By Haroon Riaz
The unfortunate and devastating bombing at
the Sehwan Sharif shrine sheds a new light. The devotees of the shrine and
those with a Sufi leaning in their faith reinforced their love for the
spiritual rituals practiced over there.
The Islamic State accepted the
responsibility for the Sehwan Sharif suicide bombing and sent a clear message
to all who have deviated from the true practice of the faith.
Perhaps only a day or two after the
bombing, classical dancer Sheema Kermani went up to the shrine and performed
the iconic Dhamal to send her message that life must go on at the Lal Shahbaz
Qalandar Shrine. Now, this was supposed to be a beautiful, powerful moment of
spirituality and love that should have brought the entire humanity together.
By good numbers, the Dhamal, or the
ecstatic spiritual dance, was seen as a moral abomination. Something they would
never imagine their mothers or sisters to be doing as opposed to the obscene
dancer who defied the terrorist, other than the notion that it was pure heresy.
Something which would have made the true founders of Islam turn in their
Obviously, many of the urban upper class Deobandi/Wahhabi
kids had seen Dhamal for the first time in their lives, so their shock is
understandable. But it is the rest of the crowd, who actively campaigns to
condemn dissenting religious groups, is where the intolerance begins a little
too much to tolerate.
While their assertions of what was and was
not done by the Prophet and his companions may well be true, their effect in the
contemporary society goes far beyond that. What the cult of true Islam cannot
stomach is the fact that somehow Pakistan happens to be very pluralistic in its
religious makeup at the grassroots, even with its seemingly very homogeneous
official faith. What the cult of true Islam cannot come to terms with is the
possibility that Islam may have evolved a little over the last fourteen
centuries and hundreds of regions.
The Islam of Pakistanis happens to be far
from one at least, unlike the monolithic form of monotheism you see practiced
by the Saudi Arabian regime. We do kiss and touch stones over here, prostrate
at grave sites in reverence, and wear charms and amulets. Not surprisingly, we
have sects within sects within sects in Pakistan and it is not necessarily a
bad thing, the shock at it certainly is. Not only that, we have a rich Sufi
tradition that has oftentimes been a result of marriage with the wisdom from
Hindu ascetics. Nobody should be afraid to say that.
So just like the region of the Indus that today
falls under the modern Pakistan republic is ethnically and lingually diverse,
it is no surprise that it is as diverse in its religious affiliations. The cult
of true Islam has been at it to dismantle every aspect of its culture and turn
it into Arabia. Too bad we still don’t see as many date trees around our
neighbourhoods than we ought to.
While we can manufacture several conspiracy
theories about how the Islamic State emerged, what we hesitate to face is the
foundation of our fatwa culture. It is basically the Islam purists among us who
we dismiss playfully that are responsible for the culture of declaring “Kafir.”
While I have never had personally anything against the label (I used to think
it was a compliment), I gradually realized what it meant for others.
The acceptance of this intolerance has been
as commonplace as the occurrence of the word Kafir and Shia in one sentence. It
was only a matter of time that the larger practice of paying homage to the
great Sufi saints that this region is known for started falling under that
The expression of “true Islam” remains to
be an enigmatic paradox which apparently is grappled only by those who claim to
be its proponents in whatever context it is thrown at you. If it is in the
context of secularism, you know all its good qualities were already embodied in
it. If it is in the context of who is a truer Muslim, then you know you
certainly cannot win. I only wish the proponents of the true Islam were as
flexible as the concept itself is.
It is not a problem to hold, observe and
practice a certain belief system. Actually, that is precisely what I am arguing
for. But how about you stop imposing their superior faith of you on others who
are observing their own tradition. Perhaps, it is not going to happen in an
atmosphere where intolerance is encouraged and where art and culture are seen
The funny thing is that the same people
would make tall claims of how their faith would perfectly allow existence for
anyone with a different belief system.
We may feel appalled by the Islamic State
and dismiss and condemn them as “Kharijites,” but what about the apologies for
the very philosophy that they are acting on? Are they not found all over
Pakistan? Or sitting in the next cubicle at your workplace?
Religious zeal and puritanism sound like
nice ideas but they need to understand that the fabric of the society cannot
remain intact without the necessary tolerance for the faith of each other.
And yes, even the Constitution of the
Islamic Republic of Pakistan appears to promise that freedom that these purists
want to see disappear.
So how about we keep the contracts going
that the locals of this region have had with each other for thousands of years?
Haroon Riaz is a Rawalpindi-based independent blogger and believes in
promoting free speech and secularism.