Blind following of religion is a very common phenomenon in Pakistan. People usually go to shrines and self-proclaimed Sufis, saints or pirs for the solution to their problems.

Many people who suffer from psychological diseases go to these Sufis and saints, where they are told that they are occupied with evil spirits. People usually follow them blindly and obey whatever they order. There are hundreds of cases reported monthly in Pakistan where these self proclaimed Sufis, saints and pirs are found guilty of torturing their followers or raping the female devotees.

Recent news shocked the country, when a self-proclaimed Sufi in a village in the district of Sargodha killed 20 of his followers. According to the police and intelligence agencies reports, the criminal is a patient of schizophrenia. He gave drugs to his followers first and then killed them with a knife and sticks. Residents of the area have stated that the so-called saint used to beat his blind followers with sticks in order to clean their sins. So strong was his following that even after this brutal incident the relatives of victims refused to lodge a FIR (First Investigation Report) with police.

This happens on a daily basis in Pakistan. Everyday, women, who are not able to give birth to a child and subsequently go to these Sufis, known as ‘pirs’, are raped by them. Men and women suffering from split personality disorder or epilepsy are declared under the possession of the evil spirits and, in order to get rid of the evil, they are beaten and tortured badly – some of them even losing their lives.

In the modern age of knowledge, following these pirs blindly is a result of ignorance and not being able to think objectively. In our society following a saint, Sufi or a mullah is considered a highly moral thing and it gives a social certificate of being pious and ethical human being, no matter how corrupt he or she is. So in order to get the moral certificate, and social acceptability, most people in our society become mureed (disciple) of these Sufis or mullahs. Mureed is a word for someone who promises to surrender his life, his ideology and his wealth to the pir, Sufi or mullah he is following. Usually an oath is taken from a person and then he is declared a mureed, a follower of the saint or mullah. Even educated people go to these pirs and mullahs and become their mureed.

Usually bhang, a very famous toxic liquid, and opioids are served 24 hours in shrines. So, many find these Sufis and shrines a safe way of getting free drugs and alcohol.

This faith industry is one of the biggest profit making industries in Pakistan and there is no check on the money earned through this business. This devotee industry works very cleverly. The saints, Sufis and mullahs make connections with politicians and other movers and shakers in their respective areas. In return, politicians get votes of the followers of pirs and mullahs and other influential people get monetary benefits. After making connections they usually make mazaars (shrines) or they are already busy in controlling the shrines of famous Sufis who died centuries ago. People run to them for the solution to their problems and these pirs exploit their beliefs and ignorance.

Human life is a series of successes and failures. One gets success sometimes and one fails sometimes; it happens to almost every human being. Similarly, happiness and grief are part of human life. It is obvious that no situation, however good or bad, is permanent. Nor does it come through any divine instruction or act. Instead of analyzing the situation and trying to make it better through practical steps, these idolatrous run to the pirs and mullahs and ask them for help through divine powers. These pirs and mullahs claim to have spiritual powers and a direct connection with God. They usually tell their devotees that someone has cast black magic on them and they will take care of this matter. Billions of rupees are spent annually just to get rid of the so called black magic and this huge amount goes to these pirs and mullahs.

In other cases, women who face problems in giving birth to children, go to the shrines and ask the pirs to pray for them so they can have a baby. Mostly the pirs convince these women to sleep with them and assure them that through their divine power they will get children. Married women who are not able to give birth to a child are considered vicious in our society, so the social pressure and fear of getting divorced, combined with a set patron of blind belief on a pir or mullah, somehow convinces them to have sex with the pirs. Likewise, many people with mental illnesses are declared to be under an evil possession, and they are tortured so badly that some of them become paralysed and most of them die.

These pirs enjoy power, money and status in society for doing nothing but exploiting people, their slaves gifting them the power to manipulate and exploit millions of people. In our society where objective and critical thinking is rare and questions regarding religious beliefs and practices are considered a punishable offense, there is no one who can dare expose these pirs and other religious exploiters. Even my colleagues from print and electronic media do not want to cover stories on this issue and never want to do programs on radio and TV regarding this issue, nor does anyone like to write about it.

There is a reason behind this fear. If you dare to speak or write on the issue pertinent to religious beliefs and exploitation through pirs or mullahs you actually risk losing your life. Millions of blind followers of pirs and mullahs turn against you and you can be found dead anytime, or become a missing person.

Unfortunately the educated class also does not want to think rationally. It is not difficult to understand for someone with common sense that a person, who is suffering from mental illness, or psychological disorder, can be treated and can live a better life if he is taken to a good psychologist instead of pirs and mullahs. A woman having problems in pregnancy can get it treated by going to a gynaecologist or adopting a medical procedure instead of going to shrines. A man suffering with kidney pain, heart or liver disease can get it treated by a medical doctor and get well, instead of wasting money and time on pirs and mullahs and by drinking water that contains steroids or painkillers touted as holy water. A person having financial problems, or problems in a business or job, can work hard to change the circumstances rather than wasting money on pirs and mullahs.

This is not rocket science and any person using common sense can understand it. But people in our society do not want to come out of the comfort zone and do not want to think for themselves. As a result, this religious industry continues to grow and millions of minds become useless and unproductive.

Mostly people are taught they only have to worry about the life after death and there is no need to worry about this world. This belief and ideology creates a mindset that does not take any interest in contributing towards society in any form and makes most people believe that their problems are the result of God testing their patience. No one dares to even think about the fact that most of their problems are the result of their own weaknesses.

It is normally said that extreme poverty and lack of education leads people to blindly follow these pirs, Sufis and mullahs. But this is not true, even the wealthiest and most educated follow them. The recent massacre of 20 devotees in Sargodha is just a small glimpse of the ugly face of this cruel faith industry. The real face of this industry is very ugly and is compelling millions of people to live in hallucination.