LAHORE: In a bid to dent the unflinching resolve of thousands of devotees, who have been paying homage resiliently on daily basis for over 900 years at the shrine of Hazrat Abu-ul-Hassan Ali bin Usman Al-Hajveri, reverentially known as Data Gunj Bukhsh, ruthless militant actors attacked the globally-respected saint’s tomb once again in Lahore on Wednesday at will and with absolute ease, killing eight to 10 people, besides injuring scores of humans.
The attack hence makes it absolutely clear that despite continuing counter-terrorism operations launched by the State, the unharnessed and unbridled extremist groups still remain a potent threat to national security.
In July 2010, almost nine years ago, the shrine of Hazrat Data Gunj Bukhsh was attacked by two suicide bombers, seemingly following an imported linear version of the faith.
At least 50 devotees were killed and dozens others injured in the 2010 attack on this 11th Century holy site.
The impact of the two blasts had ripped open the courtyard of the shrine of one of the most important mystic figures and influential preachers to have spread Islam in the Indian subcontinent.
Research shows that not 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 and zealots till date.
Between 2005 and 2017, according to data compiled by the Center for Islamic Research Collaboration and Learning, over 200 people were killed and almost 600 plus injured in 29 terrorist attacks targeting shrines devoted to Sufi saints in Pakistan.
Sufism, as we all know, is a mystical branch of Islam which spread throughout the Indian subcontinent and has an illustrious history, evolving over 1,000 years.
From one-room tombs in small villages to large complexes in major cities, Sufi shrines are visited by millions of people every year.
Brief chronology and timeline of attacks on Sufi shrines in Pakistan during the last 14 years or so:
Research conducted by the “Jang Group and Geo Television Network” reveals that the first reported attack on a shrine at least dates back to March 19, 2005, when 46 people were killed in an act of terror on the tomb of Pir Syed Rakhel Shah at Fatehpur, a small town in the Jhal Magsi district of Balochistan.
In May 27, 2005, around two dozen people had perished and nearly 100 others were left reeling with injuries after a powerful explosion had hit the Bari Imam shrine at Noorpur Shahan village in Islamabad.
Security guards and witnesses said that some 8,000 to 10,000 followers were attending a Majlis at this shrine, when a bearded man of medium height and dark complexion had walked up to the stage to blow himself up.
A press note issued by the local District Magistrate had said: “When a Majlis-i-Aza was being held in the compound of Hazrat Bari Imam (RA) shrine, an unknown person suddenly entered the premises of the shrine and attempted to embrace the speaker. Soon after the occurrence, the mob present at the shrine got infuriated and started pelting the police officials on duty with stones.”
On December 18, 2007, militants had blown up the shrine of Abdul Shakoor Malang Baba on the Grand Trunk Road.
In March 2008, an attack on the 400-year-old shrine of Hazrat Abu Saeed Baba on the outskirts of Peshawar had killed 10 villagers.
The March 5, 2009 attack on the shrine of Rehman Baba, a revered Pashto 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 mosques claimed casualties running in hundreds.
A suicide attack on the shrine of Sufi Saint, Abdullah Shah Ghazi, in Karachi had killed nine people in October 2010.
An attack on the 12th-century Sufi saint Baba Fariduddin Ganj Shakar’s shrine in Pakpattan, also occurring in October 2010, had left seven people dead.
On April 3, 2011, some 52 people were killed and 120 wounded when two suicide bombers detonated explosives at the shrine of the 13th-century saint Ahmed Sultan, popularly known as Sakhi Sarwar, at Dera Ghazi Khan.
On March 1 this year, the Supreme Court had upheld a life imprisonment sentence awarded by a trial court to a would-be suicide bomber in the Sakhi Sarwar shrine suicide attack case.
The accused, Bahram alias Sufi Baba, was given the death penalty 52 times and awarded life imprisonment 73 times. He was accused of preparing the suicide bomb for the attack.
The Supreme Court, however, declared this sentence null and void as the prosecution did not provide sufficient evidence.
The second accused, Umar Fidai, had been sentenced to life imprisonment 125 times by a trial court. The appeal against his sentence was dismissed by the country's highest court.
The Chief Justice had asked how one could be sentenced for life 125 times in one lifetime. He ordered the running of all sentences simultaneously.
The shrines of Sufi saints Sheikh Nisa Baba and Sheikh Bahadur Baba in Khyber Agency were attacked on December 11, 2012.
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.
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.
In October 2017, a suicide bomber had again targeted the shrine of Sufi saint, Pir Rakhel Shah, at Jhal Magsi in Balochistan after a gap of 12 years, killing around 20 people on the spot.
On February 17, 2017, a suicide bomber had struck the devotees at the gold-domed mausoleum of revered Sufi saint Syed Usman Marwandi, also known as the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, at Sehwan Sharif in Sindh, resulting in at least 83 deaths within hours of the attack.
A series of attacks over the last five days in February 2017 had hit all four of Pakistan’s provinces and two major cities, killing nearly 100 people.
The “Reuters” had reported: “The shrine is one of Pakistan’s most revered holy sites and attracts up to a million visitors each year. It is perhaps best known for men and women practicing the ancient form of Sufi dance called the ‘dhamaal’.”
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.
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