Saturday, December 31, 2011
Peshawar: The Taliban have destroyed schools, bombed music shops and carried out gruesome executions in Pakistan’s territories bordering Afghanistan. But what they may never be forgiven for is the destruction of ancient shrines where revered Sufi mystics are interred.
"Three years ago, I used to be a supporter of the Taliban because I believed they were true Muslims, but this destruction of shrines of revered saints has saddened me and others," said Afaq Ali, a shopkeeper in the Khyber Agency.
Ali was reacting to the destruction of the shrines of Sheikh Bahadar Baba and Sheikh Nisa Baba in separate attacks in the Khyber Agency on Dec. 9.
"These attacks are unacceptable and the people who used to contribute money to the Taliban in the past hate them now," Ali told IPS. "People don’t respect them any more."
Since 2005, the Taliban has been carrying on a relentless campaign to destroy the tombs of mystics and poets since reverence for them is considered ‘un-Islamic’ by Wahabi purists.
Some 25 shrines across Pakistan, many of them centuries-old, have been destroyed in these attacks.
"Taliban have several factions and the Wahabi group is opposed to people visiting shrines, and these attacks are designed to scare away people," Mufti Ghulam Nabi, a prayer leader in Peshawar, explained to IPS.
"Except for the Wahabis, all other groups hold the Sufis and mystic poets in high esteem," Nabi added.
Maulana Ghulam Rasool, another cleric, said that the mainstream Tehreek Taliban Pakistan was opposed to desecration and destruction of shrines of saints and poets, but Taliban belonging to Ahle Hadith school (Wahabis) are opposed to visits to these shrines by people.
"This school considers visits to the shrines un-Islamic as they argue that the people should directly seek blessing of God and visiting the shrines amounted to equating them with God," he told IPS.
"But, the attacks on these shrines has greatly harmed the image of the Taliban," Rasool added.
Wahabi fundamentalism originated in Saudi Arabia, and the present Saudi government provides funds to the school’s adherents for the construction of mosques and other institutions.
Until the May 28, 2005 destruction of the shrine of Bari Imam in Islamabad by a suicide bomber, killing 20 people, attacks on Sufi shrines were unthinkable.
In 2006, the Pakistani Taliban captured the shrine of Haji Sahib Turangzai in the Mohmand Agency and converted it into their headquarters.
By 2008, the militants had accelerated their campaign, blowing up important shrines such as that of Abdul Shakoor Baba in Chamkani, Peshawar.
On Mar. 5, 2009 when the ‘mazar’ (domed mausoleum) in Peshawar of the 17th century Sufi poet Abdul Rahman Baba was blown up, people began to openly condemn the Taliban for the desecration.
"Attacking shrines of revered people shows that Taliban are not Muslims. They are doing this to please the enemies of Islam," Saeed Bibi, 26, a housewife told IPS. "Now I am staunchly opposed to the Taliban."
The Pakistan government has tried to protect the more important Sufi shrines. The 16th century tomb of the highly respected saint Pir Baba in the Buner district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was saved from being burned down in 2009 by the timely intervention of security forces.
But, three determined suicide attackers hit the famous Data Darbar shrine in Lahore in July 2010, resulting in the deaths of at least 40 persons.
"We have allocated 800,000 dollars to reconstruct the damaged shrines and appoint permanent security personnel around them to deter attacks in future," Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told IPS.
"We received letters from Taliban in which they warned us to stop women from visiting the shrine," said Umar Shah, a caretaker of the tomb of the 20th century poet and mystic Amir Hamza Khan Shinwari in Khyber Agency, which came under attack in July 2011.
"Militants think that women who visit the shrine indulge in immoral activities," Shah said. "There is no truth in this as the women are coming here to receive blessings."
"Targeting the shrines of poets shows that Taliban are against culture and poetry. People have immense love for local culture and anyone targeting the tombs of poets are the enemies of Islam and local culture," said Muhammad Abdullah, a poet.
Abdullah said that the views of poets and mystics are anathema to the Taliban. "The former advocates tolerance and the latter extremism… they are poles apart."
The Khyber Literary Society in Peshawar is among entities actively working to safeguard the tombs of poets against attacks.
"We have raised a committee of volunteers who perform duties in different shrines during nights. The government is supporting us," Ali Kamran, an activist with the society, said.
Picture: A Sufi shrine damaged in an attack being rebuilt. Photo:Ashfaq Yusufzai / IPS.