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Pakistan: Under the thirsty blade, I dance

Thursday 23 February 2017, by siawi3


Columns Comment

By Rehman Anwer


Sehwan blast and targeted attacks against Sufis

Yet again, Pakistan is a target of a new wave of terrorism hitting almost all of its provinces. 88 people were massacred in a deadly suicide attack at the shrine of Sufi saint, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan on Thursday. Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack. All the same, it is impossible to carry out such attacks without the assistance of local facilitators.

Sufi shrines have been the target of terrorists in Pakistan for a long time. It started when, in 2007, around 200 armed Taliban captured the shrine of Haji Sahib Turangzai, a renowned freedom fighter and social worker of 19th century. Taliban prevented people from visiting the Sufi shrines in the areas they captured as in their understanding Sufi traditions were not Islamic. In 2009, a Taliban militant blew up the shrine of Rahman Baba, a 17th century Pashtun Sufi poet whose poetry promoted a message a peace and love. The locals were warned beforehand by terrorists that they would blow up the shrine if women continue to visit it.

Alongside religious minorities and sectarian violence in Pakistan, the attacks on Sufi shrines have been carried out by the terrorists in a consistent manner. In 2005, 20 people killed and 61 got injured in an explosion at Bari Imam shrine in Islamabad and another 46 people killed at Pir Rakhel Shah’s shrine in Fatehpur. Year 2010 was the most deadliest year for Sufi devotees as the shrines of Data Ali Hajveri in Lahore, Baba Farid Ganj Shakar in Pakpattan and Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi were targeted by terrorists killing at least 55 people and injuring nearly 200. A suicide attack killed at least 41 people in 2011 in DG Khan. In 2013, the shrine of Ghulam Shah Ghazi was targetted in Maari killing at least 3 and injuring 27 and 52 killed and 100 injured at the shrine of Shah Norani in Khuzdar in 2016.

Sufism is neither a religion nor a sect. The followers of Sufi traditions believe in a mystical dimension of Islam focussing on a personal approach to reach the divine. Some of the Sufi traditions including celebration of the death day of Sufi saints called ‘urs’ which symbolises their union with God; the Sufi music or qawali; and the Sufi dance or Dhamal. The extremists and terrorists always find these traditions in contradiction with Islam and hence find it justified to attack them.

After the Sehwan blast, we Pakistanis did everything we normally do after every terrorist attack on our soil including condemnations on social media, messages of solidarity and reminding the Government about their policy failures to deal with the challenges of terrorism and extremism. Artists and activists performed Dhamal in order to show their solidarity with the Sufi devotees at Sehwan. However, there was one thing unusual after the Sehwan attack, a barrage of hate messages directed towards the followers of Sufi traditions especially against Dhamal. It was deeply disturbing to see how some people had ignored the devastating suicide attack at the innocent visitors at the shrine and more concerning for them was their approach to follow their faith. The more worrying element was that some of this criticism was not just coming from religious right but some so-called liberals were also part of that hate campaign against Sufis. The worst bit was a vile misogynistic attack on a female artist, Sheema Kermani, who performed Dhamal at the site of the blast to show her support to the victims.

There is no denial of the fact that good and bad people are found in every religion, sect and cultural traditions. There are certainly examples where a handful of individuals are involved in malicious activities in the same of Sufism, however, a sweeping generalisation against the followers of Sufi tradition is dangerously absurd. Doing so, we will only encourage terrorists to attack more Sufi shrines and kill more innocent people.

Sufis have historically promoted a message of peace to the entire mankind. A shrine is open to all regardless of people’s religious beliefs, ethnic backgrounds or social statuses. It would not be wrong to claim that Sufism represents the strongest force against religious fanaticism by emphasising on humanity, peace and coexistence. Fear of death is the last thing on a Sufi’s mind. They live for others and even their death days are celebrated as part of the Sufi custom. Scaring them with bullets and guns will always fail to stifle followers of Sufi traditions.

تُو آں قاتل کہ از بہرِ تماشا خونِ من ریزی
من آں بسمل کہ زیرِ خنجرِ خونخوار می رقصم

Such display may cause my killer to lust for my blood

And meek under the thirsty blade, I dance

Rehman Anwer works as Project Manager for Faith Matters, an interfaith and conflict resolution organisation based in UK.