This Moharram was turned into Karbala for Pakistani Shias

My piece published on 10th Moharram

It is time the state reversed its policy of nurturing extremist groups and think of saving Pakistanis from further mayhem

The month of Moharram revives the memory of the epic battle of Kerbala, a symbolic marker of various struggles within the fold of Islam – between the good and the evil, between authoritarianism and legitimacy, and the ultimate idea of sacrificing for a principle.
Imam Hussain (AS), his family and companions bravely fought the army of the oppressive ruler Yazid until they were martyred on the 10th of Moharram, only 61 years after the Hijra, the emigration of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) from Makkah to Madinah.
What was so dangerous about Imam Hussain (AS) that Yazid had to physically eliminate the grandson of Holy Prophet (PBUH)? Hussain was a credible and powerful voice of dissent against the emergence of an expansionist monarchy in Islam. The right of the Muslims to select their leader and to uphold Islam’s message of egalitarianism were articulated on the banks of Euphrates and the struggle continues to date. Shia and Sunni Muslims remember this great sacrifice in their own ways.
For centuries, the rituals of Moharram were shared events. The Shias, Sunnis and non-Muslims fervently participated and showed tremendous respect to each other. A month of mourning and two days of intense worship have turned into an open field for terrorists who are wedded to the idea of ‘purification’.
This perverse purification means that the Shia branch of Islam should be demonized, attacked and eliminated. To this end, over 450 Shias have been killed in various sectarian attacks all over Pakistan in 2012 alone. Since the start of Moharram, at least 37 people have been killed.
The worst attacks took place on the 5th of Moharram when terrorists struck an Imambargah in Karachi, killing at least 2 and wounding dozens. On the same day, a suicide attack on a Shia procession in Rawalpindi killed 23 and wounded at least 62 others. The entire country is on alert, and what makes this Moharram particularly sad is that it comes at a time when a Shia genocide of sorts is underway in the country with near impunity.
We have been inundated with some deeply disturbing stories: people being taken off their buses, checked for signs of Shia form of worship and then made to stand in a line. The Hazara community of Balochistan has had to pay for its faith as well. Young Hazara men want to leave Pakistan and the ones with opportunities have already moved abroad. The UNHCR reports that more than 100 Hazara Shias have been killed in Balochistan till September 2012.
Who is behind these attacks is another question that divides the public mind. From the likes of Dr Israr Ahmad – patronised by Gen Zia – who demonized Shias, to ‘soft Islamists’ on TV who declared Shias as Wajib-ul-Qatl… we are turning into a society that is destroying its plural roots.
The recent PEW poll says that 50 percent of Pakistanis do not consider Shias as ‘Muslims’. Such an environment becomes conducive to the operation of pernicious militant groups who preach hatred and urge people to kill the minority sect Muslims.
The larger context cannot be ignored. The Pakistani state, 30 years ago, made up its mind and adopted a policy of siding with Wahabbi ideology to facilitate the inflow of petrodollars and to share the expansionist ideology that the Saudi rulers openly profess and manipulate. The target of this ideology was the containment of Iran on the one hand, and promotion of Salafi Islam that legitimized jihad in Afghanistan and threw Pakistanis into the cauldron of sectarian hatred for decades to come.
What could be more heart wrenching than to see innocent people killed during an act of worship? It has, sadly, become a norm. To top it all, the civilian government – obviously handicapped by lack of control on the broader security policy of the country – is only treating the symptoms. Banning cell phones or prohibition on riding a motorcycle is akin to offering aspirin to a cancer patient.
The truth is that one political party in power is in alliance with anti-Shia groups. The party in power at the centre is too afraid to even condemn Shia killings despite the fact that its top functionaries are Shia Muslims. The courts are too afraid to punish sectarian terrorists. In fact, the release of Malik Ishaq for lack of evidence, betrays a criminal justice system that feeds into and augments the power of hate-groups.
Hussain’s (AS) ideology is about defiance, about struggling for what is just. The clerics who set Islamic Law under the Abbasids entered into an alliance with the kings and added the ‘apostasy fatwa’ against any movement that challenged the Abbasid kingdom. Sufis, scholars and rationalists have all received their share of killings at the hands of the monarchial state that Hussain (AS) challenged at Kerbala.
This Moharram, therefore, is of huge significance for Pakistan and its survival. Millions of Shia Muslims beyond their belief systems are Pakistani citizens and the abject failure to protect them is akin to abdicating the fundamental responsibilities of the state.
It is time that the state reversed its policy of nurturing extremist groups and think of saving Pakistanis from further mayhem. If there are foreign elements involved in violence, as the apologists continue to remind us, then they need to be exposed and eliminated. What good is a military intelligence complex if it cannot protect the citizens from strife and senseless violence?
The alliance of Al Qaeda with the anti-Shia militant groups is not restricted to Pakistan alone. It has shown its ugly side in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. Islam is a religion of peace and historically spread in non-Arab lands such as Persia and Central Asia, thereby turning into a plural tide of egalitarianism and enlightenment.
The takfiri forces, inspired by the kharijites who killed caliphs and the Prophet’s (PBUH) grandson, have undermined the richness of this faith. Opposing the culture of violence and hatred is an act of Hussainiyat – of seeking justice – and the real act of worship. The Muslims of Pakistan, who are obsessed with the idea of turning Pakistan into a ‘fortress of Islam’, should rethink the path our state has chosen.
The judiciary and the executive need to reorient themselves to tackle the menace created by extremist groups. The civilian government and the military will have to sit together and swallow the bitter pill of abandoning the expansionist delusions that have plagued Pakistan’s policy framework. What good would be a proxy control over Afghanistan, or capturing the occupied Kashmir, if Pakistani Shia Muslims and minorities are not safe?
At the time of writing these lines, the entire country is in a state of fear and afraid of what this Moharram might mean for Shias and Sunnis alike. Schools have been closed, mobility has been reduced, and an unwritten state of emergency has been imposed by a nuclear armed state! This state of affairs is a sad reminder of the well-known axiom that human security is central to state functionality, and social cohesion is far more important than securing victories abroad.
The writer is Director Jinnah Institute, Islamabad. The views expressed are personal and do not represent the Institute. His writings are archived at Follow him on twitter: @razarumi

First published in The News on Sunday (November 25, 2012)

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