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When Data sahib turned malamati – by Dr Mohammad Taqi

Jannatul Baqi before demolition by Saudi Salafis

Like in Iraq, the al Qaeda-Taliban strategy in Pakistan appears to focus on the existing divisions between the major Islamic sects. The jihadists are attempting to play on the historical religious fault-lines in Pakistani society and trigger internal violence and mayhem

“The path of blame has been trodden by some of the sufi sheikhs. Blame has great effect in making the love (for God) sincere. The followers of the Truth (ahle haq) are distinguished by their being the object of vulgar blame (malamat)” — Data Ganj Bakhsh in Kashful Mehjoob.

Professor Reynold Nicholson, in his 1911 translation of the above quoted work, had called the 14th chapter of Kashful Mehjoob (Revelation of the Mystery or Unveiling the Veiled) as the most remarkable one. This is the section where the author Syed Abul Hasan Ali bin Usman bin Ali al-Ghaznavi al-Jullabi al-Hajvery, popularly known as Data Ganj Bakhsh or simply Data sahib, discusses the various sufi (mystic) orders. Incidentally, the sufi order Malamatiyyah (the reviled ones) and their practices are described first.

Data sahib acknowledged the practice of drawing upon oneself the blame and insult of worldly men (duniya) to achieve closeness to the Almighty, only within the confines of God’s prescribed ways. He, thus, discouraged the sufi to purposely draw upon himself blame and contempt, as that too may be pretentious. He wrote that “to seek blame is ostentation and ostentation is mere hypocrisy”. However, Data sahib narrates an episode from his travels where he became the target of hate and ridicule of some, and concludes, “The more they scoffed at me the more glad became my heart, so that the endurance of this burden was the means of delivering me of that difficulty which I had mentioned (earlier).”

Violence against the innocent and the dead is perhaps the most vulgar form of blame and an extreme manifestation of hate. On July 1, 2010, Data Ganj Bakhsh and his followers became the subjects of this hate and blame: over 900 years after his death. As a result, the suicidal zealots have elevated this Junaydiyyah sufi Sheikh to the highest rank of the Malamatiyyah sufi order as well.

I had just walked into the annual convention of the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA) in Dallas, Texas, when I received the news about the suicide bombings at the Data Darbar shrine. I had carried with me that day awards for two former presidents of APPNA and Khyber Medical College Alumni Association. These awards were titled Rehman Baba lifetime achievement awards, in the memory of that Pashtun sufi, whose shrine was bombed by the Wahabiists of al Qaeda and the Taliban not too long ago.

The thoughts racing through my mind were like a collage of destruction unleashed at the tombs of the holy men by the Taliban and their Wahabi-Salafi antecedents. They went all the way from the desecration and bombing of the Masjid-e-Nabwi in Madina, levelling of the Al-Baqee cemetery in the same city and the destruction of Imam Hussain’s shrine at the hands of Wahabiists, to the more recent destruction of Haji Sahib Turangzai and Rehman Baba’s tombs and the occupation of Pir Baba’s shrine in Buner. But the most striking resemblance of the carnage at Data Darbar was with the bombing — twice — of the Al-Askariyah shrine at Samarra, Iraq, by al Qaeda operatives.

Like in Iraq, the al Qaeda-Taliban strategy in Pakistan appears to focus on the existing divisions between the major Islamic sects. The jihadists are attempting to play on the historical religious faultlines in Pakistani society and trigger internal violence and mayhem. Shrines like Data Darbar or Bari Imam make porous, soft targets that are hard to defend and capture media headlines. The net effect of such attacks is a perception of the state’s weakness in its fight against the jihadist insurgency. In the process if the jihadists are able to trigger sectarian violence along multiple faultlines, it would give them further traction.

I then read the news about Mian Nawaz Sharif’s call for negotiating with the Taliban. Upon his return from exile in 2007, Mian sahib was called ‘Lahore ka rakhwala’ (the guardian of Lahore) by Aitzaz Ahsan, I reminisced. It is not known if Mr Ahsan was in a generous mood or an appeasement mode back then, but the guardian’s response to the mayhem in his city was to adopt a ‘hands up’ posture immediately. He was not offering his other cheek but that of the millions whose safety he has pawned away to the likes of Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi of the ‘defunct’ terrorist group, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). So much for the Mard-e-Ahan’s steely resolve. I decided to keep on reading my Urdu and English copies of the Kashful Mehjoob.

The Urdu translation is by none other than the late Mian Tufail Muhammad, Amir of the Jamaat-e-Islami, completed during his years in Sahiwal prison. The preface to Professor Arnold’s translation had been written by the late Justice (R) Pir Karam Shah. He records: “Yet it is an irony of the situation that in the midst of these throbbing bands of believers of mystic blessings, an antagonistic group of decriers of the great mystics and also of the creed of mysticism has cropped up, which spares no time and energy in denouncing this creed of mystics as anti-Islamic and touching the fringes of kufr (religious infidelity) and faithlessness.”

Pir Karam Shah was almost prophetic in his above note. But ironically, he also worked hard to have the Ahmediyya declared non-Muslims, defended this act of the Pakistani state at international legal fora and served as a judge of Ziaul Haq’s Federal Shariat Court. Like Mian Nawaz Sharif and his party’s Punjab government, he may not have realised that the appeasement of the fascists throughout history has backfired on those who did so to save their skin.

On many occasions the path of malamat, in life like Mansur Bin Hussain Hallaj or after death like Data Ganj Bakhsh, is the only way out of an abyss. Professor Arnold records in his translation that: ‘tis sweet to be reviled for passion’s sake. But those at the helm in Punjab think otherwise.

The writer teaches and practices Medicine at the University of Florida and contributes to the think-tanks and Aryana Institute. He can be reached at

Source: Daily Times, 8 July 2010