A book by Rehman Anwar
Independent publishing house Broken Leg Publications has launched The Fundamentals of Sufism: Dispelling Myths & Clarifying Gender Stereotypes—a book by London-based author, Rehman Anwer. This is the first volume of the publishing house apart from their annual creative anthology, The Aleph Review.
The Fundamentals of Sufism is an attempt at discussing core elements and key areas of Sufism from a layperson’s standpoint. Along with discussing basic definitions, essential principles, beliefs and practices of Sufism, the author has addressed some common myths and misunderstandings as well. In this context, he has highlighted the deeply flawed ways in which Sufism has been discussed by certain Islamic scholars, and how Sufism and Islam were consciously separated by European orientalists. The book also explores the gendered dimensions of Sufism and the significant role of women in its development. The author has also discussed Sufism in the modern world, whilst identifying some contemporary practices which are presented as Sufism, but in fact are antithetical to core Sufi beliefs.
Rehman Anwer, the author, was born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan and studied human rights at Kingston University, London. He is an activist and has been working on several human rights-based campaigns in the U.K. Rehman is currently serving as a public servant focussing on promoting community cohesion and tackling hate crime. His published writing has primarily highlighted human rights violations and societal issues. The Fundamentals of Sufism is his first book.
Belonging to a family associated deeply with Sufism, Rehman was introduced to many concepts at an early age. His father, the late Hazrat Ikram Ludhianvi was a writer and Sufi of the Chishti Sabri order and was visited by a range of people seeking answers to their problems, or merely discussing matters pertaining to the soul; growing up, Rehamn observed and absorbed these experiences. However, since Rehman was only thirteen years old when his father passed away, he attributes a lot of understanding of Sufi concepts to Hazrat Syed Ahmed Mian. Eventually, he realised a need to bring these esoteric ideas to the layperson in an accessible manner. The book was Rehman’s project during the first Covid-19 lockdown in the United Kingdom.
“I have travelled extensively, worked with international organisations and met countless people,” says Rehman, “but what stays with me is the peace I saw on the faces of the people who sat in our drawing room along with my father. The Sufis I grew up with were the finest people insofar as their manners, intelligence and humanity were concerned. Their approach to life was at odds with modern capitalism. They sought no acknowledgement for the work they did for others. Therefore, this short book is an attempt to explore Sufism from a beginner’s standpoint.”
Sufism was officially introduced to Lahori readers on January 5th, with a panel discussion at the Research & Publication Centre headed by Rashed Rehman, where the author was joined by panellists Raza Ahmad Rumi and Attiya Noon. Rahim Baloch, a visual artist from Noushki (Balochistan), who lent his original art for the book’s cover, was also present; he presented a detailed account of his own trance-like creative process and how work engages with the metaphysical.
This event was followed by a launch in Islamabad at the Marriott Hotel, in collaboration with Artcade Gallery. Audiences at both launch events praised Rehman’s book and engaged in meaningful conversation about the concept of Sufism, its place in religion and the modern world, and the various misconceptions surrounding it. Subsequent talks have been held in Lahore at Kitaab Ghar (a public library) and Hast-o-Neest (an institute of traditional studies in art and culture).
Snippets from the various talks held for Sufism
Lending critical acclaim to the work, Raza Rumi (director of the Park Center for Independent Media, Ithaca College and founder Nayadaur Media) says, “Rehman Anwer has done a valuable service to bring the history, context and present status of Sufi ideas to a wider audience. Written in an accessible and engaging style, this compendium gives a useful introduction to the kye concepts that Sufis have propagated over the centuries.”
Salman Ahmed (Pakistani musician, activist and lecturer in music and poetry at the City University of New York) says, “An important book on Sufism which focuses on the important role of both women and men in illuminating the quest for Haqiqa (ultimate truth).”
Dr Joy Barrow, a lecturer and writer on Sikhism and interfaith relations, welcomed Rehman’s book as an important “contribution to an understanding of Sufism which is often neglected in studies of Islam” and welcomes the gender aspect of the book since “so often studies on religions make little, if any, acknowledgment of the contributions made by women.”
The book is available at Kayal in Islamabad and Karachi (with nationwide delivery), and Readings in Lahore (online delivery for Readings will be made available soon).