God can seem distant, inaccessible at times. In Pakistan, however, there are more tangible intermediaries to beg for intercession. They are the mystic Sufi saints – the face of a more affectionate Islam that preaches love and peace, uses music as a vehicle for remembrance of Allah. And no one hates this culture more than the puritans of Islam, the Deobandis. For them it is all Day of Judgment, fire and brimstone, sin and punishment, errant human nature, hijab and burka, shame and groveling.
Just a few days ago, on Oct 7, a Sufi shrine in Karachi was attacked by two bomb blasts. The investigators are not clear if they were twin suicide bombers. Two heads have been found but only one striker sleeve, which is the pin used by a suicide bomber to detonate his jacket. They think one bomb was planted because the ball bearings packed in it were not found with human flesh as is usually the case. Not much explosive was used and the damage was mercifully muted. Only 10 people are dead, a miracle given the fact that people throng the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi on Thursday nights each week. Thousands come to pray for help, get a free meal from the numerous charities that work there, seek solace from the grind of daily life.
In July Lahore’s world famous Data Darbar shrine was also attacked with bombs. This kind of terrorism disgusts Pakistanis, a majority of who subscribe to a more mystical Islam. Shrines and their saints are revered – even if you are not religious – for the culture they have given the Indian subcontinent. According to legend, Shah Ghazi was approached by fishermen who asked him to tame the wild Arabian Sea. And uncannily enough, Karachi has been protected for centuries from cyclones and Tsunamis. They always pass by at the last minute. We were on high alert for cyclone Phet recently, but it passed by. People mused that Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s hand was at work.
In Pakistan we tend to focus on the West, or the US etc. etc. But something we don’t talk about much is that the suicide attacks are carried out by men who call themselves Muslims. These men target public places such as Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s shrine where other Muslims are killed. It is simple Muslim killing Muslim action. It isn’t the great white Infidel.
I suspect, however, that something more is afoot here in this case. And it worries me. The timing of the shrine attack was strange. It happened a day after a big-shot Deoband (read orthodox) cleric was murdered in a drive-by shooting. This cleric was prayer leader at a mosque that the Deobandis and Barelvis had been fighting over for a while. The Deobandis do not get along with the mystic-loving Barelvis. A Barelvi leader is buried at the shrine as well. Was this retaliation? It seemed like a hastily thrown-together job, said some investigators. They didn’t use a large amount of explosives.
If, and only if, this theory is proven by investigators, I fear we could be looking at a sinister trend: groups in Karachi settling scores not just with gunfights but bomb blasts.
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