact that the fertile land of Bengal was the seat of rich Buddhist tradition, its mystical tradition such as Tantra; it was the land of deep devotional Hindu movement, the Vaishnava and many other spiritual path.

The document was for myself an intimate opening to the sentiment of ecstatic devotion which I was also unaware. During the viewing I noticed that the sub-titles text in English are not necessarily very well done, but apart from that the documentary offers much food for thoughts. The folk songs captured in the film are excellent and ecstatic.

# Further:
. Sattyer Gahine Participates at Brazilian Film Festival from Daily Star
. 6th Kara Film Festival
. Interview with Film maker and Director of Sattyer Gahine
. Qadiriyya,Chishtiya,Soharwardiya & Naqshbandiya in Bangladesh
. Sufism in Bangladesh
. Islam in Bangladesh
. Sufi Saint of Bangladesh via Facebook Group
. FoKiir Lalon Shah and His Prophecy, another movie via youtube that introduces mystic influence and the Bauls of Bangladesh, on the life of famous Baul Lalon Shah and his legacy Pin It Now!

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