Like other parts of the country, “Sufism” or mysticism was followed for centuries in the north western Pakistan. The shrines of great
mystics in the NWFP, like the 18th-century poet and mystic Rehman Baba and Pir Baba in Buner, used to attract many Sufi faithful from across the country. But with the spread of Saudi-funded ‘Wahabism’ a strict version of radical Islam that considers Sufism as close to Hinduism), Sufism is on the decline, especially in many areas of the northwestern Pakistan.
To discourage Sufism among the masses, Wahabi preachers argue that many rituals of Sufism, like ‘Qawali’ and visit to shrines, are close to Hinduism.
“Shirk (worship someone other than one God) is strictly forbidden in Islam and its punishment is death penalty. These followers of Sufism are spreading shirk and mislead the ignorant people by making them believe that all their problems could be solved by Sufi saints”, said Maulana Jehanzeb of Wahabi school of thought in Charsadda town, which falls 25 kilometers north of Peshawar. Over a period of time, the rift between Sufism and Wahabism led to bloody clashes in different areas.
The ongoing fighting between Lashkar-i-Islam (LI) and Ansar ul Islam in the restive Khyber agency, which killed hundreds of people, was started when the LI banned people from going to shrines in the tribal region.
Way back in the 1980s “Wahabism” which, now, holds sway in parts of the NWFP, came to this region with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. They established a network of madarsas (seminaries) across the country. These madarsas not only indoctrinated young minds with the spirit and passion for jihad but also launched a hate campaign against Sufism. They denounced the Sufi music and poetry as decadent and immoral.
We are threatened by Wahabis from all over. They have launched a hate campaign against us in the public encouraging people in the area to oppose our way of life”, said Pir Azmat Ali of the Barelvi school of thought in Thana area of the war-torn Malakand region. Pir Azmat Ali who has a long chain of followers all over Pakistan left the area when Taliban took over control of Swat and other areas of Malakand.
“They have desecrated shrines and tortured followers of great saints. Have you noticed what is now happening to Taliban?” Pir Azmat Ali asked, pointing towards the extra-judicial killings of Taliban in Swat.
Thanks to the Afghan ‘jihad’ against the former Soviet Union and then the US war against terrorism, that also disturbed the traditional religious fabric of the land by challenging the prevalent Sufism in the area. Most Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan have embraced the puritanical and radical Wahabi brand of Islam. These new Wahabis with Saudi Arabia backing have not only waged a jihad against the western ‘infidels’ but also against the Sufis. Now, it is very difficult for the different Bralvi schools of thought to confront the financial prowess of Saudi-funded Wahabism.
Over a period of time, Saudi-sponsored “Wahabis” spent billions of rupees on building mosques and seminaries in the NWFP. At an average, they spent three to four million rupees on building a mosque, said Saifullah, a local cleric in Mardan. “Initially people welcomed the Wahabists policy of construction of mosques but now they have made it conditional that a preacher or cleric of their brand of Islam would be in-charge of the mosque”, he said, adding: “This Saudi-financed Wahabi Islam has destroyed the indigenous Islam in our country.”