Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

March 27, 2017

The attan and the dance of death


March 27, 2017

I had never seen such a spectacle in my life before. As a group of Pakhtuns completed their attan dance, they were replaced by a group of Seraiki pilgrims who performed the jhoomar. The Seraikis were followed by a group of Baloch visitors who performed their own version of the jhoomar. Graceful and elegant, all three dances appeared like variants of the same dance and provided a contrast to the more ecstatic and individualistic dhamaal favoured by the pilgrims from central Punjab.

The place was the shrine of Sakhi Sarwar, 35 kilometres from Dera Ghazi Khan on the confluence of the plains of Indus and the majestic Suleman Range that dominates a large part of KP and Balochistan. Geographically and culturally, this place can be considered the heart of Pakistan where four Pakistani languages and cultures meet and mix. Almost everyone here can speak at least three languages.

In April 2011, when a month-long urs celebrations were at its peak, the shrine was attacked by the Taliban suicide bombers who killed more than 100 pilgrims and injured many more. According to the Taliban, their brutality was a reaction to the un-Islamic practices at the shrine. According to Taliban cheerleaders, including the Jamaat-e-Islami, the violence inflicted by the Taliban was a reaction to American intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistani forces’ military action inside Fata.

For seven long centuries, the pilgrims had traced the route of the saint to reach his shrine. A mela, called Sangh, was celebrated wherever the saint had stopped. The Taliban bombers successfully halted one of Pakistan’s largest spiritual and cultural events that remains closed to this day, forcing people in the area to protest.

Last week, on March 21, a group of Pakhtun students were attacked in the University of Punjab by activists of Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT), the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), for performing the attan on campus during cultural activities organised with the permission of the authorities. According to Liaqat Baloch, the secretary general of the JI, it was a reaction to Raqso-Sarod (licentious dance and music) at the gathering. For Baloch, what happened on campus was something normal and predictable. He was not off the mark. This was something that had happened even when his beard was still jet black and he was the president of the IJT at Punjab University. In fact, this was something that had happened long before that.

My friend Musaddiq Sanwal, a poet, singer and journalist, lost an eye when the IJT activists attacked students at the National College of Arts in February 1985. Almost any student in Lahore can recount a story of abduction, torture or even murder at the hands of the Jamiat.

Farooq Haidar, son of Maulana Maudoodi, once told me that his father, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami, never allowed his children to join the activities of the IJT. Some historians have noted that Maudoodi felt extremely upset with the strong arms tactics of his young followers. He did not live long enough to see the student wing completely monopolising his party, turning the Jamaat into the senior wing of its own student offshoot.

Many people feel upset at the way the state patronised the religious parties and groups in Pakistan. In a way, it has proved to be a blessing in disguise. State patronage, particularly by dictators like Zia and Musharraf, gave parties like the JI a chance to show their true colours. This made people understand that these guardians of their souls are a part of the problem and not a part of the solution. While secular India elects Hindu extremists, the fate of religious parties appears to be sealed.

An element of fascism is built in the structure of the Jamaat. As Wali Nasr notes: “The Jamaat-e-Islami is a modern party whose organisational strength owes much to the European models on display in the 1930s: fascism and, even more, communism.”

In modern times, it has gone many leaps ahead, turning into a travesty of the ideas of Syed Maudoodi. It manifests the failure of Maudoodi’s political vision – what is often termed as political Islam or Islamism. As Oliver Roy notes in his landmark book, ‘The Failure of Political Islam’, political Islam has transformed into what he calls “neo-fundamentalism”. He notes: “Unlike the Islamists, many of whom were serious intellectuals who tried to adapt to aspects of modernity, the neo-fundamentalists do little more than channel the discontent of urban youth into political opposition. Neo-fundamentalists worry about morals, mixed education, veiling and the corrupting influence of the West, but they have no real political or economic programme”.

Maudoodi had a vision of bringing a ‘revolution’ by drawing the elite of the society to his ideas through a programme of religious and political education. The Jamaat’s focus on educational intuitions is part of this programme of ‘revolution through infiltration’. However, its student wing has ended up scaring away the Pakistani middle class. The Jamaat harms the education of lower middle class children at government colleges and universities as the private educational institutions, even those owned by Jamaat leaders, do not allow it to operate inside their campuses.

According to Roy, “If they come to power they will resemble the repressive, one-party regime”. In fact, we did not have to wait to see what a one-party state under the JI would be like. The JI’s student wing has turned many campuses into showcases of the future pious land. It does not take much imagination to realise what they would do to the country if they could do this to campuses.

The transformation of the Jamaat was completed under Munawar Hassan who advocated for a Qital-e-fi-sabil-Allah (killings to please Allah) to transform Pakistani society. Losing hope in the transformation through its own programme, the Jamaat pinned its hopes on the Taliban violence. Taliban leaders became the Jamaat’s cheerleaders. The Jamaat was so keen to please the Taliban that when the TTP attacked Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the former head of the JI, it blamed it on the US.

It is the duty of the state institutions to react to any kind of criminality and violence. The state, after all, is defined through monopoly over force.

While it was a routine operation by the JI vigilantes, as Liaqat Baloch mentioned, the media glare and the national debate have turned it into an indictment against the JI and its student wing. As child is the father of man, the Jamiat is the mother of the Jamaat-e-Islami. I think the whole nation is indebted to this student organisation for saving Pakistan from the Jamaat-e-Islami. Imagine what Pakistan would be like under the Jamaat. Thank you, Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba.


The writer is an anthropologist and development professional.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @zaighamkhan


Topstory minus plus

Opinion minus plus

Newspost minus plus

Editorial minus plus

National minus plus

World minus plus

Sports minus plus

Business minus plus

Karachi minus plus

Lahore minus plus

Islamabad minus plus

Peshawar minus plus