What is most surprising in the current scenario, a subject which has not been touched, is that the killer of Salman Taseer belong to Barelvi school of thought, which is thought to be moderate, tolerant and relatively pluralistic compared to the other two schools in Pakistan i.e., Deobandis and Ahl-e-hadeeth. Its the latter two that are deemed puritanical and have provided the major cannon fodder for Talibans and Afghan Jihad.
During the Afghan Jihad, the west as well as our local establishment supported and funded Deobandis, a misguided policy which translated into 9/11. Subsequently, the west and our local establishment changed track and started promoting* Barelvis to act as counter weight to influence of Deobandis/Jihadis, another misguided policy which has brought home the recent assassination. Though the liberals had never supported Deobandis, they are guilty of putting the weight behind Barelvis due to their rich pluralistic culture.
Even our local social and cultural critic Nadeem F. Paracha has been consistently promoting Barelvi school as tolerant due to influences of sufism.
The so-called Barelvi Islam that became the mainstay belief of a majority of Muslims in the subcontinent (from the nineteenth century onwards), was, as a movement, the reassuring enshrinement of the traditional hybrid-Sufism that prevailed among the Muslims due to the long periods of interaction between Sufi Islam and Hinduism.
This hybrid-Sufism, or Barlevi Islam, became the folk religion of the rural peasants, the urban proletariat and the semi-urban petty-bourgeoisie of the country. It incorporated the anti-clergy elements of Sufism, the jurisprudence doctrines of the more flexible Sunni Hanafi fiqh and, as had been the traditional practice of popular folk Islam of the region, fused these with the concept of overt religious reverence of divine concepts and people, and the accommodating forms of worship found in various shades of Hinduism.
The result was an Indian/Pakistani Muslim polity repulsed by the dogma of puritanical strains of the religion, open to the idea of modern reinterpretation of Islamic law, permissive in its sociology, and largely non-political in essence. At the same time, Barlevi Islam is criticised for being willingly embroiled in superstition and doctrinal ‘innovations.’
Though being populist and agrarian in its world view, Barlevi Islam did not negatively react to Ahmed’s modern Islamic reform. What’s more, it was the constant failure of the political exponents of puritanical Islamic thought to penetrate the thick veneer of Barlevi Islam surrounding the rural and urban masses of Pakistan that in turn facilitated the moderate Aligarh Muslim thought and tradition within the Pakistani state to continue deflecting theocratic maneuvers in the country’s overall political polity.
Most of the times it had been Barelvi ulemas that give government sponsored anti-terrorism/anti-jehad statements. I am actually surprised (but should not be) that a Barelvi committed this act. For the record, Barelvis are no Taliban sympathisers and were actually being promoted as counterweight to jehadis and hardliners in Pakistan. Allama Dr. Sarfaraz Naeemi who was murdered in 2009 in Lahore for giving anti Taliban statement was a Barelvi.
So how did the policy go wrong? Well, by funding Barelvis to promoting LOVE for Muhammad to counter the HATRED promoted by jehadis, another genie was unleashed that will be much harder to put back in the bottle. In their love of Prophet, they have gone so far that they are not willing to listen to anything.
As a friend of mine said to me and even mentioned in Nadeem Paracha’s post, in Punjab and in rural areas these Barelvis are as pervasive as air. With respect to silent majority one may claim that they are not Taliban sympathisers and one may be right but when it comes to unconditional love for Muhammad, the silent majority very much supports the assassination.
What is surprising in this scenario is that what we call the extremist minority (deobandis/jehadis/ahl-e-hadeeth) had issued no (or at least it has not been widely reported) statements against amending blasphemy laws. All the opposition has come from so-called tolerant, liberal, sufi-influenced Barelvi corners and these are actually the silent majority of country.
Before we are done paying the price of supporting deobandis/ jihadis for Afghan war, we are saddled with starting to pay the price of another misguided policy.
*RAND Corporation’s “Building moderate muslim networks” is freely available over the net, the harbinger of such policies.
PS: Despite its appearance to the contrary, this post is not a criticism Barelvi school of thought.