As if the recent acts of violence and an atmosphere of fear was not enough, the butchers have attacked Lahore’s oldest and grandest shrine – also known as Data Saheb. Thursday night is the time when thousands visit this shrine to pray and offer their respects to Hazrat Usman Hajwery, a Sufi who has been known as the protector of the city and the generous guide who is believed to have blessed countless generations.
This is a barbaric attack and should serve as a wake up call. Data Saheb’s shrine is not just another crowded place – it represents a millenia of tolerant Sufi Islam which is directly under attack by the puritans.Last year, there were threats and the government had closed the place for a day or two. This time the worst of nightmares has come true.
How long will we be mere spectators and see our great city blown to bits – culturally and physically. This is time for hard, concrete action and a major crackdown on all terrorist outfits that are operating in the country especially the Punjab wit impunity.
How long shall we remain in a state of denial – as if there is no problem within Pakistan and all acts of terror are perpeterated by the Indians, Jews and the Americans. […]
Known here today as Data Ganj Baksh, or Giver of Treasures, the Persian-speaking mystic journeyed to Lahore with Central Asian invaders, according to Raza Ahmed Rumi, a Pakistani writer and expert on Sufism. He settled outside the city, a stopover on the trade route to Delhi, started a meditation center and wrote a manual on Sufi practices, Mr. Rumi said. Few here last week knew many of those facts but that did not seem to matter. The dancing and drumming was part of a natural rhythm of life that after nearly 10 centuries was as much about culture as it was about faith
The bombing of Rehman Baba’s shrine is more proof that we are slipping, inch by inch, into an abyss. It is as if the soul of Peshawar, and by extension that of the whole of Pakistan has been scarred by those barbaric bombs and grenades. Among other ironies of the situation, this one stands out: the late Baba was instrumental in disseminating the message of Islam in the Khyber valley and beyond. And today the zealots destroy his shrine for being un-Islamic! A poet of love and tolerance, of amity and forgiveness to be treated in this manner displays how brutal we have become as a society and how fissured our state is. Otherwise a successor of a mighty steel frame, the indigenised state has surely given up to the hordes that are now hell bent on destroying Pakistan.
Rahman Baba was born in 1632 A.D. at Bahadur Kala, a village close to Peshawar. The Pashtuns hold his work in high esteem and his rank in Pashto poetry matches that of Hafiz Shirazi in Persian literature. The simple, down to earth and universal messages of his poetry have been revered by the Pashtuns as well as many adherents of the Sufi creed in South Asia and elsewhere.
In Afghanistan too, Rehman Baba was an icon and his muse was referred to as the ‘heart-beat’ of every Afghan. A friend told me how Saidu Baba, the famed saint of the now destroyed Swat valley, remarked that if the Pashtuns were to pray from a book other than the Holy Quran it would definitely be Rahman Baba’s work. But nothing describes Baba better than what Janes Enveldson had named him: the “Nightingale of Peshawar.” Alas, nightingales do not sing in gardens that have been ruined by long, harsh winters or other cataclysms such as hatred and violence. […]
Perhaps the greatest of the experiences at Data Darbar is to find oneself connected to a stream of humanity, shoulder to shoulder, with a shared sense of spirituality that cuts across ethnicity, sect, ritual and even religion at times. Despite the mayhem, the serenity of the place is soothing
Last week, accompanying a visitor from the Mecca of Sufis, Delhi, I reconnected with the Data Darbar or the royal pavilion of the great saint of Lahore, Ali bin Usman Al Hajveri. This shrine is the oldest and perhaps the most vibrant cultural marker of the past one millennium in Lahore. The title of Ganj Bakhsh was bestowed by the saint of the saints Khwaja Moin ud din Chishti of Ajmere, whose ascendancy in the Chishtia Sufi order is recognised by all and sundry. Pilgrimage to Ajmere by itself is a matter of spiritual attainment for the majority of Muslims in the subcontinent. It is not difficult to imagine then what the stature of Lahore’s Data Darbar is in this esoteric yet real and lived Islam in South Asia. While Khwaja Moin ud din Chishti honoured the Lahori saint with the title “bestower of treasure,” ordinary folk on Lahore’s streets were more direct by naming the saint as Data, the one who facilitates the fulfilment of aspirations.
Living nearly 11 centuries ago, Syed Ali bin Usman Al Hajveri was not a Lahori but a resident of Lahore’s cultural step-cousin, Ghazni, until he arrived in India and wandered in northern India before settling in Lahore for the last 34 years of his life. This was the time when mystics from Central Asia, in their constant urge to discover new vistas of spiritual exploration, started to travel and settle in different parts of the Indian subcontinent. It remains a mystery as to why Data Ganj Bakhsh would have chosen Lahore as the final stop in his life long journey. Perhaps the secular interpretation could be that Lahore was an inevitable stop over for all the Central Asian and Turkic caravans and armies and provided the right kind of environment for a foreign mystic to amalgamate into. A little before Ganj Bakhsh’s arrival, Lahore had been resurrected from the earlier ravages of time by the Ghaznavid ruler Mahmood and his son Masood. […]