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Islam and Sectarianism ( 21 Sept 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Punjabi Hindus: Forlorn and On the Path to Extinction-Part-I


By Justice Syed Asif Shahkar

Sept 9, 2012

Most of them in the religious garb are defying and violating the Sufi masters. To me it is nothing less than a rape

Just as a piece of paper knows not where it will land when blown and tossed around by the strong winds, we too, for some reason, can end up in a place we had no plans of going to. That is exactly what happened when we left home to go to Pakpattan but ended up in Malikahans. Gulshan Dyal, who was visiting from the US, wanted to go to Pakpattan to pay homage to Baba Fareed and get his blessings. On the way, someone suggested to visit Waris Shah’s mosque and shrine since it was on the way. Personally, I did not really care to see this shrine or the mosque, and I had my own reasons for that. Firstly, many years ago as a producer of a TV film, I had seen Waris Shah’s shrine and his beloved Bhagbhari’s quarters. Secondly and most importantly, I have never been drawn to or was ever interested in bowing and praying in front of these shrines of bricks and stones. Whatever our Sufi saints and poets wrote and sermonised was actually to enlighten mankind. Unfortunately, after their demise, instead of believing in and practicing their teachings, people thronged to their tombs and shrines to worship and ask for blessings.

The messenger lived even in death but the message perished. These places became nothing more than mere commercial centres or bazaars where people came to pray and brought offerings in exchange for fulfilment of wishes and showers of blessings. The wealthy and influential in the area became owners and proprietors of these places. Not only did they control these shops or centres, proclaiming to be rightful heirs or successors, they also hired Maulvis and clerics to run the show of smoke and mirrors for them. Another tragedy is that these Sufis in their lifetime criticised, condemned and denounced religious hypocrisy and falsehood, censuring such hypocrites and frauds in the strongest words possible. However, after their death, religious hypocrites and charlatans took control of these places and turned them into colossal realms of religious hypocrisy. Not only that, those who controlled and managed these places were and are in no way aligned with the original philosophy and message. If asked, they would fail to recite even a single couplet or hymn written by the master. Most of them in the religious garb are defying and violating the Sufi masters.

To me it is nothing less than a rape.

On our arrival at Malikahans, the Maulvi having seen us with a police escort (being a Justice from Sweden, I was under their protection) came running towards us. He coyly greeted us in the usual subservient and meek tone and took us into the mosque. This 18th century mosque built with small red bricks was nothing like what I had seen years ago; now it was a brand new modern structure on which perhaps hundreds of thousands of rupees had been spent. Many children adorned with white caps were busy reciting the Quran while their bodies moved back and forth in a motorised rhythm. The Maulvi addressed us and proudly told us that the mosque had become a madrasa, a place where children are taught to memorise and recite the Quran and are educated and trained in the Islamic text and traditions. I could not help but laugh in my mind at the irony of the whole scenario. This, here, at this very place, is where Waris Shah lived and passionately loved Bhagbhari who lived nearby; Heer was conceived and written by him at this very place. Now it had been turned into a madrassa and the Maulvi had become Waris Shah’s voice, whereas Waris Shah in Heer had profusely condemned and cursed the Qazi or Maulvi.

Waris Shah’s quarter, adorned with modern tiles and mirrors, was even more flamboyant and was no less than a commercial showroom. Devoid of the original aroma in which the presence of the poet could be felt, the ‘showroom’ was now reeking with a strong chemical odour. I was appalled and suffocated by what I saw. I could not wait to get away from there but as we were leaving, the Maulvi said, “Justice Sahib, I would like to show you one more thing before you leave.” I tried to avoid him as I was not keen to see another religious place, but due to his persistence, and more out of courtesy, I followed him. He led us to a site, where to my utter shock, what we saw in front of us was a Hindu temple.

And what a grand spectacle this temple presented. It was a treasure of rare art and artistry. Seeing it one could feel that Hindus living here had built it with great love and devotion. The artists had poured all their love, reverence, imagination and skill into every single brick, which was simply an exquisite piece of art. One was awestruck and mesmerised by its splendour. A series of film-like visuals and images started playing in my mind, taking me back to the times when the foundations had been laid for this temple. In its time it must have witnessed a lot. Mothers must have come to worship, to be blessed with their children; newly married couples in the best of dresses must have come to show gratitude and celebrate their marriage. The distressed and destitute must have made offerings of their tears, begging for blessings for a better life. How many joyful and tragic gatherings this temple must have hosted and embraced.

“It’s heartbreaking to see it in this miserable condition,” I heard someone say and that interrupted the chain of my thoughts. The temple, once grand and glorious, was now reduced to nothing but ruin; anything that could be removed had been removed. There were large holes in place of doors and windows. Part of the roof had caved in. The rooms that somehow had survived the ordeal were now being used as living quarters. A buffalo was tied there and the floor had layers and layers of manure and filth. The entire place was just a stinking hole and it was impossible to stand there and even breathe easily. It was humanly impossible not to shed tears at what we saw.

I am human too.

(To be continued)

Justice Syed Asif Shahkar is a serving Justice in Sweden