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February 17, 2017



Sufi shrines under attack in Pakistan — a chronology

LAHORE: Heartless militant actors, seemingly following an imported linear version of the faith, attacked the shrine of the 13th century revered saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan Sharif (Sindh) on Thursday, killing dozens and injuring over 100 devotees.


With death toll increasing rapidly till the filing of this story, this most recent attack might well turn out to be the deadliest attack on any Sufi shrine in Pakistan ever.

Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine was built in 1356 and is decorated with Sindhi 'kashi-tiles' classic mirror-work and a fabulous gold-plated door donated by Iran's Emperor Reza Shah Pahlavi. This door was installed by the late prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Lal Shahbaz Qalandar (1177-1275), called Lal (red) for donning a red attire throughout his life, had not only preached peace and love throughout his stay on the planet along with his contemporaries like Bahauddin Zakariya, Baba Fariduddin Ganj Shakar and Syed Jalaluddin Bukhari but is also globally respected for being a symbol of pluralism, inter-faith harmony and collective aesthetics.

Research shows that no fewer than three dozen shrines across the country have been attacked by the merchants of hatred during the last one decade, who are hell bent upon imposing varying interpretations of the religion, resulting in deaths of hundreds of innocent devotees till date.

According to data compiled by the Center for Islamic Research Collaboration and Learning, since 2005, at least 209 people have been killed and 560 injured in 29 terrorist attacks targeting shrines devoted to Sufi saints in Pakistan.

Bearing theological persuasions, these ruthless militants, under the influence of sectarian ideology, continue to attack and desecrate the mausoleums of spiritual leaders across the country at will and with absolute ease.

Sufism has an illustrious history, evolving over 1,000 years, in the Subcontinent. From one-room tombs in small villages to large complexes in major cities, Sufi shrines are visited by millions of Pakistanis. Not long ago, on November 12, 2016, over 50 devotees at the remote shrine of Shah Noorani in Khuzdar, Balochistan, were massacred. Several people were killed and injured due to a stampede caused by the blast and scores of injured were transported to hospital in private vehicles by visitors who survived the attack. 

A brief chronology of some major attacks preceding the November 2016 strike on Shah Noorani's shrine: The first reported attack on a shrine is traced back to December 18, 2007, when militants blew up the shrine of Abdul Shakoor Malang Baba on the GT Road. 

In March 2008, an attack on the 400-year-old shrine of Hazrat Abu Saeed Baba on the outskirts of Peshawar killed 10 villagers.

On February 25, 2013, the shrine of Ghulam Shah Ghazi, in Marri village near Shikarpur, was attacked, killing four people on the scene and wounding more than 27 others. Among the dead was Pir Syed Hajan Shah – a spiritual leader. He had died on March 4. After the news of Shah’s death spread; markets, businesses and trade centres across Sindh were closed down voluntarily on March 5 to honour him. 

It is imperative to note that just five days earlier on February 20, 2013, militants had attacked the convoy of another Sindhi spiritual leader, Syed Hussain Shah (popularly known as Saeen Hussain Shah Qambar), with a remote-controlled bomb in the Ahmed Deen Brohi area of Jacobabad District. He had escaped unharmed, but the bomb killed his grandson Shafiq Shafi Shah and injured eight others.

The shrines of Sufi saints Sheikh Nisa Baba and Sheikh Bahadur Baba in Khyber Agency were attacked on December 11, 2012.

On April 3, 2011, over 50 people were killed and 120 wounded when two suicide bombers detonated explosives at the shrine of the 13th-century saint Ahmed Sultan at Dera Ghazi Khan.

In July 2010, the shrine of Sufi saint Data Ganj Bukhsh Hajveri in Lahore was attacked by two suicide bombers. At least 45 devotees were killed and dozens others injured. The impact of the two blasts ripped open the courtyard of the shrine.

A suicide attack on the shrine of Sufi saint Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi killed nine people in October 2010.

An attack on the 12th-century Sufi saint Baba Farid Shakar Ganj’s shrine in Pakpattan in October 2010 had left seven people dead.

The March 5, 2009 attack on the shrine of Rehman Baba, a revered Pushto Sufi poet of the 17th century, was widely condemned in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Although the bombing of Rehman Baba’s shrine near Peshawar did not result in any casualty, it had left an indelible mark on the sanctity of his shrine. A day after the attack on Rehman Baba’s shrine, the shrine of Bahadur Baba was targeted by missiles.  

Since the Rehman Baba shrine attack, numerous Sufi shrines in Hangu, Nowshera and Buner were bombed, burnt or closed down. Simultaneously, attacks on Shia and Barelvi mosques claimed casualties running in hundreds.