Pakistan once had the promise of becoming a truly modern secular state but it has increasingly succumbed to indulging religious fanatics who seek to impose a theocracy on the nation. Their blasphemy laws have been used to attack both Muslims and non-Muslims, using bogus allegations that the victims had made statements denigrating the prophet Mohammed or desecrating the Koran.
Now comes reports that they have murdered a popular singer Amjad Sabri who was not only a Muslim but sang deeply devotional Muslim songs.
The TTP Hakimullah Mehsud group — aka the Pakistani Taliban — has claimed responsibility for Sabri’s death, saying that they carried out the assassination “for blasphemy.”
The richly baritoned Sabri was part of one of South Asia’s most celebrated singing families. His late father, Ghulam Farid Sabri, and late uncle, Maqbool Sabri, were known together as The Sabri Brothers. The family specializes in the art of qawwali — an important Muslim devotional tradition. Like his ancestors, Amjad Sabri spent his life singing praises to God and the Prophet Muhammad.
Qawwali is a tradition that has lasted about 700 years in South Asia — home to about a third of the world’s Muslim population — going from Persia into what is now India and Pakistan. It is, for its performers and audiences, a conduit for experiencing the divine.
In South Asia, qawwali is also one of the most popular and relatable expressions of Islam and of Sufism — the hugely diverse, mystical branch of Islam that emphasizes having a personal connection to God, as well as embracing tolerance, peace and equality.
So what was the problem? The singer was not rigid enough because of his inclusion of Sufism. Besides, for religious fanatics who think that they alone possess the true faith, ‘tolerance, peace and equality’ are such terrible things that they must be stamped out.