Hidden Worlds – Photography Exhibition on Sufism
A collection of photographs by Hassan Kausar showcasing his street photography experiences in Lahore and the interaction with the mystic Sufi’s. A personal journey of revelations and discovery of the hidden layers of society at a troubled, dangerous time.
The first section here deals with his personal experiences and since Sufism is a subject largely unknown to the western audience a brief background is given highlighting this subject at the end.
Sufism the spiritual mystical side of Islam is the more rooted, popular peaceful version of Islam, which has been under threat by the hard line Islamists. Hassan’s interaction with the Sufis started a few years ago, the level of tolerance and acceptance he experienced made him want to explore these believers further. All the taboos of the mainstream hard line version of Islam seem to be broken here, with both men and women allowed in the shrines, to devotional dances and acceptance of transsexuals. Despite all the attacks and security issues for the followers of Sufism there was very easy and quick acceptance.
“I was told that it can be dangerous and not a great idea to photograph at shrines or sufi processions, there could be suspicion, my camera can be stolen and the possibility of attacks, kidnapping are always there by the hard line Islamists. After some initial questions once a trust was developed both with the Sufis and in some cases the police guards, I was accepted and allowed to photograph freely in majority of the shrines. The images will show you that relationship, what was interesting for me was the difference of attitude here compared to the hard line practitioners of Islam. Women who are not allowed to visit Mosques are allowed everywhere, Transsexual ‘khusray’ who are frowned upon everywhere else were widely accepted. Dance and music, which again in orthodox Islam is not allowed, is an essential ingredient of Sufi devotion.”
The other side of the exhibition shows street images of Lahore, through the camera Hassan has been rediscovering the city he left some 26 years ago, despite all the poverty, trouble and violence what is heartening to see is the friendly and hospitable spirit of the city is still intact.
“Again warned not wander the streets in the more impoverished parts in the current climate with a camera; my experience was quite the opposite. There is an indescribable connection that I feel whenever I am roaming the streets of old Lahore, very easily you gain trust and the friendliness and hospitality is extraordinary despite the poverty. Unlike many cities in the west where due to privacy it’s not easy to photograph people you do not know, here it is not a problem to photograph strangers. There are places where you easily feel that you have gone back many centuries and that things must have been carried out nearly the same way for a long time.”
Sufism is the spiritual mystical side of Islam. The roots of Sufism go back to the 13th century when Qalandar an ascetic, moved from modern day Iran to Sindh, other mystics fleeing Central Asia as the Mongols advanced joined him. Qalandar teamed with three other itinerant preachers to promote Islam amid a population of Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus. They often incorporated local traditions into their own practices. “There was no force involved in conversions or the propagation of Islam.”
Gradually, as the “friends” and other saints died, their enshrined tombs attracted legions of followers. Sufis believed that their descendants, referred to as pirs, or “spiritual guides,” inherited some of the saints’ charisma and special access to Allah. Orthodox clerics, or mullahs, considered such beliefs heretical, a denial of Islam’s basic creed: “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his Prophet.” While pirs encouraged their followers to engage Allah in a mystical sense and relish the beauty of the Koran’s poetic aspects, the mullahs typically instructed their followers to memorize the Koran and study accounts of the Prophet’s life, known collectively as the Hadith.
Currently the followers of Sufism are a peaceful people who among others are under threat by the hard line Islamists. Pakistan currently is going through a wave of intolerance instigated by the Talibans and associated militant Islamic groups. The targets are basically anyone and everyone who do not agree to follow.’Wahabism’ (strict form of Sunni Islam followed by members of the Taleban and al-Qaeda). Any other ideology including Minority groups, liberals, are all targets: Among others a large segment of the society who follow ‘Sufism’ have also become targets of the hard line Islamic groups. There have been several attacks on Sufi Shrines since 2005, in 2010, 64 people were killed in 5 attacks where minority hard-line militants took responsibility. Sufism is not a sect, like Shiism or Sunnism, but rather the mystical side of Islam—a personal, experiential approach to god, which contrasts with the prescriptive, doctrinal approach of fundamentalists like the Taliban. It exists throughout the Muslim world.
Sufism is the more rooted, popular peaceful version of Islam that needs to be given as much exposure as possible in the current climate, how it is still peacefully practiced by so many and how Islam is being hijacked and by a minority of militant ‘Wahabi’ extremist version of Islam.
About Hassan Kausar
Hassan is an experienced photographer, architect/ interior designer activist with a passion for art & design. Widely travelled with experience on a variety of International design projects. With a strong artistic background, Hassan has a natural eye for light, composition and the right frame for each shot. He is a passionate compulsive photographer, currently working on a variety of photography assignments including, photo journalism, portraits, fashion, and events.