They live in London, New York, Dubai, Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. Their children study in Harvard, Oxford, London School of Economics and other elite international and national institutions. They travel in private jets, Boeing, land-cruisers and range rovers.
And their expenses are met by the poor of the country mainly from the southern region.
The jinx of Pirs has not been broken in Pakistan especially in the backward areas of South Punjab even in the 21st century.
Hundreds of Pirs in the country fetch millions of rupees from thousands of their followers who have blind faith in them and consider them special creatures of God.
Despite education and spread of electronic media, these Pirs many among them fake, continue to influence the masses who dole out a major portion of their incomes in donations to them.
According To Rasul Bukhsh Rais, a social scientist and professor of political science at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), three types of pirs have strong influence over people in Pakistan.
“The first type of pirs is the traditional one. People who belong to dynasty of some real saints of past. Then there are people who have been associated with different shrines and have cultivated their influence among the masses. The third kind of pirs are the people who have no relation with dynasty or any shrine but deceive people and make up to get followers,” Rais said.
Surprisingly, many of the Pirs are members of political parties, have held ministerial posts and their children are senior civil, military or judicial officers, but fate of their followers never change and they remain poor. Yet, these Pirs never refuse any donation by these poor people.
Many of the Pirs are highly literate and fashionable. They wear modern dresses and their ladies move around the high society donning branded dresses and jewelries. The followers, who seldom allow their women to go out without a veil or seek higher education, have never objected or thought about the lifestyles of their pirs and their families and continue to follow them blindly.
“The masses who have little religious knowledge think that pirs and their families can do whatever they want and they are allowed for everything, so they have never questioned them,” Rais said adding that some people have exploited the situation and have created fake dynasties.
“Take the example of Hamid Saeed Kazmi, who being the minister for religious affairs in previous government stole the Hajj funds and has been convicted for this corruption and is serving a jail term, he has made up a separte section of the religion with the name of Saeedi.”
“His father was not even a Pir, but was a cleric. After his death, Hamid Saeed Kazmi built his shrine and became his Khalifa (Ancestor),” Rais said.
In most cases, says Rais, the pirs are landlords and tribal chiefs in their respective regions. Hence they are controling the social development and are unwilling to help in progress which may enlighten the masses and educate them. “Because it will eventually provide people freedom of this social structure.”
But when Rais believes that an ordinary middle class person is still vulnerable to this system and has to blindly follow the centuries old tradition which has made the masses almost equal to slaves of the influential Pirs, he thinks that education and social and economic mobility can get people rid of this abiding.
“When more people will get higher education and adopt professions like school teachers, lawyers, bankers etcetera, they will become more aware of facts and society will be changed. Until and unless we promote education, we will not see society getting free from this social taboo,” he said.
Rais, however, agreed that a shift of population from rural areas to urban, is changing the mindset of even lower class.
Khurram Hussain is Islamabad based journalist with interest in human angle stories.
Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this article are solely of the writer.