Sufism is a major tourist product of Pakistan which, unfortunately, has not been given its due place by the tourist industry.
The world Sufi comes from the Arabic word Safa, meaning ‘purity’, so Sufis are those whose hearts and souls are pure. Sufism is Islam’s mystical tradition.
The first Sufis were ascetic wanderers during the ninth century who, by prayers, fasting, meditation and self-denial, found proximity to God. They wandered around the world, through Iran into the subcontinent, preaching the message of love, peace and brotherhood, presenting and teaching Islam by pious examples of themselves. They portrayed human conduct at its perfection, embodying the noblest moral teachings of Islam.
Many of them were scholars, poets and musicians, attracting large followings to their gentle – the real - Islamic practices. Some of Pakistan’s finest music and literature were written by Sufi saints, the most venerated among them being Shah Abdul Latif of Sindh. They set their verses into music, extolling the love of God with real life stories in which virtue receives its rewards.
The places where Sufi saints settled, taught and died have become important centers of pilgrimage, attracting devoted followers who admire their piety and beg for their intercession to secure God’s grant of health, fertility, inner peace and material success. In this way, the saints have been bedrock sources of hope to the poor and the sick for over a thousand years.
The greatest Sufi saints buried in Pakistan, each commanding hundreds of thousands of devotees from all over the world, are:
There are hundreds of other Sufi saints buried at several places in the country, drawing pilgrims who come from far and wide in large numbers to pay homage, pray and make offerings.
Their shrines are centres of religious, cultural as well as social activities. Rich and poor alike, of different faiths, visit them. On Thursday evenings, the shrines are more crowded and there are devotional singing and sublime dancing. Some devotees submerge themselves in the on-going music, incense and dhammaal, invoking the holiness of the saint to reach communion with God.
A major holy shrine in Pakistan is that of Bibi Paak Daaman in Lahore; not a Sufi but a lady of very holy lineage.
Foreign visitors are always welcome at Sufi shrines, provided they remove their shoes, cover their heads and otherwise show respect.
Every shrine has its major festival [urs] each year, on the anniversary of its saint’s departure to the hereafter. The shrines then become fairgrounds, with musicians playing traditional instruments and singers performing mystical folk songs, while dervishes and medicants dance themselves into devotional frenzy.
Trade fairs also take place, as do sports competitions and, at the larger festivals, exhibition matches of such traditional martial arts as wrestling, swordsmanship, riding, mock fighting with daggers and also tent-pegging.
Such is the cultural richness of Pakistan and Sufism is the real soul of the nation. Tourist Guides should mention them to their tourists during relaxed discussions over meals and excursions.