Shia-Sunni conflict: One man’s faith is another man’s funeral

Published: February 11, 2013
Pictures of victims from the first sectarian conflict of Karachi adorn an imambargah’s walls. PHOTO: RABIA ALI/EXPRESS

Pictures of victims from the first sectarian conflict of Karachi adorn an imambargah’s walls. PHOTO: RABIA ALI/EXPRESS

The Old Golimaar area of Karachi is firmly divided between ‘us’ and ‘them’ — black flags flutter outside Shia houses, and dark green ones outside those of Sunnis. It is here, in these congested lanes, that the first five Shia men lost their lives in a sectarian conflict which would mark the city’s fate for decades.

On February 22, 1978, newspapers carried screaming headlines: Karachi had witnessed the first fatalities resulting from a sectarian confrontation. The stones hurled at a chup taazia procession during Rabiul Awwal that year served as a final spark to the mounting tension between Sunnis and Shias of Ali Basti in Old Golimaar area. Anger, derogatory slogans and many injuries are part of the story. Pictures of the five Shia men killed on that day — Javed, Anwar, Shahenshah, Karar, and Ishrat – adorn the exterior walls of the Hussaini Imambargah located nearby.

But locals living in the area claim that the first conflict was more politically motivated. “One of the first Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)’s offices had opened in Golimar and many Shias had joined the party. It was General Ziaul Haq’s era, and he tried his best to trample the PPP by giving the rioters free hand for creating chaos,” said Syed Shakir Hussain, one of the area’s residents.

The cycle of hatred continues. Sectarian killings are now the norm in this side of the city. Heading the Jafferia Imambargah in the same area, Maulana Jahangeer’s voice breaks as he tells about his brother: “My brother was killed in 2010. He had no enmity. Why was his life taken away?”

Last year, Jahangeer organised a unity forum in the locality, where Shia and Sunni clerics stood together on a single platform, called for harmony. “The nine scholars who attended the conference have been killed. I have nothing more to tell you.”

Javed’s story

In 1978, houses in Ali Basti were single storied, and mostly illuminated by lanterns only. Roshan and her son Javed occupied one of such abodes. The young man worked part-time at a carpet shop.

He came home to eat lunch from work on the fateful day, little knowing he was about to have the last meal of his life. “I made fresh chappatis, and cooked some vegetables,” said Roshan, fighting tears in vain. “Hearing sounds of riots, I pleaded him to flee, but he did not listen.”

Rioters entered the area and soon a bullet pierced through Javed’s head. “I was devastated. I roamed the streets for three years, hoping to get my son back. Since I know the pain of a mother losing a child, I now attend funerals to console other mothers.”

Roshan did not relocate from the area. “It is people who come from other areas and create disturbances.  Sunnis and Shias live in peace,” she said, referring to the intolerant outlets, who frequently fuel conflict between Shias and Sunnis in the area.

Ishrat’s story

In February 1978, Ishrat was ready to make a visit to Karbala. All his luggage was packed.

Ishrat’s small, grey-stoned house had to be built from scratch after it was burnt down on February 22, 1978. His daughter, the elderly Sualiha, who still occupies it, says that the rioters who set her house to fire took away her jewellery, and killed her father Ishrat.

“We escaped with difficulty. My family and I lived in a camp at Ancholi Imambargah for 15 days before coming back.

Her father, who was an employee at the post office, was pushing men into the Hussaini Imambargah as riots broke out. It was then that he was shot.

“He died when he was helping others to be safe from the violence. His luggage for Karbala was also taken away by the attackers.”

Shahenshah’s story

Death can cast a shadow of gloom for decades upon otherwise happy lives. Shahenshah was shot dead during the 1978 incident. The young man had applied for a job at the Jinnah hospital and his appointment letter came a day later after his death. “Our family broke down after his death. My father went mad, and my brother’s death made things worse for my mother who was a TB patient. They both died soon,” told Shahensha’s brother.

Anwar’s story

Haider, whose 12-year-old brother Anwar was also a victim, was amongst those who were taking casualties to the hospital. “It was a dreadful day. Today when our men are being killed brutally and Shia genocide is taking place, it reminds us of the pain and suffering we went through,” said Haider.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • human
    Feb 11, 2013 - 7:12AM

    Shias and Sunnis,both should live with religious harmony, and all those miscreants should be punished who spread disgust between them


  • Raj - USA
    Feb 11, 2013 - 11:32AM

    If the religion based demand for Kashmir is applied to Shia / Sunni divide and Shias given their own country, the newly carved out Sunni countries in all oil producing gulf countries would become very poor overnight as most of the oil wealth in these countries lies in the Shia regions. As Shia / Sunni conflicts throughout the world are much older than Hindu / Muslim conflicts and the lives lost due to Shia / Sunni conflicts over the last so many years is several times that of the lives lost in Hindu / Muslim conflicts, Shia / Sunni dispute needs to be settled first. Food for thought for OIC.


  • mute_
    Feb 11, 2013 - 12:03PM

    Conflict??? Or genocide of a particular faith??

    Think again!


  • M Shahnawaz
    Feb 11, 2013 - 1:09PM

    A real insightful and interesting piece. It is astonishing how the families are still living there in golimar.


  • scotchpak
    Feb 11, 2013 - 1:12PM

    May I propose a FLAG TAX . Iran and pay Arabia while these fundos slug it out


  • Huma
    Feb 11, 2013 - 2:04PM

    i remember that in 1985, bushra zaidi was killed by a bus and that ws when khi started burning and became violent, and is still burning :/


  • Hassan Raza
    Feb 11, 2013 - 5:30PM

    I don’t know why Media highlight it as “Shia Sunni Conflict” if it was Shia Sunni conflict means, there would be Shia Militant Factions targetting innocent sunni people which also means, buses going to Rawiand Address stopped, I.D Cards being checked and then all people with common sunni names slaughtered! Mosques getting targetted on daily basis, Shia Ulemas on record claiming to wipe Sunnis out of Pakistan and on number of ocassions claiming to make lives of sunnis in pakistan a “Hell” lDoes it happen? Is it like that? I don’t think so. So it is actually a Shia Genocide by the hands of Deobandi Militants, by saying this i do not say that all deobandis are terrorists but yes all terrorists are deobandis who are not just conducting Shia genocide but Christians, Ahmedis, Hindus, Sunni Barelvis too. Gojra Rights were conducted by SSP Ahmedis Mosque in 2010 who were behind it? So yes! It is actually the Deobandi extremists vs rest of Pakistan NOT Shia – Sunni Conflict.


  • Ahad
    Feb 11, 2013 - 6:03PM

    95% shias and sunnis live while tolerating each other. The rest 5% spread voilence under banned outfits. They need to be caught and punished. I hope next government is successfulin stopping these banned groups.


  • Syed
    Feb 11, 2013 - 6:16PM

    Shias are only 20% in Pakistan so really they can’t fight even if they wanted to. Also, when was the last time you saw a shia suicide bomber or when was the last time shia bombing sunni mosque or try to cause maximum casualties? Every single day you see multiple shias getting killed in Karachi and you don’t see that in the news. Its not a news item anymore. I request shias and sunnis to unite and fight this evil together.


  • Haider Budini
    Feb 11, 2013 - 7:13PM

    For God sake please stop this sick word “shia/sunni”. This war is blw the nation and a cult which considers all others sects non-muslims other than theirs. Shias and Sunnis are two brothers from one peaceful family.!


  • rational
    Feb 11, 2013 - 7:24PM

    See, Most of the violence against Shia Muslims began after the Ahmadi formerly (till 1974 officially known as) Ahmadi Muslims were declared as non muslims. When one door of tafkir and sectarianism opened it spread around the whole country like wild fire. Religion should have had nothing to do with the running of the state in the first place. It’s a very private matter between a man and his creator. No government should ever have the audacity to interfere in this relationship


  • Nasir Ali
    Feb 12, 2013 - 12:43AM

    @Hassan Raza:
    you never visited gilgit city, shia militants killed many sunies. they checked ID cards as well. so its not only shia genocide.


  • tahir
    Feb 12, 2013 - 2:13AM

    This is good, all I see is talk on the pages of this newspaper calling for action which is never there. Our people of Pakistan need to get their politicians to listen, for them to talk against the violence & the army to confiscate the guns & weapons from all militants & civilian population.
    Pakistani civilian population bereft of weaponry will be a peaceful country with all minorities.


  • Kumar
    Feb 12, 2013 - 10:06AM

    We flawed humans are always on a lookout for differences that can be utilized to show oneself superior over other. We use origin, faith, color, caste, language, income , education and turn that into a comparative point. Even if the entire planet had one religion. one sect we would have ended up slaughtering each other for some other reason. Goes on to say that India got lucky to end up with diverse population and in some sense even Pakistan. It the color of diversity that helps us in not seeing things the “monochromatic” way. I just hope to see that we all move ahead and progress as Humans so that our creator feels vindicated without feeling remorse of committing a mistake of creating us.Peace and prosperity for all:)


  • Dr. A.K.Tewari
    Feb 12, 2013 - 3:28PM

    Only a secular Pakistan can survive in the future secular world order . STATE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH RELIGION IS A REALITY !!

    It’s functioning should only and only rest on human values.


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