Friday, September 18, 2020

Pakistan Now Turns on Its Shia Citizens


By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam

17 September 2020

Pakistan recently saw one of the largest demonstrations against the Shias. This demonstration must be seen in the context of legislative changes made in Pakistan with respect to its blasphemy laws.

According to one provision, any one disrespecting the companions of the prophet will also be deemed a blasphemer and will be dealt accordingly. This clause directly threatens one of the important Ashura rituals of Shia called the Tabarra in which they say not very kind things to some of the companions of the prophet. The three caliphs, Abu Bakar, Umar and Usman are treated with utter contempt by the Shia who regard them as usurpers of the legitimate rights of Ali to be the first caliph.

Accordingly, on the Day of Ashura, a number of Shia Ulama made disparaging remarks about the three caliphs, partly out of tradition and partly to protest against the new law. On the other side, we have certain Sunni organizations who have decreed the Shia to be kafir, thus outside the pale of Islam and against whom an attitude of enmity must be cultivated.

Groups like Sipah e Sahaba, notorious for anti-Shia killings were joined in by Sunni Barelwi groups and others raising anti-Shia slogans and demanding the arrest of those Shia Ulama who had disrespected the companions of the prophet. If the Imran Khan government wanted to show to the world that he has terror groups in control, then all his efforts have come to a nought.

Allowing a terrorist organization like Sipah e Sabaha to march with thousands in Karachi is an admission of utter failure of the Pakistani state to reign in such groups. Incidentally, fiery speeches against the Shia were made at the Muhammad Ali Road, named after the founder of Pakistan, who himself was a Shia.

It is to be expected that over the years these doctrinal divisions should have withered away, but on the contrary, both Shia and Sunni positions have hardened. Some Shias ( have argued that Tabbarra forms an essential part of their faith, that without heaping curses on the ‘enemies of Ali and Fatima’, one cannot be a true Shia Muslim. It is not that the Shia are innovating when they are indulging in this practice, on the contrary, they believe, coming from Imam Jafar al Sadiq, that doing this is the very expression of their faith.

While some Shia Ulama have asked for restraint during such rituals, others have not been so practical and have even criticised such moderation.

The Sunnis, on the other hand, have responded to such alleged provocation with Madhe Sahaba rallies which eulogise the rule of first three caliphs. In fact, in earlier times, in the erstwhile United Provinces, it were the Shias who objected to taking out such Sunni Madhe Sahaba rallies as it restricted their right of Tabbarra

Times have changed and in Pakistan, the Shias have been at the receiving end. The Sunnis in Pakistan, who constitute the majority, now want their impression on the statutes that govern the country. In their zealousness to show Shia hatred, some Muslims actually praised Yazid, the killer of Hussain and his family ( In their utter blind hatred of Shias, some Muslims even tend to forget that they are glorifying the killers of Prophet Muhammad’s family. For the Sunnis then, this hatred of Shias is also becoming part of their belief system. From their childhood, they are being taught that Shias are like ‘termites’ who are weakening Islam from within. It appears that hating each other has now become a permanent part of Shia-Sunni identity.

In the long run this hatred can only devour whatever is left of Pakistan. Having gotten rid of ‘Hindus’ after partition, Pakistan turned on its own citizens, the Bengalis, massacring many thousands. After Bangladesh seceded, it then invented the internal threat of Ahmadiyas, and outlawed and repressed them in the name of protecting its version of true Islam. In this calculated pogrom of Ahmadiyas, let us not forget that the Shia were enthusiastic participants.

It should now dawn on them that being a minority, they should speak in terms of democracy and minority rights, including the rights of the Ahmadiyas and the beleaguered Hindus and Christians. Only then can they mount an effective challenge to the current majoritarian Sunni lumpenism.

Something has gone horribly wrong with the understanding of Islam. In the not so distant past, the groups who are together vying for the blood of Shias were at logger heads, each proclaiming the other as deviant. Those adhering to the ideologies of al-Qaeda and Taliban did in fact blow up the holiest of Barelwi shrines including the Data Darbar shrine. These groups, deriving legitimacy from Deobandi Islam, were targeting music and myriad Sufi practices and actually ended up killing many of them.

So while Deobandis and Barelwis have come together to proclaim the Shias as kafirs, one should not forget that they have deep doctrinal differences between themselves and that they have called each other kafir not so long ago.

Pakistan has seen too much bloodshed due to takfiri ideology. If the authorities do not give urgent attention to the current anti-Shia climate being created, then the country will descend into a blood orgy one more time. The only way to remedy this situation is to publically proclaim the virtues of pluralism; that each interpretation of Islam is as valid as the other. Only then can such mindless and bigoted takfiri polemics come to an end.


Arshad Alam is a columnist with


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