For mod­er­ate ma­jor­ity, a hard line

Most Pak­istani Mus­lims are mem­bers of the anti-vi­o­lence Barelvi sect, but even they have lauded a gover­nor’s killer as a hero

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY KARIN BRULLIARD IN LA­HORE, PAK­ISTAN brul­liardk@wash­

Fol­low­ing the as­sas­si­na­tion of a lib­eral politician who crit­i­cized fed­eral blas­phemy laws, loud sup­port for the con­fessed killer is com­ing from an un­likely quar­ter: a vi­o­lence-es­chew­ing, anti-Tal­iban school of Is­lam steeped in Su­fism.

While many fac­tions have lauded the slay­ing, the peace-pro­mot­ing Barelvi sect has spear­headed mass ral­lies to de­mand the re­lease of the as­sas­sin, a po­lice­man. Be­cause most Pak­ista­nis are Barelvis, their stance is chal­leng­ing the be­lief long held among lib­er­als here— and hoped for by ner­vous U.S. of­fi­cials — that the Mus­lim ma­jor­ity in this nu­clear-armed nation is more mod­er­ate than mil­i­tant.

The no­tion of a mod­er­ate but silent Pak­istani ma­jor­ity has also been un­der­mined by the stance taken by the nation’s young black-suited lawyers, who three years ago led mas­sive pro-democ­racy strikes but this month show­ered rose petals on Mum­taz Qadri, the killer of Pun­jab gover­nor Sal­man Taseer. Civil­ian and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials have re­sponded with lit­tle more than tepid dis­ap­proval to the killing.

“We rep­re­sent the voice of the peo­ple,” said Sfar­ish Ali, 26, a teacher here at the vast Jamia Naeemia sem­i­nary, a Barelvi in­sti­tu­tion whose leader was killed when ex­trem­ists bombed the school in 2009. “Our rulers are the slaves to Western coun­tries . . . so they are un­der pres­sure when it comes to re­li­gion. But we are not.”

While it is un­clear whether the pub­lic re­ac­tion to Taseer’s slay­ing sig­nals wide­spread mil­i­tant sym­pa­thies, there is lit­tle doubt here that re­li­gious con­ser­vatism has deep­ened since 1980s dic­ta­tor Gen. Mo­hammed Zia ul-Haq be­gan de­ploy­ing Is­lamic fight­ers to bat­tle Sovi­ets in Afghanistan, with U.S. sup­port.

The ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem has since been seeded with pro-ji­had ideas. Mean­while, an ex­pand­ing ur­ban mid­dle class — frus­trated with a dy­nas­tic po­lit­i­cal sys­te­mand vi­o­lence widely blamed on Pak­istan’s al­liance with the United States— has sought power through re­li­gion, an­a­lysts say. Au­thor­i­ties haved one lit­tle to re­strain cler­ics who en­cour­age blood­shed; Qadri told a court he was in­spired by Barelvi cler­ics.

Lib­eral Pak­ista­nis have long ex­tolled the Barelvis, most com­monly called Su­fis — some of whom prac­tice mys­ti­cal saint wor­ship and all-night dance ses­sions— as rea­son for hope in a nation that some­times seems to be surg­ing to­ward vi­o­lent fun­da­men­tal­ism. In an in­ter­view be­fore his as­sas­si­na­tion, Taseer called them “very peace­ful peo­ple,” an opin­ion some U.S. of­fi­cials have echoed pri­vately.

The sup­port Barelvis have expressed for Taseer’s as­sas­si­na­tion has prompted some alarm that more Pak­ista­nis are opt­ing to adopt, rather than op­pose, hard­line tac­tics. AU.S. of­fi­cial, who in­sisted on anonymity be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the is­sue, expressed con­cern that more mil­i­tant Is­lamic groups might ex­ploit the is­sue to win the Barelvis to their cause, on the ba­sis that killing in the name of re­li­gion is morally, legally and po­lit­i­cally jus­ti­fied. “For all we know, Qadri may have been a lu­natic,’’ the U.S. of­fi­cial said. “But once he did this, he es­sen­tially put a whole dif­fer­ent set of things in mo­tion.”

The Su­fis’ promi­nence in the praise for the gover­nor’s as­sas­sin il­lus­trates one rea­son it has proved dif­fi­cult for Washington to gauge the depth of re­li­gious rad­i­cal­ism in Pak­istan. Com­pet­ing strands of Is­lam in­fuse all cor­ners of pol­i­tics, de­fy­ing easy la­bels such as paci­fist, mod­er­ate, ex­trem­ist or vi­o­lent.

Some Sufi lead­ers ac­knowl­edge that they re­gard the blas­phemy furor as an op­por­tu­nity to take po­lit­i­cal wind from the Deobandi sect, whose teach­ings in­spired the Tal­iban and dom­i­nate Pak­istani re­li­gious pol­i­tics. Barelvis con­sider them­selves the truest lovers of Is­lam’s prophet Mo­ham­mad, and de­fend­ing Qadri of­fers the fol­low­ers a chance to prove their re­li­gious met­tle and an­tiWestern cre­den­tials, an­a­lysts say.

Ac­cord­ing to a Pew Re­search Cen­ter poll con­ducted this past spring, most Pak­ista­nis think there is a na­tional strug­gle be­tween Is­lamic mod­ern­iz­ers and fun­da­men­tal­ists— and most of the re­spon­dents sided with the mod­ern­iz­ers, though their num­bers are drop­ping. But the poll found wide­spread sup­port for strict Is­lamic mores and pun­ish­ments, in­clud­ing ston­ing for adul­ter­ers and the death penalty for Mus­lims who aban­don Is­lam.

“ This sym­bol­izes what I call la­tent rad­i­cal­ism,” said Aye­sha Sid­diqa, a scholar and com­men­ta­tor, re­fer­ring to pub­lic sup­port for Qadri. “It­may re­sult in vi­o­lence, it may not. But in their minds, there is this in­abil­ity to see the other per­spec­tive.”

Barelvis, who are dom­i­nant in Pun­jab, did not sup­port the holy war against Soviet rule in Afghanistan. As ter­ror­ist attacks have surged in Pak­istan, sev­eral prom­i­nent Barelvis have is­sued de­crees con­demn­ing sui­cide bomb­ing and other vi­o­lence. Is­lamist in­sur­gents have re­sponded with ma­jor bomb­ings at Sufi shrines and mosques.

Over the past two years, the sect has formed an al­liance that, lead­ers say, in­tends to field can­di­dates for po­lit­i­cal of­fice to pro­mote peace­ful Is­lam and the author­ity of the state. The group, the Sunni It­te­had Coun­cil, is staunchly an­tiAmer­i­can, but also fer­vently anti-Tal­iban, on grounds that killing in­no­cents can­not be jus­ti­fied un­der Is­lam.

“ This is a very ba­sic con­cept. If you kill an in­no­cent per­son, it means you are killing all hu­man­ity,” said Mo­hammed Zi­aul Haq, a coun­cil spokesman and author whose new­book is ti­tled “Wik­iLeaks: Amer­ica’s Hor­ren­dous Face.” “Is­lam is a re­li­gion of peace and love, and it asks its fol­low­ers to re­strain them­selves.”

But killing in re­sponse to blas­phemy is an­other mat­ter, he said, mak­ing it “ to­tally dif­fer­ent from ter­ror­ism.’’ The govern­ment had done noth­ing to si­lence Taseer’s crit­i­cism of the blas­phemy ban, he said, or his sup­port for a Chris­tian woman sen­tenced to death for the law, which he said had made Taseer an “in­di­rect” blas­phe­mer him­self. “Ninety per­cent of peo­ple in Pak­istan think Mum­taz Qadri is a hero,” Zi­aul Haq said. “If it’s a democ­racy, the govern­ment should think about that.”

Yet Barelvi lead­ers who were in­ter­viewed strug­gled to ex­plain how cham­pi­oning Qadri’s deed was com­pat­i­ble with sup­port for govern­ment author­ity. At Jamia Naeemia, an enor­mous pink struc­ture where cheer­ful teach­ers ea­gerly give tours, one teacher praised the killing but then ad­mit­ted he was hor­ri­fied when he first heard about it. He did not want to be quoted say­ing that, how­ever.

Ragab Naeemi, the prin­ci­pal and leader of a demon­stra­tion in sup­port of the killer, said the as­sas­si­na­tion was clearly sanc­tioned by the Ko­ran. The govern­ment needed to be sent a clear mes­sage that it must en­sure the le­gal sys­tem pre­serves the sanc­tity of Is­lam, he said. He added that Taseer, a brash busi­ness­man whose sec­u­lar life­style made him some­thing of a play­boy by Pak­istani stan­dards, made it easy to pick sides. “Be­ing Mus­lim, our lead­ers should be neat and clean,” Naeemi said. “So peo­ple think erad­i­ca­tion of Sal­man Taseer is 100 per­cent right.”


A crowd in La­hore, Pak­istan, ral­lies in sup­port ofMum­taz Qadri, the po­lice­man who con­fessed to killing pro­vin­cial gover­nor and blas­phemy-law critic Sal­man Taseer.


Jamia Naeemia, a Barelvi mosque and sem­i­nary in La­hore, was the tar­get of a bomb­ing by ex­trem­ists in 2009.

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