By Zia Ur Rehman

Sep 5, 2012

HYDERABAD – As the first international Sufi university opened in Sindh Province, Pakistan, its founders said they hope the school will help eradicate extremism by promoting peace.

The International University of Peace and Sufism (IUPS) is in Bhit Shah town, Mitiari District, home to a shrine of the Sufi saint Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai.

“The IUPS has been established in such a situation when we daily read the news of attacks on Shia buses … and news of Hindus’ migration from various parts of Sindh,” said Sindh University Vice-Chancellor Dr Nazir A. Mughal. “This happens only during intolerance, terrorism and extremism.”

“It was the need of the hour to establish such an institution of higher education from which we might be able to educate our youth so that they may select the path of the Sufis, who always chose the way of love, tolerance, harmony and brotherhood,” Mughal said at the August 29 inauguration ceremony.

Teachers, government officials and Sufi activists pray at the August 29 inauguration of the International University of Peace and Sufism in Bhit Shah, Matiari District. The new Sufi university will help end extremism and intolerance by promoting peace and harmony, academics, Sufi activists and literary leaders say. [Zia Ur Rehman]
First Sufi university in Asia

The IUPS is the first Sufi higher educational institution in Asia to earn the status of university, Mughal said.

The first class of students will start their studies October 1, said Nadir Mugheri, spokesperson of Sindh University, adding that it will initially offer only diploma courses, but master’s-degree studies will start next year.

“The students at the IUPS will be taught job-oriented courses and degrees, and … (to value) brotherhood and religious tolerance,” Mugheri told Central Asia Online.

Students will later be able pursue masters’ degrees in any field related to Sufism like meditation, interfaith harmony, and Bhitai’s poetic works focusing on religious harmony, he said.

The university will have three major wings: Sufi thought and practice; mystic poetry and literature; and South Asian arts (fine arts, folk music, performing arts and architecture). It will follow admission quotas for all provinces to ensure a geographically diverse student body.

Setting up Sufi university hailed

Educators, writers, peace activists and other have praised the founding of Sufi University, saying it will help curb extremism and promote tolerance.

“The menace of terrorism and militancy could be eliminated from the country by promoting the teachings of Sufi saints, and the setting up of the IUPS is a part of efforts the government is making in this regard,” said Pakistani Senator Aajiz Dhamrah, who added that IUPS is being established according to a directive from President Asif Ali Zardari.

Sufi religious leaders and poets like Bhitai, Rehman Baba and Bhulay Shah command the respect of the local population, said Muhammad Arshad Khan, a Karachi-based artist and a leader of the Pashtun Thinkers Forum.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government should also try to establish a Sufi university in that province as Sufism had had a deep impact on Pashtun society and Sufi shrines dot the landscape, he suggested.

Sufism is key target of Taliban militants

Sufism has a deep influence on the sub-continental societies and a large number of Sufi shrines dot the landscape of Pakistan and Afghanistan, said Sufi leaders.

But Taliban militants have frequently targeted Sufi shrines in Pakistan, especially those in the Pashtun regions.

Such attacks are linked to the arrival of al-Qaeda-linked Arab militants in Afghanistan, said Abdul Majid Baqi, a Lahore-based Sufi researcher, adding that such extremists often are ingrained with a philosophy that conflicts with Sufi Islam.

The militants justify their attacks on shrines and other cultural symbols as attempts at constructing a new culture and a new identity, Baqi said.

More than 25 shrines across the country have been attacked since 2005 and more than 200 devotees have been killed, Baqi said.

For example, in July 2010, two suicide bombers attacked the shrine of Sufi saint Data Ganj Baksh Hajveri in Lahore, killing about 45 devotees and injuring dozens of others. A suicide attack on the shrine of Sufi saint Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi killed nine people in October 2010. And an attack on Baba Farid Ganj Shakar’s shrine in Pakpattan that same month killed seven.

“They are desecrating the graves of Sufi saints and poets loved by people, and it is an attempt to provoke them,” said Yousaf Ali Dilsoz, president of the Rehman Baba Adabi Jirga. “Those Sufis are icons of spirituality and humanity, and their love for peace and tolerance is a guiding principle for all of us.”