KARACHI - Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has said, “We need the Sufi more than before in today’s increasingly polarised world. We need that universal language of the mystic to unite us, to bridge the gap across religions, cultures and people and to remind us that at our very core we are all one; we are all the same.”

“Let me begin by welcoming our foreign scholars and other distinguished guests who have travelled to be a part of this conference. When scholars of your stature and your belief sit together and deliberate, it brings me great hope for the future of humanity,” he said while addressing the two-day International Sufi Conference organised by the Sindh Culture Department at a hotel here on Friday.

Scholars on Sufism from twelve countries were invited to the conference to share Sufi pearls with a carefully selected audience. Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, PPP Sindh President and Minister for Food Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, Minister for Culture Sardar Ali Shah and others also spoke on the occasion.

Bilawal also congratulated the chief minister, the minister for culture and their team for putting together this spectacular event, which was much needed at this time. “Sufis have only ever spoken of change through the self. It is only when we conquer ourselves from within that we can hope to change that which surrounds us. I am awed whenever I attempt, in my own meagre capacity, to learn the ways of Sufism. Such immense power, the Sufi attributes to the self. The majesty of the all-encompassing self.

“Interfaith harmony, religious tolerance, inclusiveness; these are all terms that we hear today - That we, the progressive, like to bandy about, when we discuss the cure for what ails the society today. But the Sufi thought encapsulated all these and more upon its inception many hundreds of years ago.

“Centuries ago, it was the Sufis that spread Islam across the Indus Valley. Through love and harmony, luminaries like Data Sahib, Rehman Baba, Bulleh Shah and their contemporaries strove tirelessly out of sheer devotion to the Deity. And their devotion inspired millions to embrace Islam.

“Today, sadly, extremism is worn like a badge of honour. Those that lie, do so with impunity, peddling fear. Their purpose is simple – to deceive enough people that they may establish a truth of their choosing. Meanwhile, the voice of absolute Truth, (and it pains me to say this), but the voice of absolute Truth, grows dimmer. And this is when we first concede to the extremist. The first time we forcibly quell our inner Truth and confirm to an extremist mindset; the first time we pray out of fear and not out of love; the first time we decide that our one voice of reason is not enough to fight the many unreasonable ones – that’s when we decide to lay our weapons before the fight has even begun. For the Sufi too, has his weapons. The weapons of Truth, of Love, of Acceptance.

“For the very first step towards healing, is acceptance. It is as Rumi said, “the wound is the place where the Light enters you,” our society stands deeply wounded today. And the wound continues to fester, unchecked and untreated. Most of us, too afraid to acknowledge the disease – too afraid to expose the malaise, and let the Light shine through it, allowing the healing to begin.

“Sindh is known as the land of the Sufis. From Lal Shahbaz Qalandar to Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai. From Sachal Sarmast to Shah Inayat. We are destined to stand up for the Truth and only the Truth. Is it any surprise then, that the Bhutto family hailed from this very land? When my mother, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed, raised the flag of the Truth, there were few who were willing to lend their voices to her, and fewer still, who chose to stand beside her. But she continued, undaunted – in the proud tradition of the Sufi, the torch-bearer of the Truth. Fighting the honest fight, the non-violent fight. But the most important fight – the fight against injustice. The fight for the triumph of Truth.

“When barbarians attacked the shrine of Lal Shahbaz, they shook us all to the core. The devotees that were martyred took a piece of us with them. We lost our bearings. Devastated. Disoriented. We were lost. It was then, that mere hours after suicide bombers blew themselves up at that beautiful, spiritual place, that one man decided he would not cower. He got up and he rang the shrine’s bell. And that bell, while it rang, served two purposes – first, it guided us out of the dark abyss into which we were spiralling, and second, it was the very death knell for every extremist that dared target pluralistic Pakistan.

“Just like that bell ringer was the harbinger of doom for all extremists, we too must not be afraid to give voice to our beliefs. We need to have faith that our lone voice WILL make a difference. We need to find in ourselves, the courage to acknowledge that we are flawed, and the strength to accept that we need help. For if today we allow ourselves to fall silent, then tomorrow, I am afraid there may just be no one left to hear us.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari urged the audience to deliberate just how “we veered so far from the path of the Sufi, and what’s the shortest and most effective way back”. “Because, I, for one, believe with all my heart that the salvation of mankind lies at the hands of the Sufi – for it is only he who has the courage to say “I looked in temples, churches, and mosques. But I found the Divine within my heart.”

“So let’s all search within our hearts and let the journey begin,” the PPP chairman concluded.

Speaking on the occasion, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah said that “Allah Almighty lives in human-beings and in his creatures”. "If you want to make your Creator (Allah Almighty) happy and content you will have to respect his creature - that is not only human beings but birds, animals, flora, fauna and the whole universe.”

Congratulating provincial Culture Minister Syed Sardar Shah for organising such a beautiful conference in which scholars would reflect on the issues of growing fanaticism, unrest in different cultures and societies. He added that the solution to the problems like fanaticism, extremism and unrest lies in sufism, if it is followed in true letter and spirit.

Syed Murad Ali Shah said that Sindh was the land of Sufis –that’s why it was termed as seat of learning and cradle of peace and fraternity – because people of different faith, cultures, believes and languages lived here under the shadow of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Sachal Sarmast, Shah Inayat and various other Sufis who served Islam and humanity through their teachings of love and fraternity. "My closeness to Sufism is little larger because I belong to Sehwan - the land of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar- again the great preacher of humanity," he said.

Talking about Sufism, he said it is respected by the people of different faiths and believes. "Sufism is a substance of truth and instinct of becoming one with God," he added. The characteristic of Sufism is to love and serve humanity without any prejudice, discrimination or bigotry.

He went on to say the practice of Sufism is the intention to go towards the Truth by means of love and devotion. The Truth as the Sufis believe that Allah Almighty lives in human beings and in his creatures – this is teaching of Islam also.

The chief minister said that at the time when fanaticism has created unrest in all the societies and faiths and has jolted the entire world, Sufis must visit different societies and cultures for promotion of peace, tolerance and love through their practices, speeches, lectures and teachings.

Earlier, the chief minister received chairman of PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari who inaugurated the conference.