• Bawa Muhaiyaddeen: A Study of Mystical Interreligiosity

      Blankinship, Khalid Yahya; Rey, Terry; White, Sydney Davant; Jhala, Jayasinhji (Temple University. Libraries, 2017)
      The focus of the study is on the teachings of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, the mystic saint whose tomb is in Coatesville, PA, which is the only Sufi shrine in North America. Much has been written on the community of Bawa’s followers whose main office is in the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship in Philadelphia, PA, USA. However, as far as my research revealed, as to this date, no study has focused particularly on his teachings. The objective of this study is to initiate that. This study spotlighted on how this Sufi saint integrated the various religions in his teachings. His teachings are evidently premised on the Islamic concept of Tawhid. This aligns with the mystic perspective and thus is this study premised. Bawa’s vision is of a single truth emanating throughout creation through all space and time. This is a characteristic that mystics of all traditions appear to share. What makes Bawa unique among the known mystics is how he weaves in the various religions to convey his teachings. Thus, his teachings are a veritable pot pourri of ancient wisdom flowing from the Hindu Puranas to the Sufi teachings in Islam. In one way it can be viewed as a one-man inter-religious monologue. It is not so much the perennial message as looking at each tradition in a way that had eluded the believer before. Sufis of yore are known to use this method, but had remained within their own traditions. Bawa’s teachings are significant in his being a figure that is metaphorically described in a title of a Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship publication as the “Tree That Fell to the West”. Thus, spanning both the East and the West, his teachings became global in its reach and appears to be more relevant and accessible due to the nature of contemporary progression of our psyche. To situate Bawa the study has provided a very brief overview of the mystic perspective and a comparative sketch of mysticism in the West and Islam. Bawa being a Muslim mystic, a chapter on Islam and the Muslim world view and an insight into Sufism was deemed essential to comprehend the depth of Bawa’s teachings. It was also necessary to analyze the significance of the pioneering spirit of North America that is so consonant with the element of freedom that defines the mystic message that is essentially that of liberation. This is viewed as a vital component in the message of Bawa that served to capture the psyche of his followers. What is notable in Bawa’s teachings is how he integrates the popular ideas of different traditions to draw out a hidden significance that overturns the traditional way of how the listener had hitherto viewed them. He views the religions as sections, states, etc., that have to be experienced into the distillation of the truth in a manner of speaking. Each of these plays its part in the progression of every individual to the point of the ultimate realization to the Real. Bawa’s teaching methodology appears to be aligned to the tradition of the “holy men” who have come to light with the recent research of the past two decades. Bawa remains unique in his expansion, per se, in continuation of the model left as the legacy by those holy men that researcher Richard Eaton brought to our attention. An analysis of that legacy is provided as it will be conducive to understanding as to how the Sufi perspective centered on Tawhid brings in the terrain of multiple traditions. Bawa taught through discourses. Such teachings belong to the age old oral tradition. Thus, the teachings flow according to the teacher’s discernment of each individual’s needs in the audience. He would tell his followers that he provides the nourishment as per the need of each individual as he “sees” where each of his “children” are when they come to him. This translates into his perceptiveness of each person’s level of comprehension and his contouring his message to gear into that level for optimal learning. Bawa’s teachings can be described as a veritable ocean in its breadth and depth. The task was to attempt to draw manageable parameters for this research. As such, the usage of Hinduism is the sliver that has been chosen to analyze what and how Bawa conveyed his message. The focal point is that it is through the mystic perspective Bawa integrated diverse traditions to converge on the single point of the Islamic concept of Tawhid. What is shown here is that it is such a perspective that allowed Bawa to bring together the apparently diametrically opposite traditions of Hinduism and Islam through an interreligious journey that brings in a perspectival shift by expanding the psyche of the listener.