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Pirs and Politics: What is the political significance of shrines in Pakistan?

According to latest research more than 62 shrines in Punjab have direct political affiliation. These shrines are also source of hefty amount of money. But the question is who gets money collected from these shrines? Does government have control over the money paid by the devotees for acceptance of their prayer?

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Pakistan’s top is once again dealing with a matter of public interest, and intends regulate monetary affairs of Shrines. According to details, the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday rejected the Punjab government’s report and directed all four advocate generals to submit reports regarding money collected at shrines.

A three-member bench of the court headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed and comprising Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan and Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi heard the case regarding collection of ‘nazrana’ at shrines.

During the course of proceedings, the court also sought report regarding spending of donations. The court directed all four provincial advocate generals to submit forensic audit reports of accounts of shrines.

The chief justice said that salaries of Auqaf department Punjab were being paid from the donation money. Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan said that money was being minted from the shrines.

The Advocate General Punjab said that the provincial government was trying to use the donation money properly. He also said that the Auqaf department also renovated shrines. The money from these donations was also given in dowry fund, he added.

Read more: From captivating history to intricate shrines: Multan has it all

The chief justice said that the devotees gave money at shrines for acceptance of their pray. He observed that the amount should be spent for religious teachings.

There has always been confusion regarding the financial matters of the shrines. Who gets money collected from all the shrines in Pakistan? Where does this money go? Do governments ensure annual audit of the same?

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The CJP said that hospitals, educational institutions and orphanages could also be established from the money. The court sought forensic audit of amount received at shrines in two weeks and adjourned hearing of the case.

Religious elites (pirs) have generally been powerful in electrical politics of Pakistan. Adeel Malik and Tahir Malik wrote an interesting article, Pīrs and politics in Punjab, 1937-2013, to articulate political aspects of shines in Punjab. “Pīrs are men of all political seasons. Demonstrating a remarkable capacity to reinvent and adapt themselves to changing political realities, the pīrs have remained part of every winning coalition.

The pīrs were well-represented in the Unionist Party and, later, in the Muslim League. Barring a few exceptions, this pattern of shifting allegiances has continued after independence. When the Muslim League broke away into several factions after independence, the pīrs became part of all dispensations, including the Republican Party, which was formed in 1955, and attracted members of landed gentry,” they wrote.

Read more: Shrines under the watchful eye: CJP orders forensic audit

“Basically, we are a conservative society and people still consider the pirs as their spiritual guide and take pride in becoming their devotees,” said Professor Tahir Malik, political analyst and academic.

Fayyaz Raja, a political analyst at a private television channel, said that the pirs and their followers traditionally supported two major political parties – Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan People’s Party – in the polls.

It is yet to be seen whether the top court will be able to control and regulate all the affairs of the shrines or not. Analysts believe that both the heirs and beneficiaries of the shrines are likely to oppose any formal mechanism to regulate monetary affairs of the religious places.

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