Saturday, March 07, 2009

Attack on Rehman Baba is attack on Pashtun identity

Daily Times, March 7, 2009
Editorial: Attack on Rehman Baba is attack on Pashtun identity

On Thursday, terrorists from Khyber Agency blew up the mausoleum of the great poet of the Pashtun and put the state of Pakistan on notice once again about their intent against Pakistani culture. The tomb of Rehman Baba was rebuilt as a complex in 1994 and it included other tombs of great Pashtun cultural icons, such as Akhund Darweza. The Taliban had come to the mausoleum and told the devotees that saying namaz at the mosque attached to the grave was “haram”. The administration knew that a strike would take place but did nothing.

Rehman Baba (1632-1707), who appeared on a Pakistani postage stamp in 2005, is an acknowledged cultural symbol of the Pashtun and Afghan people. While Khushal Khan Khattak (1613–1689) stands together with him as a classical foil, Rehman Baba has moved the soul of the Pashtun far more. He also stands at the root of Pashtun nationalism and has been adopted in the past by all kinds of secular and conservative movements. He marks a significant phase in the development of Pashto language and his lines are often quoted spontaneously by the speakers of the language. The various schools of thought in the Sufi tradition like the Naqshbandiya, Chishtiya and Qadiriya have claimed him as their own, so great was his appeal among the masses.

In Pakistan, religious culture has been traditionally represented by the Sufi tradition. The culture of the elite, represented by painting, architecture and calligraphy, doesn’t touch the masses whose way of life is reflected more accurately in the collective celebration of Islam’s mystical heritage. The Sufi taught the people how to link their faith with their entertainment and imbue their culture with their religious belief. It is often said that many of the Muslims of the region of Pakistan were brought inside the pale of Islam by the Sufi who sang of Allah’s divinity in the music and dance he inculcated among them, composed in the classical tradition.

It is this culture of the masses that has been targeted by Talibanisation, a new faith born out of the terrorist coercion of Al Qaeda which is steeped in the anti-mystical Saudi-Wahhabi Islam. The trend towards anti-culture extremism, however, is seen across the Islamic world, much aided in the 1990s by Saudi investment in the spread of the Wahhabi faith. Pakistan’s culture has also been under assault from the Taliban who target the dominant Barelvi school of Pakistani Hanafi jurisprudence as representing the “impure” faith. In 2006, a large congregation of Barelvi clerics and leaders was suicide-bombed in Karachi where, too, scores of Barelvi mosques have been grabbed by the more powerful Deobandis.

Pakistan committed cultural suicide when it allowed a purely Deobandi jihad in Afghanistan after 1996, empowering jihadi militias increasingly under the influence of Al Qaeda. Those who planned this strategy were devoid of any sense of culture. This was helped by the fact that Pakistan’s Constitution is silent on culture, most probably because the framers, bedevilled by clashing linguistic and regional identities, were unwilling to define it. Today, the violence of terrorism is expressed through its assault on culture, on entertainment in general, on female education, and the destruction of cultural landmarks.

In Khyber Agency, the Sufi tradition was defeated and ousted by the Taliban as the state stood by and watched. The Sufi leaders fled the agency and left the field open to the extremists. In Swat, a Sufi leader was killed and later exhumed from his grave and made to hang in the city square. Without the refinement of culture, Pakistan is a rudderless society characterised by extremism. The masses are deprived of all collective celebration and are losing their male children to the Taliban as suicide-bombers. The Sindhi, whose mysticism-based culture is still intact in the interior of the province, is yet to appear as a suicide-bomber in the service of Al Qaeda. But even that could change in the face of relentless assault by the Taliban and the desperate secession of the writ of the state. *

Also See:
The Poety of Rahman Baba
English translation of Rahman Baba's Poetry
People protest bombing of Rahman Baba shrine - The News
Mullah Omar Calls for a Taliban Surge - New York Times
Picture Source: AP printed in NYT

No comments: