Monday, 20 December 2010

Singaporean Pirs, Sufism and the myth of monolithic Islam

Singapore's declaration of the Naghore Durgha sufi shrine as a listed property is part of an effort to protect the island's history. The shrine is under the custody of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS).
Singapore's Naghore Durgha shrine in 2005, in dire need of restoration
The world may associate Sufism with Rumi's poetry or Konya's whirling dervishes, but Sufi Islam is much more.
Sufi holy men were instrumental in synthesizing Islam with the local cultures that Islam came into contact with around the world. Consequently, Sufis often made Islam acceptable to local cultural traditions. Theirs is perceived to be a less austere form of Islam, relative to the wahabi beliefs propagated by certain national religious authorities.
Through their travels and 'everyman' practices Sufis saints were critical in spreading Islam in areas as diverse as Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. To this day, many Sufi orders exist as dynamic centres of theological learning.

The tomb of Khoja Afaq near Kasghar, Xinjiang, China
Not surprisingly, Islamic extremists have begun to view Sufi orders as a key threat to their version of Islam. The Pakistan Taliban has set its sights on intimidating ordinary Pakistanis steeped in the traditions of Pirs and Fakirs. Just as it is difficult for modern India to legislate away centuries of the Hindu caste system, it is almost impossible for Pakistani Islamic extremists to paint sufi practices as un-Islamic.  
The importance of Sufism cuts both ways.
Following the establishment of the modern Turkish Republic by Ataturk, he immediately set about outlawing the many Sufi establishments sprinkled around the Anatolian peninsula. Like today's extremists, Ataturk understood the importance Sufi traditions play in perpetuating Islamic beliefs.
Despite bearing the full force of the Turkish state since 1926, Turkish Sufi orders continue to thrive to this day.
The real battle for Islam is not being fought in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan or North Waziristan but around the many Sufi mazaars or shrines found in every nook and cranny of Pakistan. If extremist Islam is to be defeated then, by definition, the rich traditions of Sufi Islam must prosper. 
Sufi saint Shah Rukhn-e-Alam's shrine built between 1320-24 in Multan, Pakistan
Now, if the Islamic world were defined as strictly as wahabis would have us, then at the stroke of a pen, many Indonesian Muslims would become unbelievers. To strict wahabis, there is no place for many Indonesian cultural traditions within Islam.
There is little place for religious or cultural arrogance within Islam.
The restoration of a Sufi shrine in Singapore is recognition of the country's diverse Muslim community, a recognition not granted by the state's strait jacketed Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA). It is time the Singapore authorities review the relevance of legislation drafted in the 1960s for contemporary Singapore.
AMLA, by accident or design, imposes by fiat Malay cultural traditions upon a heterogeneous Muslim population.


  1. Where is the shrine in Singapore?

    1. The tomb of Habib Noh is located inside a mosque managed by MUIS located at 37 Palmer Road.

    2. Thanks! Avoid the mosque - it is Haji Mohd Salleh Mosque.

      Prayer inside a mosque with a grave is invalid.

  2. list the mosques that have shrines

  3. This is all haraam!

    It is reported in the Saheeh from ‛Ā’ishah (J): that Umm Salamah mentioned to the Prophet (ﷺ) regarding a church she had seen in the land of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) which had within it pictures [of people]. So the Prophet (ﷺ) said: “When there used to die a righteous man or servant from amongst them, they would build over his grave a place of worship – and they would make in it these pictures. They are the worst of creatures in the sight of Allāh.” [Bukhāree 427, Muslim 528].

    Bukhāree and Muslim also report that ‛Ā’ishah (radiyallāhu ‛anhā) said: “When Allāh’s Messenger (ﷺ) was close to death, he would cover his face with a cloth, and when it became difficult for him [to breath or he would tire] he would uncover it once again. So whilst in that state, he said: “The curse of Allāh is upon the Jews and Christians because they took the graves of their Prophets as places of worship.” So he warned against what they had done. Were it not for that warning, his grave would have been raised – but it was feared that it would be taken as a place of worship.” [Reported by Bukhāree and Muslim]

    Explanation of Shaikh Ahmad an-Najmee (V):
    All of these narrations prove the following points:

    The prohibition of taking graves as mosques (or places of worship). This is regardless of whether the grave was introduced into the Mosque after building it, or whether the Mosque is built amongst or over the graves. All of this is disallowed.

    It is not permitted to pray in a Masjid that is surrounded by graves, and this prohibition becomes even more severe if the graves are in the direction of the Qiblah [such that a person is facing them in prayer]. So if a Mosque is built upon a grave, or over some graves in veneration of them, it becomes obligatory [for the ruling authorities] to demolish it and disallow prayer in them.

    If there is an established mosque and then graves are placed within it, then it is better to remove the corpses and bones from the graves, and then place them in the graveyards of the Muslims – thereafter the mosque becomes a suitable and permissible place to pray. Otherwise it is not permissible to pray in such a mosque. Likewise is the case for a mosque that is surrounded by graves on every side.

    What is also understood from these narrations is that even if ones directs worship only to Allah; but he performs that worship next to a grave seeking blessings by way of it due to a notion wherein he believes that his worship next to the grave will be accepted by Allah – and that it is seen as virtuous by Allah, then this act of worship is considered futile and is rejected; it is not permissible for him to perform these acts of worship at grave sites.

    If there is a grave in the masjid, then prayer in it is incorrect, regardless whether it is behind, in front, on the right or on the left of the performers of the prayer, due to the statement of the Prophet (sallal-laahu-alayhi-wasallam): ”Indeed, those before you [i.e. Jews and Christians] used to take the graves of their Prophets and righteous people as Masaajid, so do not take graves as Masaajid, for indeed I forbid you from that.” [reported by Imaam Muslim]

    And that is because praying at the graveside is a means from the means towards shirk and exaggerating (the status) of the inhabitants of the graves. Therefore, it is obligatory to forbid that, acting in accordance with the (two) mentioned narrations and that which has been transmitted (in other narrations) of the same meaning, and (also) preventing the means leading to shirk

    1. All these show that it is impermissible to visit "DARGAHS" or "SHRINES" and invoke them. Avoid mosques like Hajjah Fatimah, Omar Kampong Melaka, Haji Mohd Salleh Mosque as they all contain graves.

      Prayer in such a mosque is invalid. Anyone who argues with this diagrees with Rasulullaah and the ACTUAL scholars