"Today’s feudalists are keen to protect and promote “docile”
Sufism to sustain their wealth and power – this time with US
If you visit a foreign Sufi group, research its place and its leader's place
in the political structure of its home country.
(Quoted from below)
"Like the British before them, the Americans don’t care about Pakistan’s growing multitude of serfs and the underclass, they don’t care whether the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister of Pakistan are deeply rooted in the cause of inequity and injustice in the country and part of the promotion of a system of starvation – a Sufism that tells people to take a blessing instead of demanding food, education, justice and liberty. Like the British, they will fund whoever furthers their interests.*
"We (Pakistanis) however, must care."
*Or gives us foreigners lovely moods. Too often, visitors care only
for their own bliss and do not care about who
pays the price for thier bliss.
Foreigners may be given preferential
treatment by pirs and shiekhs and never realize how viciously these same leaders behave toward low ranking men -- and women.
A night of thrilling music and prayer may elicit money that actually goes
to assist a Sheikh or Pir in bribing politicians and further oppressing persons
who are in debt bondage to his or her family. ('Landlordism')
originally from Dawn magazine, Pakistan.
(Quote)Monday, March 1, 2010
The bad Sufi
By Qalandar Bux Memon
Tuesday, 26 Jan, 2010
It is often assumed that Sufism stands opposed to Wahhabism. Wrong. Sufism and Wahhabism, in fact, share a fatal characteristic – they are religions of the status quo.
In Pakistan, Sufism legitimises barbarities of inequality and starvation – ‘do nothing, it’s god’s will’ - while at the same time justifying structures of oppressive power, Pirism and landlordism, rather like Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia. Contemporary Sufism, rather than being a solution to Pakistan’s problems, is the cause.
I was sitting at the shrine of Shah Kamal in Lahore, with the dhol beats and whirling dervishes dancing to connect to the ‘centre of the universe in themselves’, when a friend turned and pointed to an old German fellow sitting a few meters from us. “He just delivered a lecture on Sufism. He is an expert on the subject, and talked about how it’s a religion of peace and love.”
I replied curtly:
“Have you ever been in love?
Have you had your heart broken?
What peace is there in that state?
What peace was there when Mansur had his head chopped
off on the orders of the Baghdadi Emperor?
What peace was there when Shah Inayat ]
(of Jhok--who battled for justice) was fighting against the
Mughal emperor for his life and that of his commune?
What peace is there in Sassui’s peeling feet as she searches
for her beloved through the desert of Sindh?”
(Corboy: Sassui and Panhu are the Romeo and Juliet of
Pakistan. Their love story was set to Sufi poetry by
Shah Latif of Bhit. The Risalo, Latif's collection
of poems, is one of the cultural treasures of the people,
especially in Sindh,the southern province of Pakistan. )
My friend agreed and said:
“But they pay me – I have to go along with them.”
Western and Pakistani policymakers think Islam can be codified
as either a religion of peace and love and given the brand of Sufism,
or as a religion of violent jihad. They think it’s better, at this
point in time, to promote the peaceful religion of Sufism.
Note how the word Islam is taken out – Sufism is codified as not
really Islam. Thus Sufism is considered a perfect native antidote to
the violent religion of Islam.
Why are dollars, pounds, rupees and Euros going to promote Sufism?
What is it about today’s Sufism that allows it to serve a purpose
for the American empire, and what function does it play locally in
The answer was hard for me to stomach. I had spent much time
researching aspects of Sufism, and I thought I’d found a touchstone
from which to articulate a spirituality that was socially radical
and politically challenging to Pakistan’s parasitic elite and the
Ziauddin Sardar, polymath writer and scholar of
Islam, forced me to face the facts.
He called Sufism “docile”, acting as an opiate for the masses,
with most Pirs/Syeds/Sufis amounting to nothing short of “confidence tricksters”. And indeed, Sufism is docile.
A shopkeeper in Main Market, Gulberg, had an emblem of the Sufi saint
Lal Qalandar hanging in his shop, which he had got from Shewan Sharif,
Sindh, the town where the saint is buried.
He said that “what these people do not realise is that 80 per cent of
what we pray at the shrine [of Lal Qalandar] comes true.”
A popular song sung across the Punjab at Sufi shrines tells women that
if they light a lantern at the shrine of saints, their desire for a
‘son’ will be answered.
Items given by holy Pirs - threads, rings, blessings,
and even sexual induction before marriage (in the case of a notorious
Sindhi landlord/Pir) - are taken as altering the universe and leading
to the granting of prayers of health, wealth, and other worthy claims
by this mass of the wretched that is the Pakistani citizen. It is not
only candles and lanterns that are lit at the shrines; money is
exchanged and power is sustained.
It is this power that has created a “docile” Sufism.
Pakistan is a vastly unequal society. Government figures put
those below the poverty line at close to 40 per cent of the
population, though the true figure may be closer to 50 per cent.
Inequity is the hallmark of the Sindh province of Pakistan, which
is celebrated as “the land of the Sufis” and is where Sufis and Pirs
A recent World Bank report noted that Sindh has the narrowest
distribution of land ownership, with the richest one per cent
of farmers owning 150 per cent more land than the bottom 62 per
cent of farmers put together. Feudal landlords in vast parts of
Sindh have holdings of thousands of acres, and most of them are
Syeds or Pirs.
These lands were sometimes acquired during the Mughal era but
were largely consolidated during the British colonial rule in
India. The British, looking for local collaborators, found Sufi
Pirs willing to oblige.
Sarah Ansari, in her book, Sufi Saints and State Power: The
Pirs of Sind, 1843-1947, notes: ‘the Sindhi Pirs participated
in the British system of control in order to protect their
privileges and to extend them further whenever and wherever
Today’s feudalists are keen to protect and promote “docile”
Sufism to sustain their wealth and power – this time with US
Wealth is created by a pool of landless serfs who toil thousands
of acres for their spiritual masters, while seeing their own
children starve. These serfs create the wealth that sends the Bhuttos
and the Gilanis to universities such as Oxford and Harvard, while
their children get “blessings” and threads of “Pirs”.
This stream of inequity from generation to generation is based on
a lame theological idea, which nonetheless has been promoted by the
Mughal Empire, the British Empire, the landlords themselves, and now
by the American Empire, and thanks to such patronage has gained far
more ground than the Taliban. It states that the Prophet was given
divine light/knowledge, which passes on to his descendents.
These descendents append the honorific title of ‘Syed’
[literally, ‘master’], and claim divine and material privileges.
Pirs justify their superiority on a similar argument – they were
given the light, and this light continues to radiate in their
descendants. At a recital of the poetry of the radical Sufi Waris
Shah held each year in Lahore, the descendents of Iman Bari Sarkar
(a Pir) enter the arena to be received with awe and sought for blessings
by the crowd. The recital stops and they are escorted to the front and
All eyes are on these holy men who are not only descendents of a Pir
but also Syeds – thus, doubly blessed with ‘light’! And then they
begin expounding their ideology: “We the Syeds get different treatment
from God Almighty, for our good deeds we get double the reward compared to ‘murids’ [non-Syeds] who only get single reward for a single
good deed … but, it’s not easy to be a Syed … [he laughs] … we have to
suffer double the punishment for our any wrong deeds whereas you
[non-Syeds] get only single punishment for a single wrong deed!”
There you have it! Our holy man explains why he has a Land Cruiser
jeep and “non-Syeds” have donkey carts. He explains why most
Pakistanis are living in poverty while he and his Syeds and Pirs are lapping it up in luxury.
Contemporary Sufism is the ideology of Sindh’s landlords. It is the
ideology that is used to uphold their wealth and despotism, and keeps
millions in serfdom. A similar pattern is repeated throughout Pakistan.
Given the lack of proportional representation and the vast inequality
in power in each district between Pirs and the rest, it is almost always
the case that elections flood parliament with Pirs/Syeds/landlords.
The current Pakistani Prime Minister (Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani) and
Foreign Minister (Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi) are examples.
Both have the claim of being descended from Holy Pirs as the basis
of their wealth and distinction. As a result, we cannot expect
parliament to challenge inequity and injustice in Pakistan.
Parliamentarians know that lack of education, coupled with the
obscurantism of contemporary Sufism, sustains their power. Like
the British before them, the Americans don’t care about Pakistan’s
growing multitude of serfs and the underclass, they don’t care whether
the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister of Pakistan are deeply
rooted in the cause of inequity and injustice in the country and
part of the promotion of a system of starvation – a Sufism that tells
people to take a blessing instead of demanding food, education, justice
and liberty. Like the British, they will fund whoever furthers their
We, however, must care.
This is an article by Qalandar Bux Memon, editor of Naked Punch, from the The Samosa, a new UK-based politics, culture and arts journal, campaigning blog and website.