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Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Unpious Pir

The jousting and collusion of prayer and power in Pakistan

Written by Khaled Ahmed | Updated: February 24, 2018 8:44:03 am
pakistan, religion in pak, islam, pir, religious clerics, political power, pmln sharia law, pakislam muslim league, indian express opinion The jousting and collusion of prayer and power in Pakistan. (Image for representational purpose only/Reuters)

Pakistan says it is an ideological state but when heavily bearded, rotten-toothed, medieval-looking Pir Hameeduddin Sialvi comes out of his lair in Sial Sharif, Sargodha, Punjab, it looks like a mental asylum broken loose. That is what this 90-something-old man unleashed when he came out in January 2018 and said he and his disciples will bring down the government of Pakistan Muslim League (PMLN) unless it immolates a couple of its leaders who offended the Holy Prophet PBUH by their statements. Then, on February 7, in a shameful anti-climax, it was revealed that the great Pir had been offered bribe to stage his pious campaign.

All hell broke loose when a legislation proposed by the ruling PMLN omitted the world “solemnly” in the draft of an oath declaring the Holy Prophet to be the final prophet. Monotheisms have clashed among themselves when the older faith denies the prophethood of the new faith. When Christ appeared, the Jews cursed the Christians; when Muhammad PBUH appeared, the Jews and the Christians both cried fake and settled for vendetta that continues. Pakistan has apostatised the Ahmadi community after it thought a prophet had come in their midst. Pir Sialvi wanted to punish the PMLN government for getting soft on the apostates.

Sialvi has clout with the PMLN because many of the sitting MNA (Member of National Assembly) and MPAs (Members of Provincial Assembly) are his disciples. And Sial Sharif of Sargodha is very much a Muslim League political base. In the last week of January, after a number of street protests in the cities of his divine diocese, he became exhausted and had to be helped out of his protest.

Pakistan has fallen afoul of the Lovers of the Prophet who look funny but who can gather large rural crowds marching into cities hating the luxury of sinful living. Last year, the Barelvi Beast came out as Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (“Here I am O Holy Prophet!”) and paraded an abusive scoundrel, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, as the millennial defender of the Prophet PBUH who would bring the government down, which he didn’t, but got to cause a rift between the all-powerful army and the elected government crippled by the Supreme Court for not being sadiq (truthful) and ameen (honest) like the Prophet PBUH under Article 62 of the Constitution.

There are far too many rich religious leaders with nothing to do who hate democracy as an alien system forced on the people to take them away from Islam. They fatten on the shrines that stud Pakistan’s countryside and were once the benign repository of singing-and-dancing fakirs embedded in South Asia’s culture of peaceful coexistence. Imagine if the custodian of the shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya were to gather his disciples and march on New Delhi threatening universal annihilation.

The peaceful saints in Pakistan have been radicalised to street protests after seeing how the cross-border mujahideen of the Deobandi brand have been lionised. While the unseated Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wilted under Barelvi attacks, his semi-literate son-in-law, an ex-army officer, joined his tormentors to highlight the insult the Sharif government had offered to the Holy Prophet PBUH.

Pir Hameeduddin Sialvi alias Shaikh-ul-Islam, looking tired after several weeks of street challenge, finally called off his campaign of forcibly enforcing the sharia — which is already supposed to be embedded in the Constitution — and punishing the insulters of the Prophet PBUH. He caved to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif in Sargodha in the last week of January after Sharif “agreed to form a committee to look into his demands (sic)”.

The proximity to power was seductive. The chief minister will make many concessions to Sialvi to perk up his authority in Sargodha. When his “chits” (requests for concession) become effective, the power of his prayer likewise becomes more effective. They will net more devotees with cases stuck with the Punjab bureaucracy in Lahore. More and more Muslim Leaguers will go to the shrine and bend the knee to get promoted in the attention of Shahbaz Sharif, who will allow some of his power to devolve to Sial Sharif. Everyone wins except Pakistan.

The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’

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