The spectacle at Shah Jamal's tomb was but one expression of Sufism. Last September I drove with photographer Ed Kashi to Mithankot, a town in Punjab's far southwest. It is the burial place of a 19th-century saint named Khwaja Ghulam Farid and close to a district where the Taliban is said to have made inroads. But the Sufis in Mithankot seem not the least bit intimidated. The night we arrived, a few thousand men, women, and children had assembled for a festival at the saint's domed burial chamber, which was draped with green lights. The crowd chanted "O Farid, the truth!" and listened, enraptured, to the saint's poetry of divine and romantic love, sung by a harmonium-playing qawwal. A white-bearded man gripped my arm. "We like Jesus!" he declared in English. "Jesus is a prophet too!"
The town of Pakpattan is the burial place of Baba Farid—a beloved 13th-century Sufi mystic who is remembered for, among other things, his sweet tooth. On a Sunday afternoon pilgrims were tossing candy onto the shrine's marble plaza, which was sticky with the evidence of their love. Men filed into the burial chamber to kiss the green cloth that covered the saint's sarcophagus.
Sitting just outside was Ashran Bibi and her 25-year-old daughter. (As at most such shrines, women are barred from the tomb itself.) Bibi, a laborer's wife, explained that her daughter had suffered from breathing problems since eating pesticide in a suicide attempt. They had traveled to the shrine three days earlier in hopes that Baba Farid could accomplish what doctors so far had not. "He has good access," Bibi said, waving her arm at the sky. "We bring our problems to him, and then he takes our problems to Allah."
The guard at a madrassa in the southern city of Bahawalpur, on the edge of Punjab's desert region, was not as friendly. As soon as we emerged from our vehicle, he brandished a pistol and made it clear that photographs were unwelcome. His reaction was no surprise. Madrassa Taleem ul-Quran is an Islamic seminary affiliated with Jaish-e-Mohammed, an extremist group that has been linked to al Qaeda. The group and others like it in Punjab once operated with the support of the government, which used them as proxies in its struggle with India over Kashmir. After 9/11 the government banned the groups under U.S. pressure, but failed to prosecute their leaders or regulate the madrassas that feed their ideology. Pakistan has thousands of madrassas, many of which draw their ideological inspiration, and sometimes financial support, from Saudi Arabia.