Pakistan’s Supreme Court has upheld the death penalty for Mumtaz Qadri – the policeman who murdered former Punjab governor Salman Taseer in January 2011 for an alleged act of ‘blasphemy’. I analysed the implications.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan on 7 October upheld the decision of the trial court and the Islamabad High Court and rejected the appeal against Mumtaz Qadri ’s death sentence. The defence lawyers had argued that because the slain governor Salman Taseer termed the blasphemy laws as “black laws”, Mumtaz Qadri had the right to kill him.
Salman Taseer with Aasia bibi
The obiter dicta from the bench, as reported in the press, were also encouraging. Supreme Court Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, while discussing the case, remarked that “criticizing blasphemy laws does not amount to committing blasphemy” and that Mumtaz Qadri had no legal grounds to take the law into his own hands. The fact that such a remark clarifying that “questioning the blasphemy law is not blasphemy” becomes a cause for celebration says quite a lot about the socio-cultural milieu of Pakistan. Similarly, it is highly unlikely that the apex court would have actually bought into the sham arguments presented by the defence lawyers and overlooked the rather clear admission of the accused.
Ghazi Ilam Din Shaheed
The idea of committing violence as a religious obligation is neither alien nor criminal for a sizeable number of people
However, the temporary euphoria after this judgment must not conceal the fact that a former Chief Justice of Lahore High Court and a former judge of the same court were defending the accused largely on theological grounds. In fact the former judge, Justice Mian Nazir Akhtar, in an interview declared that disliking kadoo (pumpkin) was akin to committing blasphemy, since that was a vegetable preferred by our Holy Prophet (PBUH). While the verdict is an important step to establish rule of law, the lawyers who showered rose petals on Mumtaz Qadri will not disappear nor will young students who vandalized a vigil for Salman Taseer earlier this year.
From ancient Vedic times to stories told by Sufi saints, the Indus continues to play a central role in the legends and folklore associated with the region. Even today, the shrine of Uderolal, a composite Hindu-Muslim place of worship and the cult of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar are rooted and nurtured by the Indus and its magic. Not long ago, both Hindus and Muslims believed that the flow of Indus was determined by the saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is also referred to as Jhule Lal, or the god of waters. Some Hindus also referred to him as Raja Bharati.
The Partition of the subcontinent in 1947 brought with it a new shape to the politics and cultures of the Indus region
Current beliefs and practices still reflect continuity with the past. Sehwan Sharif, where the tomb of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s is situated was the site of a Shiva centre. It is said that the name Sehwanistan has been derived from Sivistan, city of Shiva. Moreover, there is a striking similarity between the dressing of contemporary faqirs and Shivite yogis as both dress in ‘torn clothes with matted hair.’
The Mohanas (fisherfolk) have been displaced and driven towards alternative livelihoods
As noted above, Uderolal is a curious tomb: Muslims believe that a saint named Shaikh Tahir is buried here; while the Hindus consider this place to be the shrine Jhulelal or Uderolal. In common parlance, he is also known as Zindapir (Living Saint). Uderolal is one of the places where the Indus is still worshipped by Hindus and Muslims. It is also worshipped in another part of Sindh, near the town of Sukkur.
Shrines of Sufi saints are situated along the riverside in Sindh. It is believed that 125,000 holy men are buried ‘in the yellow sandstone necropolis at Thatta’ alone, writes Samina Quraesihi in her book on Sufism. All year round, a great number of people continue to visit the tombs as a way to show their respect and receive blessings. Just like Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, Khwaja Khizr is also referred to as Zindapir and ‘ pani ka badshah‘ (Water King). The devotees still believe that he lives under the water and the river flows the way that he commands. As recently as the late nineteenth century, Hindus and Muslims also worshipped side-by-side at the Zindapir’s shrine in Sukkur. Moreover, many of the saints have said to have caused miracles in the region through their powers over the Indus.
Mangroves are vanishing and the boat-communities are struggling for their survival
Such meta-religious beliefs and practices can also be understood with reference to Shah Abdul Latif’s Risalo. This is a sacred Sindhi book put together by Latif. It is given equal reverence by both Hindus and Muslims, and contains excerpts from the Quran, the traditions of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), Persian poetry and Sindhi folklore. It does not focus on any one form of authority and includes doctrines from various sects in Islam. On the whole it represents the similarity in spiritual beliefs related to Hinduism and Islam as practiced in the region. Moreover, it is still a symbol of this peaceful co-existence between the followers of the two religions. Continue reading →
This morning arrived with the shocking news of the recent barbarity played out in Pakpattan (formerly known as Ajodhan) when two criminals left bombs outside the shrine of Baba Farid. Eight innocent people, returning from morning prayer, lost their lives and about 2o were injured.
Baba Fariduddin Ganje Shakar’s shrine was the latest victim of terrorism. We have now entered into a decisive phase of the ongoing battle. What is the purpose of attacking a shrine other than the fact that it defines the historical reality of a peaceful and secular Punjab. Baba Farid is revered by Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus of the subcontinent. He is the leading light of Chishti school of Sufism in Indo-Pak subcontinent. Other than his status as a mystic, Baba Farid is the pioneer of modern Punjabi language as it was innovated and refined in the 12th century. The Punjabis across the world consider him as a cultural and spiritual master.
We condemn this brutal attack, this sheer cowardice and barbarity. It is time to fight against this menace of sectarianism and scaring the people of Pakistan. We have lunatics – now dangerous criminals – who are hellbent to destroy our centuries’ old culture.
I am reproducing sections of an article from Manzur Ejaz which narrates the contribution of Baba Farid to the Punjabi language and how times were a commentary on the changing social contours of the Punjab. Continue reading →
Karachi’s famous shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi was attacked a while ago. Over 60 people are injured and 12 are dead. After Lahore’s Data Darbar attacks, this is a trend that is gaining an ugly momentum. We condemn this act and mourn the deaths of innocent people who were visiting to perhaps allay their stress and seek some peace from the place. Shrines are not just religious – these are public spaces and also cultural markers. What a shame that terrorists are trying to destroy our culture and turning us into a bunch of afraid people living in a fractured and violent society.
Thursdays are special for shrine-goers. And this is what suits the terrorists’ agenda. This is not the first time that such a heinous tragedy has occurred. We are living amid barbarians who have no tolerance for people with inclusive and plural Sufi thought. Karachi has suffered such an attack for the first time. Reports of the city having turned into a hub of Al-Qaeda and faith-based militants are all too well known. A new phase of terror may have bgun for the city that has already been suffering ethnic, sectarian and other forms of violence. This does not augur well for the port city, its centrality to our economy, trade and prospects.
The majority of Pakistani (and South Asian) Muslims follow the Barelvi school of thought which has historically been inclusive, and with few exceptions non-violent. In pre-1947 subcontinent such a local variant could easily co-exist with other religions and faiths.The tradition continued until the rise of petrodollars enabled many Sunni-ideological states to invest heavy money into the propagation of a particular brand of Islam that is exclusive and in many ways anti-minorities and anti-women. Hence the unprecedented growth of madrassas in Pakistan during the 1980s (which coincided with the Afghan jihad project). Continue reading →
There is something unique, almost magical about this place. Otherwise a tiny space in the sprawl of urban Delhi, Nizamuddin’s shrine means a lot to me. My five years old relationship with this corner of a tumultuous globe is source of strength, peace and a connection with a bygone age.
The sad part is that I never get enough time to be there – just to sit and muse – do nothing. Even taking pictures is such a burden in a place where you want to let go – and be yourself, without any need, ambition, desire or a deadline.
When will I visit next? A question that lingers in my mind each time I am leaving this place. Wish the visa hassles were not there. But they are real and so am I.
Declan Walsh in Islamabad reporting for the Guardian
At least 42 killed and 175 injured in blasts at Sufi shrine in Lahore where thousands had gathered to pray
Suicide bombers devastated one of Pakistan’s most famous Sufi shrines last night, marking another vicious strike by violent extremists against the moderate form of Islam practised by most Pakistanis.
At least 42 people were killed and 175 injured when two bombers ripped through the Data Ganj Baksh shrine in central Lahore where thousands of people had gathered to pray, dance and listen to devotional music. The toll is expected to rise. Continue reading →
This poem in ghazal form is very simple and direct. It starts with a direct address to God and gradually moves on to ethical values, human needs and human nature. I will try to transliterate the original Pushto verses into English with the hope that readers will be able to appreciate its meaning.
Not for a single moment, am I indifferent to You! Not indifferent to Your invocation and reflection! Whatever shrine I go to, I have You in mind!