Sufi Shrine Diversity

With so much of the world's conflict stemming from religion, this Sufi shrine has created a space where all faiths meet and worship side by side. The following piece is an audio story about how Nizamuddin shrine in New Delhi creates a welcoming space for believers of all faiths and tourist to enjoy Qwalli music and build a spiritual connection to their higher power.


Daily Dispatch 1: Discovering Diversity in a Sufi Shrine

NEW DELHI – Rain is rare this time of year in northern India, but we were greeted with a heavy downpour as our Air India flight touched down at Indira Gandhi Airport in this capital city. The rain felt good on our arms and faces after our 14-hour flight from New York. We rushed into waiting taxis, only to spend more than an hour in heavy traffic on our way to our hotel, the Holiday Inn. After briefly settling into our rooms and grabbing a quick dinner, we started our religious exploration with a visit one of India’s holiest Sufi shrines, Nizamuddin Auliya for an evening of sacred song, known as the qawwali. If we expected a narrow look at Islamic practice, we were surprised by how diverse the crowd and the ritual turned out to be.

When Professor Trivedi asked what we saw, Emily proposed “syncretism.” And, indeed, different religions and schools of faith were much in evidence. There were Muslim prayers and Indian ragas and lit candles that resembled Hindu arti ceremonies going on in various parts of the shrine.

It was also a diverse crowd. There was a delegation of Indian judges, many of whom were Hindus, and there were several turban-wearing Sikhs in the crowd. People of every faith and every shade of skin color were in the crowd, which numbered in the hundreds.

Before entering the shrine, we took off our shoes and wended our way through narrow alleyways lined with shops selling flowers and other offerings and souvenirs. Beggars lined the walls with their hands out.

“I think we are all overwhelmed and they are all equally overwhelmed by us,” Pia commented.

Finally, we were joined by 29-year old Syed Bilal Nizami, a caretaker of the Sufi shrine who claims to be a 34th generation descendant of the saint buried in the tomb. In a great show of hospitality, Nizamiled us to a room he designated as our “office” for the moment and gave us a few minutes to process what we just experienced. When we asked him how the qwwali has changed over the years, he said it has become more and more popular with people of all faiths. “When people pray here, their prayers are answered,” he said with confidence.

During the Sufi Ceremony we joined the rest of the viewers sitting in two groups on the right and left side of the choir and performers. After observing the ceremony, we took a tour just once more before we walked through the same alleyways to retrieve our shoes and board the bus once again.

Before heading back to the hotel we stopped at the India gate for ice cream and chatted amongst ourselves about the day’s findings.

“After such a great day, I hope I get enough sleep to enjoy tomorrow as much as I did today,” said Emily as we exited the bus and approached our hotel entrance.

On Route to Nizamuddin Auliya
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