Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education

The Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education (NFIE) is a non-profit, tax exempt, religious and educational organization dedicated to serve Islam with a special focus on Tasawwuf(Sufism),

Friday, May 7, 2021

Vernacularization of Islam and Sufism in South Asia: A Study of the Production of Sufi Literature in Local Languages - Tanvir Anjum, Associate Professor of History, Quid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

Abstract Vernacularization of Islam is the process through which the message and teachings of Islam adjusted and adapted in local regional environments outside Arabia. The universal principles of Islam were vernacularized in specific time and space, and contextualized or localized forms and expressions of Muslim piety emerged in these regions. The credit of vernacularization of Islam and Sufism in South Asia particularly goes to the sufis who challenged the Arabo-Persian linguistic hegemony by producing religious literature in vernacular languages and dialects, as a vast majority of the sufis depended less on Arabic and Persian for the popularization of the sufi message. They employed the medium of vernacular poetry to disseminate the message of Sufism among the common people. They contributed to the development of various scripts as well as new or existing literary genres such as siharfis, kafis, Prem-kahani or „Sufi Romances,‟ and ginans, in order to popularize the teachings of Sufism in South Asia. 

"Historically, in Muslim societies, the sufis have been viewed as the agents of vernacularization of Islam through varied means and at varied levels. One of the means of vernacularizing the message of Islam and Sufism was the production of sufi literature in local languages. Though the founding sufi shaykhs of the early centuries of Islam had composed sufi texts in Arabic, and later on in Persian language, the later centuries witnessed the expansion of sufi literature into local vernaculars. Scholars of South Asian Islam have erroneously considered sufi vernacular literature, including the sufi poetry, as something marginal, since it is generally associated with „folk Islam,‟ with whom the common people identify themselves. Contrarily, the sufi literature in Arabic or Persian languages had a popular appeal among the elite, and it was seen to represent the so-called „high‟ Islam.1 This literature generally consisted of sufi philosophical and theosophical works, and its target readership was the initiated people having some know-how of Sufism. However, the whole idea of „high‟ sufi literature in Arabic and Persian— the so-called „Islamic languages‟—needs to be de-centred, while bringing the sufi literature including poetry in vernacular languages produced anywhere in the entire Islamicate world at the centre of academic discourse. The production of vernacular sufi literature is one of many expressions and ways of vernacularization of the message of Sufism."

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