Sufism has been known in India and Pakistan since its very commencement. The presence of Sufism has been a leading entity, increasing the riches of Islam throughout India and Pakistan. Sufism is the mystical position of Islam, a personal, experimental approach to Allah. Sufis represents the strongest indigenous force against Islamic fundamentalism. For centuries Pakistan was the land of Sufism, a tolerant, mystical practice of Islam. Sufis have considerable influence in both rural and urban settings. Sufism maintains that human beings are creatures of God and they should be served and respected. Tolerance, kindness to all and malice towards none are the virtues of Sufis.
Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 resulted in the arrival of thousands of foreign Middle Eastern fighters and the first appearance of fundamental ideologies, which insists on a literal interpretation of Islam and sees Sufism and its ideas as heretic. It still holds millions of followers, but with the spread of hardline Islam, Sufism has been in retreat.
A lot has been penned since the suicide attack outside Lal Shahbaz Qalendar’s Shrine last month and much more should be written to denounce the ISIS mindset who is critical of rituals performed at the shrines, and is viewed as heretical by hard-line groups.
Sehwan Sharif is one of the oldest towns of Sindh. It is highly respected in Sindh because of resting place of the great mystic poet Syed Mohammad Usman Marvandi known as Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, who preached religious tolerance among people of many religious, especially Muslims and Hindus and therefore his mysticism attracted people from many religions. He was called Lal after his usual red attire. His shrine is a true synthetic place, where Hindus and Muslims are as welcome and worship together. One of my acquaintances told me that hereditary guardian of the tomb is still a Hindu. It is narrated that there was a Shiva lingam right there in the shrine until the 1970s. All these Hindu legends and beliefs have come together with the religious belief of the Muslims to create a truly extraordinary place. It is a habitat where different religious identities are embraced.
William Dalrymple spent some time at the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine in Sehwan, meeting devotees and dervishes to understand the syncretic culture of the Sufis. In his book, Nine Lives, he describes the shrine as:
“A place where for once you saw religion acting to bring people together, not to separate them.”
In recent history the ideology of Extremism and bombing the Shrines started from Najaf. On 29 August 2003 a massive car bomb rocked the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf soon after Friday prayers, which claimed the lives 124 including one of Shiite top cleric Ayatullah Mohammad Baqar Al Hakeem who returned to Iraq after living in exile in Iran for 20 years. The bombing was the most virulent attack in Iraq in 2003. Al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack.
Al-Qaeda and ISIS follows a rigidly austere threat of Islam that believes shrines are inverse to Islam and should be demolished. To further their ideology of anti-shrines second major attack was carried on 22 February 2006 on Imam Askari’s Shrine, which shattered the golden dome of one of Iraq's most revered Shiite shrines.
On 29 March 2016 at least 72 people were wiped out in a suicide blast that took place in Lahore's crowded Gulshan-I-Iqbal park. The powerful blast ripped through a massive crowded area of the park. Witnesses stated the crowd included a large number of Christian families celebrating Easter. Easter Sunday was supposed to be special. After going to church services, families gathered in the vast Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park. Most of the victims were from Lahore’s beleaguered Christian community.
On 22 June 2016 Pakistan’s most respected musicians Amjad Farid Sabri, celebrated for devotional Qawalis from a century-old mystic tradition, was gunned down near his Liaqatabad residence. But both the music, and the shrines at which it is often performed, have long been a target for religious conservatives who despise all forms of music and consider the shrines eccentric and un-Islamic.
Whether it is an attempt on the Imam Ali Shrine in Iraq or Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan or the loss of uncounted precious lives, nothing is sacrosanct to any hardline Islamists. The incorrigible behaviour that Pakistan is seeing today is nowhere near the antiquated devotional attitudes and tolerant sentiments of the homeland. This is an attempt on a Pakistan’s pluralistic history, the attack on Lal Shahbaz Qalandar has once again demonstrated that the militants consider pluralistic Islam a threat to their own version of Islam. 305 people have been killed in 10 different attacks on Shrines since 2005.
We are not bound by the confines of religious boundaries. We are united to overcome the extremists, and this is final.