Jul 11, 2010

Sect of problems

The Barelvis blame it on Deobandis who blame it on foreign enemies

By Shaiq Hussain

The horrendous act of terror at the shrine of Syed Ali Hajveri, popularly known as Data Darbar, in the beginning of this month, has raised serious concerns about the eruption of sectarian clashes across the country.

In the wake of the suicide bombings at the famous Sufi shrine, his angry followers or the Barelvis are publicly talking about resorting to arms to defend themselves against the persistent onslaught by the Taliban militants, not only in Punjab but also in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh provinces.

The Barelvi leaders of Sunni Tehrik and Sunni Itehad Council have placed the blame on banned organisations such as Sipah-e-Sahaba, which follow the Deobandi school of thought, for training, arming and brainwashing the local militants -- chiefly those known as 'Punjabi Taliban' -- in the Punjab province, especially to target and kill the followers and devotees of sufis and saints like Data Gunj Baksh.

"Banned organisations like Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are constantly targeting the followers of great Muslim saints like Data sahib. Our people are being attacked," says Sarwat Ejaz Qadri, the chief of Sunni Tehrik, talking to TNS.

He says that the followers of the Sufis who preached love and peace all their lives would never kill any one, "although self-defense is very much allowed in Islam. …We warn [the miscreants] not to push us against the wall."

There have always been differences between different religious sects, but what happened at the Data Darbar has been generally received with shock and horror. And, its repercussions are going to be far more serious than earlier assaults on the shrines of Sufis like Rahman Baba. Popular feeling is that the country is hit by a wave of sectarian clashes, except that this time it is the Sunnis pitted against the Sunnis and not Shias.

Sahibzada Fazal Karim, head of Sunni Itehad Council, tells TNS, "Extremist religious organisations want to put the country on the path of a sectarian conflict. And, if the government failed to protect the shrines, that would mean the terrorists have succeeded."

Banned organisations like Sipah-e-Sahaba have come under fire for supporting the terrorists who attacked Data Darbar, but they hold the view that the country is being pushed into a kind of a civil war. At the same time, they deny any role in the terror acts.

Maulana Ahmad Ludhianvi, chief of Ahl-e-Sunnat Wajamaat, and co-founder of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba, says that the threat of the sectarian conflict is looming large on the country and that one particular sect is being unduly singled out. "We beg those who carry out such attacks to stop, because every time such an incident occurs, the media and the government start pointing fingers at us.

It is quite evident that having sensed the serious fallout of the brazen attack on Data Darbar, the Deobandis, the Wahabis and other sects have become defensive and they have taken no time not only to deny their role in the assault but also distanced themselves from those involved.

He also accuses American and Indian spy agencies for targeting the Barelvi school of thought with the view to derail Pakistan's nuclear programme.

"Those who attacked the shrines have nothing to do with us. We condemn the acts strongly," says Professor Sajid Mir, one of the main leaders of the Ahle-Hadith community.

According to Sajid, the government should try to stop the foreign masters [of these militants] like United States and India from funding and arming the miscreants in Pakistan.

The leaders of the Shia community which has also been a victim of the bloody sectarian clashes in the last three decades, believe that the government functionaries are well aware as to who the terrorists are and why they are maltreating the Shias and the Barelvis. They say that that the Taliban militants and their affiliated religious organisations like Sipah and Lashkar are all out to impose their own religious doctrines in Pakistan that singles out every other sect as non-Muslim or heretic.

Allama Sajid Naqvi, head of Tehrik-e-Jafria, says the prevailing tension in the country or the unrest among the members of a particular sect is a serious law and order issue that requires strict measures on the part of the government to help the situation. He says that some unlawful elements are out to destroy the fabric of our society and impose their own agenda.

In the wake of the Data Darbar suicide bombings, mainstream politico-religious parties like Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) which have always considered themselves as above any sectarian divide, have been criticised for not playing any role in bridging the gap between the different schools of thought.

Syed Munawar Hassan, Amir Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), says some indigenous elements from a certain sect might be involved in the attacks on shrines but the religious parties of Pakistan would never support such people. "It's only the handiwork of our foreign enemies," he declares.

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