By Murtaza Razvi
First they took away our Benazir, then they attacked our Data Saheb. Pakistan is not Pakistan anymore and Lahore is not Lahore. Bapsi Sidhwa's "City of Sin and Splendour" is amongst the hardest hit by terrorism in recent months. Yet, no one in their wildest imagination could think that militants would dare attack Data Darbar, which is to Lahore what Golden Temple is to Amritsar.
Syed Ali Hajveri, a fine religious scholar steeped in the Sufi tradition, came to Lahore in the 11th century CE after Mahmud Ghaznavi took the city. His arrival arguably heralds the arrival of Islam in Lahore and the coming of the city into any prominence. The people took to his teachings like fish to water and soon dubbed him Data Saheb, the Giver, and their city Data di Nagri.
No other Sufi saint that came to Lahore after him was able to surpass his popularity, though the city is now home to a large number of illustrious doyens of the tradition. Sufi literature is replete with miracles performed by Data Saheb, though he himself denies having any such abilities in his magnum opus, written in Persian, Kashful Mahjoob (Revelation of Mystery).
The only other Muslim shrine that predates Data Darbar in Lahore is that of Bibiyan Pak Daman (the Ladies of Virtue). Legend has it that a group of ladies headed by the daughter of the fourth Muslim caliph, Ali, camped at a hillock outside Lahore in the late 7th century (Ali was also the Prophet's son-in-law and the fountainhead of Muslim Sufi tradition). The ladies came here for refuge in the year 680, after the battle of Karbala in Iraq, in which Ali's son and his companions were slain and women taken prisoner by the Umayyad tyrant, Yazid.
The ladies' arrival created a stir, and the local raja sent his soldiers to bring them to his court. As the soldiers approached the camp, the ladies prayed for the parting of the earth before they could be touched. The prayer was granted and only some odds and ends of their veils remained at the site where the earth had parted. The place soon became a centre of pilgrimage though there were no Muslims around at that time.
When Data Saheb arrived in Lahore over 300 years later, this was where he stayed, and until his death he offered his morning prayers at the shrine. Later, at Data's own shrine, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti meditated for 40 days in isolation to seek enlightenment before heading off to Ajmer. Lahore after that saw a steady stream of Sufis who came to seek Data's blessings; many stayed back.
Given the city's vast expanse today, the number of Sufi shrines could well be in hundreds; nearly every locality has at least one shrine where the people flock for prayer, offerings, shelter and langar (free food). Thursday night is the dedicated Sufi night when musicians and qawwals come to sing at the shrines and the crowds gather to listen and indulge in song and dance. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan never missed giving a live performance on Thursday nights at Data Darbar if he was in town, paying homage to Data, year after year throughout his singing career.
The shrine culture is despised by many puritan Muslims who equate it with idol-worship and thus against the teachings of Islam. However, there's a vast shrine-going majority; the number of such puritans is no more than 10 per cent, which is still alarming. The Deobandi and Wahhabi creed has registered a whopping increase since the Afghan jihad days when Gen Zia-ul Haq allowed petro-dollars from the Gulf sheikhdoms to come in to help set up puritan seminaries, whose number is now in thousands.
The Taliban and militants of their ilk have all come out from such seminaries; most still receive grants from the government as a hangover of the Zia dictatorship, and no government has dared to cut off the official monthly payouts they get. It is a measure of government's inability to rein in extremism that the Lal Masjid prayer leader in Islamabad, who raised a rebellion against Musharraf and necessitated a military action killing over a hundred people in 2007, is back in his sarkari job.
The vast majority of Pakistanis remain practitioners of the Barelvi creed, who are shrine-going, peaceful people. But the same cannot be said of those sitting in the bureaucracy and in the government. Punjab's law minister Rana Sanaullah is accused of having links with banned militant organisations; the Sharif brothers who hold sway in the province would find it very awkward to relieve him of his job, not least because they wouldn't want to rub their erstwhile Saudi benefactors the wrong way.
Meanwhile, Data's Lahore and Jinnah's Pakistan remain in a muddled fix, created by military dictators and tolerated by the democratic leaders of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
The writer is an editor with 'Dawn', Karachi
Source: Indian Express, New Delhi