The Shia Question – by Imran Khan

by admin

Related article:

What can Pakistan and the entire world learn from Pakistani Shias?

Cross-posed from I Opyne

The term “Jewish Question” has been used in a variety of ways, but its most common usage has been an anti Semitic one; where it refers to all the “problems” that have been created because of the mere existence of the Jews. It was the Nazis who proposed a “final solution” to this question, a solution that they carried out in the death camps of Nazi Germany.

If you are a Sunni in Pakistan, it is very often that you might hear of “problems” such as; the Shia domination of decision making in our country, as well as their “perversion” of Islam. The spectrum of reactions to our very own “Shia Question” perhaps varies as much in Pakistan as the reaction to the Jewish Question used to vary in Europe. There are those who are just uncomfortable with the importance of Shias in our society while there are others who suggest solutions that are no different from those of the Nazis.

The 9th and 10th of Moharram this year passed by relatively peacefully, apart from one grenade attack in Peshawar,  the main processions dispersed safely through out the country. But the run up to the final days was marked by violence as well as the spoiling of some major terrorist plans. On December 11th, 15 people were killed when a truck bomb hit an Imam Bargah in Hangu, while terrorist plans were spoiled in KarachiDI Khanand Quetta, that could have resulted in similar carnages as past years.

Shias in Pakistan account for around 15 to 20% of our Muslim Population, and constitute the second largest concentration of Shias in the world, Iran being the largest. According to one source our Shia minority is estimated at 30 million and surpasses the number of Shias in Iraq.  If one is to look at the history of Pakistan; our most iconic leaders have belonged to the Shia community. The Founding Father of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah was a Shia and so is our most popular political dynasty, i.e. the Bhuttos. It is safe to say that the Shia beliefs of these icons of Pakistan’s political history never mattered to their overwhelmingly Sunni following.

However, things began to change during the 80s, resulting in a horrific increase in sectarian violence. According to thedatabase at South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP); in 1989, 18 people were killed in sectarian violence, during 1999 that figure rose to 86, while this year we lost a staggering, 496 people.  A report by the International Crisis Group that came out in 2005, states that around 70% of those killed in sectarian violence since 1985, belonged to the Shia community, the report further noted that presently Shia militancy in Pakistan is mostly a reaction to Deobandi militancy.

So what happened? How did a Sunni Majority Pakistan that flocked to the cause of a Shia Quaid-I-Azam and a Shia Quaid-I-Awam fall into this hopeless spiral of senseless killings? The answer lies in the Afghan Jihad, and the form our decision makers chose to sponsor it in. The rigid Wahabi interpretation of Islam, that was the driving force behind the morale of the Mujahideen, also had a very serious anti-Shia bent to it. The fatwas declaring Shias as Kafir came out during the heydays of the Afghan Jihad, the cannon fodder that was prepared for the war in Afghanistan came back to seek new infidels and found them in the form of Shias. Saudi support for the propagation of this hate was crucial, as Pakistan became the battleground for the cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The recent increase in attacks on Shias is a reflection of the growing strength of the Taliban. Thinking purely in terms of Pakistan’s national and strategic interests; if the “good” Taliban are those who simply concentrate on Americans and Afghans, and pose no harm to Pakistanis, then according to this definition, there are no good Taliban, as they all consider these 30 million Shia Pakistanis as wajib-ul-qatal, i.e. dead men walking. Our Taliban apologists in the media as well as politics, who bend over their backs in explaining the Taliban position as that of reactionary freedom fighters, completely ignore the Taliban hatred of the Shias, which is an essential part of the Taliban belief system and is not a reaction to any invasions.  Call them good or bad, a stronger Taliban would simply translate into even more violence against the Shias of Pakistan.

In the wake of attacks on Moharram processions many have expressed disdain about the need for carrying out these processions in the first place. It is believed that these processions are attacked because they offer themselves up for attacks. Well, the same logic could be applied to Juma congregations, just like Sunnis would still go to the mosque despite 180 deaths due to attacks on mosques this year, the same way the Shia would take part in Moharram processions, faith being the motivating factor in both situations.

But, the solution to this problem does not lie in curtailing religious freedoms; it lies in having an unbiased approach to this issue. The rising popularity of the Shia hating Taliban in a Sunni majority Pakistan, is a clear indication of how our biases are making us look the other way.

Appeared in Pakistan Today on the 21st of December 2010.

2 Comments to “The Shia Question – by Imran Khan”

  1. This is a very honest and bold piece, Imran.


    On a related note, here is an article about ‘the Shia question’ in another Muslim country, Malaysia:

    Malaysia May Charge 200 Muslim Shiites for Deviating From Islam

    Dec 20, 2010

    KUALA LUMPUR: More than 200 Muslim Shiites including Iranians, Indonesians and Pakistanis detained in one of the biggest swoops on outlawed Muslim sects in Malaysia may be charged with breaching Islamic laws, an official said Monday.

    Government authorities in Muslim-majority Malaysia consider only the Sunni denomination to be legal. Sunni Islam is the world’s largest branch of the religion, followed by Shia Islam.

    Islamic officials raided a shop house in the Gombak district in central Selangor state last week and arrested the group, who were allegedly followers of the outlawed Shia sect, said Nurhamizah Othman, a public relations officer at the Selangor Islamic Religious Department.

    It was the largest swoop of outlawed groups in recent months, the department director, Muhammad Khusrin Munawi, told state media. He said the Shia doctrine is a threat to national security because it permits the killing of Muslims from other sects who are regarded as infidels.

    Nurhamizah confirmed the comments.

    Malaysia, a Southeast Asian country of 28 million people, is wary of religious sects that go against mainstream Islam, fearful that they may alter its image as a moderate Muslim nation. Malay Muslims make up about 60 percent of the population, while most of the rest are Buddhists, Hindus or Christians from the ethnic Chinese and Indian communities.

    The arrests of the Shia followers have been slammed by some religious scholars, who accused Islamic authorities of becoming more hard-lined.

    ”Malaysia is trying to become a country a la Taliban that only allows one school of thought,” said prominent Muslim scholar Asri Zainul Abidin.

    ”Even though I personally don’t agree with Shia teachings and even frequently criticize and debate with them, I cannot accept the approach of the allegedly democratic Malaysian government in denying the people’s right to practice their faith,” he said.

    Nurhamizah said the detainees have all been released on bail, except two Iranians. Most are likely to be charged in an Islamic court with following the teachings of a deviationist movement, which carries a penalty of up to two years in jail, she said.

    Among those detained were lecturers, students of higher-learning institutions, lawyers and government employees, believed to have been operating in the area for nearly two years, she said. No further details were immediately available. – AP

  2. @Abdul Nishapuri


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