Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Can sufism defeat Taliban?

Having being inspired by recent articles debating on the issue of Talibanisation and whether Sufism could be the answer to counter Taliban in Pakistan, I decided to do an evening of quick research into this area to put forward an argument that Sufism may be able to eliminate Talibanisation of Pakistan. Pretty optimistic and yet naive of me to even consider this, but I have my reasons, as you will all come to know.

First of all we need to understand that Sufism has been around for centuries, much older than Taliban, which is a recent phenomenon. Just like Taliban, Sufism isn't a particular sect of Islam, its a movement. Unlike Taliban, they are non political and non violent movement, dedicated to religion. Sufism offers a more personal and experimental approach to worshipping God, which is a stark contract to the fundamental and regimental approach of the Taliban.

Pakistan and Sufism share a rather ingrained connection with one another. They share a rich history together, which deems them inseparable. Punjab and Sindh are the two most populous provinces that share a rich history of Sufism. Sindh had Shahbaz Lal Qalander, while Punjab had Bulleh Shah. To understand what exactly are the aims of Sufism, here are the points taken from the website (link provided at the end):

: To free religious thought from the rigidity imposed by the Ulema.

: To emphasise in the Islamic teachings the elements of God’s love and mercy for His creation, rather than His wrath and retribution.

:To practise what one professes and not merely indulge in slogans and soliloquies.

:To stress the essence of faith rather than mere observance of formalities.

:To move away towards rural areas from the evil and debilitation effects of wealth, monarchy and bureaucracy concentrated in big cities.

:To demolish the edifice of false values based on pelf and power and restore morality to its proper place in the niche of Muslim society.

:To combat the fissiparous tendencies and centrifugal forces which were spreading their tentacles in the Muslim world.

:To discourage parochial feelings and eliminate racial pride which had assumed primary importance in Muslim thinking relegating the ideal of brotherhood to a secondary place etc.

These are the eight aims important to Sufism. Taliban on other hand, doesn't seem to have a religious aim other than to enforce Shariah law. They have a political expansionist agenda, especially concerning Pakistan. They seek to establish a puritanical form of Caliphate system that neither recognise nor tolerate forms of Islam divergent from their own, such as the Shia sect. They despise democracy and any form of secularism, which they feel is against the very fabric of the religion. Taliban’s Islam is closely knit to Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism, albeit more strident and hard lined. Taliban Islam appears to be self serving and is historically inaccurate. Although Taliban aren’t one singular force and that there are many groups that come under the banner of Taliban hardliners.

Sufism and Taliban are both two extreme ends of the pole. One offers a rather mystical approach to Islam and the other offers a regimented Puritanical approach to Islam. Now the question lies, can and will Sufism counter Taliban, as Pakistan faces two extreme on the religion front? The optimism in me would say yes. An interesting article by Farangis Najibullah toyed with the idea of Sufism bringing peace into the region of Afghanistan. In his article, Sayed Ishaq Gillani, a prominent Afghani politician believed that Armed forces have done little to defeat Taliban and that it was time to try something different. He believes that Sufism can offer a non violent way to defeat Taliban. Strangely enough he mentioned that majority of Taliban in Afghanistan were Sufis, mostly followers of Qadiriya and Naqshbandiya movements. In fact, Taliban Leader Mullah Omar himself was raised a Sufi before embracing a more severe Wahhabi Islam followed by Taliban. I find that hard to believe. Furthermore to this article, the writer explored that war in Afghanistan had never been about religion. It had always had a political and geopolitical motive. If Sufi leaders can organise themselves and bring Taliban into talks about political solutions, their influence could indeed be significant.

With regards to Pakistan, could the same method be employed and be successful at the same time? Well, we haven't actually 'seen' if that method has been a success in Afghanistan in order to set a precedent for Pakistan. Earlier in March (2009), a Sufi shrine was bombed in NWFP by Talibans, who felt they had to make their presence known. Its about time our Sufis mobilised themselves and counter Talibans through appropriate communications, before more shrines are abused in the same manner. Last year in the Summer, 300, 000 people attended Sufi festival in the Sindh, as compared to a couple of thousands who witnessed beheadings in NWFP. This goes to show there is immense following of Sufism, its a matter of mobilising people and pushing them to promote the real message of Islam, and that is of peace. There won't be any immediate results. This may take years and years of consistent hardwork to finally see a result. In Pakistan, fighting against Taliban, nor appeasing them had been fruitful ventures. Its time to try something different, just as Sayed Ishaq Gillani had mentioned. It is a long shot, but its worth a try. Taliban has given us Pakistanis a bad name. Ask any westerner about Pakistan or Islam, and immediately Taliban would come into their mind. Many non Muslims don't even know that Islam has a softer side that is less projected in the western world. Sufi Islam is a lesser known phenomenon in the West. Sufism owes Pakistan this. It need to save Pakistan and its Islam from being crudely exploited by Taliban and to restore the rightful image of Pakistan and Islam in the world. Can and will Sufism do this for Pakistan? Only time will tell. However time will tell whether Sufism or Taliban will be the rightful claimers of Pakistan.


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