Our ruling saints

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    Farooq Sulehria

    Tuesday, April 10, 2012

    Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s saintly credentials have become a popular talking point, especially in the national media, after his lawyer Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan’s recent reference to him in the Supreme Court as “pir o murshid and gaddi-nasheen.”

    As his surname indicates, Prime Minister Gilani’s ancestry goes back to Ghaus-ul-Azam Shaikh Abdul Qadir Gilani. But in Multan the Gilani family’s claim to sainthood owes to Moosa Pak Shaheed whose shrine is inside Pak Gate next to the city’s Sarrafa Bazaar.

    Recently, when this writer visited the town, the shrine was being renovated to accommodate more devotees. Sure enough, its custodian is Syed Wajahat Hussain Gilani, the prime minister’s cousin, who is also his brother-in-law.

    The shrine receives a huge amount of donations. It is believed that the Mughal dynasty allocated to the family a fiefdom worth what was then a lordly Rs12,500 to meet the expenses on the shrine’s upkeep.

    The British colonial administration continued this patronage. But the British patronised all shrines as a matter of policy. For instance, in Punjab, through the Alienation of Land Act 1900, pirs were granted the status of landed gentry. Punjab governor Sir Michael O’Dwyer was correct in his judgment that saintly influence could be put to good political use. The post-colonial elite did not forget the advice, and sainthood became a ticket to parliament.

    Prime Minister Gilani’s major Multani rivals, Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, also happen to be political saints. As the custodian of two shrines, those of Bahauddin Zakariya and Shah Rukn-e-Alam, Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his saintly family have served military dictatorships as enthusiastically as elected civilian governments, including the present one. Political saints don’t discriminate between military and civilian.

    But they can succumb to petty disputes. Makhdoom Javed Hashmi is the guardian of the shrine of Makhdoom Abdul Rashid Haqqani, located not far from Multan. A few years ago he claimed he was the actual heir to the shrines of Bahauddin Zakariya and Shah Rukn-e-Alam as well. He says that his ancestor Abdul Rashid Haqqani and Bahauddin Zakariya were in fact cousins.

    One sincerely hopes Imran Khan will lay such disputes to rest by establishing a laboratory at his Shaukat Khanam Memorial Trust to identify the holy genetic origins of Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Quraishi and Makhdoom Javed Hashmi. Not far from Multan there are a host of other saintly centres catering to our spiritual and political needs.

    The district of Jhang in Punjab is another blessed region, from where political saints like Syeda Abida Hussain, Faisal Saleh Hayat and the Sahaibzadas who are custodians of Sultan Baho’s shrine originate. From Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Gen Ziaul Haq, all political leaders received saintly support from Jhang.

    And since saintly blood must stay pure, a strict marriage regime binds the families of our political saints to each other. Hence, while Syeda Abida Hussain is related to Faisal Salah Hayat, her husband Fakhr Imam is himself a distinguished political saint.

    In 2008, Prime Minister Gilani’s son married a granddaughter of the Pir Pagaro of Sindh, land of the Sufis who had themselves fought against tyranny. Sindhi politics is largely a saintly domain. However, the custodians of their shrines serve the faithful through parliamentary means.

    While Pir Sahab of Pagaro, who died early this year, took pride in his GHQ affiliations, the late Makhdoom Talibul Maula and his scions including Makhdoom Amin Faheem upheld the PPP tricolour of “Islamic socialism.” And on to Pir Mazharul Haq and Syed Qaim Ali Shah.

    It is hardly different in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Aminul Hasanat, the Pir Sahab of Manki Sharif, was invited to join the Muslim League by the founding father himself. Pir Sabir Shah has served as chief minister.

    Balochistan is the only region where tribal chiefs don’t invoke sainthood to reach Islamabad.