By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi
This is a trying time for all the Sufi practitioners and shrine-visitors in India and Pakistan. First time in the history, Ajmer Sharif–the biggest Sufi shrine in India–is being used in a large political campaign of the Jami’at Ulema-e-Hind (JUH), whose key members and religio-politicians declare Sufism “un-Islamic”, yet chose the largest Sufi shrine to organise their 33th annual conference, clearly in an attempt to woo the mainstream Sufi-oriented Muslims in India.
The other day, Pakistan witnessed the deadliest terror attack on Sufi devotees who were engaged in a spiritual ceremony at the shrine of the Sufi saint Hazrat Shah Noorani, in the provincial capital of restive southern Balochistan. According to the Pakistani Urdu daily Express News, at least 90 people died and more than 100 others were injured in the bomb blast at a remote Sufi shrine in Pakistan. The victims were the Sufi practitioners who were participating in a devotional Sufi practice, Dhamal which is held daily before dusk, when the blast occurred. Women and children were among the worst victims, as the provincial Home Minister Sarfraz Bugti has told the media reporters.
Regrettably enough, while the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind celebrates the Sufism and its universal values and teachings in its first-ever ‘Sufi conference’ in Ajmer, it maintains complete silence over the atrocities against the Sufi-oriented Muslims in Pakistan at the hands of the hard-line Islamists.
The reason why scores of innocent Sufi devotes have been targeted in the bloodthirsty terror attack on the Shah Noorani Dargah is plain and simple. As many researchers have rightly pointed out, Sufism—the spiritual strain of Islam—is castigated as deviation from the ‘puritanical Islam’ and thus Sufi Muslims are declared heretics and apostates ‘whose blood should be shed to purge Islam of the deviations’. This is a categorical sectarian stand of all the theological ideologues inspiring the extremist Islamist outfits like the ISIS, al-Qaeda and Tahrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Commenting on the vulnerable situation of Sufi shrines in Pakistan, Malini Nair writes: “There have been several attacks on Sufi shrines in Pakistan in recent years. The reason is not hard to find – unlike the grey jihadists’ worldview, the Sufi tradition is about divinity represented in music, poetry and dance, and attained through the meditative creation of Sama. The Sufi’s world is wrapped around metaphors – there are no straight answers to questions, no one right path, and all are welcome to this all-encompassing madness….” (timesofindia.indiatimes.com/toi-edit-page/amjad-sabris-assassination-how-the-sufi-qawwali-rattles-the-jihadists-grey-worldview/)
Not long ago, Amjad Sabri, a popular Qawwal (Sufi singer) of Pakistan was assassinated by two Talibani gunmen in Karachi in June 2016. (Source: dawn.com/news/1266514). But Tahrik-e-Taliban Pakistan which claimed the responsibility of Sabri’s murder was not alone in justifying the murder of the Sufi Singer. Qawwali and devotional dance which has long been part of the Sufi tradition are frowned upon as ‘heretical’ and ‘deviant’ by all the hard-line Islamist groups gaining ideological momentum in Pakistan. Therefore, the brutal killing of the innocent Sufi singer went wholly unchallenged. It was viewed as the assassination of an apostate (Murtad).Those in Pakistan who accused Sabri of apostasy were did not regret his death. Neither do they mourn the latest terror attack on the shrine of Hazrat Shah Noorani. For, the bomb blast hit the ‘deviants’ participating in the traditional Sufi dance. The target of the attack was the area where Sufi devotees were performing ‘Dhamal’, a popular form of devotional Sufi dance. The visitors take part in this Sufi practice at the shrine of Shah Noorani every day after sunset. The terror attack took place close to where devotees were dancing inside the compound of the shrine, as reported by News18.Almost 500 to 600 devotees were present at the shrine when the terror attack was carried out. (news18.com/news/world/52-killed-in-sufi-shrine-blast-in-pakistans-balochistan-1311473.html).
Going by the latest media reports on this terror incident, it seems it was perpetrated by the ISIS which has claimed the responsibility for the attack via its affiliated news agency Amaq. The ISIS wrote that “a suicide bomber targeting the shrine had killed around 35 people and injured 95 others”.
In its latest statement through its Amaq news agency, the ISIS has also confessed that it was also responsible for the October 24 attack on a police academy in Quetta, the capital of the Baluchistan province. At least 60 people were killed and more than 120 people were injured in that attack.
The militant group has targeted the Sufi saint Shah Noorani’s shrine in a wave of terror attacks in Baluchistan in recent years. Earlier, more than 100 people were injured in a similar blast, with a faction of the Pakistan Taliban – the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar – claiming responsibility for it.Al Jazeera correspondent has reported from the capital Islamabad that there was an overwhelming crowd at that Sufi shrine when the explosion happened.”They were commemorating the Sufi saint’s 500th birth anniversary. People killed include women and children,” Al Jazeera reported. (aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/dozens-casualties-attack-pakistan-shrine-161112141000715.html
ISIS’ animosity towards the Sufi and Shia Muslims is not difficult to see in the Muslim countries, particularly in its occupied lands. It appears that after the crackdown on the ISIS self-imposed caliphate in Mousal, Raqqa and other parts of the West Asia, the global jihadist empire is switching over to South Asian Muslim countries where the militant groups like the Taliban, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the ilk already exist and slaughter the Sufi and Shia followers considering their practices against the ‘puritanical ‘Islam. It is a common knowledge that Shah Noorani’s shrine is venerated and visited both by minority Shia and the majority Sufi-Sunni Muslims in Pakistan.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad–one of the erstwhile leaders of Indian Muslims and first education minister of India—said in his speech at Jama Masjid to Indian Muslims, that the biggest mistake Muslims did was the creation of Pakistan. The book written by Sourish Kashmiri makes it patently clear that separation from India in any form was strongly discouraged by Maulana Azad and the likes who prided themselves on the multiculturalism in India. It would have been easy for them to go and get settled in Pakistan and get all accolades, but they didn’t. They were cognizant of the truth that whatever calamity might fall on Muslims as minority in India, it would be far smaller than what would happen in the Muslim-majority Pakistan. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad wrote in unequivocal words in his book:
“I have considered the scheme of Pakistan as formulated by the Muslim League from every possible point of view. As an Indian, I have examined its implications for the future of India as a whole. As a Muslim I have examined its likely adverse effects upon the fortunes of Muslims of India”….
“I am a Muslim and profoundly conscious of the fact that I have inherited Islam’s glorious traditions of the last thirteen hundred years. I am not prepared to lose even a small part of that legacy…I am equally proud of the fact that I am an Indian, an essential part of the invisible unity of Indian nationhood, a vital factor in its total make-up without which its noble edifice will remain incomplete. I can never give up this sincere claim. It was India’s historic destiny that its soil should become the destination of many different caravans of races, cultures and religions. Even before the dawn of history’s morning, they started their trek into India and the process has continued since.”
(India Wins Freedom, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Azad’s statement on Muslim issues in India, April 15, 1946)
Given the sectarian killings and growing atrocities against the Sufi Muslims along with the religious minorities in Pakistan, it is irrefutable to state that Indian Muslims are best-placed lot. Though, of course, not in terms of economic status, but Muslims are much better off in India than the so-called Islamic democracies of Pakistan and Bangladesh. They profess and practice their religion according to their choice. But what is happening to Muslims in the neighbouring Islamic countries is completely distressing. Much in the same way as in Pakistan, in Bangladesh also, Muslim free thinkers, bloggers, writers and authors are choked to death. Religious minorities are the worst hit. Of late, Bangladeshi radical Islamists ransacked temples and vandalized homes of the Hindu minority in the Brahmanbairs district of eastern Bangladesh, as NDTV reported. (ndtv.com/world-news/hindu-temples-attacked-in-bangladesh-over-facebook-post-1586890).
Recently, Maulana Mahmood Madni, apparently discouraging the so-called Islamic separatist leaders in India, stated: “Indian Muslims are best-placed lot in this country, when we look around the world”…..They live as per their choice” (news18.com/news/india/indian-muslims-best-placed-they-live-as-per-their-choice-mahmood-madani-1308674.html)
While speaking at the annual India Foundation Conclave, Maulana Madni also laid out that Islam spread through the two channels: peace and the sword. “In India, Islam came with Sufis and not the emperors. Islam is not for ruling or establishing Sarkar (government). It has come to correct our own ways of life. It didn’t come with Akbar and Babur but with Chishti Aulia (Sufis of Chishti order)”, said the Maulana.
Isn’t it time for an honest introspection into the religio-political narratives of victimhood that the Islamist leaders are spreading in India? The conception of establishing a separate Islamic state is not a fiction that that the separatist leaders are flogging in Kashmir. They simply wish to further their political ends by eliminating the traditional Sufi Islam from the Indian state much in the same way as in Pakistan. It’s an opportune time for the sensible Muslims in Kashmir—the valley of Sufi traditions— to delve deeper into this ideological discourse. It’s time they introspected, came out of denial, gave up conspiracy theories and engaged in an objective brainstorming on what Maulana Madni suggests: Muslims are better off in India, as compared to the so-called Islamic states.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a scholar of Comparative Religion, Classical Arabic and Islamic sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies.