Monthly Archives: June 2013

Zikri Dilemmas:Origins, Religious Practices, and Political Constraints

By Sabir Badal khan

The Zikris (locally pronouncedzi gr¯ı) are a minority Muslim group found exclusivelyamong the Baloch population with the main concentration in south-western PakistaniBalochistan. Zikris have at times faced violence and political assaults from non-Zikris,and their beliefs and practices have been misrepresented. This trend has continued inrecent years as Zikris have come under increasing pressure from Islamic fundamental-ists. The purposes of this paper are to provide a more accurate account of the likelyhistorical development of the Zikri faith, describe Zikri rituals and prayers, andhighlight the oppressive situation Zikris face today.

Zikris in Balochistan

The Zikri faith arose in Makran in the late 16th century and later flourished there. Noprecise figures are available on the number of the Zikris because they are counted underthe general title of Muslim in the census reports in Pakistan (MALIK 2002:11). Theirpresent number may be estimated at around 600,000 to 700,000 with more than 100,000living in Karachi, and a considerable number in interior Sindh (M OHAMMAD2000).Besides Makran, Zikris are found in large numbers in the Mashkay and Gresha areas of Khuzdar district, throughout Awaran district and in many parts of Lasbela district (GULKHANNASIR1982:233; AZAD2003:371, 389). Some Zikris have also migrated to theArabian Gulf peninsula where the majority live in the Sultanate of Oman.2
Until the first half of the 20th century Zikris were estimated to be about half of Makran’s population3, and there were Zikris in almost all major towns in Makran.Owing to constant persecution and forced conversions, presently there are many townswith no Zikris at all.4
The Bulaida valley (40 km north of Turbat) in Kech district may be taken as anexample. It had entire villages of Zikris until the early 20th century. Now, however,there is not a single Zikri family left in major towns there. The last major attack onZikris in Bulaida took place in 1980 when an outlaw from Iranian Balochistan,Shahmurad (called Shahmuk5by the Zikris), declared jihad against them. He killedmany Zikris and forced others to convert to Sunni Islam until he was killed by someZikris.6
A few Zikri families escaped from Bulaida and settled in the Kech valley,others migrated to the Balgitar valley, where Shahmurad pursued them and killed fivemore. The last remaining Zikri family from Bulaida found it hard to stay there andmigrated to Turbat a few years back.7
A large number of Zikris also used to live in Iranian Makran, where Kaserkand, Gihand Sarbaz were their major centres (BALOCH1996:237; cf. CURZON
1966/II:260).However, very few are to be found in that part of Balochistan today (cf. ZANDMOQADDAM1991:322).8 The last major group was driven away from there when acertain Qazi Abdullah Sarbazi declared jihad against them in the 1930s, which resultedin a major massacre (cf. ZANDM OQADDAM
1991:252). Iranian Zikris left their home-land, abandoned their possessions, and migrated to eastern Makran where the Zikriswere still strong in number (ABDUL GHANIBALOCH1996:102; HOSHANG1991:22). Inspite of their decision to avoid conflict with the Sunni clerics, the Sunni mullahsattacked the village of Jakigwar with 100 armed men one morning in 1936, killing ShayGulabi, a spiritual leader of the Zikris, along with six of his family members(DURRAZAI 2005:102, NORAIEE, this volume). Their homes and properties were distributed as war booty (m¯ al-i ˙gan¯ımat ) (see ABDUL GHANI BALOCH 1996:103-105,110). Abdul Ghani Baloch, whose family came from Jakigwar in Iranian Makran, writes that prior to this killing and forced migration, hundreds of other Zikris were killed from time to time in the areas of Farod, Baftan and Kishkaur by fanatic Sunnis at the instigation of mullahs (ABDUL GHANI BALOCH1996:105; cf. DURRAZAI2005:102-03).The Zikris are almost exclusively speakers of Balochi.9
Some are found among theBrahui speaking tribes but none are from the other ethno linguistic groups of the region, which probably indicates a local origin of this branch of Islam. For this reason,PASTNER /PASTNER1972:235 have described Zikrism as a uniquely Baloch religion, and many Baloch nationalists and intellectuals depict it as the national religion of the Baloch, and a Zikri as the archetypal Baloch.10 Members of the Zikri sect are found in most Baloch tribes (A ZAD 2003:389),11 with the exception of the tribes living on the eastern sides of Kalat and Khuzdar districts (which more or less corresponds to the areaof Eastern Balochi as definded by E LFENBEIN 1966, 1989:637). 12

1 This paper is primarily based on my field notes taken during various trips to Balochistan when I wascollecting material about the folklore and oral traditions of the Baloch. Most of the data used herecome from interviews held at Koh-i Murad and elsewhere in Turbat, Gwadar, Pasni, Ormara andKarachi in September 2005. Very sincere thanks are due to all my informants, but especially to M.Ishaq Durrazai, with whom I spent many hours discussing issues related to the Zikris, consulting hismanuscripts and searching through his notes. Special thanks are also due to Profs. Adriano Rossi andAlberto Ventura of Università degli studi di Napoli, “l’Orientale” (Italy) for reading earlier drafts of this paper and making valuable comments. Needless to say, I am the only one responsible for anyshortcomings and the opinions expressed here.

1996:21 probably overestimates the number of Zikris at one million while H ARRISON 1981:187 putsit at 500,000 to 700,000 in the early 1980s (cf. also B RESEEG 2004:77; Library of Congress report BUZDAR 1986-87:5 writes “approximately one-fourth of theMakran population are members of the Zikri community”; A HMED 1987:51 gives the same figure.

3. SeeBDGS VII:112, B ALOCH 1996:224, and the British traveller Charles M ASSON (1844:294) on thedistrict of Kech. L ORIMER (1915/I,2:2150-2151) notes Zikris “dominated the whole of Makr¯an up toJ¯ask until 1740”, and B UZDAR (1986-87:5) says that “historically, Makran has been the bastion of theZikri sect of Islam”. He believes that “the main reason behind the invasion of Makran by NaseerKhan of Kalat was to stop the spread of this new sect”, while G UL K HAN NASIR (1993:60) opinesthat Nasir Khan’s aim was to bring Makran under his domain and unite all Baloch areas into a singleBaloch state. The Zikri state of Makran was consolidated under one of the last rulers of the Malikdynasty, continued with the Bulaidais in the early 17th century, and terminated with the Gichkis inthe second half of the 18th century. By defeating Malik Dinar Gichki, the last Zikri ruler of Makran,Nasir Khan conquered all western Baloch territories previously occupied by the Zikri rulers (cf.P
OTTINGER 1816:250; BDGS VII:47-49; S POONER 1989:626; GUL KHAN NASIR 1993:56ff.).
4 .BDGS VII:121 observes that the faith was already on the decline in the early 20th century.
5 The diminutive may be used to convey a pejorative meaning (see B ADALKHAN 2003:296).
6 .For more information on Shahmurad, see HOSHANG 1991:41, and Zikri issue of Makran 1995:2;DURRAZAI
7 .Interview with head of the family in Turbat, summer 2004.
8 .Some Zikris are said to be found in Garmen Bet, Jugri Bet, Saidabad, Kahurburz and Kishkaur areasin western Makran but their number is reported to be very small (H OSHANG 1991:22). ZAND MO-QADDAM 1991:322 also reports some Zikris in the Bahu Kalat area belonging to the Rais tribe. Saeed Saeedi informed me (Turbat, February 2006) that there are about 500 Zikris in the Garmen Bet area.His late father, Haji Karim Bakhsh Saeedi, gave them protection during attacks by a Sunni mullah.
9.Cf.KAWSAR 1968:35; DAMES 1981:340; B OSWORTH1981:222; GULK HAN NASIR1982:233; and B ALOCH 1996:248, n. 5.
10 .See A DENAG 1999:132; GUL KHAN NASIR 1982:233; BALOCH 1987:72, and MALIK2002:11.
11 .There are Zikris from the following tribes: Rind, Rais, Mullazai, Hot, Sangurr, Kalmati, Gishkauri,Nohani, Darzadag, Mengal, Bizanjo, Mahmad Hasani, Kurd, Sajidi, Maldar, Banr, Hangara, Gorgej,Shaikh Ahmadi, Sasoli, Sumalani, Kambarani, Gurgunari, Omarani, Umrani, Kahdai, Sopakk,Syahpad, Jadgal. This list is far from being complete as my 2005 stay in Pakistan was too short todo a more exhaustive investigation. This data is based on my interviews carried out in Kech, Gwadarand Karachi (in Karachi, I met office bearers of the All Pakistan Muslim Zikri Anjuman). See also GUL KHAN NASIR 1982:233; HOSHANG 1991:23; BALOCH 1996:224; AZAD 2003:368, 389.
12. SHAH M UHAMMAD MARI 2000:397 mentions about 100 Zikris among the Bugti tribe in Sui villageof Dera Bugti district, but this seems questionable, as I did not hear of any among the Bugtis duringmy visit to the region in 1991.

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