FaithWorld

“Sufi card” very hard to play against Pakistani Taliban

June 26, 2009

sufi-musicians-2One theory about how to deal with militant Islamism calls for promoting Sufism, the mystical school of Islam known for its tolerance, as a potent antidote to more radical readings of the faith. Promoted for several years now by U.S.-based think tanks such as Rand and the Heritage Institute, a Sufi-based approach arguably enjoys an advantage over other more politically or economically based strategies because it offers a faith-based answer that comes from within Islam itself. After trying so many other options for dealing with the Taliban militants now openly challenging it, the Pakistani government now seems ready to try this theory out. Just at the time when it’s suffered a stinging set-back in practice…

(Photo: Pakistani Sufi musicians in Karachi, 7 May 2007/Zahid Hussein)

Earlier this month, on June 7 to be exact, Islamabad announced the creation of a Sufi Advisory Council (SAC) to try to enlist spirituality against suicide bombers. In theory at least, this approach could have wide support. Exact numbers are unclear, but Pakistan is almost completely Muslim, about three-quarters of its Muslims are Sunnis and maybe two-thirds of them are Barelvis. This South Asian school of Islam, heavily influenced by traditional Sufi mysticism, is notable for its colourful shrines to saints whose very existence is anathema to more orthodox forms of Islam. Among those are the minority of Pakistani Sunnis, the Deobandis, who are followers of a stricter revivalist movement founded in 19th-century India whose militant branch led to the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. Many Deobandis think Pakistan’s Shi’ite minority is not truly Muslim.

zardari-sufiThe late President General Zia-ul Haq was a Deobandi. With massive support from the United States, Saudi Arabia and other countries, he favoured Afghan guerrilla groups influenced by the Deobandis and Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabis in the 1980s war against the Soviet Union.

(Photo: Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari prays at shrine of Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan Sharif, 12 Sept 2008/Akram Shahid)

As the Swat Valley crisis came to a military showdown, Barelvi leaders who had stood quietly on the sidelines for years began to organise anti-Taliban rallies to stand up for their peaceful view of Islam and support the government’s military drive against the Taliban. “What these militants were doing was un-Islamic. Beheading innocent people and kidnapping are in no way condoned in Islam,” Sahibzada Fazal Karim, a leader of the moderate Islamist party Jamiat-e-ulema-e-Pakistan who organised some rallies, told Reuters in early May.

Mufti Sarfraz Naeemi, a senior Barelvi leader in Lahore, told our Islamabad correspondent Zeeshan Haider at the time that mainstream Muslim leaders like himself could no longer stay silent in the face of the Taliban threat. “They want people to fight one another, that’s why we have kept silent and endured their oppression,” he said. “We don’t want civil war … But God forbid, if the government fails to stop them, then we will confront them ourselves.”

naeemiApart from his anti-Taliban campaigning, Naeemi was very much a traditional Barelvi mufti. He was a leading figure in Sunni groups advocating sharia enforcement, ran a madrassa in Lahore and sat on boards govering Barelvi madrassas, according to his obituary in the Pakistani daily The News. He lost a government post and was briefly arrested after protesting against Pakistani logistical support for the U.S. “war on terror” and was arrested again for protesting against the Danish cartoons of Prophet Mohammad. These views might not be called moderate positions in world Islam, but they were quite traditional and middle-of-the-road on the Pakistani religious spectrum.

(Photo: Mufti Sarfraz Naeemi, 17 July 2005/Mohsin Raza)

On June 12, five days after Islamabad announced the formation of its Sufi council, a teenage Taliban suicide bomber walked into Naeemi’s office in the Lahore madrassa and blew himself up, killing the mufti. The message was unmistakable — Pakistan’s Barelvis may have local Islamic tradition and popular support on their side, but the trump card in this fight right now is violence, not Sufism. The Taliban challenge is an armed insurrection powerful enough to intimidate the tolerant Sufis into submission.

Ali Eteraz, a keen Pakistani-American observer of militant Islam, has just published an interesting analysis in Foreign Policy that further undermines the Sufi trump card theory:

naeemi-office“State-sponsored Sufism (which the SAC is) gets everything backward: In an environment where demagogues are using religion to conceal their true political and material ambitions, establishing another official, “preferred” theological ideology won’t roll back their influence. Minimizing the role of all religion in government would be a better idea. Only then could people begin to speak about rights and liberty,” he writes on the FP website.

(Photo: Naeemi’s office after the bomb, 12 June 2009/Mohsin Raza)

“The SAC will undoubtedly embolden extremists by giving them ideological motivation: They now have evidence to provide young recruits and foot soldiers that the “war” they are fighting is, in fact, about the integrity of Islam. Far from reducing extremists’ influence, the SAC is doing them a favor…

“After years of bemoaning official Saudi sponsorship of Wahhabism, and condemning official Iranian sponsorship of millenarian Islam, we are now being asked to celebrate a state-sponsored brand of Islam in Pakistan. We are asked to believe this is “different” from those other cases solely because it’s a version of the religion that looks benign. But not only is this unprincipled — it is going to backfire, leaving Sufism discredited and more religious resentment among the numerous peaceful Salafis in the world.”

What do you think? Does Sufism have any role to play in this struggle?

Comments
23 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

“He [Mufti Sarfraz Naeemi] lost a government post and was briefly arrested after protesting against Pakistani logistical support for the U.S. “war on terror” and was arrested again for protesting against the Danish cartoons of Prophet Mohammad. These views might not be called moderate positions in world Islam, but they were quite traditional and middle-of-the-road on the Pakistani religious spectrum.”

-Does this imply that such positions (i.e., anything other than supporting the most hawkish and right-wing of Western policies) are indicative of radicalism? Such an implication is exactly where the mistrust and antipathy between Islam and the West lies.

Posted by Z-Lo | Report as abusive
 

No, it doesn’t imply that. When he was murdered, Naeemi was described in news reports as a “moderate Muslim,” a term that is difficult to use because everyone reads into it what they want. Some would say that running madrassas, working for sharia enforcement or protesting against the Danish cartoons to the point that one got arrested (in a Muslim country, no less!) would disqualify Naeemi from being described as a moderate. But I wanted to counter that impression by saying his views were shared by many Pakistanis and would be considered middle-of-the-road there, not radical at all. If that doesn’t imply non-radicalism, I’m open to suggestions for which adjective to use to describe moderation without all the baggage the term “moderate Islam” carries.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive
 

Nothing should be pursued with short sighted vision. All these years Pakistanis and their establishment did not care about what type of Islam suits them. They went after regional power and whatever fitted that goal was adopted. Orthodox Sunni radical Islam was helpful in creating cohesion in the military objectives and rally the people behind that goal. The Americans pumped money and support because their own objectives in the region would benefit. None of the two saw the long term repercussions of their actions. It spawned global terrorism and a mistrust and dislike towards Islam and Muslims. Every forum and media has debates and discussions with Islamic radicalism. Now that Pakistan is forced to put an end to its creation, they are realizing how terrible it must have been for others for bear the brunt of their creation when it was directed outward. Only now they are looking at themselves and saying that Sufi Islam is their basis and will fit their culture. Sufi Islam is very similar to the Bhakti movement in Hinduism that is prevalent across the entire sub-continent. People sing, dance, celebrate and are not restricted by rigid rules. In general there are masters who perform miracles and lead the people. This was looked at with aversion by Pakistanis when the going was good because Sufi Islam was corrupted by “Hindu” practices. They praised Aurangzeb who wiped out all the goodwill built by his predecessors in the sub-continent by turning to ultra orthodox Islam. This “born again” return to Sufi Islam better be a sincere one. If Pakistanis are finding an escape route out of their own self inflicted miseries by suddenly embracing Sufi Islam, it will offer no help in the long run.

 

Am I the only one that sees a contradiction in this analysis?

“In an environment where demagogues are using religion to conceal their true political and material ambitions,…” & “Minimizing the role of all religion in government would be a better idea.”

If we agree people use religion to conceal their true motives how can we say the solution is to keep religion out of government? The end result is the same. People will find other masking agents to conceal their true political ambitions. Modern warfare is not caused by religious convictions. The solution is to address the real issues causing the conflict.

Posted by Adam | Report as abusive
 

@ Every forum and media has debates and discussions with Islamic radicalism. Now that Pakistan is forced to put an end to its creation, they are realizing how terrible it must have been for others for bear the brunt of their creation when it was directed outward.
–Posted by Mauryan

Mauryan:
Not at all. I doubt “they” still realize how terrible it must have been for others for bear the brunt of their creation when it was directed outward. The proof at the “people” level will be saying NO to terrorissm or Violence in the blogs without justifying in the existence of LeT. And at the govt level would be to eliminate LeT et al.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive
 

If Sufism had any role to play, in Pakistan, it would have been awarded Nobel Peace Prize by now. Mr Heneghan, why don’t you do some research and bring out an article on America’s (of United States) role in creating miseries in this world. After all, Taliban, Saddam etc., are all creation of United States. Let’s do some US bashing too. It is long time due especially since fall of Saddam Hussein and liberation of Iraq and it’s deliverance to cesspool of terror, chaos by hands of US.

Posted by Rohit | Report as abusive
 

Rohit, if you read the post carefully, you will see it says this “Sufi card” idea is being promoted by U.S. strategists but it doesn’t seem very effective in the present situation. That’s not exactly US bashing, but it’s not very supportive either.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive
 

Tom,

I read your article and therefore said that Sufi won’t succeed. Sufism may be termed as a cult faith with limited followers and it never had and never will have any lasting impact on society as a whole. It will attract independent thinkers from Muslim faith who are intellectuals but never the mass or the common persons.

What I asked you was for some good article on “How Much Can US be Blamed for Current Terrorism Crisis”.

After all Taliban is creation of US and US in past did ignore terrorism emanating from Pakistan till terrorism made US it’s victim. Similarly, Saddam was also helped by US but policies of US ultimately resulted in Iraq plunging into cesspool of misery. Will AfPak also become Iraq due to US policies?

Posted by Rohit | Report as abusive
 

Tom, what type of moderation policy do you have here? It is one thing not to post any thing abusive or foul language. But it is funny to see you run a website by a international news organization, but you seem to be a propagandist for pak terrorists.

“Moderate” Mufti Saeed advocated suicide bombing against India before he himself got suicide bombed. What’s your problem in posting this?

 

Raj, I have no problem with posting your comment. I approved it as soon as I found it in the comments basket. But can you now tell us who this Mufti Saeed you refer to is? You imply that I’ve called him a moderate even though he advocated suicide bombing against India, but I never mentioned him.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive
 

Rohit, you write: “Sufism may be termed as a cult faith with limited followers and it never had and never will have any lasting impact on society as a whole.” This is simply wrong. Just look at Islam in the subcontinent, where it has had a strong impact on popular faith. These strategists wouldn’t be thinking of playing the “Sufi card” if there weren’t a popular base for such views.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive
 

Mr Tom…

I think its a good idea, as Islam in the subcontinent was spread through sufi saints. In general we Pakistanis are not extremist except for few that are being dealt with accordingly. However sufism can NOT solve the problems facing Pakistan, there needs to be hope in the form of education, jobs, justice and true democracy. Which has NEVER been helped by the Americans they dealt with anybody as long as they were FOLLOWING the American ORDERS…

A piece of advise for you, never argue with a idiot sorry indian, they are argumentative by nature lol. They also have a obcession with Pakistan since these blogs are to do with Pakistan but you will see more posts by the indians and based on no facts except simple plain raciset, war mongering, BJP supporters.

I belive we have problem but most of them have been imposed on us by the so called superpower. They always use Pakistan once there targets are met they leave as they did in the 80′s. Now the same monstor has come to haunt them n us. Its time we need to solve the main obstacle to peace in the South Asia which is Kashmir. As soon as the Kashmiris get what they want we will not have India/Pakistan at each others throat so therefore can work with one another to overcome any problem which they may face….

But sorry to say our indian neighours rather laugh at us then actulay do something constructive to help us. Except in the form RAW which uses the Taliban as a cover and targets the Sri Lankan team and various others bombings. Before its too late and they have end up facing this monstor in there own streets…
think….IDIOTS!!!

Posted by Ali | Report as abusive
 

Tom,
my fault. I meant to say Mufti Naeemi (photo displayed above), not Mufti Saeed. There were eulogies in the media describing him as a “moderate”, but he advocated/ preached suicide bombing in India.

In his “moderte” view suicide bombing is haram (bad) if done against muslims but totally ok against Kafirs. That’s how much of a”moderate” Pak “Islamic Scholar” you can get!!

On a different topic, if you noticed idiots who have solid ranking in the failed states index NEVER, EVER take ANY responsibility on why they are such losers today.

They like to blame everything on America, even though they willingly rented themselves to the Americans for lots of lots of Americn tax dollars, and military gadgets all in the name of “strategic depth”. Now now they pretend to be victims and continue to collect tons and tons of American tax payer money!!

 

Tom,

Let’s wait and watch where this Sufi influence will go.

Ali,

Your comments on India are hilarious. Please post some more (More lengthy, more verbose). I had a great time reading your comments. Indians post more comments on matters concerning Pakistan because, after all, Pakistan was India only.

Posted by Rohit | Report as abusive
 

@Rohit

Here is another hilarious one for you:

Indians post more comment on Pakistan because they are frustrated and powerless at the same time! haha.

Getting back to Sufism, it is just a sect within Islam, and no solution to extremism which is linked to politics and a culture of militancy.

 

Please leave Pakistani affairs to Pakistan. We do not want Indians or anyone else deciding what brand of Islam is suited for us. Go take care of your issues. Everything does not smell like roses in your great country. Tell your intelligence agency to stay out of trouble. We are dealing with your country only to liberate Kashmir from your clutches. Your country took what was rightfully ours by force. And it dismembered our Eastern part. So we are justified in using proxy wars against your country. We are not scared of the Taliban or Al Qaeda. We will take care of them very soon. When we do, your leaders should get worried. A stronger Pakistan is going to emerge from all this. Be scared.

 

Mr.Anjum,
To my knowledge Tom heneghan is not an Indian, correct me if I am wrong. Terrorist attacks whether in India, London or elsewhere recently have been planned in Pakistan and executed by Pakistani citizens, or of Pakistani origin.

Thus the entire global community is interested in what type of Islam you practice. If Hindus from India or Christians from America had come to a train station in Lahore to kill unarmed Pakistani citizens, your advice would make sense. Otherwise you are simply being irrational.

This is what Pak commentator Irfan Hussain has written
today on Mumbai massacre.

http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn -content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/colu mnists/irfan-husain-mumbai-massacre-revi sited-479

Here are some excerpts:

QUOTE “All through the atrocity, the handlers — obviously watching the drama on TV — keep urging their foot soldiers on, encouraging them by descriptions of what they are seeing on TV. ‘The whole world is watching your deeds…. Remember this is a fight between the believers and the non-believers….”END QUOTE ….

QUOTE” After each such exhortation, the young terrorist at the receiving end says, ‘Inshallah’. At the start of the programme, the handler asks the landing party if they have eliminated the captain of the hijacked boat, and if so, how? ‘Zibah kar diya,’ is the chilling response. (Literally: ‘We have slit his throat’; but there is a ritualistic connotation to ‘zibah’ that does not translate well into English.)

This repeated use of Islamic phrases and responses underlines the extent to which the faith has been cynically used to spread violence. While Muslims argue that Islam does not condone this kind of terrorism against unarmed, innocent civilians, most do not condemn it in clear, unequivocal terms. After agreeing that such acts are un-Islamic, there is all too often a lingering ‘Yes, but…’ hanging in the air” END QUOTE

 

@ Aamir Ali,

India cares about something (both people and land) that was once it’s part. At least I want Pakistan to exist in peace and develop itself as a ideal role model especially for Indians. It pains me to see that all the expertize and model you guys could develop relates to terrorism and some how Indians fail to adapt this terrific model!

Posted by Rohit | Report as abusive
 

@ Aamir Ali,

That was boring… I was expecting something better from you. (Forgot to add in that in previous post)

Here is something to ponder over Terrorism, Islam & Muslim Moderates who only say when there is nothing left to say or are not left to say anything when there is time to say!

http://www.atheists.org/religion/islam

Posted by Rohit | Report as abusive
 

Mr. Raj: “Terrorist attacks whether in India, London or elsewhere recently have been planned in Pakistan and executed by Pakistani citizens, or of Pakistani origin.”

Please do not generalize. LTTE was not a Pakistani organization. Al Qaeda was not supported by Pakistan. It was Al Qaeda that tried for a global warfare. Pakistan is the first country to have worked with the US and capturing and killing key Al Qaeda operatives. You are branding them all together because they are Muslims and you hate Pakistan. Our efforts have been local – We have focused on Kashmir and Afghanistan. You call our efforts as terrorism. It is your call. I do not care how you call it.

“Thus the entire global community is interested in what type of Islam you practice. If Hindus from India or Christians from America had come to a train station in Lahore to kill unarmed Pakistani citizens, your advice would make sense. Otherwise you are simply being irrational.”

There are various Islamic practices inside Pakistan as well as all Muslim countries. You can never decide which type of Islam a group of people practice. And you can never extrapolate that to what is going on in geopolitics. May be it will be interesting to see what Christianity is practiced in the US, UK etc for their ruthless attitude towards people in Islamic nations. Their sanctions and embargoes killed millions of people and children in Iraq, Somalia etc.

One thing we are convinced about is that without might, no one cares who you are. So we have become mighty. And it is might and not the type of Islam that must be looked at with respect. If a small country like UK or France can be a global power, so can Pakistan.

The US and others are looking for short term solutions to their own problems. They are facing the consequences of their own global policies and geo-politics. Trying to find out what type of Islam is followed is not going to give them any lead or hold.

 

Very Very Peaceful Islam taught in Pak’s Madrassas ..

Quoran explodes on innocent peace loving students ..
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=2 0601091&sid=aOuNqXWaHvsw

Posted by James | Report as abusive
 

No suphism have no role in this struggle. we can resolve all the issue related to terrorism just by giving Freedom to Palestine and Kashmir . And All american troops must be out from all muslim countries.
One thing most Important we cant stop this terrorism until justice standed in the WOrld.

Posted by ADNAN KHAN | Report as abusive
 

Whatever you good or bad opinion may be of General Zia-ul-Haq, one thing is certain : he was not a Wahabi or Deobandi since he used to visit and pray at Sufi shrines quite regularly. As we all know, such a practise is an anathema to all Deobandis and Wahabis.

Posted by Arrakis | Report as abusive
 

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/