A new faith landscape is taking shape in Pakistan
At the Jamia Naeemia in Lahore, ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif was commemorating the Taliban’s suicide attack on madrassa founder Mufti Muhammad Hussain Naeemi when a shoe was thrown at him. The shoe missed his face and hit his shoulder. A second shoe was also aimed at him but missed. A third shoe was yet to be thrown when the offender was arrested. All three attackers were screaming slogans in favor of blasphemy-killer Mumtaz Qadri, Namoos-e-Risalat (honor of Islam’s Prophet) and Khatm-e-Nabuwwat (Finality of Islam’s Prophet). No one missed the point that the attackers were briefed by Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah that held a most violent sit-in protest last year against the ruling party’s role in “amending the Finality-of-Prophethood oath of lawmakers.”
The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), according to its leaders, is in the crosshairs of the opposition and some state institutions, but the new element in this roll-call is the addition of the hitherto rather tame Barelvi school of thought. In the past, when the Taliban targeted the PMLN, the Barelvis stood by it. (That’s why Nawaz Sharif had gone to Jamia Naeemia.) Tragically the Barelvis too have been inducted into the terrorist brigade borne of the new political order in Pakistan. The PMLN is vulnerable to this religious phenomenon. When the Sargodha-based Sialvi shrine revolted against it on the question of the oath, some defections within the party worried the top leadership.
Last year’s Faizabad “dharna” has changed the faith landscape. The emerging power is Labbaik, which is luring peaceful seminarians away from the tame shrines and teaching them violence. Since the Barelvis form a majority of the faith, this development doesn’t bode well for the future of the state. Labbaik has already fielded its candidates in by-elections and gotten more seats than the established PPP across Punjab. Its leader Khadim Husain Rizvi, wanted by an Anti-Terrorism Court, is absconding. He is typically able to plan and execute acts of violence like Aiman al-Zawahiri of Al Qaeda, who is supposed to be hiding somewhere in the border regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan.