By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam
03 March 2017
In his recent thought-provoking commentary, the reasons that Haroon Khalid has cited for the rising fear of ISIS from the Sufi shrines like Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, ring true. He writes that, “there is perhaps no other shrine in the country that captures the essence of religious syncretism like the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. In his courtyard, it feels as if the riots of Partition never happened, as if Sindhi Hindus were never forced to abandon their land, as if Christian settlements in Punjab had never been burned after alleged cases of blasphemy. The courtyard of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar represents a different world, a world that once existed but has slowly disappeared outside its confines. That’s why this courtyard represents such a threat. It defies all narratives, of exclusive nationalism and religious identities. It maybe just a few thousand people but a powerful narrative. The attack is not on the shrine but on this worldview which does not divide humanity into simplistic separate categories”.
This reflection confirms the impressions of many close observers of the sorry state of cultural affairs in Pakistan. But unfortunately, the writer conveniently skipped an ambiguous, clear and candid exposition of the genesis that feeds into the religious violence in Pakistan. It would have been more to the point if he had tried to identify the root-cause stemming from a religio-fascist philosophy wreaking the cultural destruction in the entire Islamic history. Not only now, but for ages, it has been targeting the emblems of pluralism and syncretism—the Sufi shrines like that of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a 13th-century Muslim mystic and poet who founded his Sufi order (Silsila) in Sindh.
It is a common knowledge in history that Sufi mystics were choked to death in almost every age of Islam and in every Muslim country. Pakistan is not an isolated phenomenon. Sufis in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and in various parts of the African Muslim region were persecuted for their alleged ‘deviation’ (Inhiraf) from the ‘puritan’ Islamic beliefs. For instance, in Iraq, the brutal killing of the Persian Sufi mystic and poet, Mansur Hallaj in 922 was justified for his stating "anal Haqq" (I am the truth)—the allegorical and esoteric words that he spelled out in a spiritual state of Fana (salvation). The theological jurists of Baghdad considered this Muslim mystic as a heretic deserving of death penalty. Another Persian Sufi mystic Ayn al-Qudat Hamadani was executed in 1131 by the mullahs of Suljuks. In 1191, the prominent Sufi luminary Shahab-ud-Deen Suhrawardi, the founder of a new Sufi order, was executed by the then Muslim ruler in Syria. In 1417, one of the greatest Sufi masters of Azerbaijan was skinned alive in Syria itself. In 1718, Sufi Shah Ïnayatullah, who was also an eminent social reformist in Sindh, was executed by the Mughal Emperor Yar Muhammad Kalhoro. Deplorably, this nefarious spade of religious violence rocked the history of the Indian subcontinent also. In India, while Firoz Shah Tughlaq punished the mystic Masood Bakk by a painful death in 1390, Aurangzeb Alamgeer beheaded the Persian Sufi saint of his time, Sarmad Kashani, popularly called “Sarmad Shaheed” (martyr). He had travelled from Persia to find an abode of peace in India in the 17th century.
In most cases, it was the politically well-established theologians and Islamic jurists who sentenced the Sufis to death on the charges (Fatwas) that considered their writings or utterances as heretical. On account of their non-conformist views like the notion of Wahdatul Wajud (unity of existence), these Sufis were declared apostates (Murtad). And this was an out-and-out theological justification to slain the Sufis and vandalize their shrines. Today, the same holds true for the extremist narrative underpinned by Pakistan’s Salafi-Wahhabi preachers who instigate the youth to join the radical Islamist outfits like ISIS and Tahrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Significantly, Pakistan’s close observers believe it is purely an ideological battle, rather than politically motivated slugfest. They aver that extremists are destroying the diverse cultural fabric of the society by terrorizing the mystical strain of Islam—Sufism. For it runs as an effective antidote to the hate-driven Islamist narrative in Pakistan. Thus, the nature of the war on Sufi culture and tradition is more ideological than political. It is not difficult to sense this ideological motive. The reason why the Sufi devotes have been targeted in the bloodthirsty suicide bombing of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine is patently clear. The mystically-inclined, spiritual and inclusivist Sufi traditions in the country practically rebut the exclusivity of the ‘puritanical Islam'.
Last year, a popular Sufi singer (Qawwal) in Pakistan, Amjad Sabri was assassinated by the Talibani religious goons in Karachi. But the TTP which claimed the responsibility for the Sufi singer’s killing was not alone in its justification of the religious terror. Many religious chieftains of the Pakistani society viewed it as an assassination of the ‘Mushrik’ and Bid’ati’ (deviant from Islam). For Qawwali and Sufi music are frowned upon as ‘un-Islamic’ by the Pakistani Islamist groups ideologically inspired by Wahhabism. Therefore, the brutal killing of the innocent Sufi Qawwal went unchallenged. The clerics in Pakistan who accused Sabri of heresy did not regret his death. Neither did they mourn the latest terror attack on the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. While ‘politically correct’ condemnations galore from all hues of Muslim sects including the Wahhabis, there remain those who conveniently put the blame on the terror victims for participating in Dhamal, the “deviant” Sufi dance. Such bigoted and untenable accusations reveal that sectarianism is a profound ideological problem in the society of Pakistan.
Going by the media reports, the attack on Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine was perpetrated by the ISIS which claimed the responsibility for the attack via its affiliated news agency Amaq. Earlier, the Islamic State targeted the Sufi shrine of Hazrat Shah Noorani were more than 100 people were injured in a similar suicide blast. Thus, ISIS' animosity towards the Sufi practitioners is not difficult to see. It appears that after the crackdown on the ISIS self-imposed caliphate in Mousal, Raqqa and other parts of West Asia, the global jihadist empire is switching over to South Asian Muslim countries where the terror outfits like the Taliban, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the ilk already exist to help murder the Sufi devotees.
By slaying Sufis and bombing their shrines, terrorists actually seek to ‘purify’ Islam in a bid to retrieve the ‘purity’ of the ‘Salaf’ (the Muslim predecessors). But in reality, these ‘puritanical’ Islamists are far removed from the Islam mystically experienced by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). His traditions set a classic example of how people of different faiths could peacefully coexist as one nation (Ummah). In his state of Madina, all religious communities lived by an alliance of shared values known as “Mithaq-e-Madina”, the constitution of Medina which had the immutable clauses of religious pluralism, universal brotherhood and peaceful coexistence. But a blatant strike on the egalitarian messages of the Prophet’s tradition is on the rampage in Pakistan and other Muslim countries. All terror outfits— Daesh or ISIS, Al-Qaida, Al-Shabab, Tahrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Boko Haram— brazenly breach the foundations of Prophet’s mystical Islam enunciated in Mithaq-e-Madina.
Let alone Muslims, all non-Muslims living in Madina of the Prophet’s times were accorded full protection of life, religious freed and democratic rights. A clause in Misaq-e-Madina was stipulated in these words of Prophet (Hadith): “I shall dispute with any Muslim who oppresses anyone from among the non-Muslims, or infringes on his right, or puts a responsibility on him which is beyond his capacity or takes something from him against his will." (Reported by Abu Dawood)
The recently attacked Sufi shrine in Pakistan, Dargah Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is equally venerated and visited by Pakistan’s Sufi-oriented Muslim majority and the Hindu minority. Inevitably, not only Muslim devotees, but even a considerable number of non-Muslims were killed in the suicide blast.
Regrettably, it is quite ironic to see the Prophetic ideals being brazenly violated by the puritanical Islamists in Pakistan, given the state was created in the name of Nizam-e-Mustafa (the Prophetic system of governance)with its constitution loudly being claimed to follow the model of Misaq-e-Madina.
A www.newageislam.com regular columnist, Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a scholar of classical Arabic and Islamic Sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies at Centre for Culture, Media & Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia
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