A text of the talk presented by Dr. Stephen Gill, at the international conference on Sufism and Peace
held from March 14 to March 16 organized by Pakistan Academy of Letters in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Peace wombs the fetus of wisdom and the flowers of beauty. Peace is the path of prosperity and the breath of bliss. I congratulate Mr. Fakhar Zaman, head of Pakistan Academy of Letters, and members of his executive who have worked hard to organize this meaningful gathering of intellectuals to promote peace. I have brought a message from the land of peace to the land that should be proud because of its sufi poets and sages who have played expressive roles for creating peace to make the world a better place.
When I talk of peace, I mean the absence of war and fear for every individual to walk around with an independent conscious to accept or to reject any ideology or philosophy. This is my dream and this is what I write about in my poetry.
The cradle of my dream is mind, a field where battles are fought first. This field—I mean the mind—is unsullied by prejudices when a child comes into this world. This is the field which is to be taken care of if human needs a life without the engines of destruction and a conscious that is not a slave to prejudices and hatred.
I would like to share that I was born in Sialkot before the partition of India. My parents migrated to New Delhi from Sialkot, and from New Delhi I migrated to different nations in search for the flower of peace. I settled finally in Canada where I have been living for the last more than forty years as a poet and as a writer for peace. I am happy to breathe again the air of the country where I was born and where my parents were born and where the bones of my ancestors are buried. I am happy to breathe the air of the nation that has produced great poets of peace in the past and is still producing and I am sure that this nation will keep producing a good crop of poets, artists and sages even more in the future. This area where we have assembled has produced poets, such as Shah Hussain , Sultan Bahu and Shah Sharaf. On the top of these there is Bulleh Shah from 1680 to 1757, a humanist and a philosopher.
Bulleh Shah, a prominent poet and philosopher from this area, was against violence. I would like to quote lines that are the English rendering of one of his poems:
Tear down the mosques
and also temples
break down all that divides
but do not break the human heart
it is there
where God resides.
A few lines from another poem of Bulleh Shah:
Neither a Hindu Nor a Muslim
Let us sit together
Neither a Shia Nor a Sunni
Let us walk the path
I fully agree with Bulleh Shah. I believe God is peace and where God resides there is peace and where there is peace, there is plenty, there is health, prosperity, love and harmony. A country that has no peace, does not have prosperity. In such a country, no one would like to invest money. For a lack of investment, there are no jobs. As a result, the citizens of such a country may use wrong means to find money to feed themselves and to feed their children.
Because of the absence of peace and security, the rich persons of that country will deposit their money either in the Swiss banks or invest somewhere else. Highly educated and skilled people of that country migrate to other nations. It is called the brain drain. There is the lack of tourists also. Tourism is an industry by itself. Many nations rely on tourism for foreign currency. Tourists will not like to go to those countries where there is no security. As a result, the countries which lack security will not get foreign exchange even from tourists. This worsens the situation.
Leaders of such a nation look for reasons to blame others. Minorities become their soft targets. This gives rise to a clash between the majority and the minorities. A country in which the minorities are not happy, even the majority is not happy. The majority is always on the alert. The minorities do not feel safe in their own land. They begin to shift their loyalties.
Because of the lack of securities and money, the government will borrow heavily from other nations to carry on its day to day work. This starts another cycle. No one will lend money to a person or a nation that is not stable. The nation is surrounded with problems and problems and more problems.
I was talking about Bulleh Shah. His poetry reflects a turbulent period in Punjab’s history. He blames those who are in power, including intellectuals, academicians and religious authorities for giving wrong information to citizens and do not let the citizens discover the love of God.
Bulleh Shah was refused by the religious leaders to be buried in the community graveyard because of his unorthodox views in his poetry. Today the same person is remembered and his grave is being looked after by the city of Qasur for his global respect and recognition. It was because of the harmony and love he talked about.
Pakistan has produced poets of peace even after the death of Bulleh Shah. They were jailed for their boldness for speaking the truth. They are also remembered.
Peace is the result of human unity, and the human unity has been the dream of poets, prophets, priests, sages and reformers from time immemorial. These days, human unity is the agenda of peace activists and politicians. There is already geographical unity that has been caused by the technology and science. There is also global economy due to international exchanges and communication. We are already in the area of global culture. This change has been caused fast without letting humans to adjust to this change. In many ways the world has become one, but in thinking human is still divided as the primitive tribes were.
It is admirable that writers have and are still playing a vital role in most nations. They have and are still trying to improve race relationships. Changes in many countries were caused by the muscles of the pen. Shakespeare was right when he said in the sixteenth century that the pen is mightier than the sword. So was Shelley in the romantic age of English literature. Shelley said that poets are unacknowledged legislators of the world. In olden days only a selected few had access to books, because the rulers knew the power of written words. The Bible was kept locked and chained. In India, the Vedas were within the reach of only a handful of people. This story has been repeated and is still being repeated in several civilizations in different shapes.
There is no doubt that writers have the ability to change habits and attitudes of the citizens. Leo Tolstoy, a novelist from Russia, was largely responsible for changing the social consciousness of Europe. In the United States of America, the Pentagon Papers concerning Vietnam War also changed largely the thinking of the citizens. Before this, the civil war in the USA for the emancipation of the slaves was partly due to the book titled Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. This novels, written during the mid 19th and the early 20th centuries, reflects the condition of the slaves. The novelist herself says that she had written her book to show people what slavery was. The novel went a long way in changing the attitude of Americans towards slavery. The French revolutions were largely due to writers. Maxim Gorki is known today for his social realism. In the social and political fields, writers who reflect the spirit of their age are always remembered and read with unique respect.
Writers in Canada and also in Pakistan are active. They write for radio and TV. They are associated with newspapers and journals. They write novels, histories, poetry, plays and even speeches for the members of parliament and executive officers. Writers of today are associated with nearly every aspect of life.
Writers are in a better situation today to inform the world that harmony among racial and religious groups is essential to make the world better for citizens and for the children of citizens. Writers can inform the world that divided nations have fallen in the past and will fall even in the future, and the fruits of unity are sweet and manifold.
Therefore instead of wasting time at the alter of violence, hatred and pride, leaders should focus on improving the quality of life on earth. Writers can do it because they are involved in every aspect of life and are blessed with the gift of self-expression.
Sufi artists and thinkers are not politicians. They believe in the divine power that is peace. Sufis believe that for divine power all are equal. The sun of the Almighty, and rains as well as the air are free gifts from the Almighty for every individual. When Bulleh Shah says in a couplet “do not break the human heart”, he talks of multiculturalism.
Another Sufi poet from this area, Shaikh Fareed or Baba Fareed, is known for his love for everyone. He was against hypocrisy. He says every human heart is a pearl. He preaches not to break any heart. A substantial portion of his poetry has been incorporated into the Guru Granth Sahib, the religious book of the Sikhs. These and other sufi poets and thinkers focus on peace and tolerance as well as respect for all creations. Their literature teaches the wisdom to co-exist. Sufi literature is not to divide; it is for the love and tolerance that unify the diverse ethnic heritage.
This area of Pakistan where this gathering of peace-loving thinkers is being held, is known as Indus Valley. It was a flourishing area about three thousand years before Christ. It was flourishing largely because of mass migration for various reasons. This migration brought into the Indus Valley a significant diversity of human race and cultural traditions. Among the immigrants, included Aryans, Greeks, Mongols, Turks, Persians, Afghans and Arabs. The area became known for peace and respect for learned people.
The Indus Valley had a multicultural society as Pakistan has today in the form of different languages, ethnic groups, creeds and beliefs. My own country, Canada, has become multicultural in shape and through constitutional means. Canada has been declared multicultural by different governments. Tolerance is the base of this multiculturalism. Without tolerance there is no peace, and without peace there is no any kind of prosperity.
The world of today is a global village and this global village is of multicultural nature. To think of turning it into a village of one belief or ethnic group is impossible. Therefore humans have to learn to live side by side with the people of different cultures and creeds. This is the message of Sufis, and also the message of Canada where I live.
Citizens of this subcontinent are aware of the blood that was shed in 1947 in the name of religion. It was all due to the lack of tolerance. Lack of tolerance is a sword that divides families, citizens and nations. It divides the hearts of the people. It was this sword that divided India, and Pakistan came into existence. Again it was the same sword that divided Pakistan and Bangladesh came into existence. The same sword is flashing again in India, Pakistan and also in Bagladesh as well as in several other nations.
Intolerance leads to a fearful circle of revenge, opening doors for anarchy, making day-to-day life miserable. Intolerance also leads to unnecessary tensions which lay the foundation for insecurity and where there is no security there is no chance for prosperity and peace-- neither personal nor political. Intolerance leads to unnecessary tension and tensions leads to unnecessary divisions in the communities and nations. Intolerance leads to unnecessary fear, and fear leads to insane actions. In extreme form, fear becomes terror. Suspicion and fear split people into opposite camps, each trying to collect more poison to annihilate the other. No one will know how to get rid of the thunders of fear and how to end the maddening race of intolerance.
Tension and fear play havoc with the economic life of the nation. Happy minorities contribute towards the building of the nation. If minorities feel secure, they will do everything to feel proud of their heritage. Absence of security and harmony leads to econo/ political disaster that endangers the stability of the majority. Protection of minorities is in the interest of the majority and the whole nation, even the world. This approach is for the prosperity and survival of everyone.
Sufi poets and thinkers look upon the entire humanity as one body. As the peace of the heart and mind depends on the peace of every part of the body, the peace of entire humanity depends on the peace of every community and group. Even if a part of the finger or tooth or eye is painful, the whole body becomes painful. The different parts of the body are like different communities, ethnic and cultural groups. They all are supposed to coexist in harmony and peace. This is the message of Sufis.
This is what Canada practices and teaches. Canada has the policy of multiculturalism that is based on the concept of tolerance or co-existence. Canadian politicians and architects of Canadian future and welfare came to this conclusion independently through their own wisdom that the only way to survive with dignity is to learn to live in a multicultural environment. Canadians came to this conclusion from the beginning of the formation of the nation. Consequently, Canada has become the choicest place to live largely because of her recognition of peaceful co-existence. This is the Canadian identity. In a country of around thirty two million people, there are about two hundred and fifty ethnic news media, and around one hundred and fifty languages spoken and understood.
This is the way of Canada, a multicultural society which permits free development of every culture, language and religion to work together to achieve a higher form of the principles of freedom and democracy. This is the blueprint that is the base of the Canadian strength, and I believe, this is the blueprint that shall be the strength of the rest of the world.
In order to improve the strength, more diversity boom is expected in Canada, according to a population growth report released in March 2010 by Statistics Canada. The report says that Canada will stop using the word minority soon because the minorities will become the majority. Canada is going to educate citizens more widely and vigorously to have open minds so that minorities may feel comfortable working with others who are different from the point of culture and religion. The report reveals that shortly Christians will be in minority and the number of non-Christians will be doubled and half of them will be Muslims. This diversity will give muscles to Canada to grow further and be more peaceful and be a much better nation.
Pakistan does not have to struggle to be multicultural nation. Pakistan is already blessed with diversity, and diversity is a strength. Diversity becomes a strength when tolerance is practiced. If Pakistan listen to these Sufi thinkers, Pakistan will become envy of the world. Instead of going abroad, other nationalities would like to come and settle here. All it needs is tolerance.
If the world wants to bring the global village together more closely, it will have to be on the principles of these Sufis, who believe in tolerance. I have no doubts that tolerance is the key to peace and the foundation of democracy. Tolerance for the faiths of others as well as for the cultures of others gives birth to a legitimate child of bliss. This is the message of this international gathering, and this is the message that I have brought from Canada.
(Stephen Gill has authored more than twenty books, including novels, collections of poems and literary criticism. His poetry and prose have appeared in more than five hundred publications. His works have been recognized with doctorates and other honors)