Sufi Shrine as Space of Hegemonic Struggle in Pakistan

An Ethnographic Account


  • Seemab Zahra Quaid-i-Azam University
  • Muhammad Bilal Fatima Jinnah Women University
  • Shafia Azam Fatima Jinnah Women University



Sufism, Shrine, Hegemony, Sectarianism, Islam, Pakistan


In the post-9/11 period, while the rise of the Taliban and their alliance with Al-Qaeda accelerated radicalism in Pakistan, Sufism and Sufi shrines have been awarded the status of an antidote to counter the extremist propensities of orthodox Islam typically associated with mosques and madrasas. Nevertheless, contrary to popular belief, sectarian schism, loathing and violence have also been witnessed at several Sufi shrines across Pakistan. The article explores the dynamics of power struggle at the shrine of Bari Imam in Islamabad, Pakistan, while examining the role of sectarian conflicts and violence in achieving the desire for social and economic hegemony. Ethnographic research design was employed, involving participant observation while partaking in different activities of the shrine. Also, respondents including members of the Auqaf Department, pilgrims, caretaker(s) of the Bari Imam shrine and inhabitants of the area were interviewed. The respondents include both males and females of diverse age groups belonging to various socio-economic statuses, sectarian affiliation and educational backgrounds. The findings propose that regardless of the spiritual character of the Bari Imam shrine, it has become a pivot of economic and political power struggle, eventually engendering and escalating sectarian discord, violence and detestation.

Author Biographies

Seemab Zahra, Quaid-i-Azam University

Seemab Zahra received her MPhil degree in anthropology from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan. Her research interests centre around the diverse manifestations of living Islam and how religion (particularly Islam) plays a pivotal role in identity formation.

Muhammad Bilal, Fatima Jinnah Women University

Dr Bilal received his PhD in anthropology from Macquarie University, Sydney after securing Endeavour Awards from the Department of Education and Training, Australian Government. He is head of Anthropology Department at Fatima Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi, Pakistan. His research bridges the areas of religion, politics and identity. He is interested in topics that have implications for debates about Islam in world politics, religio-political movements, politics of international terrorism and dynamics of political and religious violence.

Shafia Azam, Fatima Jinnah Women University

Dr Shafia received her PhD degree in anthropology in 2013 from Comenius University Bratislava, Slovakia after securing a Cultural Exchange Scholarship from Ministry of Education, Pakistan and Slovak Ministry of Education to pursue her PhD (cultural anthropology) degree in the Slovak Republic in 2008. Her research interests include the areas of food, religion, media discourses, politics and their impact on the broader social system, particularly identity formation.


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How to Cite

Zahra, S. ., Bilal, M., & Azam, S. . (2021). Sufi Shrine as Space of Hegemonic Struggle in Pakistan: An Ethnographic Account. Religions of South Asia, 14(3), 233–257.