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Updated: December 17, 2012 01:10 IST

At the receiving end of fanaticism

Anita Joshua
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As chilling as the killing of Shias by Pakistani terrorists, who want them to be declared non-Muslims, is the general acceptance of sectarian violence

Pakistan’s Shias are so regularly killed in targeted attacks that counting the numbers who were thus killed in 2012 is an uphill task. But just to give an idea, even before the start of the Muharram month, when anti-Shia violence is usually routinely anticipated and accepted as a given, the numbers killed had crossed 389 — the number of people the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says died in sectarian violence in 2011.

This time, the terrorists were emboldened enough to announce their intent. Ahead of Muharram, a number of Shias received text messages saying ‘Kill, Kill Shias.’ Sure enough, the self-appointed deciders of who is or is not a Muslim struck, killing 23 in two separate bomb blasts early on in the Muharram month.

Relentless targeting

Through the year, terrorists have been relentless in going after Shias; be it in Parachinar along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, Gilgit-Baltistan, Quetta, Karachi or the garrison town of Rawalpindi. The clinical manner in which the terrorists have been going about their “mission” has been chilling, generating enough disquiet among the members of the community to take to the streets on December 8 outside the United Nations headquarters in New York protesting the “genocide in Pakistan.”

Of all Shias, the Hazaras are sitting ducks, their distinctive Mongloid features marking them out. They are pulled out of buses and shot down often enough to force many to leave the country. In all other Shia killings too — except the attacks on Muharram processions — they are identified by the killers from among large groups of people, by the self-flagellation scars acquired by Shia men during the Muharram mourning rituals.

The video footage of one such attack on the Karakoram Highway earlier this year shows a convoy of buses being stopped by gun-toting terrorists. Unhurriedly, the terrorists — dressed in Army fatigues — ask the passengers to furnish their national identity cards to single out those with Shia names.

The grainy video does not clearly show this but some accounts of the attack claim the passengers were made to recite a particular prayer which Shias say differently. Thereafter, the ‘kameez’ (shirts) of the men were lifted to check for self-flagellation marks. Their Shia identity established, they were lined up and killed amid chants of “kafir, kafir; Shia kafir” (infidels, infidels; Shia are infidels). In this particular attack, three Sunni men were also killed for trying to defend the Shias.

More chilling than the actual violence is the general acceptance of such incidents. Apart from the momentary media coverage, perfunctory editorials and outpouring of angst on various social media platforms when an incident like this happens, not much national debate ever takes place over Shia killings. But it may not help very much either, going by the zero difference that the national debate over Malala’s shooting has made.

Unlike other persecuted communities, the Shias — who constitute about 20 per cent of the population — are not down and out socially or politically. “The President, Chairman of Senate and National Assembly Speaker — three constitutional office-holders in the country — are Shias but they seldom speak up for the community for fear of losing political clout or support of non-Shias. Similar apathy exists in the media [where many honchos are Shias]. Many of my colleagues do not speak about sectarian issues for fear of being branded fundamentalists/extremists,” rues Baqir Sajjad Syed of Dawn newspaper.

According to Islamic Research Institute Director-General Khalid Masud, Shias have traditionally been leading contributors to the intellectual discourse among the subcontinent’s Muslims. Yet, a recent Pew Research Centre study showed that 50 per cent of Pakistanis do not accept Shias as Muslims.

Though Shia-Sunni differences are not new to the subcontinent, Pakistan’s penchant for allowing geo-politics to be played out in its backyard has exacerbated the tensions; particularly since the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan that quickly followed.

Iran Revolution

While the Iranian Revolution, according to historian Tahir Kamran, seemingly “emboldened” Pakistan’s Shias who “abandoned the Shia tradition of political quietism,” the Afghan jihad against the Soviets had the Saudis bankroll the then military ruler Zia-ul Haq’s Islamisation project which encouraged the “Sunnification of Pakistan.”

“Not only ‘awakened’ but ‘emboldened’ in the wake of the Revolution’s success in Iran, the Shia were public and vociferous in putting forward demands for ‘rights and representation’, trusting in Khomeini’s support, which he quite lavishly extended to them. Former Foreign Minister of Pakistan Agha Shahi revealed: ‘Khomeni once sent a message to Zia-ul Haq, telling him that if he mistreated the Shia, he [Khomeni] would do to him what he had done to the Shah’,” Mr. Kamran wrote in an essay in the publication Sectarian Militancy in Pakistan.

The Saudi-backed effort to turn Pakistan into not just a Sunni country but a Deobandi Sunni stream — that, too, of the puritanical Wahabbi-Salafi order — clashed directly with this Shia assertiveness in Pakistan. An early point of clash arose when Zia made it compulsory for all Muslims to pay zakat (a tax to support charity) to the state.

“Shia jurisprudence regards this as a personal matter … and a very large number of Shias organised to demand that they be excluded … This Shia movement was given some support by Iran … While the Shias won that round …, a line had been drawn that has continued to become darker and bloodier with time,” wrote Pakistani-American writer Omar Ali in an article on ‘Shias and their future in Pakistan.’

Saudi-backed ‘Sunnification’

A native of Jhang — the hub of anti-Shia terror networks like Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) and its breakaway Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) — Prof. Masud maintains that the anti-Shia rhetoric began much earlier as he recalls hate literature against Shias being circulated from the 1950s in this central Punjab district. So the ground was fertile for Saudi-backed ‘Sunnification’ and this made Shias launch their own militant outfit, clearly sharpening the divide.

Technically banned, the SSP and the LeJ have a free run with the former functioning under the new name, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ). The SSP — which has contested elections — has a vote bank and the ASWJ claimed that the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) won the recent by-elections in Punjab with its help. Such alliances debilitate political parties’ ability to adopt zero tolerance towards terrorism.

All this notwithstanding, the anti-Shia rhetoric has till date not percolated into the curriculum Islamised under Zia. “In fact, many in the Pakistani middle class still have no clear idea of where the anti-Shia polemic is coming from. It was not part of our education. While Shias were a minority sect, their version of Karbala and the martyrdom of Husain was accepted …,’’ writes Mr. Ali adding that Saudi Wahhabis have a well-developed anti-Shia polemic that brands Shias as heretics.

While SSP & Co want Shias to be declared ‘non-Muslims’ like the Ahmadis, Dr. Masud maintains this is unlikely as the Shia community is much larger than the Ahmadis. Ironically, Shia parliamentarians had supported the law against Ahmadis and today their community faces a similar threat — a stark reminder of the eternal truth in Martin Neimoller’s Holocaust poem ‘First they came…’

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This has reference to the article “At the receiving end of fanaticism” by Anita Joshua, I would like to say few words.
Sir, No sector of Sunni Muslim school of thought including Barelvi, Deobandi, Ahle Hadith/ Salafi considers Shia Muslims as non-Muslims. The most fanatic and hardcore scholar of the Sunni Salafi School “Ibn Taimia” doesn’t consider Shia as non-Muslims. He says about Shias they are “sinners” for abusing companions of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) as they openly abusing Prophet’s companions like Abu Bakar, Omer, Usman and Aisha and believe that all companions of Prophet (PBUH) rebounded from Islam after the demise of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).
If any individual person or cleric has any rare fatwa or opinion, he would be only responsible for that. In contrary the Shia Muslims consider all Sunni Muslims as non-Muslims and surely hell-going people. This is not an individual opinion of any person or cleric but the official stand of Shia Muslims towards Sunni Muslims. One can refer to the Fatwa of late Shaikh Mufeed, the author of the most famous and reliable Book of Shias “Kafee” and one can also visit the website of Shaikh Sistani who is followed by majority of Shia all over the world. Sistani declares the Prophet’s companions Abdu Bakr, Umar and Usman and those who do not believe in Imamah “Kafir” entering the hell for ever.
Sir, just I liked to put the truth before the readers.

from:  abdul mukheet
Posted on: Dec 17, 2012 at 18:26 IST

In my opinion, if anybody is inspired to kill by his religious belief, either that belief is faulty or the person commiting murder is defeating his belief. In either case killing is an uncivilized act.

from:  p g mathew
Posted on: Dec 17, 2012 at 17:17 IST

The only way we can go ahead and avoid this segregation is to take
religion from something social to something personal, I understand
thats not easy but whether its in India or Pakistan the problem is
that we talk too much about the religion and caste, and usually only
to inflict conflict or claim some favor. This attitude itself is quite
segregatory. If you talk of the same religion in a spiritual platform
and discuss it , that is quite ok but that do not happen.We talk about
religion only in terms of politics and winning elections that is the
basic issue from which everything else originate

from:  Dinoop Ravindran Menon
Posted on: Dec 17, 2012 at 14:52 IST

What difference does it make to the shias?

from:  Delta
Posted on: Dec 17, 2012 at 12:16 IST

First you divide Muslims and others, then you divide various sects of Muslims, ... And so on goes the bloody trail.

Fisrt you divide on caste lines, then you divide the subcastes, ... And so on goes the bloody trail though, fortunately, not as bloody. At least yet.

Time to learn.

from:  Sunil Sherlekar
Posted on: Dec 17, 2012 at 11:43 IST

Muslims in India protested against the attacks on Muslims in Mayanmar. Why do they not protest about such incidents?

Where are the secularists (Muslims and non-Muslims) in India who are protesting about these atrocities?

Where are the liberals in Pakistan who are yet to protest vociferously in public about the fact that the ones who are creating the terror against the Shias are the very people whom the government of Pakistan, present and past, have used to create problems in India?

from:  Ashok Chowgule
Posted on: Dec 17, 2012 at 11:42 IST

Salafism is not a Deobandi sunni stream as the author claims. Deobandis
are strict followers of Hanafi school of thought, whereas salafis fall
into the ahle-hadith and Hanbali schools.

from:  Nadeer
Posted on: Dec 17, 2012 at 09:01 IST
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