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Page last updated at 11:53 GMT, Thursday, 5 March 2009

Sufi Shrine 'blown up by Taleban'

Sufi gathering in Lahore

Suspected Taleban militants in north-west Pakistan have blown up the shrine of a 17th Century Sufi poet of the Pashtun language, police say.

No casualties are reported but the poet Rahman Baba's grave has been destroyed and the shrine building badly damaged.

Rahman Baba is considered the most widely read poet in Pashto speaking regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Taleban had warned they would blow up the shrine if women continued to visit it and pay their respects.

Historic popularity

Literary experts say the poet's popularity is due to his message of tolerance coupled with a powerful expression of love for God in a Sufi way.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says that his lasting appeal reflects the historic popularity of Sufism in South Asia.

But our correspondent says that his views are anathema to the Taleban, who represent a more purist form of Islam and are opposed to Sufism, preventing people from visiting shrines of Sufi saints in areas they control.

When the Taleban seized power in neighbouring Afghanistan in 1996, they locked Sufi shrines.

In Mohmand tribal region, the local Taleban captured the shrine of a revered freedom movement hero, Haji Sahib of Turangzai, and turned it into their headquarters.

Taleban leaders have said in the past that they are opposed to women visiting these shrines because they believe it promotes obscenity.

Residents of Hazarkhwani area on the eastern outskirts of Peshawar - where the shrine of Rahman Baba is located - say that local Taleban groups had warned that if the women continued to visit the shrine, they would blow it up.

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