Tolerant Islam under attack

Published: October 9, 2010

Two bombs exploded at Abdullah Shah Ghazi's Mazaar on Thursday, October 8, 2010. PHOTO: MOHAMMAD NOMAN

Two bombs exploded at Abdullah Shah Ghazi's Mazaar on Thursday, October 8, 2010. PHOTO: MOHAMMAD NOMAN Two bombs exploded at Abdullah Shah Ghazi's Mazaar on Thursday, October 8, 2010. PHOTO: MOHAMMAD ADEEL

Every Thursday, as the drums would roll, the colourful devotees would crowd, the rose petals would float, the excited children would hop, the cars would swerve, the buses would gather, the food would overflow, the lights would glow, and I would wonder anew at the hospitability and attraction of the Abdullah Shah Ghazi mazaar.

Abdullah Shah Ghazi is said to have arrived from Iraq in the eighth century to preach the brand of tolerant Islam that is still followed by the majority of people here. Many people claim to have been granted their wishes here. Apart from the faithful, there are many who flock the shrine for langar (free food) or to drink from the miraculous holy waters which, they believe, cures ailments.

The shrine has remained a centre of attraction for people belonging to different religions, sects and ethnicities. Looking at the pockets of humanity which crowded the mazaar and spilled over into it’s environs, it was clear that here there were none of the class divisions that bedevil our society. All were welcome at the saint’s abode… the destitute and the rich, the ill and the healthy, the young and the elderly, the careworn and the careless, the morose and the ecstatic.

Legend has it that Karachi did not suffer a tropical disaster in a thousand years because of the shrine’s blessing, because Abdullah Shah possessed the power to control sea waters. Devotees claim that the presence of this mazaar has protected Karachi from a number of tropical disasters, including the recent Cyclone Phet and the 2006 sea-storm heading from Gujarat. But the shrine could not protect itself from all who it has been welcoming with open arms and a big heart for so long. Amongst the swarm of humanity milling around it this Thursday, there were two young men who dealt it the most severe blow it has ever suffered in it’s 1400 year old history. Undeterred by the presence of a large number of women and children and the message of mysticism and peace pervading the air, they chose to kill, maim and destroy.

The attack came three months after militants struck at Data Ganj Baksh’s shrine in Lahore. Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s shrine is as significant to Karachi as Hazrat Data Ganj Baksh’s shrine is to Lahore. As horrifying as the Data Ganj Baksh attack was, this time the news hit me right in the solar plexus.

Memories come fast and furious. An intrepid friend and I getting our hands read, in the glow of a lantern, by a grave palmist squatting on the pavement next to the shrine.  Jaywalking devotees irritating me into honking on Thurdays while trying to get home after a long day at work. Avoiding looking directly at the drug addicts near the Mazaar who would sleep all day and come back to life as evening approached.  The eerie glow of the lights drawing my gaze again and again.  The nearby crescendo of music lulling me into a deep sleep. Visiting the Mazaar with my nervous mother to pray for my brother’s success as he was departing for college. Incense and flowers mixing with the sea air and pervading my senses as I took off my shoes to climb the interminable steps leading towards the saint’s resting place. The serene inner sanctum swarming with curious female devotees. The workers washing the dirt marks on the steps of the Mazaar, forcing us to side step the buckets of water. Now they must be washing the blood stains and body parts off those pristine steps.

On TV, I can’t recognise the darkened Mazaar with it’s abandoned slippers, sandals and flowers. A screaming woman in sequins and red lipstick is carrying her inert daughter. Her frenzied screams  rent the air, but the girl does not stir. Three children are amongst the dead. I turn away from the thought that this devastated woman’s daughter is amongst the fatalities.

Amidst the cacophony of the TV coverage, an image jumps out at me. Bloodied babes. Despite the blood staining their round foreheads and clinging to their curly locks, these traumatised toddlers are not crying.  Silent and clueless, their innocent and unflinching gaze sears my soul even as their panicked mother rushes them to hospital.

The TV anchors and reporters are babbling away, police and rangers are milling about, people are sobbing, ministers are giving their usual statements, shrines are being sealed, bombers’ heads and limbs are being scrutinized, Tehreek-e-Taliban are proudly claiming responsibility for this butchery as if it is a badge of honour, theories are being put forth about how militants are striking at the very heart of Sufism and tolerance…. but it is the silence of these flower like children which resounds within me.

Maheen Usmani

Maheen Usmani

A freelance writer who has covered subjects ranging from socio-political issues to women's rights to counter terrorism, sports, travel, culture and music. Maheen tweets @MaheenUsmani (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • hasan

    Are we living in a Muslim country?These suicide bomber belonged to Our religion Islam?By doing these sort of activities,they are going the right thing??They now,after losing their lives gone to heaven?Who is responsible for these incidents?
    What is right and what is wrong?Now taliban will decide how do we spend our life and how to run the government and how do we can make our country as a pure Islamic state??Recommend

  • Tanzeel.

    There is nothing as tolerant or violent Islam. Islam is Islam. If Taleban are poisoning Islam by blowing the mosques off some Sufi followers are also indulging in evil innovations at shrines. I don’t endorse neither Talibani nor Barelvi kind of Islam. At this point of time we need to use our brains and avoid going to places where there is a terror threat.Recommend

  • gem

    You write so well. The pen IS mightier than the word. Lyrical…Recommend

  • Mahamad

    Abdullah Shah Ghazi is said to have arrived from Iraq in the eighth century to preach……………………………………..there were two young men who dealt it the most severe blow it has ever suffered in it’s 1400 year old history.
    The 8th century was 1400 years ago?Recommend

  • Ali

    Tanzeel i dont understand your type of people. why do u guys have to judge islam by such suicide bombers or these shrine people? are they caretakers of islam? NO WAY!!! dont judge islam by people or followers cause people always makes mistakes for their own vested interests whereas Quran & sunnah is never wrong so go and seek things thereRecommend

  • alikhan

    @Tanzeel Well sufi followers dont blow up mosques, they dont make it compulsory for others to follow their innovations. Comparison between taliban terrorists and sufis is just ridiculous. Its shocking that people still try to justify this mass murder by refering to the “true islam” which only they have the right to interprate and practice.Recommend

  • Tilsim

    The shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi is a shrine to charity, the celebration of life, the knowledge of death, of mercy over persecution, of inclusion of everyone in the eyes of God – the fallen and the upright, of devotion to the almighty, of miracles, of the hope, strength and renewal that comes our of prayer. Concepts that very much create the inner bond of the momin with the divine.

    Wahabi jihadist Islam finds no distaste or hesitancy in the murder of innocents to enforce it’s rules. It is the saved sect and the rest are apostates. It has a concept of a God who demands exclusivity and His momin is His agent to negate, subjugate and destroy the rest of His creation.

    You decide what is the example of the Prophet (pbuh) and what is Islam. Then you rise up and raise your voice loudly against the real perversion of Islam and the denial of our humanity.Recommend

  • faris

    The title is wicked–there is no such thing as “intolerant Islam”–and nor is the incidence an attack on ‘tolerant Muslims’. Draw a line already, please, such heinous attacks cannot be anything but evil, utterly devoid of any creed or religion–and your willingness to categorize them only adds to the misunderstanding and hence the damage being done to this most-tolerant of religions, historically, and to humanity at large. Recommend

  • Hasan Zuberi

    It is unfortunate to see people dividing in the lines of sect and religions …. I am a muslim and i wish to stay as a muslim like i am outside Pakistan …. it is the badge i proudly display on my passport and in my name.

    I felt saddened with the attacks on religions and sects …. its is just not my religion …. nor teachings of any prophet of God.

    When i have to offer my prayer … I look for a mosque … i don’t look for a sect name … but yes at times it feel odd to have a sect-name written at the gate often mosque …. seems like a warning sign …. that if u disagree with our variant of Islam our God will not entertain you.

    This kind of society was not there before 2007 …. mishandling of Lal Masjid episode has damaged it to the core … now no we don’t feel safe in the house of God …. how can we be safe in our own houses … hence the enemies of humanity … are winning by dividing us.

    People openly accusing one school of thought …. but reality is that every sect … religion … madhab has its militant wing in Pakistan ….. our enemies have chosen the same path to destroy us that they used for Lebanon in the 80s.

    In the end I follow ISLAM … and not I SLAM … hence I am in peace.Recommend

  • SadafFayyaz

    Islam is a peaceful religion but only some uneducated mullahs and clerics have destroyed it. you write so well lady. Its a Deen not Mazhab. The problem comes where people start using the name of religion for their personal wishes and desires. Recommend

  • parvez

    I am a regular reader of your articles on the ET blog section. You have an amazing style of writing whereby you manage to draw a picture and convey your thoughts clearly and with that unique ability of jogging the emotions of the reader.

    Regarding the incident : we are reaping what we had sowed years ago. Today sadly we have learnt nothing from our past mistakes and so, we are destined to repeat them.Recommend

  • Anas Abbas

    Brilliant article!! Please continue to keep writing!

    Here the best part is that how the writer has superbly sums up almost everything related to this tragic incident right from her personal affection etc with the shrine to the comprehensive description of the unfortunate day.

    Its unfortunate that some people above such as faris are attacking the title of this piece reaching parochial conclusions.Recommend

  • Farooq Khan

    As usual brillint, Maheen “soolagtay mauzoon per achooti tahreer” Recommend

  • Sadia

    A wonderfully written article exhibiting such clarity of thought. We, as a nation, are under siege by those claiming to be the rightful voice of Islam.Recommend

  • shahid


    Spot on……Excellent, well written article.Recommend

  • Anjum Hameed

    @Tanzeel.:what is Barelvi Islam??..or Deobandi Islam??..or Talibani Islam??..we are Muslims for God’s sake, whether we are any of the above, or whether we are Sunni or Shia or Aga Khani, or Bohri or Ahmedi…….YES, I said one has the right to declare their brand of belief is the best..leave that to God to decide.. Recommend

  • Saqib

    Everybody here is talking about not dividing Islam into Sects etc…. but guyz… the reality is a reality!! and the reality is…. we are already divided into Sects… the biggest Sects of Muslims currently in the world are Sunni sufism followers (Barelvi), Sunni Wahaabi (Deobandi) and the Shias. and whether u ppl accept it or not… u guyz also follow only one of these sects. so if u think u r not following any Sect… u probably dont even understand urself! Get some knowledge about ur own sect… this is just according to AHAADEES in which our PROPHET mentioned that His Ummah will be divided into 73 Sects… of which only One will be on the correct path… the wrest will be in the Hellfire!! and since 1000 years.. the debate is going on and on about Which Sect is on the right path??
    And why no one can claim that He or She follows no Sect.. is because all sects have very opposing views on many things!
    in this correct case… the wahaabis consider The Visiting of Shrines as SHIRK and BIDDAAT!! and consider those people as INFIDELS and MUSHRIKS… not MUSLIMS!! so carrying out a suicide attack there is definitely a Jihaad in their eyes… cz they think they r killing those MURTIDS which deviated from their path of Islam!!
    This is real intolerance in my eyes as im a Barelvi follower!!Recommend

  • falak

    so sad! we r living in dark-ages but i know one thing for sure that there is a colossal conspiracy underway, Islam and Pakistan r their prime targets.God Help us all.
    btw Maheen well written, really like ur articles. Recommend

  • Khadim Husain

    Current rise and backing of Sufism is mockery and today’s Sufis’s would be tommorows ANP, Balouch, Bengalis or Taliban. Sufism is a non practical bunch of rituals, in entire world not a single Sufi is visible because monkhood in age of technology and media aware peoples is nothing except an old story. All Sufi stories are based on Shamnism, Hinduism or Catholicism. Sudden rise of Sufism was happened after 1857 or now for political reasons.Recommend

  • Chaman Lal

    It is the ‘flower like children’,who are the future of mankind.Do jehadis by silencing them want to bring the end of humanity from the earth? Maheen Usmani in her every piece tolls the bell to make hard of hearing people of the world to listen the warning bells! Do keep on Maheen the flag of humanity high!Recommend

  • Huma

    We need to have a consensus across all Pakistanis that the Talibans are heretics and should be expelled from Islam. That is the ONLY way o deal with them. Recommend

  • Ilmana Fasih

    (Just a bit of correction Maheen–Abdullah Shah Ghazi was born in Madinah in 98 AH( 720 AD) and then had gone to Kufa, Iraq for business from where he came to Sind in 760 AD.He was from the lineage of Hassan bin Ali bin Abu Talib.)

    Couldn’t agree more that this is the time to reflect on the loss of innocent children, women and men who weren’t given their due share of lifespan to live on this mother earth. All those who talk of this sect is right or wrong and how many sects will enter Heaven quoting Hadiths, I can also quote a list of Hadiths that call for peace and brotherhood among humanity:

    *“The Muslim Ummah is like one body. If the eye is in pain then the whole body is in pain and if the head is in pain then the whole body is in pain” said Prophet Mohammed (pbuh).

    *Narrated Abu Bakrah: “I heard Allah’s Messenger saying: ‘When two Muslims fight (meet) each other with their swords, both the murderer as well as the murdered will go to the Hell-fire.’ I said: “O Allah’s Messenger! It is alright for the murderer but what about the murdered one?’ Allah’s messenger replied: ‘He surely had the intention to kill his companion.’ “
    “Don’t bear aversion against one another and don’t be jealous of one another and be servants of Allah.” – Abu Huraira

    *“Shall I not inform you of a better act than fasting, alms and prayers? Making peace between one another: Enmity and malice tear up heavenly rewards by the roots.”

    *Prophet Mohammed (p.b.u.h.) stood and asked his companions to stand up when a funeral procession passed by. When the companions said it was the funeral of a Jew, the prophet said: “Is he not a human being?”

    Want more? I can go on and on.

    It is high time we stop abusing the name of Islam to pursue our ulterior personal agendas–be it the politicians or religious leaders or followers of any faith or sect or even us ‘the common man’.
    ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.Recommend

  • sumer syedain

    What has happened has dealt a severe blow to the confidence of the karachiites,no place is sacrosanct.

    Maheen, as always you have captured the spirit and all that went around the mazaar!Recommend

  • sabiha

    maheen, u write so well, i dont know whether u r one of those who only write well but in real life are one of the same because i have known writers who are good at giving sermons but their own character is full of faultsRecommend

  • safdar shah
  • Asif Ali

    We, the people of Pakistan sadly are being misinformed by Government goons – How can I believe in a person (whole is a top government official and who has assets worth billions of rupees, investments and foreign bank deposits) and who claims to be a Pakistani and a Muslim yet through a hidden agenda works for the CIA.

    The war being fought here is truly an American/Zionist War and isbeing fought for their interest.Recommend

  • Saman Ali Abbasi

    Dear Maheen, MashAllah again a very well written article. Your pen is indeed mightier than many scimitars! Recommend

  • Danial

    Why do people insist on bringing in religion when it comes to incidents like this?

    Fair enough that the people who train and brainwash these suicide bombers claim to be the “purest” of Muslims, and please note I say the people who train and brainwash the bombers, not the bombers themselves, because they either have been brainwashed at such an early age that they don’t know better, or then they’ve been through such an experience (such as their families murdered or wives, sisters, daughters raped before their eyes before being slaughtered) that they can probably be considered criminally insane.

    However this should not deter from the fact that educated persons like ourselves should not be bringing in religion to these discussions. Murder is murder, whether it be of Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and is strictly against any religion. The justification that oh it is OK to have a suicide attack on a Sufi shrine because people go there and perform shirk is absolutely disgusting. These kind of incidents just go to show how INTOLERANT so called “fundamentalist” Muslims can be. Why you may ask. This is because this a country, might be an Islamic country but that does not mean people of other religions cannot live here and practice their own religions.

    Look what we have done to the Christians who lived here. What would you people say if the Christians and people of other religions started blowing up Mosques (God Forbid) in Western countries? Then there would be no argument saying that oh country XYZ was a Christian country and so they have the right to blow up our religious places of worship. People would just turn around and say look they are at a war against Muslims and they are trying to destroy Islam.

    Look at yourselves before blaming others for murder. Be tolerant of other religions or even sects of our own religion before justifying murder in the name of religion. Recommend

  • jigrota

    If i dont believe in the concept of an intolerant follower of Islam…wowRecommend

  • Anjum Hameed

    @jigrota: No, you’re not an intolerant follower of Islam..I dont put much store into shrines myself..but if you attack or burn down a shrine, and kill innocent people, then YES, you ARE intolerant..Recommend

  • Asif Ali

    The Four Imams of Islam never balatantly called a “Bid’a” or “Bidati” to each other, but yes certain people are trying to make it look like a “violent” Islam.

    Those who hate or disagree with “Sufism” are squeezing “Spirituality” out of our religion, Yes I do agree that some of the “traditions” that are “practiced” by our people are absolutely wrong and the Sufi Masters never asked them to do certain things.

    We could say (to avoid confrontation or disagreement) by saying “You Can Do It, We Don’t”, instead of saying “Bid’ah”. Recommend