Targeting symbols of spirituality

While religious differences have always existed, there is no longer any space for dialogue.


Iftikhar Firdous/saba Imtiaz September 25, 2010

In July 2007, Pakistanis were glued to their television screens as images of the army battling armed students in Lal Masjid in Islamabad were broadcast round the clock.

A few weeks after the operation, militants started avenging those killed in the seminary.

On July 31, 2007, around 200 militants took control of Haji Baba Turangzai’s shrine in Safi tehsil in Mohmand Agency, renamed it Lal Masjid and established their own brand of Shariah courts in the area.

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Omar Khalid announced: “We will continue Ghazi Abdur Rashid’s mission even if it means sacrificing our lives.”

Three years later, shrines remain susceptible targets. As recently as September 20, Akhun Salak Baba’s shrine on the outskirts of Peshawar was blown up. Over 40 people died in July in suicide attacks on Data Darbar in Lahore.

Security analyst Imtiaz Gul says that attacks on shrines are a result of the al Qaeda and TTP alliance in 2007. “This is done by people who believe in Osama bin Laden’s philosophy, [who subscribes to] the Salafi/Wahabi school of thought that rejects shrines.”

Their goal is to “demonstrate their rejection of shrines and to discourage people from visiting them.” There is another group too, however, Gul points out. These “are local criminal groups disguised as the Taliban and foreign vested interests whose aim is to destabilise Pakistan.”

Attacks on shrines are usually believed to be a result of differences among schools of Islamic thought. While Deobandis, Salafis, Ahle Hadiths and Panjpiris do not believe in shrines, Barelvis consider saints to be “their go-between to communicate with God,” says historian Mubarak Ali.

However, differences in religious point of views have always existed without translating into violence. Ali feels this is because, “at the present time, there is no space in our society for debate.”

When the Taliban took over Buner in April 2009, they first besieged Pir Baba’s shrine. Taliban leader Fateh Khan said it was because the place was a hub of “adultery and idolatry”. When the military launched a surgical strike the walls of the shrines were covered with chalkings of Jumaat Tauheed-o-Sunnah.

In Khyber Agency, Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) – which follows the Deobandi and Panjpiri creeds – is the main group involved in blowing up shrines and schools. Almost all attacks on shrines in Khyber Agency and Peshawar have been claimed by the LI. Its leader Mangal Bagh has openly vowed to carry out these attacks.

However, while a high-ranking member of the Panjpir school of thought admits that their “aim is to eradicate bidaat (excess in religion),” but he says that they do not target innocent people.

“We think that suicide attacks on shrines are actually a plan to defame Islam by Islam,” says a spokesperson for Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which follows the Ahle Hadith school of thought.

Despite heavy contingents of police at shrines – 6,500 personnel were deployed at Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s urs this year – it is a near-impossible task to secure them. Shrines are frequented by thousands daily, provide food and are cultural symbols.  Even though suicide attacks have been condemned by Deobandi and Barelvi scholars, the policemen standing guard are a sign of the ever-present threat and fear at these symbols of spirituality.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 25th, 2010.

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COMMENTS (12)

Waqar | 10 years ago | Reply @ Braven John Your obfuscation of historical facts has little relevance on the topic at hand in it's context. Can you tell the difference between history and legend? The Tartars (there were many elasticities within the Tartar race) who sacked Baghdad were inherently savage, uncivilised and brutal. Their motives were not driven by religious or political zeal but rather to conquer, plunder and burn whole cities, they did not single out religious sites, a few of which are still standing today.. The analogy you made of the Tartars and today's vandals is inconsequential, since if you applied the same logic then Allah, the Almighty would have wiped out all the Mushrikins in other countries and replaced them with God fearing people. The desecration and total obliteration of Islamic heritage sites under the pretext of preserving Tauheed and to prevent people from committing shirk was first promulgated by an 18th century 'reformer' in the Arabian Peninsula who resurrected the works of a well known scholar of the 12th century and his successor. This reformer was responsible for the massacre of men, women and children in cities where the population would not yield to his brand of puritanical Islam and in his wake he would vandalise religious artifacts, destroy buildings of historical significance and graves of illuminous personalities, lest they become objects of worship. The classical scholars have said of visiting graves that it is permitted as long as one does not believe the called upon to have actual and real influence on things, and that one does not ask for something that clearly expresses a kufr belief, such as if one asked for forgiveness of sins from other than Allah, or for creating something. Merely calling upon other than Allah is not shirk, because shirk is to worship other than Allah, and merely calling someone is not worship of the called upon. Should someone claim that every du’a is worship then how would they understand the following verse in the Holy Qur’an: “Make not the addressing (du’a ) of the Prophet among you like your addressing one another…” So basically, we cannot interpret du`a to mean worship in every context. A call without worshipping the called upon is just a call, and it is not shirk. Moreover, calling a person who has died is done every day in every single one of the 5 daily prayers, where a Muslim says, “Ya Ayyuhan-Nabi,” i.e. “O Prophet!” Clearly then, calling a person who has died is permitted, even a duty in this case. The difference between calling Allah, and calling a human being or another creature, is that one calls Allah with the most extreme humility and the belief that Allah is attributed with godhood. When a Muslim calls a creation it is not worship, because it is not done with the same level of humility as when calling Allah, and not with the belief that the one who is called has any attribute of godhood. This is different again from the idolaters’ calling of their idols, because they believed their idols to have godhood. It should be noted again, however, that one cannot call a creation to ask for something that necessarily implies an attribute of godhood. Examples would be if someone asked for the creation of something, or forgiveness from sins, or reward for good deeds. This would indeed be blasphemy, because he has attributed to that creation an attribute of godhood. One can ask for other than such things from other than Allah. This is not sinful, as long as one believes that the one who is asked does not have actual influence over something, or some event, independently of Allah. All Muslims must believe that everything happens by the Will of Allah, and believing otherwise is definitely blasphemy. The erection of Mausoleum for an ordinary Muslim is forbidden since it is of no benefit. The erection of it for special Muslims, i.e. Sahaba, pious men, Saints etc... is permissible for the convenience of the people and the followers of the beloved of these people of Allah. It is also to make the status of these people apparent and distinct to mankind, for respect towards such great people is actually respect for Islam. One objection that the desecraters of tombs usually give for erecting tombs or Mausoleums is that in Islam, it is not permitted to build on a grave thus the building of a grave is not permissible. The Mausoleums are in fact built around the grave. The Mausoleums were built for the purpose of convenience of pilgrims, and therefore to visit them is permissible. The other point made by those objecting to the Mausoleum is usually that Muslims visiting them prostrate, bow or circumbulate around the graves. It is not a common practice for Muslims to prostrate, bow to or circumbulate around the graves. This is not a valid argument to demolish or object against erection of Mausoleums. People do un-Islamic things in the Mosque and even in the precincts of the Holy Kaaba, does this mean Mosques should be destroyed and new ones built? Those who argue against building Mausoleums what justification do they have of building supermarkets, motorways, ATM machines and even latrines over the graves of the Prophet's (Peace Be Upon Him) companions, his family members, wives and of Saints? It does not stop there. There is a grand master plan to raze our beloved Prophet's grave by small incremental steps, by the very same people who have changed the landscape of Mecca by razing historical buildings and converting them to hideous towers of Babel. Even the Holy Kaaba has not been spared. Take the 'ABRAJ AL BAIT TOWERS' case in point. The tallest and biggest hotel in the world has encroached upon the most important Islamic heritage sites in Mecca. Every luxury amenity will be provided to those who could afford it. Take a close look at the photos. The hotel will eclipse and overshadow the Kaaba and make it appear very insignificant. So when you circumbulate the Kaaba, your focal point will be removed and be distracted by this crude Big Ben copy. Take a closer look at the photos, The obelisk shaped hotel nested between the smaller pillar like buildings is an occult symbol of ancient times. Mecca is turning into a mini Vegas minus the strip joints and gambling hotels, devoid of any spiritual ambiance and full of materialistic commercialisation. There is prophecy of the Arab herder who towards the end of times will compete in building tall buildings to show his pride. I go back to my original question "when every Islamic symbol is obliterated will your children and grandchildren be able to tell the difference between history and legend?" Peace.
Haris Chaudhry | 10 years ago | Reply @ john Braven What a hodge podge of neo religious idealogical nonsensical commentary. All of this is meaningless when one is so consumed in believing their own way of practicing religion as the ONLY way that offers salvation. There are a dozen odd sects in Pakistan, each believing their own way of practicing faith as superior to others, each quoting from Quran and Hadith to prove the pureness of their faith, each discounting/ diluting the belief system of others as 'deviant', each using Khilafat, Shirk, Bidat, Kufr et al to prove others are misplaced, each one believing that if everyone else practiced (their own belief system which they all label as "True Islam" ) that the whole muslim ummah will improve whilst no one has the ability to see others by putting themselves in others shoes... How misplaced and ignorant of all those that go on commentating and referencing dozens of sources in their quest to prove their belief system is somehow superior. For Gods sake, leave those that practice their own faith whichever way they want and let Almighty be the judge... Stop judging and passing judgements. This has made Muslims and Pakistan the butt of jokes globally. The deeper we are drowning in this abyss, the more we cling to "My faith is superior than yours" whilst others look at us as bunch of mad men which have nothing better to do than finger pointing as the whole nation assumes the worst reputation of all nations globally and is on the verge of collapse. How ignorant and bigoted...
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