By Akrita Reyar
March 16, 2017
One day the Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar
was wandering through a desert with a friend when dusk fell and it suddenly
turned very cold. The two gathered wood to warm themselves in the night only to
discover that they had no light to ignite the timber. His friend asked Qalandar
to turn into a Huma (bird) and get charcoal from hell. Immediately, Lal Shahbaz
took the form of a falcon and flew into the skies returning hours later but
without a splinter. Asked why he had return empty handed, Qalandar explained
that there was no raging inferno in hell. Each person who resided there
scorched in his own fire!
This deep story is reflective of the
spiritual reality of life as much as the physical experience of Pakistan. Month
after month, and sometimes, week after week, the country finds itself burning
from blasts in its own shrines, market places, political rallies and public
congregations kindled by the Frankenstein monster created by itself.
The sad part of the story is that even Lal
Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine has not been spared, perhaps because it brings to the
innocent and simple masses spiritualism and God in a straightforward way.
Through a method that is traditional, deep-rooted in the South Asian culture
and reflective of the moors that we have emerged from.
Sufism has been entrenched in the
subcontinent for more than a 1000 years. Flowing in from Persia across, it
travelled across Balochistan, Punjab, Sindh, and Rajasthan to the Indian
heartland mingling with the deeply pious temperament of the common people - Why
Sufis found acceptance is because they brought with them the message of
spiritual bliss in a way that was non-violent, folksy and adaptive of
traditional music and art forms.
Attainment of God, the drunkenness of
divine love, the high pedestal on which a Sufi saint was placed made religion
tangible and personal. Cultural songs, dances and rituals like incense and lamp
lighting added local flavour.
It is these very native practices that
Islamic purists loathe.
So when a bomb ripped across Sehwan Sharif
this February killing over 90 people, the message was loud and clear. It
conveyed disapproval of everything that was practiced in Lal Qalandar’s shrine
- the music, dance, intermingling of genders and the lore about the Sufi fakir
Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and a Hindu demigod Jhule Lal (Varun Dev) being
intertwined as one in local faith - made memorable by the references of both in
the super hit song ‘Dam a Dam Mast Qalandar’.
The incident was not an isolated one. A
blood trail of such savagery passes across the length and breadth of Pakistan,
clearly attempting to loosen and break the scaffold of Sufi faith in the
More than a decade back, in 2005, Pir
Rakhel Shah of Fatehpur was attacked. This was followed by a litany of such
incidents at Data Darbar in Lahore, Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi, Baba
Farid’s Dargah in Pakpattan, Sakhi Sarwar in Dera Ghazi Khan, Dargah Ghulam
Shah Ghazi in Maari, Baba Nangay Shah's shrine in capital Islamabad and Shah
Norani shrine in Khuzdar besides the killing of Sufi singer Amjad Sabri.
The growing violence is in reality a battle
of ideologies within Islam. One is the puritanical and very orthodox stream of
Deobandi/ Wahhabi/Salafi practices and on the other side are mystical Sufis and
the moderate Barelvi sect.
Sufism which had a fairly strong hold in
the Pakistani territory for centuries, began to lose its charm in late 1970s.
The exposure of Pakistanis to orthodox Islam because of travelling to the
Middle East, the mushrooming of madrasas funded by Saudi petro dollars in the
absence of robust education system and the rise of Zia ul Haq sounded the death
knell for this very indigenous version of Islam.
The frequency of assaults now shows that
the puritans are winning and spreading roots even in areas like rural Sindh
which were hitherto out of their reach. The idea is to threaten, coax and force
people to give up passive and personal spiritualism - which welcomes people of
all faiths and both the genders - and to toe their line of hardline Islam where
women are invisible in openly practising religion and Hindus, Shias, Christians
etc. are not welcome unless they too convert.
The crux of the matter is this. Where does
Pakistan want to see itself in future? Does it want to retain its vernacular
identity and history where moderate Islam held sway or does it want to become
an image of Saudi Arabian concepts.
In recent years, governments have begun to
feel the pain of extremism and found that groups like
Tehreek-i-Taliab-Pakistan, ISIS and sectarian groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi may
be becoming entities that are too hot to handle. Fundamentalism, clearly, will
consume not just Pakistan’s ethnicity but the country itself.
Unfortunately, statistics reveal a horror
story. The minority population in Pakistan has shrunk from 24% in 1947 to just
about 4% now. Madrasas that promote puritan Islam which were about 8000
immediately after Independence have presently bloated to 2,15,000.
For a more moderate future, investing in
traditional Islam and propagation of Sufism will help the common man remain
liberal. Because the moment the man on the street starts turning radical,
Pakistan will be caught in a vortex of violence that is already pulling it towards
Pakistan needs more Sehwans, where men and
women can dance together. Where Muslims, Hindus and Christians practice
spirituality with the same ardour and where the keeper of the shrine is still a
Sufism and Barelvi Islam are the very
antidotes that Pakistan needs to stay away from the path of destruction. The
country needs to wake up and wake up fast to ebb the decay of these moderate
facets of Islam. It needs to enlist the support of the Pakistani citizen - the
poor, middle class and rich – in preserving the middle path.
The road ahead will not be easy. Pakistan
has come down the lane of radicalisation too far. Benazir Bhutto is an example
of this. Visiting Qalandar’s shrine, she sat crying in front of the Sufi’s tomb
asking questions about her future. Sometime later she was assassinated.
For Pakistan, the war of ideologies will be
a make or break one. It will be an arduous task to reverse the current, but it
must be done.
Because The Question Is Of Survival.