Right from the beginning, Pakistan has been struggling to conceptualise a national identity distinct from India. The formation of Pakistan is a result of schism from the old Indian civilisation with a collective quest for identity and a culture of its own.
The idea of Pakistan was primarily encompassed by an Urdu-speaking upper-class elite group fearing social decline. The notion of Pakistan could be summarised by the equation – “Pakistan= Islam+Urdu”. The citizens of the new country were required to identify not only with one religion – Islam but also with one language – Urdu. The contours of Pakistan was a drop of the ball by its founders as they coerced different ethnic groups to identify with one variant or another of Islam. They couldn’t look deep into future and determined its trajectory surrounded by instability, disproportion and resilience. The religious leaders and the fundamentalist groups, without advocating a theocracy, rejected the multicultural dimension of the project.
Now, the question is which Islam are they professing? Are they idealising the Hardline Wahhabi/Salafi fundamentalism or a more syncretic and ascetic Sufism?
Islam, as a meta-narrative, has laid down different understanding as it came across different cultures or civilisations. Not only did Islam transform from the Islamic crucible in the Middle East on arriving in India, through contact with Turkish and Iranian influences, but also started constantly developing sects within it.
This adjustment resulted in the various type of synthesis, the Sufism phenomenon is one of them. Sufism took on considerable importance in Indian Subcontinent due to its affinities with asceticism. Sufism established the cult of saints and institutionalised Dargahs or the Shrines.
Shrines, more than religious, have cultural values as they are more related to an individual who is considered holy by the people. Sufism and delicious Sufi music, are epochal sources of hope, eternity, love and as a path of merging the individual with the divine. Sufi music has dominated South Asia for centuries. However, the use of poetry, music, and melody in rituals is one of the aspects of Sufi practice that has attracted the wrath of Islamic fundamentalist.
Three days after the suicide bombing in Lahore, that killed 13 people, an IS supporter attacking the great Sufi shrine of Sehwan Sharif came as a great shock and deep sorrow.
November 12, 2016, suicide bombing claimed by the IS, killed 50 devotees at the packed Sufi Shrine of Shah Noorani in Balochistan province. Many Sufi Shrines have come under attack in recent years, including the assassination of Amjad Sabri, one of most cherished qawwals of South Asia (It’s difficult for me to not look back at the musical legacy of the legend especially, Songs like Tajedar-e-haram and Bhar do Jholi). If we connect all the dots, we’ll find a new kind of obscurantism is spreading across the state, creating fear among people to shut down voices they disagree with.
Behind all these conflicts and violence lies two very different understanding of Islam. The major reason why Wahhabi/Salafi fundamentalism has expanded so quickly is the ineptness of the government and political instability in the state. Saudis are financing millions of dollars in building Madrasas, filling the vacuum created after state education collapsed and hence imposing hardline ideology in fresh minds. And nails in the coffin are being drubbed by the Mullahs, distorting the true meaning of the teaching of the Prophet. Nothing is more contagious than an Idea. If an idea could create a nation, it could destroy it too. Pakistan immediately needs to relinquish its policies like instrumentalisation of Islam in different areas of life. The second military coup by Zia ul Haq gave birth to a more radical Islam. He instrumentalized Islam in all public areas including education, law, and fiscal system.
Pakistan created Mujahideen during the US-sponsored anti-soviet war in Afghanistan from 1979-89 paving way for more deadly terrorist organisations like Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Pakistan had become a frontline state again during the war the US again sponsored, this time against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda after 9/11 attacks in 2001. Among the allies in the war against terrorism, Pakistan cannot be easily characterised as either friend or foe. The 3As are the pivotal power handling institution in Pakistan i.e. Allah, Army and America.
It has become a football getting kicked from either side. It’s high time for them to leave duality in their approaches to counter extremism and focus more on state education to respect their own indigenous and syncretic religious tradition rather than indulging in the proxy war with its neighbours and handing education to Saudi-funded groups. The ball is in their court; it is up to them whether they want to be a hunter or prey.