Of saints and Sinners: The Economist

Courtesy Moments of Tranquility

Of saints and sinners
Dec 18th 2008, The Economist
The Islam of the Taliban is far removed from the popular Sufism practised by most South Asian Muslims

“NORMALLY, we cannot know God,” says Rizwan Qadeer, a neat and amiable inhabitant of Lahore, Western-dressed and American-educated, eyes shining behind his spectacles. “But our saints, they have that knowledge.”

Mr Qadeer is standing in the belly of a shrine that he is building to a modern gnostic, Hafiz Iqbal, whom he venerates especially. Cool, and smelling pleasantly of damp earth and mortar, it holds Iqbal’s grave, covered by an embroidered green shroud and sprinkled with pink rose petals. A young man—a Pakistani resident of London, Mr Qadeer says—stands in silent prayer to the saint, who was employed by Lahore’s municipal government as a street-sweeper, and died in 2001. In a tradition of popular Sufism, which mingles classical Islamic mysticism with Hinduism and folk beliefs and is a dominant feature of Islam in South Asia, the saint’s divine essence, or baraka, emanates from his tomb. “Physically, our holy saints do die,” says Mr Qadeer. “But the spirit is still here, because they have reached eternity.”

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