Ed Husain

The Arab Street

Husain examines politics, society, and radicalism in the greater Middle East.

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What Qatar Can Learn From Pakistan

by Ed Husain
April 11, 2012

Pakistan's President Zardari waves after offering prayers at the shrine of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in India (B Mathur/Courtesy Reuters). Pakistan's President Zardari waves after offering prayers at the shrine of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in India (B Mathur/Courtesy Reuters).


The emir of Qatar and the president of Pakistan were both in India this week. Both leaders hail from Muslim-majority countries in which literalist interpretations of Islam have enjoyed outsize influence on government. In different ways, both Pakistan and Qatar have allowed literalist Islamism of different hues to attempt to obliterate more mainstream expressions of, say, Sufi-influenced, popular Islam.

India is a global hub of Muslim Sufism, a spiritual, synchronistic approach to Islam. Home to more than one hundred fifty million Muslims, India does not struggle with the growth of literalist Islamism to the extent that many other Muslim-majority countries do. The deep historical roots of Sufism in India are one reason for this.

While in India, Pakistan’s President Zardari visited a prominent Sufi shrine, the tomb of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, a twelfth-century saint. By doing so, he sent a strong message to Pakistan’s Muslims that he is a mainstream Muslim in theology and practice. His visit pushes back against Pakistan’s influential takfiri jihadis who denounce Sufism as too liberal. By embracing Sufism, Zardari is reaching out to the many Pakistanis who do not identify with those forceful proponents of literalist Islam.

In stark contrast, Qatar’s emir was nowhere to be seen near the homes of ancient Islam in India. Why? Because to do so would send a message to his own literalist Wahhabi base in the Gulf that he had become a “grave worshipper,” who had abandoned “true Islam.”

In neighboring Bahrain, Shia protestors have been attacked and many killed by state police who accused Shia Muslims of being “grave worshippers.” Such literalist-fueled attacks on mainstream Muslims must stop.

When the monarchs of the Gulf begin to jettison Wahhabism and embrace a more pluralist form of Islam, their populations will inevitably follow. While every Salafi is not a terrorist, almost every terrorist is a Salafi. Undercutting Salafism or Wahhabism by embracing mainstream Muslim thinking is a sure antidote to the rigidity and literalism on display in the Gulf.

The emir of Qatar should seek out Muslim shrines in his future trips to other countries. After all, Arab monarchs are keen to be seen in Westminster Abbey in London or at Arlington Cemetery in Washington, DC. If they are willing, rightly, to visit the tombs of non-Muslims, then why not honor those of their fellow Muslims? By demonstrating an appreciation for Islam’s rich history, Qatar’s emir and other Gulf leaders can begin to remove the stranglehold of Wahhabism from mainstream Islam in the Middle East.


  • Posted by Farrukh Mahmood

    i’m sure you do not live either in India or Pakistan.

  • Posted by hellosnackbar

    A very interesting analysis.
    I’m accused by some as an Islamophobe ; but my opposition to Islam as acullture is based on the antics of dangerous extremists who appear to be undermining western civilisation to a certain degree.
    However I read Ed Husain’s book and became aware that not all Muslims are mad.
    Something has to be done for the Sufi chaps to become more influential in the Muslim world.
    The dogma of the Salafists is the paradigm for “dogma trumping common sense.

  • Posted by farida tukur

    You just do not understand the concept of salaf, they just want to follow the teaching of the prophets and his companion, no saint is better than them’ those saint came about hundren years after d prophet die! The question is who do we follow the companion or the saints, imam malik hav been reported to have said, what ever is not. Practice during the life of SWA is not to be practice after his life

  • Posted by Chanthu

    The president of Pakistan visited the shrine hoping to wash his crimes of loot and murder in a developing country.

    The Emir of Qatar had no moral guilt of the sort.

    Beyond Ed Husain’s irrelevant suggestion, the real fact here is that its crystal clear that shrines of such superstitious nature have no moral effect on the people who visit there. It’s often the chances of “buying” gods at such places with any dishonestly acquired wealth that attract such criminals here.

  • Posted by Salim

    Just for the record, a Shia will always support a Shia what ever happens – even if wrong – Zardari the President and his family and most of his buddies in power and in the government are Shia and the USA will be stabbed in the back sooner than later the way by the world’s Shia community, the way USA is handling the Muslim world and the Middle East – Every one who know the pros and cons are just sitting back watching the trap the USA is getting into, slowly but surely – There are no ethics and fair play in President Obama;s policies or the Zionist entity in the world – perhaps will sink together because of the injustices in their policies – Then the world will be a better place to live when the tyrants are destroyed by mother nature