The recent post about politics produced an interesting question: the Message unites; it looks for unity because everything comes from God–whereas politics divides, one has to take sides; to gain power one has to defeat an opponent. So how can a Sufi possibly be a politician? It seems paradoxical.
In its pure sense, and setting aside all the selfish tricks of which humanity is capable, ‘politics’ has to do with the governance of a society, and the root of the word is from the Greek, ‘polis’ or ‘city.’ It means trying to keep the society in working order, the art and science of living together in a way that is satisfactory to as many members as possible. But one’s political involvement will depend on the nature of one’s society, and one’s own nature. Eight hundred years ago Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia, whose shrine is next door to the Dargah of Hazrat Inayat Khan, refused to have anything to do with the kings of his day, although his saintly reputation and large following created much interest. When one king insisted that he wanted to come and visit the Sufi and pay his respects, Hazrat Nizamuddin’s reply was that his room had two doors; in other words, if the king came in one door, Nizamuddin would leave by the other. No doubt many gifts of land and money would have been offered if he were willing to entertain such visits, but he knew that there is a cost to everything. Remember the reaction of a young Inayat Khan, recounted by his brother Musharaff, when a ruler offered him a house and all support: “Think how much better it is to be free and independent, and under obligation to no one.”
Nevertheless, unless we live like dervishes in the Himalayas, as Inayat’s tabla-accompanist suggested, we do have obligations and duties, many of them connected with the orderly running of daily life. Persuading a small child to eat her breakfast is politics on a domestic scale, but probably far more important to our happiness than the casting of a vote in an election once every four years. Like politics on a larger stage, it involves engagement, sensitivity, dialogue, negotiation, and rarely–because it usually fails–the exercise of force.
Understood in this broad sense, ‘politics’ is no more than love in action, but just exactly how we will act must depend upon many things: our nature, character and personality, our circumstances, our level of evolution, and our ideal. And as in the example of the child eating breakfast, it works much better if we have a certain detachment from the process; if we make breakfast a war of our ego against the child’s ego, we have already lost, even if somehow the cereal is swallowed. That is why the ideal of the Sufi is to be in the world but not of the world. To be in the world means to be active in all the same duties and responsibilities as everyone else, while to be not of the world means to be free from the attachment, blindness and ignorance that make the world a place of torture for so many people.