At least 25 are dead in an apparent suicide bombing at the Bari Imam Sufi shrine at Nurpur village outside Pakistan’s capital Islamabad this morning. Thousands of devotees were attending the last day of a five-day festival at the time of the explosion. Worshippers had been waiting for a prominent Shi’ite leader to address the gathering when the bomb went off. The shrine is located about one kilometer from the official residence of Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.
“Today was the annual festival of Bari Imam. Devotees had come from all over Pakistan. Shi’ites and Sunnis were praying together. As soon as prayers started, there was a blast. Many devotees were martyred and many more injured,” said Qamar Haider, a Shia imam.
The popular shrine to Bari Imam, who helped bring Islam to region in the 17th century, is visited by both Shi’ites and Sunnis and has traditionally been seen as a symbol of harmony between the two communities. But both sects claim the shrine, which has been controlled by Sunnis for the past two decades, and it has recently been subject to growing tensions. The Sunni custodian of the shrine and two other people were shot dead near the compound in February.
Some 200 are reported wounded in the attack, which is but the most recent in a wave of sectarian violence across Pakistan. In October, 36 people were killed in a car-bomb attack on a Sunni Muslim congregation in Multan, in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province. A bombing of a Shiite mosque in Sialkot, in Punjab province, earlier that month killed 19 people. (Bloomberg, May 27)
A May 22 account from Pakistan’s The Nation on the opening of the urs, or festival marking the death anniversary of the saint, tell us Bari Imam was born Shah Abdul Latif Kazmi in 1026 Hijra (1617 AD) in Jhelum, and grew up on a farm in Baghan village, now called Aabpara. He studied in Ghaur Ghashti (now Attock) and travelled widely to learn with Ismalic scholars of varying schools, visiting Kashmir, Badakhshan, Bukhara, Mashhad, Baghdad, Damascus and Mecca. His spiritual master was Hayat-al-Mir (Zinda Pir), who gave him the title of Bari Imam. He went on to convert thousands of Hindus to Islam at Nurpur Shahan, and the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir is said to have come there to pay respects. Bari Imam died in 1705 and was buried at Nurpur Shahan, where his urs is held every year with great fervour.
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