Where sufism stands

Published: August 1, 2010

Pro-Sufism Barelvis dominate Pakistan’s religious landscape

Sufism is a complex and cross-cutting belief system in Pakistan. Even Deobandis believe in Sufism. Naqshbandi, the major Sufi cult in Pakistan, is mainly comprised of the Deobandis. It is interesting that Maulana Masood Azhar, head of the major terrorist group Jaish-e-Muhammad, is also believer of Sufism and has restricted his followers to the practices of the Naqshbandi cult.

To further complicate the intermingling of beliefs and practices, the Barelvis, who are considered representatives of Sufism in Pakistan, are not free from pro-militant jihadi tendencies. In the Kashmir insurgent movement during the 1990’s the Barelvis were quite prominent. Some Barelvi militant groups, such al-Baraq and Tehreek-e-Jihad, are still active. Sunni Tehrik, a major Sunni sectarian group, was found to be involved in the violent activities in Karachi and Interior Sindh.

Pro-Sufism Barelvis dominate Pakistan’s religious landscape. The reason why they did not play a major role in the Afghan jihad of the 1980’s was not because of any religious or ideological bindings, but because of political factors. The Saudi influence in the Afghan jihad was a major reason for their marginalization. The Saudis supported only the Wahhabi and Deobandi groups during the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union. Moreover, the Arabs and Africans who took part of the Afghan jihad had similar sectarian orientations as the Wahhabis and felt more at ease working alongside the local Salafi and Deobandi commanders. The Afghan and Pakistani groups had also preferred to work with Arab and African mujahideen because they had the more substantial resources.

Had it not been for the Saudi and Arab factor, the Barelvis too would have been able to secure their share in the jihad effort. If that had happened, would the promotion of the Wahabi ideology be suggested as a counter-strategy today?

When one ideology is supported financially, morally and politically to counter the other, it can increase sectarian strife in a society. Pakistan faced the consequences during the Afghan jihad as sectarian strife dramatically increased in the country. Similarly, strengthening one group or sect can give rise to similar trends in other sects. So we see that many Sufi groups have also been radicalized and they are as anti-US and anti-Western as other violent groups, though they lack the training and resources received by the Deobandis and Wahabis.

Instead of targeting the entire Wahabi/Salafi community, can terrorism and political extremism not be countered by encouraging the more moderate elements within the Salafi school of thought?

It cannot be denied that the Wahabi movements have created challenges within Muslim societies. They have marginalised the elements of moderation by promoting a narrow vision of Islam. But how these movements are changing Muslim societies and what kind of political, economic, cultural and social challenges they pose is a separate issue. Their domestic and international implications demand different kinds of strategies to the one proposed by counter-ideology theorists.

It is not a surprise that campaigns to promote counter-Islamist ideologies like Sufism have had little success in Pakistan.  <oderate enlightenment and Sufism movements have failed to gain acceptance among the masses. Anti-US and anti-Western feelings are on the rise in Pakistani society and any campaign aimed to counter these sentiments is perceived as a part of the American agenda. It also remains a fact that a large majority of the educated class in Pakistan considers the spiritual rituals of the Pirs inappropriate and activities like use of drugs and prostitution on the shrines immoral. The Sufi culture in Pakistan itself needs reforms. That is why the government-sponsored enlightened moderation has failed to attract common people. Instead, such efforts are increasing support for radical movements.

To develop a comprehensive counter-extremism strategy, there is a need to examine all the aspects of this problem and assess the impact of promoting so-called moderate counter-ideologies in Muslim societies


Amir Rana

Researcher and editor quarterly research journal Conflict and Peace Studies.

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

  • Ghausia

    Very informative article, though I had to read it with great concentration to fully understand it. :) I disgree with you on one point, I think its not anti-West/US sentiment in our nation but rather anti-superpowers sentiment, meaning the US and UK, and also France now. Perhaps I’m letting my own personal bias colour my opinion but I’ve always observed that people have a mellow attitude towards most of Europe, minus France now obviously.Recommend

  • Muhammad Zohair Chohan

    You need to get some knowledge before writing, Naqashbandi‘s are never deobandi, and no Barelvi is involved in violent or terrorist activities, there are some banned militant groups using the name of (Ahle sunnat) to defame them, and last but not the least “Sufism is the only way to get peace in Pakistan and it doesn’t need any reforms, only people need to be educated and right people should be appointed at Authorities like Auqaf etc”Recommend

  • http://iwebuniversity.com Hunain Ali

    I somehow agree to Zohair Chohan.

    Even Deobandis believe in Sufism. Naqshbandi, the major Sufi cult in Pakistan, is mainly comprised of the Deobandis. It may interesting that Maulana Masood Azhar, head of the major terrorist group Jaish-e-Muhammad, is also believer of Sufism and has restricted his followers to the practices of the Naqshbandi cult.

    Do you have any idea how things are? I would suggest you to go through a practical research and you will find out why they associate themselves with Naqshbandi..:)

    So we see that many Sufi groups have also been radicalized and they are as anti-US and anti-Western as other violent groups, though they lack the training and resources received by the Deobandis and Wahabis.

    You don’t have a slightest idea of how things are with Sufism. Sufis are people who don’t categorize or differenciate, the word/feeling hate is not a part of a Sufi.

    You seriously need to correct your info mate..you seriously do.Recommend

  • Ubi Ali

    I am amazed to see that a person like you who claims to be a researcher and editor would be so naive of the facts or i dont know whether you are deliberately trying to show one side of the picture.
    Masood azhar and other Deobandi’s when they find that common men of Pakistan is so blessed and true believers of Sufism they try to expolite this,and wear the cover of “Naqshbandi”branch of Sufism.you will amazed to know that even they (Deobandi’s and Wahabi’s) call a person “Mushrik” who ever go to any shrine or believes in Sufism.how could you expect a person will be a “Naqashbandi” while keeping such henious beleifs.
    moreover,Deobandi’s are the south east Asian version of “Wahabis”.since Wahabi’s are well known for their narrow and “anti-Islam” beleifs in the world,thats why their partners in South East Asia keep themselves covered under the sheet of yet Hanfi above,but wahabi inside.learn more;

    You must be aware of the fact that Jihad launched in Afghanistan was in more of the favour of America then Pakistan!and since this was truly a jihad in its Essences or not is debatable issue,thats is why Ahlesunnah or Bralvi’s kept themeselves aside,and nor their “Ulema” and “Mashaikh” could be purchased as Deobandi’s in Pakistan could.
    Our agencies like ISI know it better that ahlesunnat or Brailvis in Pakistan and true followers of Sufism and peace lovers.
    on Sunni Tehreek,i seriously doubt your information blaming ST to involve in violent activities,Musharaf during his tenure Banned the organizations involved in secterian terrorism while left sunni tehreek because of its non inovlement of any kind of illegal activties,in karachi many of sunni tehreek’s members has been gunned downed just to stirr the voilence in karachi but the ST took prudent steps to avoid any kind of clashes.
    now last but not the least what do you do a part of the body which is cause of cancer in your body, you certainly cut it off just to save other parts to get infected! i guess you understand every thing.

    thanks & regards

    Ubi Ali.Recommend

  • http://Nil shahid latif

    Please rewrite this again after getting some knowledge on this topic.Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/pracker S. Ali Raza

    Rana sahib, interesting revelations here. I never knew it was all so messy? CokeStudio is doing its job creating awareness amongst the youth, but why your blog not talk about peace?Recommend

  • Umair Ahmed Attari

    i am totaly agreed with mr.chohan.
    It is so rediculus the man who write this article don’t know about the ahlesunnat and barelvis. So better first learn every thing about that then write some thing.
    And if u want to impose some thing on any body you should have proove for thatRecommend

  • Naweed Bangash

    Deobandis are stricly against sufism.Recommend

  • Ali Raza

    well people are free to blog.. But please don’t sit in ur own world and blog this stuff.. ridiculous!! do you even know what Sufism is..! please study and write…Recommend

  • Khadim Husain

    There are two entire different matters Sufism and followers of Hanafai school of thought. Sufism is non-practical and non-practicable doctrine. Neither anybody follows Sufism any where in entire world.It is a business to sell their products and none of merchant selling Sufism is Sufi. Nobody can achieve any spirituality from graves and none saint has power to stop any disaster. The propaganda that Sufi saints have unlimited powers than why colonists occupied entire world including Iraq and Iran the centre of Saints.
    All the four branches of Sufism were made public after many hundred years of Islam and whole links of spirituality are designed one keeping in mind specific mentality.
    The persos that says that Sufi never fought Jihad are naive, those must study Sufi history, Naqshbandi’s in USSR, Libya, Morocco and other East African areas. In fact face of Sufism in Pakistan is other face of Hinduism practically, flags, decoration of graves and method of worship is Persian or Hindu designed.
    Brelvi’s are not Sufi at all, in fact those are worshippers of Sufi graves only. Brelvi Pirs and Ulema are richest persons in Indi-Pakistan, those declared Jihad against British Sarkar un-Islamic. Moreover if anybody say that Deobandi are not follow sufism is also naive. First study who guided Sufism in Indo-Pak, Shah Waliallah. He merged all the four Sufi orders and later two school of thoughts Deobandi and Brelvi merged. Myth that Deobandi are Wahabi is also wrong because Abdul Wahab and Saudi’s got power not more than six seven decades back and both sects were merged into society around 1850’s. However Brelvi school approached to Shariff e Makkah for support with the backing of English Sarkar when Deobandi actively started mutiny against British Sarkar. In fact both Brelvi and Ahmadi declared Jihad unIslamic. Same thing those are repeating today.
    Pir Sibghatullah was active supporter of Jihad and many others backed Deobandi and Salafi’s in Jihad against British Sarkar. Afghanistan was declared Dar ul Harb by all school of thoughts and today it has same position, occupied by invaders.
    Major problem is supply of free dollars that has changed faith of all type of Mullahs. Brelvi is not a religion, it is combination of rituals, worship to different idols, Mela’s on Mizars, Chars, Bhang consumption or superstitions. Deobandi’s are not behind in illitracy to follow Sufism and those also have large Khanqah’s. Recommend

  • Khurram Hasan

    Drug trade and other tabos at the shrines had been promoted by the powerful pro Saudi, Pro wahabi and Pro Jihadi friction which exists within the pillars of establishment of Pakistan. Even at some very holy shrines, the “Sajjada Nashin” is actually a proxy of the secret police instead of the real successor of the sufi of that shrine. These people are also involved in attrackting youngsters towards drugs and also misguiding the students of colleges and universities who visit the shrine to slove the confusing questions rising in their minds about sects and religion and when this confused youth come across with these “Mujabirs”, either bents towards lucrative drugs OR runs far away into the world of extremism and Jihadi groups as a result of being shocked by the illogical teachings which the young guy is unable to absorb showing an sponteneously opposite reflux action to what he calls “shirk”. Recommend

  • Khadim Husain

    True history always hurt sentiments of peoples but I would like to quote some examples that one of the great Sufi married to his sister, another Sufi was famous pedophoil and both were hanged by state. Both are famous in Pakistan without their involvement in henious crimes. Another sufi that uses his Hindu alongwith Muslim name was lover of a teen age boy. Read the true history not the Kachi Roti Pakki Roti. There are dozens of examples.
    Shrines are active place of prostitution, drugs and rascals since hundred of years. Since the time even Abdul Wahab Najdi was not even born.
    Data Darbar was a centre of such traditions like other shrines but when Ayub Khan nationalized majority of shrines than police has started to control the situation. Today go to Lal Shahbaz and inside Sehwan organized gangs of prostitutes are running business. Sufi saints are nothing to do with immoral crimes but it is their followers that are creating mess. When any pir is caught that is labelled as fake pir, otherwise all Pir’s are treated as sacred even those are allowed to touch women.
    Pir’s worship, grave worship or superstition is a curse and that has pushed our society backward. Wahabi was an abusive word against those Ulems which opposed the British Raj in 1857, whereas Brelvi and Ahmadi favored the Raj and issued decree against Jahad un-Islamic, later those peoples bullied victamized peoples with the word Wahabi. However Govt. of India declared word Wahabi illegal and was counted as crime to label anyone Wahabi, refer Calcutta High Courts decision is on record.
    Sectarianism is also curse and peoples that are dividing Pakistani nation are trying to dig grave of Pakistan.
    Only those Muslim nations progressed that banned Sufism and halted rubbish practices like Turkey, Attaturk engaged all Sufi Mullah’s to join parade and closed all shrines. Saudi Arabia also did best thing to throw out Sufi fraud Pirs.
    Brelvi sect is not a religion because it did not know how many idols it has, each sufi is idol, each grave is idol and each pir is assistant of God. It is like Hindism that also has unlimited Gods. Brelvi are illitrate peoples of that era when Prophet started to preach Islam and those did not agree that Allah could listen without any person in between them and Allah. That is why those were named as Kuffar, means denying Allah is an alone entity. First war slogan of Muslims in Badar was “Ahad” mean only Allah but Kuffar replied with their idols. That is happening in Pakistan and Brelvi Mullah’s have been funded by foreign Governments, for shrines U.S. and Australia are providing funding. Chief Minister Punjab allotted a plot worth 350 million to a Brelvi Moulvi.Recommend

  • Umair Ahmed

    @khadim hussain
    Better to know facts before Abdul Wahab Najdi the head of wahabi every body went to shrines od sahaba and aulia many books and many riwayaat told that even Rasoosl Allah Sallallahu alaihi wasallam visit too much every yaear a proper date Rasool Allah Sallallahu alaihi wasallam and Sahaba rizwanaullah aalaihim ajmaeen went on mazaraat of shuhda-e-Uhud. you can add me on yahoo and i can give you proofs from your books. and give me proof of all eligations you imposed on barelvi at first i told don’t blame with out proof on any body.Recommend

  • Khadim Husain

    There is a great difference in visit to grave yard and worshipping graves. Muslims never have tradition to build houses on graves. The grave of prophet was constructed due to safety, however history of construction of dome is less then 100 yrs old. I don’t know what Wahabi says, but worshipping humans like idols is foolishness. Even grave of Hazrat Ali was not known to public for 700 years and current grave is a guessing because grave of Hazrat Ali is also available in many countries, same grave of Hazrat Husain is also in many countries.
    Point of discussion is not existance of grave because grave did not enhance sacredness of a person. The peoples who want to pose Prophet as Brelvi, must tell that why Prophet did not constructed grave of his mother and father, grand father, daughter and sons who died in his life.
    Any time ever prophet practically showed that such and such person is alive, therefore Muslims must channelise their worship through person inside grave. Illitracy, superstitiousness, selling the name of owner of graves is a business and a political move. If any saint may have power after death so why did any waliullah failed to stop earthquake or floods. Non-Muslims ruined Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan and drones are pounding over the graves of saints. No human has a power to show super naturality.
    Make religion simple, easy and straight and according to practical actions of Prophet. Recommend