Thursday, October 14, 2010
Some of the recent terrorist attacks on various targets in Pakistan by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, or the Movement of Pakistani Taliban) reveal an ideological pattern. The Taliban, who owe their allegiance to the Deobandi school of Islamic thought, are not only targeting Pakistani state institutions but are also attacking other Islamic sects in the country.
Pakistan is a predominant Sunni country. The Deobandis, who account for only 15%of all the Sunni Muslims, are well organized, while the Barelvis, who constitute the bulk of the Sunni population, are seen as being close to the Pakistani state. The Deobandi interpretation of Islam doesn't approve of the Barelvi practices of visiting shrines of Sufi mystics and singing and dancing there, and therefore considers them as infidels.
Similarly, the Deobandis do not consider the Shi'ite Muslims as Muslims. Various Deobandi groups have demanded that Shi'ites be declared by the Pakistani government as religious minorities like Christians and Hindus, i.e. as infidels. A similar demand against Ahmadi Muslims succeeded in 1974, when the government of the then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto declared them as non-Muslims.
These ideological considerations can be seen in the recent attacks by the Taliban-Deobandi militants in Pakistan. In April 2006, a conference of Barelvi clerics organized to mark Prophet Muhammad's birthday was attacked in Karachi. On May 28, 2010, two Ahmadi Muslim mosques were attacked by suicide bombers in Lahore. In March 2009, shrine of the 17th century Sufi mystic Rehman Baba was attacked in Lahore. On July 1, 2010, the famous shrine of 11th century Sufi mystic Syed Ali Hajveri was attacked by Taliban suicide bombers. In December 2009, a Shi'ite religious procession was bombed in Karachi. In August 2010, two Shi'ite religious processions in Lahore and Quetta were attacked. All these attacks are blamed on Taliban-Deobandi attackers.
These attacks show that Deobandis, who comprise about 15% of the population, consider the rest of the Pakistani people – Barelvis, Shi'ite Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims, Christians, Hindus and others – as infidels. In a recent article, titled "Just Who is Not a Kafir?" prominent Pakistani journalist and author Amir Mir examined the ideological pattern of violence in Pakistan.
Following are excerpts from the article:
"In the Darkness Enveloping Pakistan, It Won't be Wrong to Ask: Who Isn't a Kafir or Infidel, Beyond Even the Religious Minorities of Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus?"
"When two suicide bombers exploded themselves in the shrine of the revered Sufi saint Hazrat Data Ganj Baksh in Lahore [on July 1], the ensuing devastation... rendered meaningless the promise of Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947. Jinnah had said, 'You may belong to any religion or caste or creed... that has nothing to do with the business of the state. You are free, free to go to your temples; you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan.' These stirring words were then perceived as an explicit assurance to the religious minorities of their rights in a country where Muslims constitute over 95% of the population.
"Six decades later, as Pakistan remains trapped in the vortex of violence, even the Muslims are in desperate need of assurances such as Jinnah's. Mosques and shrines of saints are targeted regularly, votaries of different Muslim sects are subjected to suicide bombings, and just about every mullah [cleric] seems to enjoy the right of declaring anyone who he thinks has deviated from Islam an apostate, a non-Muslim, whose killing is religiously justifiable. In the darkness enveloping Pakistan, it won't be wrong to ask: who isn't a kafir or infidel, beyond even the religious minorities of Christians, Sikhs and Hindus?"
"Shrapnel from Every Explosion Strains the Social Fabric, Tears Its Rich tapestry, and Undermines the Traditional Forms of Devotion [in Pakistan]"
"Shrapnel from every explosion strains the social fabric, tears its rich tapestry, and undermines the traditional forms of devotion inherited over generations. Take the twin suicide bombings of the Data Ganj Bakhsh shrine of July 1, which has been blamed on the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) even though it has vehemently denied its involvement. This Sufi shrine defines the spirit of Lahore, which is often called Data ki Nagri (Data's abode). Here lies buried [the 11th century Sufi mystic] Syed Abul Hassan Ali Hajveri, popularly known as Hazrat Data Ganj Baksh, whose shrine is mostly visited by members of the Barelvi sect of Sunni Muslims. The shrine, famous for mystical dancing by devotees, is a Lahore landmark.
"However, the adherents of the Deobandi school of thought, to which the Taliban belong, are opposed to the idea of Muslims visiting Sufi shrines and offering prayers, a practice known as piri-faqiri [Sufi and mystic practices]. The Deobandis deem piri-faqiri to be heretical, a gross violation of Islamic doctrine; ditto [with] mystical dancing. The Deobandis, therefore, consider the Barelvis as kafir whose neck can be put to [the] sword, no question asked.
"A week before July 1, the TTP had sent a letter to the Data Ganj Baksh administration threatening to attack the shrine, claiming its status was equivalent to that of the Somnath temple in Gujarat, India. The symbolism inherent in the comparison wasn't lost – the Somnath temple had been repeatedly raided by Sultan Mehmood Ghaznavi, 'the idol destroyer,' who believed his marauding attacks would sap the fighting spirit of the Hindus. The attack on the Data Darbar was, similarly, aimed at demoralizing the Barelvis, besides striking at the root of Lahore's religious and cultural ethos..."
"Music and Dance [at Shrines of Sufi Mystics] are Unacceptable to the Deobandis, And the Taliban..."
"This isn't the first time Barelvi Muslims have been targeted. On April 12, 2006, for instance, a Barelvi conference organized to celebrate the perfectly orthodox occasion of Prophet Muhammed's birthday at Nishtar Park, Karachi, witnessed a suicide bombing that claimed 70 lives.
Last year, the Taliban attacked the shrine [in Peshawar] of the 17th century Sufi saint-poet, Rehman Baba, who is said to have withdrawn from the world and promised his followers that if they emulate him, they too could move towards a direct experience of god. He also believed god could be reached through music, poetry, and dance. But then music and dance are unacceptable to the Deobandis, and the Taliban extensively damaged the shrine of Rehman Baba with explosives. Soon, they used rockets to ravage the mausoleum of Bahadar Baba, and then directed their wrath against the 400 year-old shrine of another Sufi saint, Abu Saeed Baba, both located near Peshawar.
"Renowned Islamic scholar Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, a member of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), which furnishes legal advice on Islamic issues to the Pakistan government, laments, 'Labeling others "infidel" and "kafir" has become a preferred task of the mullahs. It's clear that every sect considers others heretical, kafirs, and dwellers of hell. Even verses of the Koran are wrongly used to disprove others' faith and sects."'
"A Minority of Pakistan's Population has Taken to Declaring the Rest as Kafir"
"In a way, a minority of Pakistan's population has taken to declaring the rest as kafir. Look at the figures – 95% of the Pakistani population is Muslim, of which 85% are Sunni and 15% Shi'ites. But for the five percent belonging to the Ahle Hadith (Wahhabis), the Sunnis prescribe to the Hanafi school of jurisprudence. They are further subdivided into the Barelvi and Deobandi schools.
"Most agree on the following composition of Pakistan's population – 60% Barelvis, 15% Deobandis, 15% Shias, 5% Ahle Hadith, and the remaining 5% constituting Ahmadis, Ismailis, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Parsis, etc. This means only 20% of Pakistanis – 15% of Deobandis plus 5% of Ahle Hadith – strictly consider the remaining 80% as kafir, even willing to subject them to death and destruction."
Pakistani Writer Khaled Ahmed: "Within Sunni Islam, the Deobandis And the Barelvis are Not Found Anywhere Outside India and Pakistan"
"Renowned Pakistani writer Khaled Ahmed points to the irony: 'Within Sunni Islam, the Deobandis and the Barelvis are not found anywhere outside India and Pakistan. The creation of these two sects was one of the masterstrokes of the Raj [British rule] in its divide-and-rule policy.' He says the Deobandi school took roots in India in 1866 as a reaction to the overthrow of Muslim rule by the British.
"This school believes in a literalist interpretation of Islam, and apart from Wahhabis, considers all other sects as non-Muslims who must be exterminated. 'That's why they work side by side, from politics to jihad,' says Ahmed, adding that though the Barelvi school of thought is the dominant jurisprudence in Pakistan, 'it is not as well politically organized as the Deobandi school.'
"It was the Deobandi-Wahhabi alliance... which pressured President General Zia-ul-Haq to declare the Ahmadis as non-Muslims [in 1974]. At a stroke of the pen, thus, a Muslim sect was clubbed with other religious minorities [i.e. as infidel]. Under the Constitution, they can't call themselves Muslim or even describe their place of worship as a mosque. Wary of disclosing their identity publicly, the Ahmadis were dragged into the spotlight following devastating attacks on two of their mosques in Lahore [in May 2010] that killed over a hundred people..."
"The Deobandis Regard Shi'ites as Kafir, Claiming Their Devotion to the Clerics and Grant[ing] of Divinely Inspired Status to Them as Heretical"
"[A Pakistani national's] 'Muslim' status doesn't insulate even mainstream sects from murderous attacks. Ask the Shi'ites, whose Muharram procession in Karachi was bombed in December 2009, killing 33. The Deobandis regard Shi'ites as kafir, claiming their devotion to the clerics and grant of divinely inspired status to them as heretical.
"The history of Sunni-Shi'ite conflict is as old as Islam, but this has become increasingly bloody in the last decade – over 5,000 people have been killed since 2000 – because of the war in Afghanistan. Since Iran had backed the [anti-Taliban] Northern Alliance there, the Deobandis have taken to retaliating against the sect in Pakistan. They also accuse the Shi'ites of assisting the Americans to invade Iraq.
"Historian Dr. Mubarak Ali says, 'One consequence of the war in Afghanistan is the fracturing of Pakistan's religious patchwork quilt. Whereas once the faultlines lay between the Shi'ites and Sunnis, these have now spread to the Barelvis and Deobandis, who are both Sunni.' Since the Barelvis are moderate and against the Taliban, the Deobandis look upon them as the state's stooges, who as heretics should be put to death anyway, Ali argues."
Columnist Imtiaz Alam: "As Long as... the [Pakistani Army] Establishment Persists with Their Goal of Bringing the Pashtun Taliban Back to Power in Kabul, They will Continue Digging the Grave of a Democratic Pakistan"
"Perhaps the complicity between the state and the Deobandis deterred the latter from targeting the Barelvis till now. Lawyer and columnist Yasser Latif Hamdani says, 'There is this potent mixture of Pashtun nationalism and Deobandi Islam. Somehow, there is something intrinsic to the very nature of Deobandi doctrine which the Pakistani military establishment is promoting to advance its so-called geostrategic agenda.' Yet, simultaneously, under U.S. pressure, the state had to crack down on the TTP, which, in pique, has taken to wreaking vengeance on the hapless Barelvis.
"'Columnist Imtiaz Alam says, 'As long as powerful sections in the [Pakistani military] establishment persist with their goal of bringing the Pashtun Taliban back to power in Kabul, they will continue digging the grave of a democratic Pakistan.' 'Sectarianism and jihadi terrorism will be its consequent wages," he insists..."
 Outlook (www.outlookindia.com), India, July 19, 2010. The text of the article has been lightly edited for clarity.
[Picture: The Shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi. Photo: Wiki.]