Sehwan is different. Unlike the more officially-accepted shrines of Pakistan, such as the Data Ganj Bakhsh in Lahore, Bari Imam in Islamabad, and the lustrous tombs of the Suhrawardi sufis in Multan, Sehwan is rebellious and raging.
Sehwan is Laal — the red of resistance. Sehwan is Shahbaz — a soaring falcon with secrets in its heart and no fixed abode. Sehwan is Qalandar — the disorderly, the wanderer, the antithesis of the established law, form, and idols.
Sehwan is everything that a lot of contemporary Pakistan is not. It is inclusive and it does not impose religion. Sehwan is one of those cultural, geographical, and social spaces that stand on the peripheries of time and history, and defy everything that is official, resist the order of the day.
When Hindus perform the mehndi at the beginning of Lal Shahbaz's urs, one cannot tell if the Partition ever happened. When transgenders take part in dhamal and become part of the crowd without any mockery, one cannot tell that this is the same society where so much stigma is associated with deviant sexuality and gender.
When Shias and Sunnis pray in the same vicinity and a red alam flutters on the top of the shrine that belongs to a man named Usman, one cannot tell that we are in a country plagued by sectarian tensions. When Suhrawardis, Ismailis, and Shivaites claim the Qalandar to be one of their own, one cannot tell that we are living in an extremely polarised society.
Terrorists seem to have a problem with this. They claim to be at war with Pakistan. However, one must pause and ask as to which Pakistan are they at war with. They seem to differentiate between a Pakistan of puritanical seminaries, and a Pakistan of shrines, churches, imambargahs, and Ahmadi places of worship.
When we look at all the terrorist attacks in the last decade or so, a picture emerges which shows that everything that does not fit into a narrow definition of religion is condemnable to death and destruction. It is an ideology called takfir and takes on the form of militant extremism.
However, there exists a softer narrative that may not seem dangerous on the surface but fuels militant extremism by being apologetic about it. This worldview considers Islam of the masses as something alien to the spirit of the religion. Shirk, jahalat, bida’t, ghair-Islami are the buzzwords here. This holier-than-thou narrative is mostly prevalent mostly among the urban middle-classes who are contemptuous of indigenous and syncretic strains of religion.
This narrative may not be the official state narrative but when the state lets certain non-state actors off the hook again and again, questions need to be asked.
Qalandar rose up in defiance when some forms of sufism were adopted by kings' courts and saints were awarded state titles. Damadam mast Qalandar is a raging cry of rebellion against tyranny of established orders.
A day after the attack, devotees gathered at the shrine to resume dhamal in defiance of not only the attackers but also the police. One of the workers who looks after the shrine, Haja Shah, had tears rolling down his cheeks as he said, "This is no place for the police. This is our place."
Centuries after his death, despite all the trials and tribulations of time and history, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar continues defying the ruling order of the time, and probably this timeless resistance is something that terrorists are most afraid of.
Some call it a miracle. Some call it history. And above and beyond miracles and history, the Qalandar continues to dance.
“I am Usman i Marwandi, a friend of Khwaja Mansoor (Hallaj)
Although people blame me, I will dance upon the gallows”.
The earlier version of this article stated that there is a Hindu sajjada nasheen family of the shrine. This information was inaccurate and has now been corrected.
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Suleman Akhtar lives in Sweden. He is interested in society, politics and culture.
The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.Advertisement Visit the live blog
Comments (48) ClosedNataraj Feb 20, 2017 09:13am
Love will always dance over head of hate.Recommend 0 AXH Feb 20, 2017 09:14am
We should include Suif-ism more into our curriculum. It was the Sufism which promoted Islam in the Subcontinent.Recommend 0 imtiaz ali khan Feb 20, 2017 09:20am
Love you Sufism. Bless all the followers of all the Sufi Saints and bless all the faiths of this world, we are all the same.
Sufism is another name of peace. Love you Ajmeri Sarkar my Saint :) your follower will always preach the message of peace and harmony.
Love to the Qaladari Sarkar :)Recommend 0 Sanjay Feb 20, 2017 09:29am
Salute to spirit of devotees at Lal Shahbaj Qalandar Shrine SehwanRecommend 0 Hasan Habib Feb 20, 2017 09:52am
One can only agree. The Lal Shahbaz Qalander remains the most important saint that unites Sindh and Pakistan across religious, ethnic and cultural divide.Recommend 0 Ahmed Feb 20, 2017 09:53am
Fantastic article! It brought tears in my eyes.Recommend 0 jahaz Feb 20, 2017 10:05am
Brilliant prose on Qalandar's universality.Recommend 0 Saad(DXB) Feb 20, 2017 10:25am
The song 'Lal meri pat' was written a Pakistani poet who died recently in Lahore. However, the melodious tunes of mysticism and defiance touched a chord among Pakistanis and Indians alike, with both of them claiming Lal Shahbaz Qalandar to be theirs. The fact is, he belonged to all humanity, all religions, races and casts. He taught love, he taught tolerance, and unlike the popular belief amongst the so called guardians of the society, Dhamal is not a dance; It is reaching the high state of meditation when the love between you and creator gets so strong that you can not help but celebrate it by dancing, oblivious to your surroundings.Recommend 0 SAB Feb 20, 2017 10:31am
A superb note!Recommend 0 SAB Feb 20, 2017 10:40am
With all due respect to Sehwan as place where everyone is welcome, in the quest of all-involving spiritualism, there is a strong tendency to ignore the day-t0-day well-being, which requires planning, work, resources, equality, sincerity. We are extolling Sehwan at the cost of not caring for the day-to-day well-being. This has been going on for centuries - now is the time to change it.Recommend 0 Sara Feb 20, 2017 10:53am
Wonderful article. I hope Lal Shabaz Qlandar lives on. It's represents diversity and loveRecommend 0 SOhan Feb 20, 2017 11:01am
what a tragedy it was.Recommend 0 Sunil bhartia Feb 20, 2017 11:10am
I have gone through immense pain and turmoil past week. My heart bleeds and eyes are welled. Killing people in prayer isn't Islam. This is not human.Recommend 0 AMIYA DEKA Feb 20, 2017 11:56am
This seems to me as the most plausible cause for many recent attacks in Pakistan. But no one seems to be analyzing it in this manner. Everybody seems to be playing a blame game on Afghanistan and India. Hope, Pakistan realizes the schisms within itself which is infested with sectarianism. The moot cause of the attacks is most importantRecommend 0 aam admi Feb 20, 2017 12:25pm
humanity is killed at the shabaaz kallander s tomb.Recommend 0 Kainat Feb 20, 2017 12:34pm
Brilliant as always, Suleman!Recommend 0 Vijay Reddy Rajput Feb 20, 2017 01:09pm
God Bless Suleman Akhtar. Need more people like him who can put in writing the feelings of their heart and soul. I salute you sir.Recommend 0 Harun al shEikh Feb 20, 2017 01:17pm
Very valid.Recommend 0 zehreela Feb 20, 2017 01:26pm
LOVE and respect for sharing your analysis!Recommend 0 Hassan Feb 20, 2017 02:12pm
Yes, very touching account. God help Pakistan.Recommend 0 N C Mishra Feb 20, 2017 02:22pm
Those disturbing such beautiful institutions will never succeed. After all, these have survived centuries of marauders. We owe to the coming generations to keep such holy places in good condition.Recommend 0 faisal Feb 20, 2017 02:41pm
This is what love of people for there beloved saints specially in Sindh,Recommend 0 FAREED HUSSAIN Feb 20, 2017 02:50pm
If we understand the linage on the path of love we find, Gaddagars, Faqeers, Qaladanders, darveshis, Sufis and others, who are bestowed upon are different branches of knowledge by God, the amount and intensity of knowledge is different as well. For example a true Faqeer prefers to sufferings so much in patience that refrains from expressing his desires to God. Qalander is the most daring and challenging branch. Once in mystic whirl attained through the mystic dance of any form, he is difficult to stop. So it is always wise not to dare a qalandar.Recommend 0 Sankar Mitra Feb 20, 2017 03:54pm
It is a brilliant article. My congratulations to the authorRecommend 0 kunal majumdar Feb 20, 2017 04:49pm
Excellent piece.Recommend 0 shehzaib javaid pasha Feb 20, 2017 06:15pm
How many more innocent to bleed inorder to satisfy the thrust of religious clerics.
Law enforcing agencies just doing Tit for Tat.
No-one is focusing on nurseries, nourishing these demons, which are all around us.
These are dark hoods in our neighboring.Recommend 0 The Right Left Feb 20, 2017 06:27pm
Thanks ! Makes me yearn to visit Sehwan shareef ! and herewith I seek permission of Lal Shahbaz Qalader to allow my visit.Recommend 0 dPatel Feb 20, 2017 07:14pm
Kudos to Sulemanji for boldly taking on the ideology called TAKFIR in line with "Sehwan's red flag of resistance". Universal humanistic message of Qalandar is rooted in this ancient land of Indu's civilization. TAKFIR has roots in foreign land. The simple solution for current on-going brutal terrorism is more in defeating this ideology of TAKFIR than in military actions.Recommend 0 Qudus Feb 20, 2017 07:30pm
Best blog on this topic so far. Author is in Sweden, I am in the USA. For us it is easy to say what we think, but I salute those who are defiant in Pakistan.Recommend 0 nizamuddin Ahmad Aali Feb 20, 2017 08:24pm
The writer has summed up beautifully the spirit of progressive Islam, actual Islam. Pretty much Jinnah's Pakistan. If some one does not like it, too bad. We are here to stay, defiant standing tall. Pakistan Zindabad.Recommend 0 global citizen Feb 20, 2017 09:12pm
brilliant! love live tolerance!Recommend 0 Abdus Salam Feb 20, 2017 10:45pm
Excellent article , love (sufism) is the only thing which can save Pakistan and our society .Recommend 0 Michael Khatana Feb 21, 2017 02:06am
An excellent article; I would love to break bread with the author.Recommend 0 Princess_of_DHUMP Feb 21, 2017 02:12am
Love always trumps hate. This is the land of Laal Shahbaz Qalandar, Ali Hajveri and Baha Uddin Zakria. We shall prevailRecommend 0 Shridhar Subrahmanyam Feb 21, 2017 04:15am
@SAB I do not quite understand what is implied. Day to day responsibilities and compulsions are not in any way in conflict with any faith. It is important to keep the two separate. Worshipping in the shrine is in no way in conflict with our worldly duties.Recommend 0 SECULARIST Feb 21, 2017 04:54am
It is only the broadminded, inclusive, tolerant, nay, celebrating differences that paves way for establishing eternal religions. "Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls" - become the prime targets of the narrow minded fundamentalists.Recommend 0 AK Feb 21, 2017 05:23am
I grew up listening to "Dama Dam Mast Qalandar" at my Sindhi friends home, a must before any social or religious event at his home. I can just imagine the grief and pain this incident has caused.Recommend 0 Harry Feb 21, 2017 05:27am
Your few paragraphs have encapsulated much needed message of universal love and humanity that is sadly absent in many societies and nations thar are victims of excessive religiousity, bigotry and hatred.Recommend 0 Baldev chandpuri Feb 21, 2017 05:44am
Dhamaal of sufism breaks all barriers and unifies human spirit in to delirium of divinity .Sufism will prevail at all times -PredictedRecommend 0 shahrukh M. Petigara Feb 21, 2017 07:33am
I come from a very old Zorastrian family. (Parsi). When I was a kid growing up in Karachi my late dad took me to visit the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. He told me that his father a doctor and Civil Surgeon in Sukkur (Sind) for many years was a great believer in Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and would visit his shrine quite often. My father also was a great believer. Soofi Saints know no religious boundaries. All faiths are equal before themRecommend 0 RHS Feb 21, 2017 07:37am
Excellent job here Suleman Akhtar. And we are sure glad that you live in Sweden! Long live the spirit of the Qalandar...Recommend 0 Sara Feb 21, 2017 10:57am
There is nothing wrong if someone who is a muslim, hindu, Buddhist, Christian or Jew wants to attend each other faith. When you do that it makes you more humane and tolerant of other faith. No one religion has the right to dictate how one should follow its own faith otherwise be punished.Recommend 0 Secular Pathan Feb 21, 2017 11:33am
Wow it brought tears in my eyes and goosebumps on my bodyRecommend 0 MK Feb 21, 2017 01:58pm
Love the quote at the end.Recommend 0 GHOSH Feb 21, 2017 04:55pm
Very well written article !!Recommend 0 Sadiq USA Feb 21, 2017 05:28pm
@SAB what are you talking about?Recommend 0 PAATCHU Feb 22, 2017 09:16am
Sufism should be taught in the sub-continenet. Children should know about Bulleh Shah and Guru Nanak & their friendships.Recommend 0 Peshawari Feb 23, 2017 03:25am
Excellent article. Damdamadam Ali, Ali.Recommend 0