It is not like this all over the country. Most Pakistani Muslims live out their religion, regardless of their orthodox Hanafi beliefs, very peacefully. However, several thousand people in the country are willing to go beyond words in their defence of their personal interpretation of Islam, thereby keeping the rest of country hostage for fear of a wave of violence.

But back to Sehwan Sharif. Ghulam Shabbir Khairpur has also come on a pilgrimage to the shrine. The business man from the northern part of the province has been coming here for many years. In the midst of all the people dressed in traditional Pakistani clothing, Khairpur, who is in his mid-fifties, really stands out in his neat suit and tie. "I'm not a member of a Sufi order, but I always like coming here. Here, it doesn't matter a bit what you are. Everyone is welcome here and last year's attack has done nothing to change that. I would come back here again and again, just to enjoy the atmosphere."

The shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar (photo: Philipp Breu)
Revered amongst Sufis as a place of tolerance and love: the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar was constructed in the Persian Islamic style, its architecture inspired by the Shia shrines in Najaf and Karbala

We cannot rely on the state

Many of the city's inhabitants and visitors share this view: the attitude to life in the city has not changed at all; the attack was merely a stark reminder that the freedom of this city is still embedded in a Pakistani context, in other words, in a country where there will always be a few religious extremists who do not tolerate any other opinions; a country where some policemen take advantage of the panic and chaos in the aftermath of an attack not to help but to loot.

Roshan Ali puts a long piece of cloth over his head and chest. Sometimes temperatures here barely climb above freezing point at night. From the roof of the guest house where he works, he can see the immaculate golden dome of the shrine.

The architecture and design of the shrine was inspired by the shrines in the Iraqi cities of Najaf and Karbala, the holiest cities for Shia Muslims. A bonfire illuminates his face as he mulls over what has changed for him since the attack. "We have always stuck together; one year after the attack, we are doing so more than ever. At the same time, we are more aware that we cannot rely on the state. We have to help ourselves."

Only one part of the clean, bright marble floor stands out from the rest: in between the shrine and the main entrance, there are dozens of black, marble-sized pockmarks. "These are the only traces of the attack that you can still see. The rest of the damage was quickly repaired, but we left those marks in the ground as a reminder."

Philipp Breu

© 2018

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

More on this topic