Making a pilgrimage to the shrines of holy men (and women!) is something I, like many Muslims, enjoy. It’s something we remember from our childhoods and enjoy sharing with our children. So imagine my concern at what a reader from Canada sent in with a passage from her child’s textbook below. It also triggered a lingering trauma for me.
“When I was a child, my grandmother and grandfather would take me to Data Darbar in Lahore, the shrine of Mohammed Hassan Al Hujweri. I loved hearing the Qawali wala sing in the courtyard and the food served by volunteers for the data’s blessings. Being with thousands of people paying their respects was so special. I never felt closer to God than when I was there sitting next to my grandparents praying. Now when I take my children back to visit Pakistan I like to bring them to the shrine. But then I saw your posts about the textbooks in our schools.
“I was reminded about a small crisis we had in my family when my son showed us a section in his textbook (the Weekend Learning Series). It says: ‘Visiting the shrines of dead saints, offering food at the shrines, showing devotional homage to the saints, or even praying to Allah while at the shrine . . . are all forms of Shirk (polytheism).’ The last time we were in Lahore he started to give me a hard time about going to Data Darbar. He said it was un-Islamic. I could not believe my Canadian-born son was lecturing me.
“Basically, the textbook told my son that whoever visits a saint’s shrine is not a Muslim. The textbooks authors are denying the genuine faith of hundreds of millions of fellow Muslims. How is this takfiri idea different from ISIS fanatics who slaughter anybody who deviated from what they considered to be the true Islamic doctrine?”
As a Muslim in the post-ISIS world, reading these kinds of ideas terrifies me. In early 2014, a relative sent me a horrifying video clip shot in ISIS-controlled Iraq. A truck was stopped in the middle of the road by masked gunmen, who held the driver at gunpoint, suspecting him and his passengers of being Shia. The terrified driver and passengers swore that they were pious Sunni Muslims. The ISIS terrorists didn’t believe them and asked them to recite the adhan (call to prayer). The drivers’ version had an extra component that Sunnis don’t say and that Salafis consider being shirk. The ISIS fighters, realizing that the men indeed subscribed to the wrong doctrine, slaughtered them.
We all worship the same God, respect the same prophet, and read the same holy book. But a wrong phrase cost them these men their lives, just because of attitudes about shirk. The textbook’s authors are perpetuating the same intolerant view that ISIS took to its logical limit – and they are doing it right here in North America. It is horrifying to see our children’s minds being poisoning with intolerance for fellow Muslims.