Steeped in ancient mysticism, passion of Pakistani Sufis infuriates Taliban

Thu Sep 26, 2013 5:18pm EDT
 
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Maria Golovnina and Syed Raza Hassan

SEHWAN SHARIF, Pakistan (Reuters) - Yielding to the hypnotic beat of drums and the intoxicating scent of incense, the woman danced herself into a state of trance, laughing and shaking uncontrollably alongside hundreds of others at Pakistan's most revered Sufi shrine.

Swathed in red, the Sufi color of passion, she shouted invocations to the shrine's patron saint in an ecstatic ritual repeated daily in the dusty town of Sehwan Sharif on the banks of the river Indus.

With its hypnotic rituals, ancient mysticism and a touch of intoxicated madness, Sufism is a non-violent form of Islam which has been practiced in Pakistan for centuries - a powerful antidote to extremism in places such as the province of Sindh.

It is scenes like this, where men and women dance together in a fervent celebration of their faith, that make Sufis an increasingly obvious target in the conservative Muslim country where sectarian violence is on the rise.

At a crossroads of historic trade routes, religions and cultures, Sindh has always been a poor but religiously tolerant place, shielded by its embrace of Sufism from Islamist militancy sweeping other parts of Pakistan.

But this year peace came to an end with a string of attacks across the province, including against Sufi places of worship, as militants seek new safe havens and new ways of destabilizing the country.

"They are trying to kill us," said Syed Sarwar Ali Shah Bukhari, whose father, a Sufi cleric, was killed in a bomb attack on the family's ancestral shrine in February.

Bukhari, 36, is now the oldest living descendant of a prominent Sufi "saint" whose tomb his family has tended for generations in a tradition handed down from father to son.   Continued...

 
A devotee leaps in trance while dancing with others to the beat of the drum at the tomb of Sufi saint Syed Usman Marwandi, also known as Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in Sehwan Sharif, in Pakistan's southern Sindh province, September 5, 2013. Picture taken September 5, 2013. To match Feature PAKISTAN-SUFI/ REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro (PAKISTAN - Tags: SOCIETY RELIGION)