Targeting symbols of spirituality

Published: September 25, 2010
While religious differences have always existed, there is no longer any space for dialogue. ILLUSTRATION: ESSA MALIK

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

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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Reader Comments (12)

  • Braven John
    Sep 25, 2010 - 3:05PM

    Dears Iftikhar Firdous / Saba Imtiaz:

    You need to know about credo Islam in Pakistan and India both. their history and origin, they were founded in sub continent. Only then you will be able to get some real picture of this defaming Islam by the Islam for the Islam crisis.

    Second: There is no difference between Salafis and Ahle Hadiss as they are one under the true and that pure interpretation by Khulafa e Rashideen and Muhammad PBUH itself.

    Third: What is your opinion about shrines and their visiting ? what would you do in this case if you ever find out that in Sahee Bukharee and a correct authenticated Hadiss by Aisha rza from Muhammad PBUH saying that builder and visiter of the shrines are cursed ( Laanat ) of Allah. Recommend

  • Sep 25, 2010 - 6:45PM

    Dear John,
    You need to read the history of Indo Pak and you will realize that Islam actually expanded in the Sub continent through these shrine holders. The article clearly states that a school of thought believes that the shrines are a way to communicate with the God. If you are intersted you need to dig into that topic rather than trying to defame a powerful school of thought. “Talibanziation” is propogating the hatred for Muslims in the entire world, you need to see the culture of the shrines and those who truly believe in this school of thought that Islam is all about Love, these teaching were spread by the Shrine holders, so followed by the followers.
    You should also read the hadess where Allah also states in the Quran that those who hates my friends hates me and btw the most huge shrine in the world is of our Prophet Muhammad SAW.Recommend

  • saher
    Sep 25, 2010 - 11:56PM

    Agree with muneeb, we dont need to blow up the shrines.. we need to educate the masses. we need to respect those buried there because they did service to Islam by example not sword. muhammad bin qasim had almost no role in spreading of Islam.

    yes it is wrong to go there and pray from them.. but is it wrong to pay your respect?? Go there and say durood there is nothing at allll wrong in that. Recommend

  • Waqar
    Sep 26, 2010 - 3:56AM

    @ Braven John, what is your opinion of the Saudi Royals visiting the shrine of Prophet Muhammad ( Peace Be Upon Him) contradicting their narrow interpretations for ‘shirk’ and ‘bidat’ in visiting graves and offering dua?

    See Photo here.

    It is well documented that the ideology followed by the schools of thought alluded to in this article have been instrumental in the destruction of over 90 percent of Islamic heritage sites in Saudia Arabia and elsewhere, whether it has been the desecration of graves, cemeteries, mosques, companion’s homes, artifacts etc…
    Shopping malls, hotels, parking lots and even toilets have been built over these blessed places.

    Destruction of Islamic Architectural Heritage in Saudi Arabia

    It’s ironic that when the Babri masjid in Ayodhya, India was razed the Saudis protested at the destruction, yet their hypocrisy shows vandalism is an inherited trait and characteristic of their school of thought (not all of them).

    In the words of the Sami Angawi, an expert on the region’s Islamic architecture,

    “We are witnessing now the last few moments of the history of Mecca, its layers of history are being bulldozed for a parking lot,”

    Sadly, the mass commercialisation of the region around the blessed sanctuaries are bereft of spiritual attachment. When we come out of the precincts of the Holy Kaaba, what do we see? A MacDonalds/KFC tempting you to the delights of it’s unhealthy lifestyle devoid of any physical and spiritual nourishment.Recommend

  • Qirat
    Sep 26, 2010 - 1:23PM

    We await the Messiah to resolve these religious issues!Recommend

  • Sep 26, 2010 - 5:52PM

    Agreed with Saher, and Waqar :)
    and highly agreed with Qirat – Now no sect can join other or enforce their beliefs on the others unless the Messiah comes and unite all Recommend

  • Why am I not surprised.
    Sep 27, 2010 - 9:24PM

    Here is one shot at targeting the symbols or spirituality ..

    While waiting for the Messiah to descend from heaven to resolve these religious issues, ‘We the mullah-pleasing, self-glorifying herd’ choose to glide through life which offers lots of aaraam but no sakoon. There is ‘aaraam he aaraam’ in keeping status quo and in extending begging bowls for foreign aid and in chanting ‘jo Allah ki marzi’. Mullah tells to kill and we kill. Mullah tells to oppress the woman and we oppress. It takes effort to make a change. We don’t want to make any effort. We like ‘aaraam’.

    Let the stupid mammon worshiping infidel and expat pakis with their love for labor and love for the suffering humanity donate plenty mullah. On the premise of “humko maloom hai jannat ki haqeekat lekin” and “kal kis ne dehki hae”, we will promptly embezzle the donations/loans to feed the insatiable hunger for the best of the best that easy money can buy. The flood victims .. mitti pau ji .. Allah bhetar karay ga, isA ..

    O’ Messiah, just take your time .. there is no rush. We are in no hurry to help ourselves .. We have the mullah, our glorious self, and the stupid infidels. We are the ultimate symbol of spirituality. O’ Messiah, you can come when this symbol of spirituality is ready to be attacked.Recommend

  • abu suleman
    Sep 28, 2010 - 10:59AM

    no one rejects shrine its just what you people do there,,,Recommend

  • Sep 28, 2010 - 1:42PM

    Dear Fellows !! Assallam u Allaikum again,

    you know, it has been almost two decades to me to give such an answers that is related to shrines, shirks, and tawheed the real faith of Islam. i have come to agree that even Pakistan’s most renowned and respectful Islamic, Social, Technical, Political educated heads or personalities have, to the full extend or somehow pervert interpretation of Islamic faith or Aqeedah Tawheed. I don’t know and never under stand such people who compare any common stature to that Godly revered personalities like Muhammad PBUH and most beloved companions or the prophet. I once remember that on a local news channel there was a news coverage about the ritual cleansing of Kaaba and for the live commentary channel took Mufti Munib ur Rehman’s call. he during his opinion said ” Saudis give Kaaba Ghusal ( Bath or Washing ) in Zil Hajj but this is strange that Salafis or Saudis rebuke us when we give Ghusal to our ancestor’s grave”. OMG, i can say only on this bias to so called Mazahibs Parasti in the name of Islam that urges such followers to do, to say, to go, to feel, to think, to hold all against Muhammad PBUH and his best companions. Grave worship and considering ancestors souls as an avatar among perverted Muslims is very similar to that Hindus and Roman Catholics of devotion. Sub continent is badly infected by this disease from centuries. Specially 13th century was its Renaissance of Sufism innovations in the name of Islam.
    @Munib: for your information Islam was spread not by Sufis or Kalandar. you please study Imam Sayooti’s Tareekh ul Khulafaa. and also be notified that there is a difference between Islamic History and Muslim History. go and study Abbasi Khulafa era and you will observe what and where the truth lies about these idol ship. just like other firqa/y division/s of Islam taliban is also so called follower of Mazhab. and before this innovated firqa in modern age there were many other came into seen like Raza Khani, Deobandi, Pervezi, Chakraalvi, Gohar Shahi, Kadyanee, Ahmadi, Ismaeli, Rafizi, Alvi, Mutazila, Khawaji, and the list is can watch this lecture here to get some information if you can not study.

    @Saher: you know How Baghdad was ravaged by Mongol Tatar in the late 11th century. and at that time what people of Baghdad were doing in the name of Islam. the grave worshiping int those era is at high peak. almost every single companions of Prophet and their Wali saint’s tomb were built and were taught to be the source to Allah during visits. and because of these curse and innovations, the Faith of Islamic Tawheed was removed among them. they were totally on account for what they called Mazhab. and you know when Tawheed is weaken then a no Muslim can defend its money and effect from any outer force. it is the power of Islamic faith of Tawheed for it makes a person deny fight those things go against it. people who go for such shrines never know that who really buries in the grave. people don’t ever want to know what Ghoss Paak ( Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani ) wrote in his book Ghaniatut Talibeen. in his book on page 57 or i think 157 he writes ” Haq ( Truth) is at those people who follow Hadiss and Sunnah and never disobey it “. now i invite you to study Bukhaaree, chapter Salaath, chapter Kuboor. you will find the answers of shrines and its realities in Muhammad’s PBUH own word…you know an ORDER. all Imam Hanifa, Maliki, Shafee and Hanbli, Abdul Qadir Jilani and other like it are respectable but they never instructed that after they gone from the seen, follower should have built their tomb and made visit for help to dispatch people’s pray to Allah indirectly. also view this hadiss: copy and paste it to your browser……

    @waqar: I have given answer of your ‘ Saudi visiting Muhammad PBUH grave’ above. hope you understand that. while the rest about destroying heritage. you can find your answer in the ravage of Baghdad by Tatars. I tell you what Tawheed was meant to Khulafae Rashideen. once Hazrat Umer Kissed Hajre Aswad and said ” i know that you ( Stone ) can not give any benefit to me or recommend me to Allah, i kiss you because i saw Muhammad PBUH did it the same “. Now you can realize that stone, memorials, places, if become the source of spreading polytheism then Allah does not allowed it in compensation to be worshiped directly and alone.

    @Qirat: descendant and dissolving image nation are those keep their faith to their Imam and do nothing but Khatam Qiraan and wait for Messiah…….my sister Messiah has always been there around you in case of Koraan and Sunnah. Go and Study……it is your divine right, not reserved for Imam or Aulia and Shrine holders.

    for more details view:

    God Bless All of You on the right path….
    Note to Moderator: This is a reviewed opinion for publish. last one was some how crude .Recommend

  • Sep 28, 2010 - 10:16PM

    Dear John,
    Walikum us Salam,

    I know its hard for both of us to read the literature as a reference. I would just like to say that do not compare Sufism and this school of thought with the new born sects such as Ahmadi and all those that you have mentioned up there. Sufism has its history traced back to the era of Hazrat Isa (Jesus ) A.S. We believe that God formed this earth in the love of his Prophet SAW. From there the concept of Sufism, Mareefat, Hakeekat, Tassawwuf, generally categorized as Spirtualism formed. The today’s culture at Shrines is not the way it should have been and that is what is happening in all the Islamic countries, we are not following the teaching of Islam. I do not know if you have read the depth of this concept, if you have not then it wont be productive for us to carry on this debate.

    Thanks – Salam on you :) Recommend

  • Haris Chaudhry
    Oct 8, 2010 - 4:37AM

    @ 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…Recommend

  • Waqar
    Oct 8, 2010 - 6:56PM

    @ 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?”


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