Attacking the ‘spirit’ of Lahore

Lahore is often called ‘Data ki nagri’ (Data’s abode) because of the shrine of Syed Abul Hassan Ali Hajvery, more commonly known as Hazrat Data Ganj Bakhsh. The three suicide attacks that rocked Data Darbar (Data’s shrine) on Thursday night shook the entire nation. More than 40 people were killed while more than a hundred others were injured after the atrocious attacks on the shrine of one of the most renowned sufis of the subcontinent. It is indeed a horrible tragedy that a sufi saint’s shrine had to bear the brunt of such gruesome violence, something the sufis have always denounced. The attack on Data Darbar is not just an attack on a shrine; it is an attack on our values. This attack was a reiteration of the open declaration of war by the extremists against all the tolerant sections of society.

For the past few years, we have seen a spate of terrorist attacks on security personnel as well as civilians all over the country. Many a time these terrorists have attacked places of worship and religious congregations. Sufi shrines have not been spared either, like that of Rahman Baba and Mian Umar Baba in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Data Darbar was an obvious target for the terrorists, many of whom profess the Wahabi and Salafi school of thought and consider it un-Islamic to pay homage to sufi shrines and cite it as ‘shirk’ (associating partners with God) and ‘bidat’ (innovation in religion). Thursday nights are the busiest at all shrines – there are special qawwali and dhamaal sessions, ‘langar’ (food) is distributed and people gather to worship on the eve of Friday. Shrines also serve as shelter for many homeless. The interior ministry had informed the provincial authorities about an impending terrorist attack in Lahore just this week. If this was not reason enough to provide proper security to one of the most famous sufi shrines in the city, then we do not know what more does the provincial government need. Protests were held all over Pakistan against the attack on Data Darbar. Religious scholars called for the resignations of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah and other officials. We know that tempers are high, but to be fair to the Punjab government, nobody asked the ANP government to step down after the sufi shrines were attacked in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. That said, the Punjab government must stop its ostrich-like attitude when it comes to Punjabi terrorists. The time to live in denial has ended. Now is the time to take action and launch a crackdown on all militant outfits.

No Pakistani, especially Lahoris, would tolerate such an attack on their beloved saint’s shrine. Maybe this is why the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has denied any involvement in this attack. Even if it is not directly involved in the recent carnage, there is a possibility that an offshoot group of the TTP is behind it, or at least one of the panoply of like-minded terrorist groups. A 16-year old boy, Usman, hailing from Lahore has been identified as one of the suicide bombers. It is a grave injustice to the sufi saints of the subcontinent that a citizen of Data’s nagri has fallen prey to an ideology that was abhorred by them. A sufi’s message is of love, tolerance, inclusiveness, acceptance, transcending the material world, and universal brotherhood. Sufis are the epitome of peace and tolerance and their beautiful message cuts across the grain of religious exclusiveness. In the words of the great sufi poet, Rumi, “The nation of love differs from all others, lovers bear allegiance to no nation or sect.”

(my editorial in Daily Times)

[Note: The police today said that the 16-year old boy, Usman, was not a suicide bomber as had been claimed earlier, but was himself a victim of the terror attack]

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