Suicide bombers attacked the heart of liberal Islam yesterday with two deadly blasts at Pakistan’s most revered Sufi shrine, killing 41 people and injuring 175 more in an attack that appeared designed to inflame sectarian tensions.
The twin blasts at the Data Ganj Bakhsh shrine, also known as the Data Dharbar, in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore, happened just before midnight yesterday (local time) as the site was packed with several thousand worshippers.
Just days earlier, security officials had hailed a month-long respite from terror attacks as a sign the country was finally gaining the upper hand against Islamic insurgents determined to destabilise the nuclear-armed nation.
The attack forced the closure of the shrine’s mosque for the first time in centuries as investigators combed the holy site and workers cleared blood and limbs from its interior. It has also prompted outrage in Pakistan.
Raza Ahmed Rumi, a Pakistani Sufi expert and editor of the liberal weekly newspaper Friday Times, denounced it as a “barbaric attack” on a place which “represents millennia of tolerant Sufi Islam (and) which is directly under attack by the puritans”.
Lahore is a sort of mecca for Sufism, the liberal, mystical arm of Islam that rejects the concept of jihad and promotes spiritual enlightenment through music and prayer.
Worshippers, pilgrims and even Western tourists pack the city’s Sufi shrines every Thursday to pray to living Sufi Pirs, or saints, and watch Qawwali (devotional) singers and dancers.
It was the Sufis who brought Islam to South Asia. The Data Ganj Bakhsh shrine is dedicated to a Persian-speaking mystic, Ali bin Usman al-Hajveri, who travelled to Lahore in the 11th century.
But Sufi liberalism is under attack from Pakistan’s hardline Wahabist and Deobandi Muslims, who consider its more liberal practices, such as the inclusion of women in prayer and song, unIslamic.