HYDERABAD: The throne of Sufism in Sindh, shrine of Hazrat Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, appears to be caught in a tumult. And, the ringleaders are none other than the descendants of Bhitai and his disciples.
Although the shrine managed one important transition earlier this year from a deceased sajjada nashin to his successor, the other transformation underway has become ridden with upheavals. The protagonists include the 12th sajjada nashin, Syed Waqar Hussain Shah, sworn in on January 1, his uncle Syed Mazhar Hussain Shah aka Nazan Sain and Ali Dino Tamrani, the sacked khalifa.
The latter also used to lead the 100-strong group of the shrine’s raagis who sing Shah Jo Raag and play the five-string musical instrument called Dambur.
The war of attrition, which unleashed after Waqar removed Tamrani from his charge and expelled him from his residence inside Bhitai’s four-acre heritage Haveli, attained new heights on Friday.
“The sajjada nashin is promoting Christianity. It’s a conspiracy against the shrine and even the philosophy of Bhitai,” accused Nazan, who called a press conference in Bhit Shah town in Matiari district on Friday to share his grievances.
Nazan, who has taken up the cudgels on behalf of Tamrani, portrays himself as a traditionalist and his nephew as a recusant. “Waqar has deviated from the thought and philosophy of Bhitai with his attention fixed over Christianity.”
He alleged that Waqar is following the agenda of his foreign donors, which fund his non-profit Shah Abdul Latif Foundation. “For a small amount of money, he is using Bhitai’s name to promote Christianity. A cross has also been put up on the entrance of the shrine.” Nazan also criticised a book Roohani Ramz published by the foundation.
Meanwhile, Waqar admitted that a cross has been put up and that he receives funding from the UNDP and London-based NGO NJ Arts, he said the acts are meant for religious harmony. “Bhitai’s message transcends any religion. It’s universal. I have been attending more events and activities of Hindus and even organised a Hindu convention in Bhit Shah last year than Christians.”
According to him, the cross and a saying of Jesus Christ have been given space on a foundation’s medical camp set up at the shrine’s entrance. “Karachi-based Christians provide medicines for the camp.” He told that the book was written by Zafar Francis, a Karachi-based religious writer, and that his foundation also supported him by publishing his work.
Meanwhile, Tamrani, over whose removal the dispute sparked, continues to remain a bone of contention. Nazan urged the government officials, intellectuals and writers to act as arbiters to settle the dispute between Waqar and Tamrani. “It’s unprecedented for a sajjada nashin to fire a khalifa this way and evict them from the Haveli, which was given to faqirs by Bhitai.”
He challenged Waqar for a live television debate over the issue. The sajjad nashin, on his part, argued that it his prerogative to appoint or sack a khalifa. He claims that there are at least two past precedents for such a move. “Even my father removed Ali Dino Tamrani in 2006 and restored him when he apologised.”
However, the people who are familiar with the shrine’s history say Waqar’s predecessor were conformists. His father suspended raagi Juman Shah when he sang for Coke Studio.
He accuses his uncle of being a troublemaker who was at odds with his father, the late Nisar Hussain Shah Latifi, and even their grandfather. “All the people know that he headed Bhit Shah Beautification Plan, which is under NAB’s investigation for the embezzlement of Rs150 million.”
For Waqar, Tamrani is an isolated figure. “I only barred Tamrani from participating in the shrine’s activities. Four of his relatives quit under his influence. But at least 95 raagis are performing at the shrine.”
However, Tamrani’s following cannot be underestimated. While the devotees of Bhitai’s shrine visit his residence to seek his blessings, his well-wishers abound among the Sindhi writers, intellectuals and activists. He was invited to inaugurate Cafe Khanabadosh, a new restaurant which plans to provide an equivalent of T2F and Pak Tea House in Hyderabad. “The pirs can remove him but he has a special place in the hearts of the people of Sindh. We will continue to support him,” said Amar Sindhu, the cafe’s owner, who is also a university teacher and a rights activist.
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