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  • Bulleh Shah, “blasphemy”, and Pakistan

    by Jai
    28th January, 2011 at 9:00 am    

    Shehrbano Taseer, the daughter of Salman Taseer (the assassinated Pakistani Governor of Punjab), recently wrote a poignant Guardian CiF article about her father’s murder which also mentioned Bulleh Shah:

    “My father was buried in Lahore on 5 January under high security. Cleric after cleric refused to lead his funeral prayers – as they had those of the sufi saint Bulleh Shah – and militants warned mourners to attend at their own peril. But thousands came to Governor House on that bitterly cold morning to pay their respects. Thousands more led candle-lit vigils across the country. But the battle is not going to be over any time soon.”

    Bulleh Shah (1680 – 1757) is one of the most famous and revered Sufi Muslims in South Asian history; he was also one of the historical role models of the late Pakistani Sufi Muslim singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and his family, who have themselves been Sufis since the medieval period. The saint’s shrine is in the Punjabi city of Kasur, now in Pakistan, and can be seen in the photo at the top of this article.

    The opponent of Islamist extremism

    Bulleh Shah was a Punjabi Muslim whose family claimed direct descent from the Prophet Mohammad. He was also a member of the Qadiri Sufi order; as recently discussed in the Pickled Politics article about the Mughal crown prince Dara Shukoh (Part 1, Part 2), this is the same order that Dara’s religious tutor Mian Mir belonged to. Mian Mir laid the foundation stone of Sikhism’s Golden Temple in Amritsar upon the invitation of the Sikh Guru at the time. Dara himself was similarly involved in numerous activities to promote friendship, religious moderation and understanding between people of different faiths.

    Bulleh Shah lived in Punjab during the period of escalating military conflict between the Sikhs led by the 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh and the Mughal administration headed by the fanatical Islamist emperor Aurangzeb, who had seized the throne decades earlier by overthrowing his father Shah Jahan and killing his brother Dara Shukoh.

    Later, Bulleh Shah’s own Sufi mentor Shah Inayat was executed by a member of Aurangzeb’s administration. The emperor spent most of his long reign systematically persecuting liberal Muslims as well as Sikhs and Hindus, which eventually resulted in civil war breaking out on all sides. Bulleh Shah was a fierce critic of Aurangzeb’s fundamentalist regime and was particularly vocal in his hostility to the ultraconservative mullahs. He is also recorded as having credited Guru Gobind Singh with playing a major part in preventing Aurangzeb’s aim to convert the entire Indian population to the emperor’s extremist interpretation of Islam.

    The onslaught from Persia

    During Bulleh Shah’s lifetime there were other major events such as the devastating invasion of India by the Persian emperor Nadir Shah, who had seized power by overthrowing the remaining members of the Safavid dynasty. The Mughal Empire was already steadily disintegrating due to the continuing fall-out of Aurangzeb’s destructive 49-year reign, and Nadir Shah took advantage of the empire’s increasingly weakened state. In 1739, the Persian forces swept through Punjab, attacking Muslim and non-Muslim Punjabis alike; after defeating the Mughal army in a huge decisive battle, the Persians captured the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah, effectively holding him hostage.

    There was much worse to come. During the Persians’ subsequent occupation of the Mughal capital of Delhi, some Indian civilians killed a few members of the Persian army. Nadir Shah retaliated by ordering a general massacre of Delhi’s population. In March 1739, he watched from the rooftop terrace of a local mosque while his soldiers indiscriminately slaughtered 30,000 Muslim and non-Muslim Indian civilians in a single day.

    Nadir Shah forced the horrified Muhammad Shah to empty the imperial treasury; the city’s inhabitants were also stripped of their wealth. Furthermore, Nadir Shah also carried off the famous Peacock Throne built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, along with massive quantities of looted jewels and precious metals. According to some accounts, the scale of extorted valuables was so huge that Nadir Shah subsequently didn’t have to tax the Persian population for 3 years. Thousands of Muslim and Hindu women were also captured, with the intention that they would be enslaved in Persia’s harems. However, during the Persians’ journey back through Punjab, their vast caravans were attacked by the Sikhs, who freed the captured women and made arrangements for them to safely return home.

    “Sacrificing pride, let us sit together….Let us walk the road of peace”

    Bulleh Shah firmly believed in the inherent unity and equality of mankind, and opposed sectarianism, division and prejudice based on religious affiliation or race/ethnicity. The following example of his poetry eloquently demonstrates his message of love and compassion for all:

    “Neither Hindu nor Muslim,
    Sacrificing pride, let us sit together.
    Neither Sunni nor Shia,
    Let us walk the road of peace.”

    Bulleh Shah similarly opposed adherence to superficial religious piety and ritualism at the expense of genuine inner spirituality, something which – then, as now – fanatics from multiple religions are frequently guilty of:

    “Tired of reciting the Vedas and the Quran,
    Kneeling and prostrating with my forehead down,
    God neither in Mathura, nor in Mecca resides,
    Only those who can see the Light can find Him.”

    Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sang a superb traditional qawwali based on Bulleh Shah’s poetry; Bulleh Shah had some particularly forceful things to say about egotistical, ultraconservative Islamic mullahs along with their Hindu counterparts, as can be seen in the translated extract below. Nusrat’s phenomenal performance can be heard in the video immediately afterwards.

    “Going to Mecca is not the greatest matter, even if hundreds of prayers are offered.
    Going to the River Ganges is not the greatest matter, even if hundreds of cleansings are performed.
    Going to [the holiest Buddhist site] Gaya is not the greatest matter, even if hundreds of worships are performed.
    O Bulleh Shah, the greatest matter is when the “I” is removed from the heart.
    [He] Read a great deal and became a scholar, but [he] never read himself.
    [He] enters the temple and the mosque, but [he] never entered his own heart.
    O Bulleh Shah, he reaches for things flying in the sky, but he doesn’t reach for the one who is sitting at home.
    Religious scholars stay awake at night, but dogs stay awake at night, superior to you.
    They don’t cease barking at night, then they go to sleep in yards, superior to you.
    They don’t leave the beloved’s doorstep, even if they’re beaten hundreds of times, superior to you.
    O Bulleh Shah, get up and reconcile with the Beloved, otherwise dogs will win the contest, superior to you.”

    Kamal Khan, an Indian Punjabi Muslim who recently participated in the Indian equivalent of “The X Factor”, performed a qawwali based on a slightly different musical composition of the second half of the qawwali above. Kamal subsequently went on to win the contest a few weeks later, as voted by the Indian public. As before, the lyrics are directly based on Bulleh Shah’s writings; this song was originally performed by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and is one of his most famous qawwalis. I will let the music speak for itself; as the Persian Sufi Rumi said, “Follow the music and it will show you the way.”

    Supplementary reading about the escalating crisis in Pakistan

    Readers may be also be interested in the following articles:

    · The Lahore-based Pakistani writer & policy expert “Raza Rumi” has written a number of articles about Salman Taseer’s assassination and the implications for Pakistan on his excellent website, which includes numerous articles about Bulleh Shah too;

    · A review in The Economist about a new book by the Indian Muslim writer M.J. Akbar titled “Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan”. Both the article and the book itself are quite provocative, and the article includes some pertinent remarks about Salman Taseer’s assassination;

    · A very outspoken article titled “The Real Blasphemers”, from the Pakistani blog “Café Pyala”.

                  Post to

    Filed in: History,India,Muslim,Pakistan,Religion

    20 Comments below   |  

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      Bulleh Shah, “blasphemy”, and Pakistan

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      Pickled <b>Politics</b> » Bulleh Shah, “blasphemy”, and Pakistan

    1. joe90 — on 28th January, 2011 at 3:35 pm  

      Lets hope the people of pakistan are watching whats going on in egypt and tunisia and get up on their feet and destroy the corrupt system and kick out the tyrant rulers like mr 10% zardari, nawaz the thief sharif and the rest of the crooks who play musical chairs for leadership every few years!

    2. Kisan — on 29th January, 2011 at 1:31 am  

      Joe90 wants Pakistanis to overthrow their democratically elected Government. Zardari was voted in by the Pakistani people and they can vote him out in the next election if they like. That an Islamic fanatic (cartoon character Joe90) can’t tell the difference between an elected Leader and a dictator is par for the course.

    3. joe90 — on 29th January, 2011 at 5:49 pm  


      are you seriously defending a convicted fraudster and gangster murderer who was installed by the americans we can all see who the cartoon character is this debate!

      You calling pakistan politics a model of democracy haha thanks for that joke made my weekend.

    4. Kisan — on 30th January, 2011 at 7:48 am  

      Joke90, Pakistanis haven’t voted in your beloved Jamaat yet. I know it pains you but who gets voted in gets to run the country and your bunch of losers can’t get the public on board.

    5. jamal — on 30th January, 2011 at 2:34 pm  

      You could argue the current leader of pakistan was elected by the majority vote, then you could argue the same for the following:

      hosni mubarak of egypt won 88% of the vote
      Bashar assad of syria won 97.29% of the vote
      previous election general musharraff of pakistan got over 90% of the vote

      if that’s democracy then thanks but no thanks!

      To say pakistan politics has free and fair election is more fiction than fact.

      An article explaining why the corrupt rulers have a monopoly and always get elected in a country like pakistan:

    6. Kisan — on 31st January, 2011 at 10:56 am  

      Jamal, you obviously could say anything not being constrained by rationality. Pakistan elections won by the PPP were relatively fair and free and even trying to make the comparison with the above examples you do only prove the mendacity of your argumentation.

      Quite frankly, even drawing the comparison makes those pushing it a joke.

    7. jamal — on 31st January, 2011 at 11:23 am  

      Give me evidence to proove pakistan politics is not corrupt and elections are not fixed.

      just giving blind support to a corrupt organization like the ppp does not give your argument any credibility.

    8. Kisan — on 31st January, 2011 at 11:55 am  

      Give me evidence that Zardari and PPP didn’t get the majority of votes.

      Even the opposition didn’t claim the rubbish you are. But they are people who although lacking in some ways are not as shameless in speaking rubbish as a few commentators here.

      Rather the “corrupt” PPP voted in by the people than Jamaat or whoever you losers have faith in as uncorrupt.

    9. jamal — on 31st January, 2011 at 1:48 pm  

      you avoiding the most basic of questions why is that are you ashamed of something?

      your blind support of ppp or pml or any of the other groups who have wrecked a nation is not a good thing you do actually comprehend that don’t you lol.

      If your not looking for a solution to the misery then your part of the problem.

    10. Kisan — on 31st January, 2011 at 3:10 pm  

      Jamal, reasoning with you, like Joe90 is futile.

      You have zero proof that PPP weren’t overwhelmingly elected by the population and just spin craziness. To support what agenda? I think I have a good idea of where you semi-literate buffoons are coming from.

    11. joe90 — on 31st January, 2011 at 6:38 pm  

      post #10

      the government of pakistan is corrupt even unbiased investigators outside pakistan know it.

      The corrupt players in the government have legal immunity i.e no one can take them to court for corruption untill this immunity is removed.

      what do his american puppet masters think of ppp main man zardari, have a look this from the left side :)

      not corrupt or fraudster democratically elected haha you say and this from the right side.

      since every one with a brain concludes the dude and his cronies are corrupt as hell you somehow conclude otherwise :)

      and your response is not refutation its name calling amazing dude should we assume your real name is kiss ass?

    12. Kisan — on 1st February, 2011 at 1:53 am  

      Joke90, PPP won the election and are the legitimate government. I know that makes your blood boil that your fanatical Jamaat-e-Islami can’t get the public on board but that’s life.

    13. jamal — on 1st February, 2011 at 2:30 pm  


      the fanatic is you, blindly supporting a criminal who is robbing his people blind.

      You have yet to offer a counter argument because you have none.

      hope your watching egypt closely only matter of time before your cronies will be packing their bags and living in saudi arabia with the other tyrants.

    14. Kisan — on 1st February, 2011 at 2:43 pm  

      Jamal, I’m saying the PPP was voted in and they can be voted out if the people like. Its called democracy.
      Just because a few assorted Islamic fanatics don’t like the game because it gives outcomes they don’t like doesn’t change anything.

      Egypt has a dictator you twat and putting it in the same basket as an elected Govt means you are a few pence short of a pound. Dictators get overthrown and democratically elected politicians lose elections.
      By the way, I don’t have any cronies in Egypt or anywhere else. Try to keep it together..

    15. joe90 — on 2nd February, 2011 at 12:30 am  

      post #14

      regarding post #2 people of pakistan don’t need to overthrow the corrupt regime of zardari they need to crush it so its ugly face never returns.

      pakistan democratic? please enough of the jokes you loon, there enough articles to prove you wrong none of which you have tackled.

      the system of pakistan is feudal look it up in a dictionary if you don’t understand. This main reason thieves like zardari and others will continue to bribe there way to power. When the americans or military decide its time to kill him off, nawaz the thief will come in and the robbery and vicious cycle continues.

    16. Kisan — on 2nd February, 2011 at 1:28 am  

      Joker90, please go light on the bullshit.

      If your Jamaat and Taliban can campaign and win votes they could also come to power. They are murderous thugs who killed Benazir Bhutto and have no moral legitimacy to rule anywhere.

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