Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed killer of Salmaan Taseer, is said to be associated with the Dawat-e-Islami, a non-violent, non-political, Sufi-inspired group of the Barelvi school of thought. The Barelvis are mainly pacifists, having little or no militant tendencies, while most jihadists and militant groups, with few exceptions, believe in a more puritanical version of Islam where veneration of Sufi saints and rituals and devotional music and dances at their shrines, are considered apostasy.
So does this mean orthodox Islam is essentially violent and Sufi Islam non-violent? My answer is, ‘no’. Blanket generalisations are wrong in either case. Neither are all orthodox Muslims militants, nor are all Sufis pacifists. Many would disagree with the latter part of my thesis because they believe Sufis are peace-loving, proselytising preachers. But I say, not essentially.
Before going further, let’s first see what exactly Sufism is. Islam has an exoteric and an esoteric dimension. The exoteric, or outer, dimension is scriptural and normative. The esoteric dimension, on the other hand, is liberal, spiritual and pluralistic and hence characterised by humanism, tolerance and accommodation of differences. Sufi masters have described fighting one’s ‘evil self’ as a greater jihad than armed struggle. Nonetheless, all Sufis weren’t and aren’t non-violent. Read history. Sufi sheikhs and dervishes led revivalist movements, fighting foreign rule as well as the ‘tyranny and oppression’ of Muslim rulers.
In 1240, Baba Ilyas-i-Khorasani and Baba Ishaq, two popular Sufi sheikhs, mobilised nomadic Turkmen against the Seljuk rule in what is modern-day Turkey, demanding a revival of ‘pure’ Islam. And in the 15th and 16th centuries, several Sufi masters led armed uprisings in the Ottoman Empire against the ‘lax’ official Islam.
In modern times, most rebellions, led by Sufi masters, were targeted against the British, French and Italian colonialists. The Sanusiyya — a Sufi order widespread in Libya, Egypt, Sudan and the Sahara — fought against the Italian colonialists. And the Muridiyya order, founded by Amadu Baba, fought the French in Senegal. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Sufis from Naqshbandiyya and Qadiriyya orders fought jihad against ‘godless’ Russian tsars and the Soviets.
In the region now called Pakistan, Sufis, dervishes and mullahs pioneered several millenarian and revivalist movements directed against British colonialists. Mirza Ali Khan, better known as the ‘Faqir from Ipi,’ a hermit from the Waziristan region, led his disciples in a successful rebellion against the British. And the Hur movement of the late 19th century in Sindh was also mobilised by a saintly figure, Sibghtullah Shah Badshah.
Having said that, I think Qadri’s act shouldn’t be a surprise. Qadri, in his own words, was motivated by a sermon of a local imam. The government should, at least, monitor Friday sermons at all mosques. This is essential to check hate-preaching and extremism which has become an existential threat for Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2011.