Sui­cide bombers hit Pak­istani Sufi shrine; 35 dead, 175 in­jured

Austin American-Statesman - - FRIDAYBRIEFING - By Sab­rina Tavernise and Waqar Gil­lani

IS­LAM­ABAD—Two sui­cide bombers struck Pak­istan’s most im­por­tant Sufi shrine Thurs­day night, a dev­as­tat­ing at­tack by re­li­gious mil­i­tants on the mod­er­ate, more flex­i­ble blend of Is­lam that is prac­ticed by most Pak­ista­nis.

The bombers at­tacked in the city of La­hore just be­fore mid­night, the peak wor­ship time for the shrine, known as Data Ganj Baksh. Thou­sands of peo­ple were at the shrine at the time, ac­cord­ing to the Pak­istani po­lice. At least 35 peo­ple were killed and 175 oth­ers in­jured, ac­cord­ing to po­lice of­fi­cials.

The death toll could climb be­cause at least 25 of those wounded in the attacks were in crit­i­cal con­di­tion.

The strike on such a revered place of wor­ship is cer­tain to en­rage Pak­ista­nis, who are grow­ing weary of vi­o­lence that has spiked in the past four years. It is part of a pat­tern of in­creased vi­o­lence in Pak­istan’s heart­land, the prov­ince of Pun­jab, a trou­bling ex­pan­sion of the Tal­iban in­sur­gency tor­ment­ing the coun­try’s western border.

“This is a bar­baric at­tack,” wrote Raza Ahmed Rumi, a Pak­istani ex­pert on Su­fism, on his web­site. The shrine, he said, “is not just an­other crowded place — it rep­re­sents a mil­len­nia of tol­er­ant Sufi Is­lam which is di­rectly un­der at­tack by the pu­ri­tans.”

The bombers det­o­nated ex­plo­sives in the base­ment and in­side the shrine af­ter a Sufi cer­e­mony of sing­ing and prayer, ac­cord­ing to a wit­ness, Muhamed Yusef, who was in­ter­viewed on Pak­istani tele­vi­sion.

The blasts left a sick­en­ing scene of dev­as­ta­tion. The Ex­press 24/7 tele­vi­sion net­work in Pak­istan showed the shrine’s in­te­rior lit­tered with bod­ies, prayer rugs and de­bris from the blast. Blood pooled on the white mar­ble floor. Crowds gath­ered out­side the shrine af­ter the bomb­ings, shout­ing, cry­ing and protest­ing the at­tack.

“Those who still pre­tend that we are not a nation at war are com­plicit in these deaths,” said Farah­naz Is­pa­hani, a spokes­woman for Pres­i­dent Asif Ali Zar­dari.

Su­fism is a mys­ti­cal form of Is­lam brought into South Asia by wan­der­ing thinkers who spread the re­li­gion east from the Ara­bian penin­sula. The mys­tics car­ried a mes­sage of equal­ity that was deeply ap­peal­ing to in­dige­nous so­ci­eties torn by caste and poverty. To this day, Sufi shrines stand out in Is­lam for al­low­ing women free ac­cess.

In mod­ern times, Pak­istan’s Su­fis have been chal­lenged by a stricter form of Is­lam that dom­i­nates in Saudi Ara­bia. That ortho­dox form of Sunni Is­lam was en­cour­aged in Pak­istan in the 1980s by Gen. Mo­ham­mad Zia ul-Haq, the U.S.-sup­ported dic­ta­tor.

Since then, the fun­da­men­tal­ists’ ag­gres­sive stance has tended to eclipse that of their mod­er­ate kin, whose shrines and pro­ces­sions have be­come tar­gets in Pak­istan’s in­sur­gency.

K.M. Chaudary

Relatives of vic­tims com­fort one an­other af­ter Thurs­day night’s bloody at­tack by a pair of sui­cide bombers on a pop­u­lar Sufi Mus­lim shrine in the Pak­istani city of La­hore.

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