Pakistan: Terror campaign by religious militants against Sufi worshippers



Terror campaign by religious militants
against Sufi worshippers

In the sixteenth attack on Sufi shrines in two years, Taliban suicide bombers killed 49 and injured 93 Sufi devotees at a shrine where they were celebrating the anniversary of its founder’s death with music and meditation.

Sufi Muslim devotees are condemned as ‘un-Islamic’ by fundamentalist groups because they worship saints and perform music and dance. The Sufi devotees see dancing, chanting and visiting holy sites as expressions of devotion to God.

On 3 April 2011, hundreds of Sufi Muslim devotees from different parts of the country had gathered at the Sakhi Sarwar shrine in Dera Ghazi Khan district for an annual three-day Urs festival. Sufism has been widely practised in Pakistan for hundreds of years and has a much bigger following than the hard-line Taliban version of Islam. From one-room tombs in small villages to large complexes in major cities, Sufi shrines are visited by millions of Pakistanis.

Tensions between Barelvis and Deobandis
Followers of the Barelvi school of Islam consider themselves the custodian of the Sufi shrines. They are one of the two main branches of the religion in Pakistan, comprising more than three quarters of Pakistan’s Sunni Muslims. They have been one of the main targets of Islamist militants since some of their leaders issued edicts calling suicide bombings ‘religiously illegitimate’.

Pakistan’s Taliban claims the mantle of the hardline Deobandi tradition, which has many beliefs in common with the austere Wahabism of Saudi Arabia. The Taliban fighter Ehsanullah Ehsan told Reuters news agency that the attack on 3 April was a revenge for a government offensive against militants in Pakistan’s north-west. Pakistan’s Deobandi leadership, however, blamed ‘foreign hand’ (India) for the attacks on Sufi Shrines in Pakistan.

The United States, meanwhile, sees Sufi Islam as a counter force to terrorism, and has helped promote it by giving more than 1.5 million US dollars since 2001 on the restoration and conservation of Sufi shrines in Pakistan.

Pir Tayyab, a hard-line Deobandi cleric who has been associated with militant organisations, including the Pakistani Taliban, said:

“The singing and dancing that takes place at shrines is disrespectful,” he was quoted by The New York Times as saying.

While provincial governments have scaled back some musical performances in response to threats, the large gatherings persist, drawing big and determined crowds at major shrines on a near weekly basis.

The only major cancellation over security fears was made by the Sindh provincial government, which canceled musical performances that were a permanent feature of Karachi’s festivals.

Shi’ite processions routinely targeted
Traditional Shi’ite processions are also routinely targeted by suicide bombers who push to ‘Talibanize’ Pakistan. In May 2010, two mosques of the minority Ahmedi sect were targeted in Lahore, killing 93 people.

One and a half month later in the same city, two suicide bombers detonated their explosives in the basement and inside Pakistan’s most important Sufi shrine, after a Sufi ceremony of singing and prayer, killing 42 people and leaving 175 people injured.

    April 2011: 49 killed and 93 injured in suicide attack on Sakhi Sarwar shrine in Punjab

    October 2010: Six killed by bomb at Sufi shrine in Punjab

    July 2010: 42 killed and 175 injured in suicide attack on Data Ganj Baksh shrine in Lahore

    June 2009: Shrine of the Sufi poet Rehman Baba bombed in Peshawar

Click to read more about Pakistan on

Sufism under attack in Pakistan

The New York Times

Associated Press video news report


Google News – continuously updated:

Search: ‘Sufi’ + ‘Pakistan’

Time – 7 April 2011:
‘Why Pakistan’s Taliban Target the Muslim Majority’

BBC News – 3 April 2011:

‘Pakistan Sufi shrine suicide attack kills 41’

Central Asia Online – 23 February 2011:

‘KP militants target CD business’

The New York Times – 6 January 2011:

‘The Islam That Hard-Liners Hate’

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