Outrage on Sufism

(Photo: AFP)

The terrorist, whatever the label, will find it difficult to digest that Sufism, a tolerant, mystical practice of Islam, has millions of followers in Pakistan.

Under attack in Mosul and Aleppo, the Islamic State  of Iraq and Syria has renewed the extension of its tentacles in the subcontinent. As much is the sinister message of Saturday's suicide attack, said to have been carried out by a 14-year-old, on a Sufi dargah in Baluchistan. There are a couple of facets to the outrage. One, the Caliphate has extended the conflict beyond the Shia-Sunni confrontation. It was an attack on tolerant Sufism, indeed the manifestation  of the conflict within Islam. Dargah Shah Noorani stands today as an awesome symbol of the calculated malevolence. The other is the surge in the attack on Sufi artistes, notably singers, in parallel to the accumulation of arms by the Islamist militants. As recently as June, the  qawwali singer, Amjad Sabri, was shot dead in Karachi, a killing for which  the Taliban had claimed responsibility. Pakistan has reached a stage where the label of the terrorist is of lesser moment than the grim reality of innocents being done to death with fearsome regularity.  Less than a month ago, cadets of the Baluchistan Police College in Quetta were killed by the Taliban, a disaster that followed  the bombing of a hospital in the Baluch capital.

The tragedy at Dargah Shah Noorani would seem to be still more poignant as the targeted innocents had assembled for the weekly songs and prayers, notably when the worshippers were performing the dhamal, a ritualistic dance of profound importance in the Sufi tradition. It was, to use contemporary jargon, a surgical strike  not merely on the sect but on the tolerant and liberal culture that it has propagated over time. In death, the 52 victims have conveyed the chilling message, and not to the Muslim bloc alone. Amidst the mushroom growth of militant hubs across Pakistan, the shrine culture still prevails. And there is little doubt that the offensive of the hardliners, who strike to kill, is directed against any modern, let alone liberal, interpretation of Islam. Notably, the song-and-dance  religious culture of the Sufis has palpably turned out to be an anathema, perhaps even heretical. Direly alarmist must be the fact that its religious philosophy of tolerance is perceived as anti-Islam through the fundamentalist prism. Indeed, the contribution of the Sufi saints to Pakistan's social development has been no less significant than that of the ulema  and clerics.

Till the emergence of mortal fundamentalism, more Pakistanis are said to have visited Sufi shrines than they did mosques. Saturday's mayhem is an affront to a noble tradition. Aside from the Shias, the Sunni Caliphate has widened its targeted flank. The terrorist, whatever the label, will find it difficult to digest that Sufism, a tolerant, mystical practice of Islam, has millions of followers in Pakistan. And it shall not be easy to obliterate the groundswell of support.

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