EDITORIAL: Death of Mufti Naeemi...
Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud has admitted the killing of Mufti Sarfraz Naeemi in Lahore through a teenaged suicide-bomber after the Friday prayer congregation at Jamia Naeemia. The reason for this murder was not far too seek. Mufti Naeemi, arguably the most influential of the Ahle Sunnat-Barelvi school of thought in Pakistan, had recently presided over an all-Barelvi conference in Islamabad condemning the Taliban practice of suicide-bombing, and presenting to the nation, as it were, a choice between the extremist Deobandi Taliban and the moderate Ahle Sunnat clerical confederation.
“Barelvi” is not an epithet that Ahle Sunnat favour, but it is a convenient way of describing a whole religious trend in Pakistan that is based on the shrines of the great saints of Islam, truly representing the grassroots culture of Pakistan which is free of sectarian bias. That is not to say that the Ahle Sunnat don’t have madrassas. Together with Mufti Munibur Rehman, the Barelvi chairman of the moon-sighting committee, Mufti Naeemi administered the 6,000 Barelvi madrassas. But the conduct of covert jihad by the state had thrown the Barelvis into obscurity and lack of street power over the years. Their mosques, once in majority in the country, were either grabbed by the more powerful Deobandis with trained jihadi cadres who could be violent, or simply outnumbered by the more resourceful Deobandi-linked ones.
Mufti Naeemi and his Ahle Sunnat clerics had no hesitation in condemning the pronouncements of Sufi Muhammad in Swat. The Deobandis, led by Karachi’s powerful Mufti Rafi Usmani, were not as forthcoming, thus putting on record the Barelvi-Deobandi split. When in 2005 Mufti Munibur Rehman and dozens of clerics produced a collective fatwa that the use of suicide-bombing against fellow-Muslims was not permitted in Islam, he received threats and there was severe criticism from the Deobandi clerical community. The hardness of the Deobandi school of thought springs also from non-acceptance of the Shia community as true Muslims. One bone of contention between the Barelvis and Deobandis is that the former don’t apostatise the Shia.
The Taliban attack on mosques is not new. In the 1990s and early 2000s, a large number of Shia mosques were attacked with large casualties. In Dera Ismail Khan, Shia mosques have been attacked and after that funerals of the Shia dead have been blown up by suicide-bombings. In Quetta, organisations linked to the Taliban and Al Qaeda have attacked ashura processions with high casualty. The Barelvis have been attacked too for being “soft” on the Shia while the state of Pakistan and the Taliban were fighting a “relocated” war against Iran. In 2006, a grand Barelvi congregation celebrating the birthday of the Holy Prophet on Eid Miladun Nabi at Nishtar Park, Karachi, was suicide-bombed. Out of the 1500 that had gathered, 57 died while over a hundred were injured, literally decapitating the Ahle Sunnat community of the city.
The power of the Deobandi clergy is owed to two jihads that the state fought in the 1990s. The “non-state actors” that went into Kashmir were trained in the camps of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, but only the Deobandis qualified since the Deobandi-dominated Pashtuns of Afghanistan did not accept any Barelvi recruits. Their trained manpower is their street power against the Barelvis. Small-time clerics in the countryside have begun to lean in favour of the tougher Islam of the Deobandis because it gives them a sense of empowerment against the state, especially after the union of the Deobandi jihadi militias like Jaish-e Muhammad and Lashkar-e Jhangvi with the Taliban of Baitullah Mehsud and its patron Al Qaeda.
When Mufti Naeemi spoke against the Taliban he was careful to dub them not Taliban but “agents of America” and enemies of Islam; yet he must have known that the power of the Taliban lay in South Punjab from where teenaged suicide-bombers were taken by Baitullah Mehsud and trained by his infamous lieutenant Qari Hussain. The power of the Taliban lies not so much in the tribal areas as in Punjab — and that includes elements close to the madrassa of Mufti Naeemi in Garhi Shahu, Lahore. This power also lies in the well-endowed Deobandi madrassas of Karachi revealed to be over 3,000 with mostly Pashtun students from the FATA region. His animus against the jihad-promoting state was owed also to this unspoken factor. *
SECOND EDITORIAL...and the obligation of the state
President Asif Ali Zardari, speaking to the nation late Friday night, said that the army and the people were united in the war against the Taliban. He said that the national consensus against the Taliban was represented by the parliament which had condemned the acts of violence of the Taliban and given the army the mandate to fight them. But the state of Pakistan too must follow by modifying its conduct. The first obligation of the state is to move against the spread of extremist thinking adopted by the people at large in consequence of almost 30 years of jihad that the state had sponsored.
The state must protect the unarmed clergy against the armed clergy but without “empowering” the Barelvis as a counterforce against the Taliban. After the Barelvi consensus developed under Mufti Naeemi there was some opinion in favour of “enabling” the Barelvis to fight the Deobandis — “fight mullahs with mullahs”. If this is done it will simply compound the dereliction of the state that has encouraged the world to regard Pakistan as a kind of rogue state which also kills it own people. What has to be done is to empower the state itself against killers espousing extremist programmes. And this will have to be done by increasing the strength of the police and by training it better than we do today.
That the people of Pakistan are neither extremists nor sectarian by birth is proved by the fact that Pakistan has chosen Mr Zardari, a Shia, as their president. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani is a direct descendant of the greatest mystical saint of Islam, Sheikh Abdul Qadir Gilani. (Mr Gilani’s son is actually named Abdul Qadir Gilani!) Ahle Sunnat-Barelvis usually have names ending with Qadri to show their devotion to the great saint. In the eyes of the Taliban and their Wahhabi patrons this leadership may be anathema, but for Pakistan it is proof that the people of Pakistan are not sectarian-minded and even today revere the founder of the nation, Quaid-e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who was a Shia. The state however went astray and must now mend its ways. *