Violence in Muharram

Published: December 16, 2010
An Ashura procession in Karachi on December 16, 2010. PHOTO: AFP

An Ashura procession in Karachi on December 16, 2010. PHOTO: AFP

The month of Muharram that once brought Muslims of all religious denominations together under the symbolic flag of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom, has become a season of violence. This year, the government is spending billions of rupees cordoning off imambargahs and procession routes with the help of the police and rangers to protect the Shia community.

Last year, Ashura processions were attacked in many cities, including Lahore, where such incidents had been unknown. Karachi saw people dying from suicide bombings twice, once on the occasion of Ashura and the second time on the occasion of Chaliswan (the fortieth day of Martyrdom). The cities that lie along the road that goes from Peshawar to Kurram Agency were always under threat because of the Sunni-Shia admixture there and the persisting parallel writ of the Taliban over them.

Quetta in Balochistan, where the Hazara-Shia community is ghettoised and therefore easy to target, is once again tense as the much-weakened provincial government ensures safety to the processionists of Imam Hussain. Much violence has occurred there and in the Shia-majority areas of Parachinar in Kurram Agency and in Gilgit–Baltistan. Parachinar has been cut off from the rest of Pakistan for the past two to three years because the Tehreek-i-Taliban, and particularly Hakeemullah Mehsud, have been killing people on the basis of sect for the past decade.

Why has Muharram become such a season of tragedies for us? The people of Pakistan are not fired by sectarian hatred. Wherever there is no clerical or terrorist coercion, they coexist happily and, not so far back in the past, used to intermarry as well. Scholars who have investigated the closing of the Pakistani mind agree that Pakistan’s sectarian war is a relocated conflict and is a radiation from the fire that was lit in the Middle East and the Gulf when Arab leadership passed from secular leaders to religious ones, and Iran arose as the champion of the scattered Shia communities in the region.

One can date the participation of the state in sectarianism under General Zia in this relocated war. He got the Zakat Ordinance promulgated in 1980 and wrongly applied it to the Shia on the advice — and draft of the law itself — of an Arab jurist sent to Islamabad by Saudi Arabia. In 1987, General Zia allowed the mujahideen fighting the war against the Soviet Union to attack two Shia strongholds, Kurram and Gilgit-Baltistan. In the 1980s, Maulana Manzur Numani of a famous Lucknow madrassa was paid by Rabita al-Alam-e-Islami to get fatwas of Shia apostatisation issued from the madrassas of Pakistan. Numani wrote a book Khumaini aur Shia kay barah mein Ulama-e-Karam ka Mutafiqqa Faisala (Consensual Resolution of the Clerical Leaders about Khomeini and Shiism) and this was widely circulated in Pakistan. The Iraq-Iran war poisoned minds in the region, and organisations linked to jihad began carrying out punishments in light of these fatwas. In 2003, when the Shia Hazaras were massacred in Quetta it was revealed that the fatwas from the major Deobandi seminaries were in circulation in the city before the massacre, but no one took notice. In fact, the Hazaras later put the fatwas on their website straight from the 1988 collection of Manzur Numani, but again the jihad-weakened state took no notice.

There are two ways the state will ‘exclude’ its unfavoured communities. One is by apostatising the identity of a community it thinks deviant; the other by intensifying the identity of the majority community. Both these processes have been resorted to. The Shia have responded by retreating into the non-consensual (with Sunnis) aspects of their religion and fear losing everything if they don’t do this. This conflict is at times bilateral but in most cases it is unilateral, with terrorists killing innocent Shias. But Karachi, more than any other city, has the potential of being the largest and most fearsome arena of this battle.

WikiLeaks has revealed that the region of origin of this conflict is still embroiled in sectarian politics. As Iran moves towards its nuclear objectives, the ‘relocated war’ of Pakistan will move up the graph of intensity. And the state in Pakistan is too weak to look after its people.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Khurram FAIZAN
    Dec 17, 2010 - 12:13AM

    Its natural fact, if we allow a number of peoples to go on roads and whatsoever. In Iran where a great number of peoples are Shia but they dnt allow them to go on roads and do processions or else, only they are allowed in a ground. Its Pakistan, where you can do everything whatever you think right.Recommend

  • Dec 17, 2010 - 6:20PM

    Excellent comment Khurram Faizan, even better than the article itself.Recommend

  • Syed Ali Shah
    Dec 17, 2010 - 7:51PM

    Shia is a peaceful community and there goal is to convey the message of Imam Hussain A.S who gave every thing in the way of saving Islam in its true form. The processions started immediately after Imam was martyred in the form of his own family members doing this. If Shia stops doing these processions then the message of Imam and what happened in Karbala will go into the background. Imam gave his life to save Islam, so every Muslim should listen to what happened in Karbala. Shia wants to convey this message to everybody in the world, regardless of religion.Recommend

  • noise
    Dec 17, 2010 - 10:40PM

    We march to show the world that we are not those Muslims who side with the unjust.Recommend

  • Khurram FAIZAN
    Dec 18, 2010 - 12:22AM

    SAS= Dear may be Shia is a peaceful community but we don’t need to listen all these by you. Islam, Quran, Sunnah each and every thing we have and we are enough capable to understand all. If you want to do all that so why you dnt choose a ground i think Hazrat Imam Hussain. R.A. did not create any problem for others he beard all hindrance himself and saved Islam, so you really follower of him so please don’t use open spaces. You don’t know how much peoples get worry by all these processions. M.A.Jinnah road shows a border view in Muharram.

    We respect all sects but we can’t say right of wrong.Recommend

  • Ehtisham Rizvi
    Dec 18, 2010 - 9:43AM

    @Khurram and Yasir, did you not read the article? you are just not happy with mourners of Imam Hussain A.S. because they march on the streets peacefully and never kill a soul, well as citizens of Pakistan and offcourse as creators of Pakistan (Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah was a twelver shia as well) it is our right to mourn as we like. If you guys are free to train terrorists in your madrasas, we are free to roam the streets of our city as and when we like. Recommend

  • zarin
    Dec 18, 2010 - 4:28PM

    @Khurram Faizan
    What about Rabiul Awal procession where majority sunni beleive it as un islamic but every facility is provided to pass it. Even media coverage is more than Ashora. Also what about National day procession where wild youth crowd disturb every body.What about political rallies, long marches where there is complete shut down. What about Jumma Prayers where wher people block the roads park cars on streets and pray. What about lot of Urs Melad etc. Can you stop all these?
    Moharram processions are not new, this tradition is for the past fifteen centuries. You have given the example of Iran, this not true. In Iran there are huge processions in every city not only on Ashura but lot of other occassions. If you watch TV you will realize. You may have seen this year Moharram procession in Sunni majority Turky where Prime Minister addressed the mourners on roads and main square of the city. As you said that we do not need this, you should think thar lot of people may not like what you are doing.
    This is not the solution. You and peoples like you must have tolerance. You solve the issue of terrorist then no proceession will be hurdle for any body. All the problems are created by these so called jihadis. Think over it and be patient because every boy has equal right and all are Pakistanis. Recommend

  • Dec 22, 2010 - 1:35PM

    @Khurram: Just one small comment ” Live and let Live”. Don’t criticize others if you don’t know about them and their religion.Recommend

  • Syed+Ali+Shah
    Dec 23, 2010 - 2:46AM

    The guys in Karbala were also claiming that they have Quran, Islam and Sunnah but at the same time they killed the grandson of the Prophet PBUH. There are two groups, the one on Imam Hussain AS side and the others on the side of Yazid the bad guy. The aim of Yazid was to gain more power by using Islam and to take revenge of his forefathers killed in Badr. Be where ever you want to be and bring arguments for your satisfaction but you have to face Allah in the life after. Recommend

  • Khurram FAIZAN
    Dec 24, 2010 - 4:29PM

    @Farhan: How funny the last sentence “their religion”,,,, My dear it is the bone of fiction which creates all this type of problems…If we know our religion very much we dn’t need any thing else… but i agree with “Live and let live…”Recommend

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