KARACHI: The panel discussion on Sufism in Pakistan began with a topic that tugs at the hearts of all Pakistanis: suicide bombings.
The discussion, on the second day of the Karachi Literature Festival, was moderated by Raza Rumi and consisted of a largely foreign panel: Peter Pannke, Michel Boivin, Jurgen Wasim Frembgen and Karachi's own Samina Qureshi.
There have been repeated attacks on Sufi shrines because they have been labelled 'un-Islamic'. All the speakers emphasised that Sufism spread in the subcontinent with the advent of Islam. "Sufism is the relation between an individual and the divine, teachers search far and wide to attain this connection," said Qureshi. It was in this search that Sufis came to this region.
An interesting point made by Qureshi was that while these shrines are a ministry for the poor, they are civic centres as well and provide sustenance for troubled souls. But they can also be fronts for drugs and storage of weapons. This does not mean they should be bombed but the public should be aware.
For Frembgen it is deeply disturbing that in Pakistan the tendency is to exclude people of other faiths but people must realise that Sufism is in fact the search for Islam. A false binary has been coined that puts Sufism in opposition to Islam. "[But] Sufism is the mystical essence of Islam, it's the core and the narrative," stated Rumi.
"The aim of terrorism is to spread terror and these attacks have made it torture for followers to visit shrines," said Boivin. Qureshi added, "Shrines are all inclusive, regardless of which faith one belongs to, everyone is welcome, this is perhaps against the stringent beliefs of certain faiths."
"These spaces are places of openness; they allow paradox and freedom," said Frembgen. "There is no absoluteness as there is in some other areas - men, women and the third gender are all free to visit Sufi shrines."
A concluding point of the discussion was made by Pannke, stressing that while foreigners are also importing Sufi culture through music and poetry, "keeping the Sufi culture alive depends on the people of Pakistan and it is you who have to make this culture survive and flourish".
Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2011.
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