Books and Documents

Islam and Sectarianism

Syria is ruled by a Shia minority only because the French colonial army recruited its local troops from the Alawites, precisely because they were a poor and despised minority. That way, the French reckoned, they would be loyal to France, not to Syria. But domination of the military ultimately let Alawites seize political control in independent Syria. There is no Shia plot against the Sunni Arab world, just old history that won't go away. The danger is that Arab rulers start thinking that citizens cannot be loyal to the state unless they have exactly the same religious beliefs as their rulers. The European wars of religion - a century of slaughter - were not really about doctrinal quarrels. They happened mainly because rulers became convinced that they could not be safe if some of their citizens belonged to a different sect. Most countries in the world today are living proof that that is nonsense, but Arab rulers, both Sunni and Shia, are fast falling into the delusion that it is true. That would be a disaster.-- Gwynne Dyer

Quite tellingly, the ruling party, seven opposition parties and a network of 127 NGOs are all planning to protest on December 23 in order to renew their vows against allowing ‘other religions’ in the Maldives. It seems a rather redundant cause, considering the 2008 Maldivian constitution already forbids non-Muslims from becoming citizens, and mandates that the nation remain 100% Sunni Muslim. This status quo, however, was recently challenged by a group of Maldivians who gathered in Male’ on December 10, on the occasion of the International Human Rights Day, in silent protest against the lack of religious freedom in the Maldives. -- Yameen Rasheed


The decision was based on a controversial op-ed written by him in the newspaper Daily News and Analysis (DNA) on July 16 in response to terrorist attacks in Mumbai. In the op-ed, he had offered strongly worded ideas on how to “negate the political goals of Islamic terrorism in India.” Among his ideas were that India should “enact a national law prohibiting conversion from Hinduism to any other religion,” “remove the Masjid in Kashi Vishwanath temple and the 300 Masjid at other temple sites,” and “declare India a Hindu Rashtra in which non-Hindus can vote only if they proudly acknowledge that their ancestors were Hindus.” Harvard Yard is a calm and vibrant community space where students, tourists, and community members sit and stroll. Many buildings, including dormitories, libraries, a church and lecture halls, surround it. In the month of November, tents had sprouted on Harvard Yard in solidarity with the Occupy movement. The Occupy movement at Harvard was made up of Harvard students, staff and faculty, and posed no threat to the security of Harvard affiliates. -- Karan Singh Tyagi (Photo: A November 2011 picture of protesters making their way to the grounds of Harvard Law School

I was tempted to write this article when I read another one on The Express Tribune titled ‘Muharram is your holiday, not mine’. In this blog, the writer complains about how she feels discriminated against and threatened by the Sunni sect, especially during Muharram and the day of Ashura.For me, following the Quran and Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) Sunnah is enough. I will do what my beloved prophet instructed us Muslims to do. As far as the day of Ashura goes, popular Hadiths have quoted that this day was significant in history primarily for being the day when the Prophet Moses  and his companions were forever rid of the Pharaoh’s vice, when he was drowned in the waters of Red Sea. The Jews always fasted on this day, but our beloved prophet instructed Muslims to observe a two-day fast to include either the day before or the day after Ashura in order to mark our difference with the Jews. Later in history, a second event marked this day’s importance because our beloved prophet’s grandson, Husain was martyred in Karbala. Our prophet told us to fast and pray during Muharram; that’s reason enough for me. However, since it is not obligatory, if I don’t, it does not make me a lesser Muslim than anyone else.  Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) forbade me to mourn a death for more than three days, but he didn’t stop me from remembering and praying for someone I love. -- Mahjabeen Khan


If you want to have a party in Muharram, that’s fine by me; just don't get all emotional if I don't attend. I am a Shia Muslim living in a country that offers me no security. While I agree that no one in Pakistan is really safe from the constant terror attacks, the recent acts of sectarian violence with absolutely no accountability paints a very bleak picture for me.  People, in general, tend to target people who are a little different from them, and this is the sad reality of life. In Pakistan, Shias are no exception. Aside from the obvious threat to their security, there are other things that worry us Shias, and make us contemplate about how open-minded our society really is. Here is my list of things that make my blood boil. Another thing that really bothers me is how people label the 9th and 10th Muharram as ‘holidays’. Stop calling them holidays! Seriously, it offends me significantly. It might be a holiday for you and everyone else, but it is not for me. For me, this day means everything. You might think it’s a great idea to have a major exam immediately the day after Ashura, because for you, the 9th and 10th of Muharram are two days of absolute nothingness, during which you can easily plan study-dates.  The same doesn’t apply to me. I am not using my beliefs as an excuse to shun my responsibilities, but please, can you be more considerate? -- Sidra Rizvi

We all know that when the Hindu right comes to town - declaring that this or that text should not be taught in the university, or this or that painting should not be seen, or this or that film should not be shown – the secular left-liberal intelligentsia in India automatically gets outraged, signs petitions, holds press conferences and generally vents it righteous anger. I know this because I do all these things, along with all my friends. I sign the online petitions, attend the demonstrations, express my anger and do some (or all) of that which needs to be done, that should be done. We should never give an inch to the hoodlums of Hindutva. The Indian left-liberal’s critique of Hindutva amounts to an engagement with the presence of a Hindu way of life. It is in the end affirmative of something in Hindu life-worlds that is beyond Hindutva. Correspondingly, The Indian left-liberal’s refusal to develop a robust, concrete critique of Muslim fundamentalism (and its consequent denuding of the Islamicate cultural space) is symptomatic of a profound apathy regarding Islam and what happens to Muslim people. Which is why some liberal commentators have even found it possible to say that whatever is wrong with Hindutva is because of its ‘semitization’ – betraying thereby their profound prejudices against the ‘Semitic’ (Judeo-Arabic) peoples and their cultures and beliefs. -- Shuddhabrata Sengupta

I walked past the gate, and saw a sign announcing an exhibition of the Quran, being organised by the Ahmediyya community (Qadianis are also known as Ahmediyyas; it is a sect of Muslims which is declared “non-Muslim” in Pakistan and is allegedly persecuted in Islamic countries such as Iran for their “blasphemous” interpretation of the Quran; in secular India, they freely practice their faith). There are just about 2.5 lakh Qadianis in India and I had never met anyone of the community till I walked into the exhibition hosted by them. The entrance to the hall, where the exhibition took place, had large posters that said the Quran and Islam, denounce terrorism, and advocate peace, unity and humankind. Inside, there were 53 copies of the Quran — all in different languages, from Spanish and Deutsch to Malayalam and Gujarati — displayed neatly. Inside the hall, too, there were posters that talked again of peace, humanity and women's rights, as preached by the Quran. Exactly what I wanted to see. Forget blasphemous, there was nothing even remotely offensive about the exhibition. “These people think we are not real Muslims because of a few differences in our interpretation,” is all that Aziz Ahmed, an Ahmediyas representative, said. -- Irena Akbar

India’s Muslims are the country’s largest minority. Depending on your source, their numbers range between 160-200 million. However, the community has been subject to injustices of the state and society. Communal riots, encounter killings, poisonous Hindu right propaganda that tries to portray them as outsiders and cultural pollutants; they have seen it all. And if all this weren’t enough, they have to face an even bigger detriment to their progress; their self-appointed leaders. These include et al., mullahs, politicians, and the Urdu press that claims to be their spokesperson. The article, titled “Qadianon ki ‘Qurani taleemat numaish’ ke khilaf ihtejaaj”. The story described how Muslim organizations protested outside an exhibition organized by the Ahmadi community (described using the pejorative term ‘Qadiani’) because they claimed that Ahmadis were attempting to mislead the public by posing as Muslims (Surprise, Surprise!). The opening sentence said it all: “Leading Muslim personalities in Delhi held a peaceful protest against an exhibition ‘Teachings of Holy Quran’, arranged by the Ahmadiya Jamaat India, an organization belonging to the Ahmadi sect, which have been declared as non Muslims everywhere in the world…” -- Amit Julka

Inequity and injustice within a society is concealed and submerged within an all-encompassing narrative — usually evoking race, religion, nation or ethnicity. Submerged within an all-encompassing narrative — usually evoking race, religion, nation or ethnicity But this pseudo-Islamic narrative proved insufficient to satisfy the inchoate yearnings of minority ethnicities like the Baloch, Pakhtuns, Sindhis or Muhajirs. Worse, it failed to unite the geographically divided country. Amid massive upheavals, disorder and bloodshed, the state of Pakistan fell apart in 1971. Following the populist-socialist Bhutto hiatus, the usurper Zia regime restored a version of the pseudo-Islamic ideological narrative, intensified and distorted to malignant proportions. The institutions he promoted and the retrograde educational systems he erected polluted the intellectual atmosphere of the land and gave birth to today’s bigoted, obscurantist political culture and its poisonous fallouts of violent insurgency, terrorism and cold-blooded mass murder. This most retrograde of dictators ruled virtually unshaken for over 11 years, challenged only by the repeatedly martyred Bhutto family and the women of this country. -- Salman Tarik Kureshi

Bemoaning the fact that a small group of Muslims had given a bad name to their great religion, he added: “The time has come for us to come out and claim our rights. Let us take a pledge that we will never support Wahhabi extremism -- not today, not tomorrow”. As is often the case, the larger majority of Muslims the world over are law-abiding citizens who do not support the malignancy of Islamic extremism -- but have either been silent or invisible. Thus, the unambiguous stand taken by the AIUMB which represents almost 80 percent of India’s Sunni Muslims -- who in turn are the majority faction of Indian Muslims (the Shia, Ismaili and Ahmadiyya amongst others are estimated to be less than 30 million in all) -- is a very significant development in the ongoing contestation about the interpretation and practice of Islam. The stand taken by AIUMB President Hazrat Syed Muhammad Ashraf Ashrafi and his colleagues was long overdue, for many Indian Muslims had warned of the dangers being posed by the spread of virulent Wahhabi ideology in Indian madrasas, which received generous funding from Saudi sources. The control of madrasas and what they teach and propagate to impressionable minds has been a contentious issue in India for decades. -- C. Uday Bhaskar


Indian Muslims Oppose Wahhabi Extremism: A NewAgeIslam TV Report-8

From: NewAgeIslamTV  | Oct 21, 2011  

For the first time in India a Muslim Mahapanchayat passed a resolution condemning growing Wahhabi extremism. 
We have never accepted Wahhabi fatwas, and will never accept them in future too: Maulana Ashraf Kachochhvi

When Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti was martyred, Lahore remained unmoved. In the case of the Hazaras, I doubt that a few outside the circle of the educated intellectuals (both real and pseudo) have any meaningful realisation of the extent of the barbarism being perpetrated upon the Hazaras. Even within those who at least acknowledge the existence of the violence, there is ambivalence in unequivocally condemning the violence. The principal debate it seems is on semantics and nomenclature, e.g. if the killing spree should be termed as ‘sectarian conflict’, ‘ethnic strife’ or the more graphic ‘genocide’, as if language and not murder is the primary issue here. Speaking for the Hazaras is not the cause currently deemed fashionable enough. The primary reason for that seems to be that they are too far away to make us really agitated as opposed to load shedding, which is here and now. -- Saroop Ijaz


My people want to live peacefully with their neighbours. My people are poor, their wishes and desires too little and they want to live as free men, not soldiers. We can live together but I have serious doubts. I smell secessionist feelings. But I call this country my home. I want to stay here, I want to grow old and see my children grow up in this country. Can I live here as I am? Can my individuality be respected? Can my culture, my language and traditions be regarded and my love for this country not be suspected? Why do you push me to be what I am not; what I do not want to be?  You would be baptised and integrated only when you call your people backward and ill-mannered and disassociate from them. Do you not think it is too much on me? I read in books that the people in Bengal were pushed too much. A foreign language was imposed on them in the name of national unity. -- Kahar Zalmay


Yet on stage at the Sufi Maha Panchyat, he roared like a lion, hurling charges against institutions that Muslim intellectuals hold in awe. At the centre of his accusations was the venerated Islamic seminary of Deoband which he held guilty of spreading hard-line Wahabbism: “Hamey Wahhabiyon ka na Immamat Quabool hai, na Quayadat Quabul (We reject the religious and political leadership of Wahhabis”). Maulana Kachochavi went on to ask the gathering to rebuff overtures from Wahhabi preachers, saying, “If anyone knocks on your door with the message of extremism, hand him over to the nearest police station. Maulana Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kachochavi is the General Secretary of the All-India Ulema & Mashaikh Board (AIUMB), a Sufi sect that came from nowhere to take Moradabad — and the Muslim world — by storm last week. Soft-spoken and gentle, with long robes and a flowing beard, he fits the part of the Sufi cleric to perfection. The cleric had done the unthinkable and unsurprisingly there was a rush of reactions. Retaliation came swift and strong from the adherents of the Deoband school. The Mohtamim (vice-chancellor) of Darul Uloom Deoband summoned a hurried press conference where he countered the charge and questioned the credentials of the AIUMB.  ....

Islamic scholar Sultan Shahin however fully backed the Sufi conclave saying it marked a milestone in Muslim politics: “It is for the first time that mainstream Ulema have come out so strongly against Wahabbism which is slowly but determinedly spreading in this country.” Mr. Shahin cited the example of Pakistan where extremism not only took liberal lives but toasted and celebrated the killers. “Islam on the subcontinent has always had a syncretic, local flavour. Islam spread in India through the Sufi saints. But all that changed with the infusion of Saudi petro dollars. For me the most worrying example is Pakistan. Everything that happened there a decade ago is happening here today.”

Mr. Shahin admitted that the space for extremism had been created by the Indian State which far from showing sensitivity towards Muslims prematurely accused them of terrorism whenever there was a bomb blast:” When from the very first minute you talk of Muslim suspects when there have also been instances of Hindutva terrorism that would distress any Muslim.” Mr. Shahin was however emphatic that the answer to injustice was not extremism: “You cannot deny that injustice has been done. But if you turn to extremism, you destroy yourself.” --   VIDYA SUBRAHMANIAM


Indian Muslims Oppose Wahhabi Extremism: A NewAgeIslam TV Report- 6From: NewAgeIslamTV  | Oct 21, 2011  |


All Shiites are worthy of killing. We will rid Pakistan of unclean people. Pakistan means land of the pure and the Shiites have no right to live in this country. We have the edict and signatures of revered scholars, declaring Shiites infidels. Just as our fighters have waged a successful jihad against the Shiite Hazaras in Afghanistan, our mission in Pakistan is the abolition of this impure sect and its followers from every city, every village and every nook and corner of Pakistan.  Like in the past, our successful jihad against the Hazaras in Pakistan and, in particular, in Quetta, is ongoing and will continue in the future. We will make Pakistan the graveyard of the Shiite Hazaras and their houses will be destroyed by bombs and suicide bombers. We will only rest when we will be able to fly the flag of true Islam on this land of the pure. Jihad against the Shiite Hazaras has now become our duty. -- Khaled Ahmed

October 10, 2011 was the third anniversary of the devastating suicide attack on a grand tribal jirga in Orakzai that killed the entire Sunni-Shia tribal leadership of the Ali Khel tribe, the biggest tribe in Orakzai. The jirga was leading an anti-Taliban Lashkar (militia) against the Taliban in the Ali Khel area — Tirah in Orakzai. Faced with growing Taliban atrocities and lack of state protection despite the repeated requests to the government of Pakistan, the Ali Khels were forced to take up weapons against the Taliban. The Taliban militants who came to the Ali Khel area around early 2008 initially committed atrocities against the Shia Ali Khels and those Sunnis who defied the Taliban’s social boycott of the Shias. In response, the minority Shia section of the tribe requested the majority Sunni section of the tribe to support them against the Taliban. The Sunni Ali Khel section, already alarmed by the growing highhandedness of the Taliban, decided to protect the Shias by removing the Taliban from their area through force following the government of Pakistan’s reluctance to take action against the Taliban. -- Farhat Taj

Pakistan is the creation of a minority complex. The Muslims in India were fearful of the numerical majority of the Hindus, post the British departure, and therefore wanted a separate homeland for themselves so that they could safeguard their interests. So, in the words of the Muslim League, India was inhabited by only two communities: Muslim and Hindu, where both needed separation. What the Muslim League forgot in this ‘Two Nation’ theory was the fact that the Muslims were not a homogenous community. There were a lot of internal fissures amongst the Muslims and several sections of the Muslim community were oppressed and discriminated against. The Hazaras of Balochistan (and Afghanistan) are one such community. They are Muslim, but they are Shia. They are Pakistanis, but they are of Mongol descent. These simple, yet critical sect and ethnic descent disparities have made them an easy target of Taliban’s attack, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. -- Yaqoob Khan Bangash


Sectarian conflict is not foreign to our historical experience. There was rioting between the more passionate members of the Sunni and Shia communities occasionally even during British rule in India. But for the most part the two communities lived together peacefully in the same neighbourhoods one generation after another. The fact that one person was a Sunni and another a Shia did not stop them from building friendly and cooperative relationships. During the first several decades after independence, folks did not carry their religious belief on their sleeves. They took it in stride. He told them, for instance, that secularists in Pakistan were snakes in the grass who must be located and crushed. This attitude of mind travelled beyond theological interpretations. It endorsed intolerance of the dissident in all areas of social interaction. -- Anwar Syed


Three conclusions are obvious. First, the size of the population threatened by the wave of sectarian violence has increased by a wide margin. Secondly, the targeted groups are no longer threatened with loss of job or property; their right to life itself is denied. And, thirdly, the addition of minority-bashing to the Al Qaeda’s agenda has greatly enhanced the strength of the forces that are challenging the state of Pakistan in this regard. Discrimination including violence against communities that are non-Muslim by choice (Hindus, Christians, Sikhs et al) and those put in this bracket against their will (Ahmedis) has been on the increase for several years. That meant about five per cent of the population, or nine million people, were threatened. Even that was not a small number. The addition of the Shias to the people earmarked for extermination should raise the figure of endangered Pakistanis to 15 to 20 per cent of the population — 27 to 36 million people. Does it not put the need to combat sectarianism at the top of the national agenda? -- I.A Rehman


On September 20, 2011, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militants shot dead 29 Shias in two separate incidents in Balochistan. In the first incident, a bus carrying 45 Shia pilgrims, travelling from Quetta, the provincial capital, to Taftan (Iran), came under attack in Mastung. About 10 assailants, riding on a twin-cab pick-up and armed with AK-47 rifles and rocket launchers, intercepted the bus, ordered all the passengers out and then opened indiscriminate fire, killing 26 and injuring another five. An hour after the first attack, militants killed another three Shias, who Police said were relatives of victims of the first incident en route to collect their bodies, on the outskirts of Quetta. Claiming the attack, LeJ 'spokesperson' Ali Sher Haideri declared that his outfit would continue to target people from the Shia community. The lethality and operational successes of the LeJ, over the years, are substantially attributed to its multi-cell structure, with each maintaining limited contact with the others. Each sub-group is responsible for carrying out activities in a specific geographic location. Reports indicate that, after each attack, LeJ cadres disperse and subsequently reassemble at the various bases/hideouts to plan future operations. --Tushar Ranjan Mohanty


Over 500 Shia Hazaras have been killed in Balochistan by Sunni extremists in the recent past. In the latest massacre last week, a bus was waylaid 40 miles from Quetta by Lashkar- i- Jhangvi terrorists who lined up its Shia passengers and mowed 26 of them down in cold blood. Two months ago, an extremist leader of a banned organisation was set free from prison because the multi- murder charges against him couldn’t be proved — eight witnesses had been murdered during the trial, the police wasn’t ready to testify and the judges were scared out of their wits. Assassination is the name of the game. In Karachi, over 400 people were killed in the most recent wave of inter- party killings over August and September. -- Najam Sethi


One of the more frustrating refrains uttered since Gaddafi's disappearance is that his legacy in Africa is something to be lauded. Like most of Gaddafi's policies, the overtures to black Africa were rooted in clumsy experimentation, and watered by the man's soreness at having being rejected as leader of the Arab world. When his pan-Arab project failed, he turned to non-Arab Africa and set about appointing himself as the magnanimous Arab who had deigned to lead the hapless Africans, a "king of kings". He cynically exploited the historical tension between Arab and black African by playing on emotion and apologising for how Arabs treated Africans, for the invasion of their land, and for the slave trade. Then he set about meddling in their internal affairs, supporting rebel groups and inciting internecine conflict, not out of any loyalty to a cause, but to whichever party flattered his ego and needed his lucre most. -- Nesrine Malik


They realise that they belong to a country where apostasy means inviting the risk of death – even if spared by government authorities and courts, a fanatic mob would certainly not. They first tried to make their presence known two years back by making a page about their group on Facebook. On August 14 this year, they launched their website www.e-paa.org that was literally an instant hit. It received more than 17,000 hits in just 48 hours after its launch from 95 countries, including Saudi Arabia. How did the idea to bring together Pakistani atheists on a single platform come up? “When I became an atheist, I honestly thought there were no others like me in Pakistan. Through discussions on various social networking groups and forums, I found a few others like me. So we decided to make this group to find out how many more were out there,” says Hazrat NaKhuda, one of the founding members of the group. For obvious reasons, the PAA members go by pseudonyms to protect their identity. -- Bilal Farooqi

As if widespread kidnappings and deteriorating law, order and sanitation were not enough, the Khadim-e-Aala-led Punjab government, on September 7, allowed yet again a large mass of Ulema to gather in and terrorise the Ahmedi community in Rabwah — officially known as Chenab Nagar lest we recognise that those forced non-Muslims may also worship the same god. In 2002, General Musharraf restored the joint electorate system but the irony is, that while Shias, Sunnis, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, etc, were put on one general list, a supplementary ‘non-Muslim’ list was prepared for the Ahmedis in particular. In other words, only the Ahmedis are, for purposes of voting, non-Muslims. -- Yasser Latif Hamdani

Since Karachi is facing threats to its multicultural identity, perhaps the most relevant example of its culture of social service is the Orangi Pilot Project. The months-old lawlessness has tested the mettle of Akhtar Hameed Khan’s successors in all the areas of their work — schools, health, micro-credit and urban facilities (water supply, drainage, etc) and they have come out with flying colours. They are helping provincial and local governments with surveys, maps and technical assistance in remodelling urban settlements and designing new ones. Above all, they have offered models of multicultural settlements. Everyday many of their workers travel from one ‘ethnic zone’ to another on their way to office. They do not claim to be free from fear, only their commitment to their mission is stronger. Here is a framework for restoring peace and order in Karachi. (Other cities are not barred from profiting from this model.) -- I.A Rehman

The report is aimed at justifying the establishment’s long-standing Afghan policy, the strategic depth policy that has brought nothing but destruction to the Pakhtun and has created religious bigotry in Pakistan. It is thus no wonder that this elite presents the Pakhtun and the Taliban as a synonym and argues for the accommodation in the future Afghan government set up of those fringe elements of the wider Pakhtun society, the Haqqani Taliban and Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura, all of which are hardly anything more than proxies of the military establishment of Pakistan. Basically, the report is aimed at justifying the establishment’s long-standing Afghan policy, the strategic depth policy that has brought nothing but destruction to the Pakhtun and has created religious bigotry in Pakistan. The elite is using the notion of the ‘not antagonistic to Pakistan’ government in Afghanistan to camouflage the notion of strategic depth in Afghanistan. They are using the name of the Pakhtun nation to camouflage the Taliban terrorists. -- Farhat Taj

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