It is a question that has recently come–in one form or another–from more than one country: There is a difficult political situation here; our society has become very divided–what can the Sufi teachings tell us?
The fundamental root of Sufism is ‘unity,’ a living unity that can be traced by an awakened heart through all the distinctions and differences that divide and join and divide again, like the braided channels of a great river flowing through a delta to the sea. Someone with open eyes could say, this channel and that, they are both water from the same source–but they should also see that each channel has its own characteristics. Here, they might say, the water is clear, and there it is muddy. I prefer to bathe in this clear stream.
The Sufi Message is a call to draw the world together, to help lift different factions above their limited interests; out of respect for that principle the organisation of the Sufi Movement is forbidden in its founding Articles of Incorporation from having any political affiliation. At the same time, as the example of the water shows, the perceptive person cannot help but notice differences, and should act accordingly. To give another example, one might say, ‘well, all light is light, the colour is unimportant,’ but to a driver approaching an intersection, the difference between red light and green light is very significant, and calls for urgent action.
The Message is wider than any single life, more all-embracing than any particular group or exclusive belief–but the students of the Message each live in a distinct framework of circumstances and limitations, and it is their privilege and their responsibility to try to make their ideal a reality so far as they are able within their realm. For some, it may mean seeking harmony amongst disputing members of the same family; for others, it may mean encouraging larger groups or nations to overcome their acrimony and accept each other. In some cases, that may mean a humble and acquiescing attitude, and in other cases, it may mean standing firm and resisting the will of another. When Shamcher Beorse came to meet a small group of assorted hippies and idealists in Canada over forty years ago, the encounter was a shock for the young people in several senses. Shamcher was a Norwegian who had been a mureed of Hazrat Inayat Khan; he was very mystical by nature but he was also pragmatic and he had experienced the collapse of his country under the Nazi invasion of the Second World War. The peace-preaching Canadians were astonished to learn that Shamcher was then working as an engineer in a factory that made torpedoes–but as he said, ‘If people of good will put down their weapons, people of ill-will would make them do what they don’t want to.’
And in the same connection, Hazrat Inayat Khan once had an interesting conversation with his children. It must have been not long before he left the west, and perhaps he foresaw some shadows in the future. He asked the children, “What will you do if there is a war?” Vilayat, the eldest boy, said, “I will see if it is a just war, and if it is, then I will fight.” But his father replied, “My boy, you have eaten the bread of France; you must fight the wars of France.”
There is no such thing as Sufi politics, but–depending on their circumstances–Sufis can certainly be political. None of us can claim to have ‘the answer,’ for we are all limited human beings; the best we can do is to trust in God and do our best to make a reality of our Ideal.