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National Institute of Pakistan Studies
Name of ScholarHafeez –ur-Rehman Chaudhry
Title of Dissertation Saints and Shrines in Pakistan: A Case Study of Potwar Area
Issue Date1996
PublisherNational Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan

This study describes the role of saints and shrines in the lives of their followers and the associated communities in Pakistan, particularly in the Potwar region. It trades inter alia, the organization and administration of the shrines and the social, political, economics and religious aspects of Muslim saint veneration with special emphasis on existing practices. For this purpose, two shrines located in Islamabad were selected the shrine of Pir Meher Ali Shah at Golra Sharif and of Sayyid Abdul Latif (Bari Imam Sarkar) at Norpur Shahan.  This primary data were collected from the filed by suing anthropological techniques, particularly the participant observation. In order to understand better the origin and development of Sufism, library sources were also used.

Chapter 1 deals with the historical background of Sufism. Its orders and impact on Islam in the sub-continent. Chapter 2 describes the nomenclature of saints and shrines and their reverence in Central Asia, Turkey, and south Asia. Chapter 3 relates to the profile of research sites while Chapter 4 narrates the life sketches and contributions of Pir Mehar Ali Shah and his son, Babuji. Chapter 5 deals with the shrine’s establishment. Its administrative structure and the concept of pilgrimage to the shrines. In Chapter 6 is given the spiritual system of the shrine of Golra Sharif including the concept of bay’at the piri-muridi system and adabs at the shrine. Chapter 7 is about the rituals and ceremonies and the help-soliciting behaviour at the shrine, and chapter 8 explains the social, psychological, economic, religious and political functions of the shrine. Chapter 9 discusses the shrine of Barri Ima. Its traditional and state organization, while chapter 10 is about the impact of saints and shrines on the society at large.

The shrines at Golra Sharif and Nurpur Shahan are the most popular in Potwar area and their treatment at length is to help compare the main types and forms of saint-reverence in the country. The shrine of Golra Sharif is well organized and is free from many impurities.  For instance, it has all along been a place of Islamic learning: it provides Lunger to all comers three times a day. In addition to suitable accommodation to those coming from other places: and unlike some other shrines such as those of Shahbaz Qalander at Sehwan Sharif in Sindh and of Barri Imam in Nurpur Shahan, no beggars and malangs (faqirs) loiter around it.

Since the shrine of Golra Sharif has a living pir he provides consultation and consul to the visitors in socio-economic matters and in this way he fulfils a definite socio-economic requirement. So far as his political role is concerned, many politicians go to him not only to seek barkat but also to enlist his political support as his political status is based on and backed by the piri-i-muridi system and thousands of his dedicated followers (murids) all over the country, particularly in the Potwar region.

The shrine of Barri Imam on the other hand is under Auqaf Department as there are no direct descendants of the deceased saint and now the shrine is no longer a private property. This has changed the position of the former shrine administrators who were disciples of Barri Imam and were quite influential. Having been deprived of a lot of traditional privileges they have been reduced to non-entities. Another saint of difference between the two shrines is that like all taken-over shrines, the Lunger is not a regular feature of this shrine. The reverence shows however an abundance of popular tradition nuisance and excess which are non-existent at the shrine in Golra Sharif. Notwithstanding these difference the two shrines are considered of almost equal importance and reputation by the general masses and are characterized by architectural peculiarities and religious customs of the Indo-Pakistan sub-continent. These shrines are indeed for the ordinary viewer of great religious social and psychological significance.

These two Sufis have been selected to show the two types of Muslim saints in the region under study. From their study, the result gathered that both of them cater two types of people: one comparatively more learned and the other popular. But the purpose of both of them was to attract the people towards the main religious as well as cultural believes and practices of Islam.  However much they have tried to improve the rituals and ceremonial practices of their followers and clean them from their earlier idolatrous practices. It has been observed that some of the old practices not in conflict with the Islamic faith of unity of God have crept in and continued in the society.  This cultural continuity shows to us the trends of cultural change in the sufistic devotion of the people who as a result of the influence of the Sufis gave up their old affiliation and accepted Islam. Thus the Sufis have managed and influence the masses by their spiritual powers and this alone was responsible in bringing about the cultural change in the society.

From the present observation it has been found that the Sufis by their personal influence have succeeded in winning over the masses from their pre-Islamic beliefs and practices to the teachings of Islam and devotion to Islamic practices but the people on their part accepted Islam along with their rituals and practices that they had followed before their conversion to Islam. Thus this cultural continuity helped them to adopt the new rituals of Islam which is explained as cultural change in term of anthropology. It is this aspect of cultural influence that was responsible in spreading Islam. The thesis studies in detail this process of change.