William Dalrymple on the destruction of a Sufi shrine in Pakistan (full article in yesterday's Observer):
'Rahman Baba, "the Nightingale of Peshawar," was an 18th-century poet and mystic, a sort of North West Frontier version of Julian of Norwich... For centuries, Rahman Baba's shrine at the foot of the Khyber Pass has been a place where musicians and poets have gathered, and his Sufi verses in the Pukhtun language made him the national poet of the Pathans. As a young journalist covering the Soviet-mujahideen conflict I used to visit the shrine to watch Afghan refugee musicians sing their songs to their saint by the light of the moon.
Then, about 10 years ago, a Saudi-funded Wahhabi madrasa was built at the end of the track leading to the shrine. Soon its students took it on themselves to halt what they saw as unIslamic practices. On my last visit, I talked about the situation with the shrine keeper, Tila Mohammed. He described how young Islamists now came and complained that his shrine was a centre of idolatry and superstition: "My family have been singing here for generations," said Tila. "But now these Arab madrasa students come here and create trouble. "They tell us that what we do is wrong. They ask people who are singing to stop. Sometimes arguments break out - even fist fights. This used to be a place where people came to get peace of mind. Now when they come here they just encounter more problems, so gradually have stopped coming."
... Behind the violence lies a long theological conflict that has divided the Islamic world for centuries. Rahman Baba believed passionately in the importance of music, poetry and dancing as a path for reaching God, as a way of opening the gates of Paradise. But this use of poetry and music in ritual is one of the many aspects of Sufi practice that has attracted the wrath of modern Islamists. For although there is nothing in the Qur'an that bans music, Islamic tradition has always associated music with dancing girls and immorality, and there is a long tradition of clerical opposition.
At Attock, not far from the shrine of Rahman Baba, stands the Haqqania, one of the most radical madrasas in South Asia. Much of the Taliban leadership, including its leader, Mullah Omar, were trained here, so I asked the madrasa's director, Maulana Sami ul-Haq, about what I had heard at Rahman Baba's tomb. The matter was quite simple." Music is against Islam" he said. 'Musical instruments lead men astray and are sinful. They are forbidden, and these musicians are wrongdoers.'
...Later, I returned to the shrine and found Tila Mahommed tending the grave. Making sure no one was listening, he whispered: "We pray that right will overpower wrong, that good will overcome evil. But our way is pacifist," he said." As Baba put it, 'I am a lover, and I deal in love. Sow flowers, So your surroundings become a garden. Don't sow thorns; for they will prick your feet.We are all one body, Whoever tortures another, wounds himself''.
I thought of this conversation, when I heard that the shrine of Rahman Baba had finally been blown up on Thursday, a few hours after the Sri Lankan cricketers were ambushed in Lahore'.