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An Unusual Case Study

Gillian Wright

By Pnina Werbner
Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2014, pp. 348, Rs. 550.00


Zindapir, so called because he was still alive when he was respected as a Sufi master, makes an unusual case study for anthropologist Pnina Werbner. Since so much is written about the Talibanization of the ranks of the Pakistan army, it should not be so surprising that other Islamic trends grew from there too. In this case a Sufi cult arose around a man who served as a tailoring contractor to the 11th Baluch Regiment. Still attached to the army in the late nineteen-forties, his first miracle was the cancellation of the transfer of a major from Gujrat to Baluchistan, and his second was to have the uniforms for the regimental brass band perfectly stitched and pressed overnight in time to take part in a brass band competition.         Werbner refers to such miracles as having an “impeccable line of authorities”, a phrase reminiscent of the way Hadith of the Prophet are authenticated. And to believers, Zindapir and the stories about him are elevated to a level where there can be no doubt, only certainty. Werbner herself is more than sympathetic to the cult, and her own personal beliefs are made clear in her acknowledgements where she writes, “Zindapir allowed me to share in his divine grace.”      A sympathetic attitude and a genuine desire to learn are better tools to understand a spiritual movement than unmitigated scepticism but for those outside the circle of devotees, some doubt, as in the case of all guru figures, is natural, and Werbner also attempts to keep her research balanced.         After leaving the army Zindapir showed determination and a sense of mission. He took to the wilderness around Kohat in NWFP, in an area inhabited by dacoits, and, according to his followers, by the direct command of the Prophet himself, established a base there. In 1951 when he first arrived, he lived in a cave which is still preserved. Subsequently he built what Werbner refers to, rather confusingly, as “a lodge”. The word has various connotations in English which do not fit well with the “khanqah” which it must have been. Throughout she also refers to Zindapir as a saint, rather than a Sufi. This term is also loosely bandied about in India for those Hindu ascetics who are known as sants. But this word too should be used cautiously, the original words in South Asian languages always being preferable.             The “lodge” developed. Volunteers provided free ...

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