sufism the smithsonian

sufism the smithsonian - "What goes through your head...

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"What goes through your head when you are doing dhamaal?" I asked. "Nothing. I don't think," he said. A few women rushed in our direction, emptied a water bottle on the semiconscious woman's face and slapped her cheeks. She shot upright and danced back into the crowd. Abbas smiled. "During dhamaal, I just feel the blessings ofLal Shahbaz Qalandar wash over me." Every year, a few hundred thousand Sufis converge in Seh- wan, a town in Pakistan's southeastern Sindh province, for a three-day festival marking the death of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in 1274. Qalandar, as he is almost universally called, belonged to a cast of mystics who consolidated Islam's hold on this region; today, Pakistan's two most populous provinces, Sindh and Punjab, comprise a dense archipelago of shrines devoted to these men. Sufis travel from one shrine to anoth- er for festivals known as urs, an Arabic word for "marriage," symbolizing the union between Sufis and the divine. Sufism is not a sect, like Shiism or Sunnism, but rather the mystical side of Islam -a personal, experiential approach to Allah, which contrasts with the prescriptive, doctrinal ap- proach of fundamentalists like the Taliban. It exists through- out the Muslim world (perhaps most visibly in Turkey, where whirling dervishes represent a strain of Sufism), and its millions of followers generally embrace Islam as a religious experience, not a social or political one. Sufis represent the strongest in- digenous force against Islamic fundamentalism. Yet Western countries have tended to underestimate their importance even as the West has spent, since 2ooi, millions of dollars on interfaith dialogues, public diplomacy campaigns and other initiatives to counter ex- tremism. Sufis are particularly significant in Pakistan, where Taliban-inspired gangs threat- en the prevailing social, politi- cal and religious order. Pakistan, carved out of India in 1947, was the first mod- em nation founded on the basis of religious identity Questions about that identity have pro- voked dissent and violence ever since. Was Pakistan to be a state for Muslims, governed by Pakistan's Sindh and Punjab provinces are dotted with shrines to Sufi saints, who are celebrated in an almost unending series of festivals. At a shrine in the town of Bhit (above), one pilgrim sings religious poetry (left) and another studies (right). In Multan (below), the "city of saints," devotees approach a shrine for evening prayer. civilian institutions and secular laws? Or an Islamic state, gov- erned by clerics according to sharia, or Islamic law? Sufis, with their ecumenical beliefs, typically favor the former, while the Taliban, in their fight to establish an extreme orthodoxy, seek the latter. The Taliban have antiaircraft weapons, rocket-pro- pelled grenades and squads of suicide bombers. But the Sufis have drums. And history. I asked Carl Ernst, an author of several books about Su-
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sufism the smithsonian - "What goes through your head...

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