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The mess during Haj – and after

26 November, 2010

By M.A. Niazi


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The government has found itself shaken by the mismanagement during Haj, which has exposed weaknesses inherent in any coalition. One result is the attack by one minister of the Cabinet on the other, and apart from the fact that the ministers belong to different parties, which might explain the attack, though it does not condone it, the Deobandi-Brelvi division has been thrown into relief, a division which the government wants to bridge, but which is used to practice politics based on the religious sentiments of the people.

It has not helped the government that the Deobandi JUI(F) Minister Azam Swati launched its attack on the Brelvi Maulana Hamid Saeed Kazmi at a time when Hajis started returning, and could recount at leisure their own harrowing tale of woe. Apart from the question of the accommodation at Makkah, there is the question of the failure to provide tents at Mina, which seems to have been among the major privations faced by the pilgrims.

Though Swati and Kazmi appeal to different constituencies, there are enough commonalities between the two for both of them to regard the performance of Haj as extremely important. This extends to the level of comfort the Haj is performed in.

The nomenclature of Deobandi and Brelvi seems to imply an unbridgeable divide, but both schools exist only in the Subcontinent, and it is difficult to place a finger on distinguishing practice. Even the one commonly thought, the attitude towards Pirs and Sufis, is one of degree, for the Brelvis may look upon Pirs and Sufis with greater respect, but Deobandis acknowledge the validity of Sufi practices, and include in their ranks many of the most distinguished Pirs of South Punjab and Sindh. Both schools are of the Hanafi school of jurisprudence, and even teach the same texts at their madressahs.

Therefore, the distinction is one of emphasis rather than belief. It is worth noting that the Ahle Hadith school, which is indeed distinct, has influenced Deobandi thought, particularly as far as so-called ‘grave worship’ is concerned, with this iconoclasm not just important as far as the Deobandis are concerned, but also in the Brelvi critiques of them.

The names are derived from two madressahs, founded respectively at Deoband and Bareilly, both in the UP. It is because of this that the Pir Pagaro argues that his Gaddi is neither, but is Rashidi, because the Jamia Rashidiya at Pir jo Goth is older than both the madressahs at Deoband and Bareilly, both founded in the wake of the British conquest of India.

At the time of the creation of Pakistan, the ulema were divided, just like the broader Muslim community, into those who would come into the new country, and those who wouldn’t. Those ulema who came into Pakistan had left behind both madressahs, but the distinction continued, because ulema had studied there. Strictly speaking, the Deobandi-Brelvi divide is an academic one, like that between Oxford and Cambridge, or Harvard and Yale, only this one has become relevant to people who have attended neither. Thus when the Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI) was formed, its following was to have been everyone, but since the ulema were primarily Deobandi, the Brelvi ulema formed the Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUP). Maulana Kazmi’s father, Maulana Ahmad Saeed Kazmi, belonged to the JUP, and Maulana Kazmi, though now in the PPP, which had given him a ticket from Rahimyar Khan in the last election, started his political career in the JUP.

The Ahle Hadith is relevant in Saudi Arabia, which is officially Ahle Hadith, but which is perforce tolerant not only of the other Sunni schools, but also of the Shia, because the Haj takes place there. Therefore, it becomes more important, from a sectarian point of view, to prove that the Brelvi minister was responsible for the wrongdoings that occurred in an Ahle Hadith-supervised pilgrimage. The defence of the Minister will be based on the incompetence of the Saudi authorities, upon whose religious beliefs and practices the Minister looks already with as much horror as they do on his, unlike the sympathy his critics have for them. It is worth noting that the War on Terror is on those belonging to those influenced by Saudi Arabia, both directly as with Osama bin Laden, or indirectly, through the Ahle Hadith, or Salafis, as they prefer to be called, as an alternate to the Sufis, whom the Brelvis value for their piety.

Whatever the sectarian differences, the parties are supposed to be united in the same Cabinet. Whereas the Deobandis and Brelvis come from the same Islamic tradition, Cabinets come from the constitutionalist British tradition, where collective Cabinet responsibility is supposed to cut across party lines when, as now, a coalition government has been formed. The two traditions are supposed to coincide much earlier, but apparently have not done so in this case. The doctrine is based on the fact that all ministers form part of a government which is supposedly distinct from the parties composing it, and is supposed to be headed by the Prime Minister, even if, as now, he does not head a party.

Thus, whatever the sectarian loyalties of the JUI(F)’S Azam Swati, who has been the one in conflict with Maulana Kazmi, he is supposed to be as responsible for the Maulana’s ministry as his own. Ministers are supposed to adopt each other’s defences, not call for their removal (as Mr Swati has done) or threaten another with a defamation suit (as Maulana Kazmi has done). Ignoring this doctrine is an inherent danger of coalitions, which is why they are often headed, not by the head of the largest party, but by someone else from the same or another party, who is not only acceptable to all (or at least major) partners, but also has the skills needed to paper over personal and party differences like the present.

In that context, it will not matter to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani whether there is some personal background between Maulana Kazmi and Mr Swati, or whether the latter is acting merely as the instrument of his party. For him, they are both members of his team, and it is not supposed to mean anything to him that the Maulana is his partyman, member of the same Syed biradari, and belongs not just to the same Brelvi school of thought but also to the same district of Multan, while Swati is none of these.

The Hajis have arrived, and are criticising not the massive airlift that PIA conducts just before and just after, but the Hajj arrangements themselves. As Religious Affairs Minister, Maulana Kazmi’s main responsibility was to ensure those arrangements. That he could not, does not represent just his failure, or that of some subordinate official, but that of the entire Cabinet. That would be the only justification of his staying on. However, if he goes, it would be for no fault of his own, but as a sacrifice for the entire Cabinet.

 

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