By Zia Ur Rehman
KARACHI — Thousands of devotees gathered at the Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai shrine to participate in the three-day urs (anniversary) January 19.
Urs attracts tens of thousands of devotees every year from as far away as Europe to pay homage to the Sufi saint. Bhitai’s themes included love, religious tolerance and humanistic values.
The Auqaf Department (AD) has set up a unique cultural village for artists and writers to display their work, said Shams Jafrani, an AD officer. Awards and shields will be given to the writers in recognition of their writing, creativity and texture of thoughts, he said.
Jafrani said they have also set up a literary conference for Sufi scholars from Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Punjab.
Sufi University Sindh to open soon
The 267th urs of Sindh’s famed Sufi saint and poet has started in Bhit Shah – the town where the Sindh government will establish Sufi University Sindh.
The university is scheduled to open in a few months at an initial cost of Rs. 65m (US $ 758,000). The curriculum will include music, literature, linguistics and religion but the study of Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, will be the primary academic pursuit, said Dr. M. Abid Shah, head of Department of Sindhi at University of Karachi, who has also done his Ph.D. in sufism.
According to the university proposal, there will be three major wings of the University – Sufi thought and practice, mystic poetry and literature, and South Asian Arts (fine arts, folk music, performing arts and architecture). There will be a regional admission quota for all provinces to ensure geographically diverse admission.
Urs comes with increased security
Abdul Shakoor Bozdar, an AD official responsibile for urs security, told Central Asia Online that arrangements for the three-day festival include at least 2,400 policemen and Rangers.
Pakistani Sufi shrines have been frequent targets of militant groups whose hard-line interpretation of Islam clash with sufi spiritual practices. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility for most of these attacks.
In the past three years, KP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas have witnessed attacks on different Sufi shrines by militants. A number of faith healers and caretakers have also been targeted.
“Sufism has been targeted by Tailbanisation, a new faith embedded by anti-mystic jihadi forces which has nothing to do with Islam,” said Muhammad Fayyaz Khan, Secretary General of Jamiat Ulema Pakistan, a pro-Sufism religious party, in KP.
Can Sufism solve militancy?
Adherents of Sufism said Sufism is the solution to today’s militancy.
“The menace of terrorism and militancy could be eliminated from the country by promoting the teachings of Sufi saints,” said Dilshad Bhutto, a renowned Sindhi intellectual and head of Pakistan Secular Forum.
Sufi religious leaders and poets like Bhittai, Rehman Baba and Bhulay Shah enjoy respect and influence over the local population, Bhutto told Central Asia Online.
“Islam spread in the Sindh region through preaching of Sufis, not by Arab fighters like Muhammad Bin Qasim,” Bhutto said. “Sufis came and spread the religious message of love, peace and harmony.”
He suggested that the KP government should also try to establish a Sufi university in that province as Sufism had made a deep impact on Pashtun society and Sufi shrines dot the landscape.
“Taliban militants now consider Sufism as a big threat to their radical brand of Islam”, Khan said, adding that Sufism adherents have always condemned the Taliban’s un-Islamic acts, like beheading the innocent and bombing mosques and shrines.
“In the last few years, first we are seeing them blatantly attacking the Sufi symbols like shrines by Taliban only in KP and FATA, but now they are targeting the shrines in Sindh and Punjab too,” Khan added.
The federal government formed a Sufi Advisory Council (SAC) in June 2009 to slow the spread of militancy and fanaticism in the country. A few days later, a suicide attack at a Lahore mosque killed noted religious scholar Allama Sarfaraz Naeemi, who was known for labelling the activities of the Taliban “un-Islamic.”
Naeemi was also struggling for establishing a Sufi studies institute in the country, said Maulana Ahmed Qadri, a religious leader in Karachi. He said the Sindh government is fulfilling the wish of Naeemi by establishing Sufi University in order to spread the messages of love and peace.