Steeped in ancient mysticism, the passion of Pakistani Sufis infuriates Taliban
Yielding to the hypnotic beat of drums and the intoxicating scent of incense, the woman danced herself into a state of trance, laughing and shaking uncontrollably alongside hundreds of others at Pakistan’s most revered Sufi shrine.
Swathed in red, the Sufi colour of passion, she shouted invocations to the shrine’s patron saint in an ecstatic ritual repeated daily in the dusty town of Sehwan Sharif on the banks of the river Indus.
With its hypnotic rituals, ancient mysticism and a touch of intoxicated madness, Sufism is a non-violent form of Islam which has been practised in Pakistan for centuries – a powerful antidote to extremism in places such as the province of Sindh.
It is scenes like this, where men and women dance together in a fervent celebration of their faith, that make Sufis an increasingly obvious target in the conservative Muslim country where sectarian violence is on the rise.
At a crossroads of historic trade routes, religions and cultures, Sindh has always been a poor but religiously tolerant place, shielded by its embrace of Sufism from Islamist militancy sweeping other parts of Pakistan.
But this year peace came to an end with a string of attacks across the province, including against Sufi places of worship, as militants seek new safe havens and new ways of destabilising the country.
“They are trying to kill us,” said Syed Sarwar Ali Shah Bukhari, whose father, a Sufi cleric, was killed in a bomb attack on the family’s ancestral shrine in February.