There was no need to guess the timing of the attack on the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine in the town of Sehwan Sharif in Pakistan’s Sindh province. Thursdays are the most important in the week for Sufis and the shrine is particularly crowded with devotees. The Thursday evening attack by an Islamic State bomber claimed more than 72 lives, including that of women and children, and injured more than 150, which makes it one of the deadliest on Pakistani soil in recent years.
The shrine, among the most important for the Sufi sect, celebrate the Saint Syed Muhammad Usman Marwandi. The subcontinent will know him more as the mystic about whom scores of Sufi songs are written, among them the immensely popular “Dama dam Mast Qalandar”.
Thursday’s attack was far from the first against a tradition that professes peace and tolerance. Just three months ago, 45 people were killed and more than 100 wounded when a Sufi shrine was bombed in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. In June, one of the most beloved singers of Sufi music, Amjad Sabri, was fatally shot in his car in the port city of Karachi.
The Sufi tradition is ancient and syncretic, and across South Asia it draws on the rituals and habits of pre-Islamic religion. Adherents often worship at the shrines of esteemed saints. Musicians lead crowds amassed at the shrines in ecstatic songs of devotion. The worship of saints and the tradition’s outright exuberance often spark the ire of Pakistan’s fundamentalist Muslims, who insist on a stricter interpretation of the Koran. Militants have translated that ire into a refrain of violence.
To kill maximum number of devotees attending this famous Sufi shrine was the aim of this bomber. They had to be killed because for many fundamentalist sects of Islam, Sufism is unislamic. To purify Islam they are killing people including small kids so that everyone will be forced to follow their pathway of worshipping the mythical god. The sad fact is victims of fundamentalist Islam are mostly Muslims themselves.
But it was good to see the followers of Sufism not being cowed down by such heinous attacks. The very next day itself they re-started the traditional singing and dancing.
On Sunday the classical dancer and rights activist Sheema Kirmani responded to terrorism in the Sufi way by performing at the Shrine.
This gives us hope for a better future for Pakistan.