A curious case of a strange name

You may hear little from south-central Asia except news of radicalization and violence. Stories too often appear in the news about unseemly incidents taking place there. While some stories may reflect reality, for nebulous reasons violence always enjoys prime-time news coverage worldwide. However, many beautiful and wonderful things from that part of the world are sadly overlooked.

One such beautiful phenomenon is Madhu Lal Hussain. Many reading this column may be unaware that Madhu is a Hindu name and Hussain, a famous Muslim one.

Confusion would be understandable: A Muslim fellow from Pakistan, whose name starts with a typical Hindu name? Who is Madhu and what is this strange phenomenon? Lal Hussain was a Sufi poet and saint who lived in the late 16th century of the Common Era; he was born, and is also buried, in what is now Lahore, Pakistan. Madhu was a Hindu disciple — a follower and student — of Hussain.

Hussain, an Islamic scholar and saint, deeply loved Madhu. This shows Hussain’s love for human beings without prejudice due to religion or race, etc. To please his beloved disciple Madhu, Hussain also used to celebrate Holi, a Hindu color festival. The love of Hussain for Madhu was so great that they lived their whole life together and are buried in the same shrine. This love destined them for eternal unification and they are remembered in South Asia as a single character, Madhu Lal Hussain, not by separate distinct names.

Madhu Lal Hussain is a phenomenon of a charming spiritual discipline: the Sufism emanating from Pakistan. Sufis are mystics who aim for closer union with God by striving to heal the spiritual wounds of humanity. And — literally, it is humanity — not Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, etc.

Sufism is a branch of Islam that welcomes all with alacrity, without even a tinge of discrimination. Leaving the extravaganza of this world and living a chaste and humble life is also a hallmark of Sufism. These gentle teachings of Sufism assisted the great spread of Islam in South Asia.

Sufi saints of South Asia challenged orthodox theology, seen as a set of rituals, rules and hardcore restrictions, and drained of compassion, bliss and rapture. Madhu Lal Hussain is one of many examples we have in Pakistan and India.

These saints may have passed from this earth, but their shrines still exhibit the utmost religious harmony. People from every religion, caste and creed seek these shrines. Aside from spiritual gratification, there is a 24/7 provision of food to the poor at these places.

I am a Muslim who disowns, refutes and condemns hatred, bigotry, fundamentalism and rigidity. My religion is the religion of saints who devoted their lives for humanity, who worked for the betterment of society, who never differentiated people on the basis of religion.

And, I take pride in my Pakistani religio-cultural history.