From Pakistan to Mali, by way of Tunisia and Egypt, extremist groups annihilated ancient monuments

Last update: 2022-04-22 08:57:44

Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in Sehwan, Pakistan, is one of the most visited Sufi shrines by Muslim faithful. In February, an attack claimed by the Islamic State killed over 80 pilgrims while they were praying there.

Islam arrived in the Indian subcontinent through Sufi preaching, and in Pakistan there are dozens of places of worship, mausoleums, tombs tied to mystics. The attack in Sehwan is the latest in a long series of bloodbaths that, from Pakistan by way of TunisiaLibya and Mali, have targeted Sufi shrines. At the origin of the programmatic destruction of these places of worship are the opposing positions of militant jihadist groups that see Sufi mysticism and the spirituality of its teachings as a corruption of the purity of faith and of the strict Puritanism with which extremists adhere to Islamic law. Here below is a list of a series of attacks, listed by country, carried out by various fundamentalist movements against well-known Sufi shrines, often centuries old, scattered throughout the Islamic world.

Before the bloody 2017 bombing, which led local authorities to a widespread campaign of repression against individuals linked to the Islamic State, Pakistan had already been subject of similar attacks. In 2010, another very important 12th-century BC Sufi shrine, Hazrat Data Ganj Baksh, in Lahore, was the scene of an explosion that killed 42 pilgrims. Then, in the same Punjab region, a year later, local Taliban claimed an attack on the Sakhi Sarwar shrine. In this case too, the death toll was very high: 40 dead.

Following the revolution that in 2011 put an end to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, in Libya the action of several extremist groups has grown, up until the Islamic State's appearance in 2014, whose stronghold, Sirte, fell only few months ago. In 2012, Islamist militias attacked the 15th-century shrine of Abd Al-Salam Al-Asmar, in Zliten, in the Western part of the country, and a few months later, in August, the historic mosque of Al-Sha‘ab in Tripoli, burial site of some Sufi theologians.

In July 2012, Northern Mali fell into the hands of jihadist groups, and only after the intervention of special French forces was the government able to regain control of part of the territory. The historic city of Timbuktu, a UNESCO site famous for its ancient clay buildings, its secular libraries and its places of worship, was subject to the iconoclastic fury of extremists, who used pickaxes to destroy the tomb of Sufi teacher Sidi Mahmoud Ben Amar, who had died in 955 AD.

In Tunisia, the revolution has not led to clashes nor to civil war. However, political transition has been plagued with political assassinations and sporadic acts of violence, and the destabilizing actions of Salafi groups. In eight months, between 2012 and 2013, according to Mohamed el-Hedi, head of the Tunisian national Sufi Association, 40 Sufi sanctuaries in the country ended up under attack. Among them, the sanctuaries of Sidi Abdel Kader in Nabeul, Sidi Yacoub in Gabès, and Sidi Bouchoucha in Tunis. Similar accidents occurred in the coastal city of Sousse, in Bizerte, and in the rural center of Kasserine. These places of worship were often burnt down.

In Egypt, an attempt to destroy a Sufi shrine in Qalyub, not far from Cairo, was stopped by local residents, who stood between the building and a group of extremists armed with pickaxes and hammers.