Sunday, February 15, 2009

Religious self torture

I went to Bhit Shah for the annual Urs of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai (1689–1752), Sufi poet of Sindhi language. His language, like his life, is unique and it tells a story of love, passion, and integrity. It tells you that love is the mainstream blood and when it cancels out life can become unbearable. I am no expert on him or his poetry but I can tell you that his kalaam (sayings) is full of love and energy and single minded devotion to the being you love.

Unfortunately, as with so many Sufi Tombs across Pakistan, this tomb has been taken hostage by the Shia pilgrims, who come here, make lot of noise (and drama), and perform violent ma'tam. That's unfair to the hundreds and thousands of Muslims and Hindus who come here to pay respects to the man who was exact opposite to what these men wish to do here. I was really surprised that no one ever bothered to point out to these men that such violence in the vicinty of a Mazar is not only ridiculous, it gives Islam a bad name.

I was there at Bhit Shah to listen to the most wonderful music one could ever imagine. And I was really saddened - and sadness turned to anger soon - when I saw men, wearing jet black and then taking off these shirts, turned into a demolition team. They chanted slogans, thumped their palms against their bare chests, and said 'Ya Hussain, Ya Hussain'.

This bit of self torture, off course part of Shia religion but not - thankfully - part of Sunni Islam, teaches what? I think it promotes violent culture and helps bring bad name to entire Muslim ummah. Such ma'tam is not on display in Iran. There may be ma'tam or a form of it, but this violence-prone, street-smart one is clearly a Pakistan-India invention.

I hope administration will take proper steps and stop this extreme form of devotion from entering the door of the Mazar.

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