Targeting symbols of spirituality – II

Published: September 26, 2010
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Ziaul Haq’s move to counter Iran-backed Shia groups provided impetus to militant groups attacking shrines. ILLUSTRATION: ESSA MALIK

Ziaul Haq’s move to counter Iran-backed Shia groups provided impetus to militant groups attacking shrines. ILLUSTRATION: ESSA MALIK

KARACHI: In the past five years alone, shrines have been blown up in Jhal Magsi and Hub in Balochistan, as well as in Peshawar, Lahore, Islamabad and Nowshera. Heightened security measures have been put into place at prominent shrines across the country, including Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s shrine in Karachi and Shah Rukne Alam in Multan.

One of the reasons cited for the number of attacks on shrines is the inspiration militant organisations have taken from different schools of religious thought.

The deobandi factor

Senator Maulana Gul Nasib of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) says: “There is a minor difference between the Deobandis and Barelvis. Some agencies are working with a policy of divide and rule … we respect graves just as others do.”

Deobandi and Wahabi groups and political parties were strongly supported during General Ziaul Haq’s era, especially to counter what the regime thought were Iran-backed Shia groups, and this has provided impetus to militant groups attacking shrines.

Students of the Deobandi Darul Uloom Haqqania in Akhora Khattak (which is run by Maulana Samiul Haq, who heads his own faction of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam) have joined the Afghan Taliban and other militant organisations.

In her 2008 book Partisans of Allah – Jihad in South Asia, Ayesha Jalal wrote: “State support for Deobandis upset the sectarian balance in the country, where Barelvis represented by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan were in the majority. Before it became an assembly line supplying jihadists for America’s covert war in Afghanistan, Pakistan was a Barelvi-Deobandi state that subscribed to the Hanafi school of jurisprudence.”

Jalal notes that “an estimated 8,000 Taliban students from Deobandi madrassas in the North West Frontier Province (now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas were dispatched to help the Taliban fight  against the Northern Alliance” after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 1996.

Pakistani governance and laws – particularly in religious matters – are more rooted in Deobandi ideology than in Barelvi, because Deobandi scholars such as Shabbir Ahmed Usmani had been key partners in the Pakistan Movement. Usmani also drafted the Objectives Resolution and Deobandi and Wahabi influence can be seen in the amendments made to the Constitution in General Ziaul Haq’s era.

Shifting mindsets

While most analyses of Pakistan claim the country is Barelvi in majority, according to a 2005 report by the International Crisis Group: “The Deobandi and Ahle Hadith have made some inroads at the expense of the Barelvi sect, with the agents of ‘internal conversions’, including the Tableeghi Jamaat and Deobandi madrassa networks. Some Deobandi leaders now claim a majority; others, such as Ajmal Qadri, believe that the ‘Barelvi and Deobandi populations are now roughly equal’. Barelvis, whose shrine culture still dominates rural Punjab and Sindh, reject these claims.”

Barelvis’ belief in shrines stems from the assimilation of the subcontinent’s cultural and social values in the school of thought, including Sufi culture, zikr and qawwalis.

Historian Mubarak Ali says it is not possible to determine whether a shift has occurred; but he says a shift in thought can be seen in urban cities. “This is because only rich and educated people can afford to become Wahabis and live that colourless life,” he says. “Those in rural areas need the culture, they have nothing else.”

But in some parts of Pakistan, such as southern Punjab, there are now reportedly thrice as many Deobandi madrassas in the province in comparison to existing Barelvi ones, which show the mushrooming of Deobandi-inspired institutions that could breed a new generation of militants.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 26th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Qirat
    Sep 26, 2010 - 1:27PM

    Will the expected Messiah side with Deobandis or Barelvis?Recommend

  • Kamran
    Sep 26, 2010 - 3:10PM

    The Messiah shall side with anyone more powerful than the other. Recommend

  • STM
    Sep 26, 2010 - 3:40PM

    someone had the courage to write all that. Well written and well doneRecommend

  • Shariz
    Sep 26, 2010 - 4:17PM

    These people who dont have believe or like to see shrines are followers of wahabism creation of saudia they being funded by saudia, if they says that they have respect of graves so that is right they have only for graves not shrines as fatwah was given by a saudian shekh against shrines in 1928 after that so many shrines of holly personalities were demolished & now its just marks of graves you see in Janat Ul Baqi, but its wont be possible in Pakistan as there are many lovers of sufism both in brelvi sunni & shia.Recommend

  • Sep 26, 2010 - 5:47PM

    very nice analysis :) Recommend

  • rehan
    Sep 26, 2010 - 6:48PM

    An “INTELLECTUAL FUELLING OF SECTARIANISM” you are doing,Miss Saba.And by the way many of the practices going on in those shrines have nothing to do with Islam!!..just as many teachings of Madressas have nothing to do with Islam! Shrines just like some Madressas(okay to make you happy..many madressas) are business hubs..teaching their own brand of Islam.Yes..the ones buried there might have been very pious..but not what goes on there TODAY!
    And yes..the Messiah will be nothing but a TRUE MUSLIM.Recommend

  • Really!!
    Sep 27, 2010 - 6:41AM

    @ rehan “And yes..the Messiah will be nothing but a TRUE MUSLIM.”

    Who is a TRUE MUSLIM? Who is qualified to determine who is a TRUE MUSLIM? With out that knowledge, how will the lowly humans know for sure that the Messiah has indeed arrived? Please elaborate. Thank you. Recommend

  • abu suleman
    Sep 28, 2010 - 10:55AM

    you started from shrines, got to Pakistan’s politics, then to Afghan war, then to sects, and then to Assembly and i thought you forgot the purpose of this article,,, at least tell us what’s the reason behind attacks???Recommend

  • Sulaiman
    Oct 8, 2010 - 9:16AM

    It’s ironic how all the different sects, who btw do not consider each other to be ‘true’, all unanimously believe in the same ‘true muslim messiah’.Recommend

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