‘Accepting’ and ‘Allowing’ Sectarian Discrimination
February 25, 2012 § 2 Comments
In recent times extremely saddening news was reported that involved what were clearly sectarian acts of violence, hatred and discrimination. On January 26th three lawyers; a father, his son and nephew, were gunned down who were Muslims of the Shia sect. On the same day three other professionals from the Shia community were killed in Quetta. This all follows the year of 2011 where hundreds of Shias were murdered and it seems as if nothing has, or will change.
The Shia community is not the only minority Muslim sect that is being targeted. For a couple of weeks, a mosque that belonged to the Ahmadiyya community is being attempted to get shut down, and incredibly a few days ago the food and beverage brand ‘Shezan’ was banned from all court premises by the Lahore Bar Association for being owned by people from the Ahmadiyya movement.
This is just recent news. Sectarian violence and discrimination in Pakistan sadly sparks up from time to time. Some argue that perhaps Pandora’s Box was opened in 1974 when extremist Sunnis clashed with Ahmadis until they were declared non-Muslim by Pakistan’s constitution, though sectarian violence was reported in as early as the 60s. But I believe the reason for rising sectarianism is the increasing subconscious acceptance of it by the majority of society.
Discrimination amongst sects is openly publicized in Pakistani today. I can confirm that the Islamiat textbook I was taught with in high school preached religious inequality and even anti-Semitism. Because of lack of quality education and teachers, irresponsible textbooks in our schools, things religious scholars say, things some of our elders say and a combination of these things that have carried on for years, society in Pakistan has made assumptions based on people’s religious views. For many people being Jewish is a crime and an act of infidelity. Being Christian is only slightly better, and then the fact that you are a Muslim makes you superior and a better Pakistani. Amongst Muslims people belonging to each sect feel they are ‘better’ than the others. I once sat in a majlis at a Shia mosque only to hear a long, loud speech explaining all that was wrong with the Sunnis, and heard similar sermons about Shia Muslims at Sunni mosques.
Keeping in mind the stories shared above and other incidents from the past, I find it safe to say the Ahmadiyya community receives the most hatred and discrimination. Some clerics have gone so far to announce the justification and permission for their murder. In fact in 2008 the leader of the anti Ahmadi movement was invited to the infamous Dr. Aamir Liaqat’s TV show on which he repeated exactly that. The next day two Pakistani citizen’s from the community were killed.
The problem we face in Pakistan is this extreme holier than thou attitude; A strong feeling of self-righteousness and moral superiority. People hold that their personal beliefs are of greater virtue than of those with others, and through a biased study with an ill-informed, poorly educated mind have curbed words of Holy Scriptures to justify violence against those with differing religious views. This is completely against what religion actually teaches. Because of the Express Tribune’s policies I can’t quote the Quran directly but I can say that verse 64 in chapter 3 (Family of Imran) asks to approach people with different beliefs by starting on the points of agreement or equitable words. The Quran further in chapter 109 (The Disbelievers) says to accept that the believers and non-believers both have their own religion and worship their own Lord(s) and in chapter 2 (The Cow) verse 256 forbids any compulsion in religion.
Extremist groups that I believe we all know about are behind these attacks on the minority Muslim sects. It seems like they may be targeting the Shia and Ahmedi community to incite fear within the sects and hence reduce, and eventually finish their ability to practice openly. Keeping in mind the targeted killings in broad daylight last month, it is understandable that many people from the communities have fled the country as a result, meaning the tactics are working.
It should also be brought to light that the rise of these sectarian extremist groups is well-documented since their inception in the 1980s but since that time they have split up and regrouped under different titles and movements. The worrying thing is that they have spread all over the country from their starting point of Southern Punjab taking their radical ideas to all parts of the state. Much needs to be done to stop this. The country’s intelligence agencies need to find out how these groups operate, where they operate and observe and keep a check on local madrassas and the content of what is taught there. A strategy must be devised of how to isolate and tackle them. Why we have waited so long is a mystery and something we should all be worried about, but in my opinion these groups are only half the problem.
The other problem is our radicalized society. This polarization in my view is due to a combination of the spread of these sectarian groups, and the lack of impartial quality education. With more than half the country today under the line of poverty the vast majority cannot afford decent quality education which is only available in Pakistan’s private schools that only the elite can afford. This leaves a colossal portion of the population exposed to sub standard schooling, if any at all, and hence vulnerable to the acceptance of extremist ideas and versions of religion bestowed upon them. These are the people the sectarian groups feed on and this is where their support comes from, without which they would not be able to sustain themselves.
It may seem absurd, but I have personally witnessed many educated people agree with the fatwa that allows the murder of Ahmedis. After everything he has done and said, countless people have undying unconditional support for Dr. Amir Liaqat and after the celebrations for the murder of the former Governor of Punjab and the hero status given to the murderer, it would not be naive to think portions of society are also okay with the targeted killings of Shias.
And that is essentially the problem. People accept it. But I don’t think you can entirely blame the people. It is our governance that is educating these people. Pakistan is the only state to declare Ahmadis non-Muslim. When the state has numerous discriminating laws and education against entire sects, how could you expect people to be any different?
How many of our text books proudly mention Dr. Abdus Salam was from the Ahmadiyya community who put Pakistan on the map by becoming the county’s only Nobel Prize winner but then left the nation in protest when his sect was declared non-Muslim? His gravestone was also modified after his death so that it would not read ‘Muslim’. How many of our textbooks tell us that our founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a khoji Shia which was a minority community in an already Muslim minority in India? How many of our textbooks tell us that our first ever foreign minister Chaudhry Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan who Jinnah referred to as his ‘son’, was a scholar of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, drafted the Pakistan resolution, represented the country at the United Nations and served as a judge at the International Court of Justice? The answer is not many.
Once a man asked Jinnah if he was Sunni or Shia and Jinnah responded angrily that he was just a Muslim. He was against sectarianism. That’s why Jinnah wanted faith, discipline and unity. Unity is what we lack the most. Sunnis Shias and Ahmedis all truly think that their take on the religion is perfect as do practicing people from any faith in general, and since none of us is God, no one should be allowed to judge personally who is correct.
The sectarian groups must be eliminated, madrassas monitored and education heavily reformed to make this mindset in people possible. If not, Pakistan will be contaminated with far too many fanatics. The Quran asks to show kindness to people of all faiths and calls Christians and Jews ‘people of the book’. Today Muslims in Pakistan can’t even be civil to sects of their own religion. It further says that when you see any injustice, then fix it. If you can’t fix it, then raise your voice against it. And if you can’t raise your voice against it, then condemn it in your heart. I think and I hope Pakistan could at least start with the latter.
*Written Exclusively for The Express Tribune Blogs and posted February 26th, 2012