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Singing in melodious voice is generally called “ghina”, whereas listening to holy verses thus sung is commonly termed as “sama”. Sama is of two kinds: (1) that sung to the accompaniment of musical instruments; and (2) that sung without such instruments. The impact of music on the human mind and the emotion is universally acknowledged. It is also recognized that this impact can be good as well as bad, depending on the nature of content and the manner and style of recitation. It is for this reason that sama, especially that accompanied by musical instruments as an aid to spiritual development, has for long been a controversial issue between the ulama and the Sufi schools of Islam, as well as between some Sufi schools themselves. One school of thought regards instrumental sama as totally forbidden under the Islamic shariah because of its potential for purposeless luxury and its traditional association with sport and fun. An other school legitimizes sama without musical instruments provided the recitations are religious or mystical.

Many eminent ulama and mystics have expressed their views at some length on this issue in some of their writings. These include: Imam Al-Ghazali (R.A) in his renowned books “Ahya-ul-Ulum” (revival of the sciences) and “Kimiya-e-Saadat” (the Alchemy of bliss); Hazrat Daata Ganj Bukhsh (R.A) in his  “Kashf-ul-Mahjub” (disclosure of the hidden); Shaikh Abdul Haq Mohaddis of Delhi in his “Madarij-un-Nabuwat” (grades of the Prophethood); These books contain detailed discussions on the subject of sama and the requirements that should be observed in connection with it both by the qawwals (people who recite qawwali in Mehfil-e-Sama) and the listeners. The sum total of these discussions is that music accompanied by instruments is not prohibited but is disallowed if the recitations are improper in content, but permissible if they are free of improprieties and morally questionable content.

The Chishtia view-point on sama

Ulama and mystics belonging to the Chishtia school of Sufism have sought to prove the permissibility of sama on the basis of about a dozen authentic ahadith of the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H).

Traditions of the Chishtia indicate that Hazrat Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti (R.A) of Ajmer, who is historically credited with pioneering the propagation of Islam in the Indo-Pakistan sub-continent, and who is said to have launched his missionary endeavour in this part of the world at the bidding and with the blessings of the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H), had spiritually obtained the Prophet’s (P.B.U.H) permission for the use of instrumental sama as part of his mission. This was because the people of India were culturally attuned to instrumental music and Hazrat Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti (R.A) felt that presenting Islam teachings in a manner that responded to their cultural needs would help this great faith being accepted by them with relative ease. This hope turned out to be well placed and Islam spread in the sub-continent with remarkable speed through the efforts of Hazrat Khwaja (R.A) and his eminent successors.

Hazrat’s view about Sama

Since Hazrat belonged primarily to the Chishtia school (Silsila), he regarded music and sama to be religiously permissible although not indispensable for the “Sufi”. Love of music was indeed part of his nature, and he used to sing mystical verses of eminent poets to warm up his heart and when he found himself alone in deserted places. His life record shows that in his early life he used to listen to qawwali (the Urdu term for sama) with musical instruments, but switched over to qawwali without instruments as he advanced in age and spiritual experience. This may be explained by the fact that artificial “aid” such as musical instruments are apt to become redundant as spiritual elevation matures and stabilizes. Indeed, when the Awlia-Allah attain the highest spiritual station of “Mushahida” (direct perception of the Supreme Being) and “fana-e-kamil” (complete annihilation in Allah), they no longer remain in need of external factors for their advancement. Some Awlia-Allah are known to rely on such factors even after attaining the aforesaid station but they do so for the benefit of their disciples (Murid) and not because they themselves need those.

In one of his letters, Hazrat has described his stance with respect to sama to be in line with the following verses of the Persian poet and Sufi Shaikh Musleh-Uddin of Shiraz:

Translation: "I will tell you what sama is, O brother, provide I know about him who listens to it"

Translation: "If he, i.e., the listener, takes off in his flight from the tower of the inner “meanings” (i.e., the spirit or the truth), then the range of his flight will surpass even that of the Angels (through sama)"

Translation: "If, on the other hand, he is one that loves fun, sport and meaningless things, these attributes will become stronger through sama"

In a nutshell, these verses imply that while sama can confer sublime benefits onto a person who seeks spiritual ends through it, it can, conversely, further excite the sportive thoughts and feelings of one who looks for his own brand of pleasure from it.

Reproduced below are some incidents in Hazrat’s life pertaining to sama and qawwali:

1. Impact of Sama on an Anglo Indian railway guard

Once when Hazrat was traveling by train at night outside Golra, he asked his qawwals Bakht Jamaal to sing the following Punjabi verses in a tune appropriate to the time of night:  

Translation: " Look my friends! What has my beloved done to me? He has snatched away my heart from me and then gone away"  

Translation: "How am I to convey to him my message (of love) and make him hear my cries of anguish and suffering?"

Translation: "He has put the noose of love around my neck while I was still playing and laughing; look what my beloved has done to me! "

The Anglo-Indian guard of the train was sitting at that time in Hazrat’s compartment with his permission to benefit from his blissful company. Even though he could not understand the meanings of these verses which were in a language completely alien to him, he did absorb their spiritual impact because of Hazrat’s holy presence and remained in tears for as long as the recitations of the qawwals lasted. At the end of it, he observed in a highly emotional manner that he wished he could spend all his life in Hazrat’s inspiring company.

2. A Hindu yogi (jogi) embraces Islam

A Hindu yogi, Laddha Ram, belonging to Jalalpur in District Jehlum, once met Hazrat at a place called Sidhpur, and listened to qawwali in his presence. At the end of it, he inquired of Hazrat:

“If all this worldly show constitutes “colour”, what then is the “colourless”? In reply, Hazrat recited following Hindi verse:  

Translation:

"He who crosses the “limit” is a Wali, He who crosses the “limitless” is a Pir (spiritual guide); "

"He who crosses the “limit” and the “limitless” qualifies to be called as a Fakir (mendicant in the path of Allah)."

The yogi was deeply moved by this verse full of inner meanings and burst into tears. He then added: If a man crosses both limit and the limitless, he becomes a slave of the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H). Sometime later, he embraced Islam at Hazrat’s hands along with a number of his disciples. Hazrat prescribed the Darud Sharif (invocation of blessings on the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H)) as a regular recitational assignment for him.  

3. Some incidents of Hazrat’s ecstatic spells

Most of Hazrat’s ecstatic spells culminated in the performance of a "sujdah" (devotional prostration), which has been rightly termed as Miraj-ul-Momineen (the spiritual “ascension” of the believers). Very often these prostration were so lengthy as to last the whole night-long. On record of his having remained in tears for long periods, having experienced loss of consciousness and sometimes having stood up as a mark of respect to some invisible being. However, as he came progressively closer to ever-higher spiritual stations, these spells of ecstasy abated in both frequency and intensity. Towards the end all that he used to do even at the height of the ecstatic condition was to jerk his right hand once or twice. When such a state prevailed any one who happened to touch that hand burst into tears. On one occasion, such a state lasted for several days. It reportedly started when during a qawwali session in Pakpattan, the musicians recited the following Persian verse of Khwaja Hafiz of Shiraz:  

Translation:

"The night is dark, the tidal wave threatens (to swallow us), and a whirlpool bars our way (on all sides);"

" How can those who stand in ease and comfort on the shore understand our position (caught as we are in mid-stream)? "

The musicians also added a Punjabi translation of the aforesaid Persian verse to their recitation.

In the resultant state of “wajd” (ecstasy), Hazrat stood up and had to be supported by two persons on each side. Soon the state over took every person within reasonable distance of the place. Indeed, Hazrat Diwan Saeed Muhammad, head of the Pakpattan Shrine, later said he had a feeling as if every house and structure in Pakpattan was waving to and fro due to the impact of Hazrat’s “wajd”. He said he was reminded by this episode of the occasion when, according to the reports in certain authentic books, Hazrat Khwaja Moin-ud-din Chishti (R.A) had once experienced wajd in a sama session arranged by Syedna Ghaus-e-Azam (R.A) to entertain him as a guest and when Hazrat Ghaus-e-Azam (R.A) had to stand up and press down his staff on the ground in order to prevent it from shaking.  

Once a qawwal belonging to Ajmer Sharif, the adopted home-town and burial place of Hazrat Khwaja Moin-ud-din Chishti  of Ajmer (R.A), recited in Hazrat Pir Meher Ali Shah's (R.A) presence the Arabic Naat, written by Hazrat Imam Abu Hanifa (R.A), which begins with the following verse:

Translation: "The morning begins with the light of his countenance ; While the night veils its face (with darkness) because of the abundance of his glory."

Hazrat was so overcome by the melody of his voice and the beauty of diction and meaning of the Naat that he gave away many of his valuable things (e.g., blankets, carpets, coats, etc) to him in reward. The state of his ecstasy that bordered on "spiritual intoxication" (wajd) the whole day.

On another occasion, Hazrat had an attack of hiccough during his stay in Pakpattan Sharif, which failed to respond to medical treatment for full one month. On his way back home, Hazrat stopped for few days in Qasur at the request of the Nawab family of that town. At the suggestion of Hazrat Babuji, a Qawwali session was arranged by the hosts in the hope that this might help relieve Hazrat’s hiccough ailment. Hazrat, who had discarded listening to sama to this time, raised his brows by way of objection, but the qawwals were asked to carry on. As expected, Hazrat experienced a state of wajd during a recitation of a poem of the well-known sufi poet Baba Bulhey Shah, causing instant stoppage of his hiccough in addition, Hazrat revealed later that he had been honoured by the visit of Baba Bulhey Shah as well as his Murshid Hazrat Shah Inayat, in dream.

Because of his heavy pre-occupation with his customary recitation, and with providing guidance in various and spiritual matters to the large number of people who thronged to him for this purpose, Hazrat listened to sama only very occasionally in those rare moments when he was alone. Nevertheless, even during his daily conversations with those present in his sittings, points were sometimes made that struck a responsive chord within and transported him into mystical experiences of spiritual sorts.

Once, for example, when the news of the birth of his only son, Syed Ghulam Muhyuddin (who later came to be known popularly as Hazrat Babuji), was conveyed to him with a felicitous greeting, Hazrat offered his thanks to Allah, but added these words with a deep sigh: “For a moment, I thought as if I had found God Himself”.

In 1920-21, as people were leaving the mosque one day after the Asr prayers, some one among the crowd spoke about death. This sent Hazrat into a state of mystic emotion, and forced him to utter the following words: “Alas! That blessed state still looms far away (for me).

Hazrat Babuji used to say that Hazrat’s sama followed no regular or predictable pattern. Sometimes, the recital of even a stray verse would generate a mystical response within him. He would then ask his qawwals to sing the verse in his presence from time to time, and sometimes this condition continued for several days. The following verse, for example, produced such a state in him lasting for three consecutive days:  

Translation: "In the place where my forlorn heart has set its camp, there is room neither for any dialogue nor any search or inquiry."   

According to two other incidents on record, one of his qawwals, Nur Muhammad, was cured of insanity, and his associate who used to play sitar (a stringed musical instrument) with him in sama sessions, had his sight (which he had lost due to glaucoma) restored as a result of Hazrat’s prayers offered during such a mystic state.

Diwan Ghayas-ud-din Ajmeri’s visit to Golra

Hazrat Diwan Ghayas-ud-din, then head of the shrine of Khwaja Moin-ud-din Chishti (R.A) at Ajmer, once paid a visit to Golra and spent a few days with Hazrat there. During this visit, he was deeply impressed by Hazrat’s erudition, piety, and spiritual eminence. From Golra, he went to Peshawar for a short stay. Most of the ulama of Peshawar subscribed to the Naqshbandia school of Sufism and several centers of their jurists existed in the neighbourhood in that city. During his stay in Peshawar, the Diwan Sahib was challenged by the local ulama to a debate on the sama and threatened violence if the challenge was not accepted. Visibly un-nerved by this unexpected development, Diwan Sahib sent a message to Hazrat to help him out of the predicament. Hazrat, who had tried unsuccessfully to dissuade Diwan Sahib from going to Peshawar on the ground that the people there were not well versed in the delicacies of respectful behaviour towards venerable personalities, was at first reluctant to oblige him. When, however, Diwan Sahib invoked the sacred name of Hazrat Khwaja Moin-ud-din Chishti (R.A) to back his request, Hazrat did agree to go there.

Hazrat’s debate with N.W.F.P ulama on the subject of sama

About 50 ulama of Peshawar accompanied by their pupils and admirers and carrying reference books of all descriptions, assembled on a morning in a large group at the place where Diwan Sahib was staying. They started by declaring, with references from some books that ghina (music) was totally forbidden in Islam and those indulging in it therefore were guilty of kufr (infidelity). They then called upon Hazrat to advance arguments to the contrary if he could. Hazrat responded by saying that since the point raised by them boiled down to the difference between Iman (faith) and kufr (unfaith), the opposing group should first convincingly prove that they indeed had incontrovertible faith in Tawhid (Unity of Allah) which was the foundation of faith, and should do so strictly in the light of the Quran and Hadith. When they did so and set out in detail the beliefs of orthodox sunni Muslims, Hazrat presented a comprehensive analysis of the views of the various major schools (e.g., the Ashairah, the Mataridiyah, and Hanafia, among the sunnis; and the Imamia, the Zaidia, and Mu’tazilah, among the shi’ites) on the subject. He then proceeded, first to endorse and then to contradict each of these viewpoints one by one. His critical analysis on these view points were so masterly that when he argued for the righteousness of one of them, all those present in the debate fully endorsed his stance. When, on the other hand, he advanced arguments to disprove the same viewpoint, every one was converted to the contrary posture and firmly rejected it along with Hazrat. This amazing display of scholarly prowess and analytical skill went on for three consecutive days, and left the assemblage of ulama who witnessed it virtually dumb-founded. At the end of it all, Hazrat enquired of the N.W.F.P ulama as to what their viewpoint in the matter now was. In reply, Maulvi Qazi Qudratullah, speaking for the rest of the ulama, confessed that their view point was the same as Hazrat’s, and that since Hazrat considered sama to be permissible, they also were now of the same view.

Unfortunately, no record could be kept of Hazrat’s discourses on this particular  occasion, which represented a treasure house of knowledge for those interested in the subject of sama and its related topics.

Diwan Sahib’s “bai’at” at the Hazrat’s hands

Hazrat Diwan Ghayas-ud-din Sahib of Ajmer Sharif, at whose invitation Hazrat had come to Peshawar to take part in the debate with NWFP ulama, was deeply moved by the flow of Hazrat’s arguments and his opponents discomfiture thereat, and exclaimed “Subhaan-Allah” (Glory of Allah!) with tears of emotion in his eyes and then added:

“The light of Hazrat Khwaja Moin-ud-din Chishti (R.A) at Ajmer has come to my aid”.

When, at the end of Hazrat’s concluding discourse, the ulama present advanced to shake hands with him to bid farewell, and one of them requested Hazrat to grant bai’at to him, Diwan Sahib said it was his right to be the first to get this honour. After some hesitation, Hazrat agreed to accord bai’at to Diwan Sahib. Maulana Qazi Qudratullah, mentioned above, also sought the same privilege and received it after conceding, in response to some remark of Hazrat, that what he had witnessed on this occasion was a display of (knowledge “from God’s own presence”), the like of which he had never seen before. Qazi Sahib was a highly eminent Mufti (deliverer of fatawa) and wa’iz (preacher) in his own right and had a large following in the NWFP and Afghanistan, where he was known by the popular “Qazi Qadru”. Since then, thousands of people have entered the ranks of Hazrat’s devotees, and devotees of the Golra shrine from this area.