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Capital Talk

Mainstream discourse on Shia Genocide and sectarianism

Pakistan is home to a strong 40 million Shia community which has been subject to persecution for decades. To date, more than 22,000 Shia have been killed in an organised campaign nothing short of a genocide. The mainstream discourse on this ruthless killing of the Shia suggests that the Shia are killed because of ideological differences and abuse of Sahaba, thus blaming the victims i.e. the Shia community for their persecution. Consequently, the resolution proposed recommends that efforts should be made to come to a mutually agreed interpretation of Islam and the Shia should respect the Sahaba just as the Sunnis do. I will use a few TV debates and excerpts from social media to document key aspects of the mainstream discourse on Shia Genocide and analyse if they have any merit.

Capital Talk
Capital Talk

In TV show Capital Talk aired on 1st July 2013, Hamid Mir invited representatives of Shia and Sunni religious leadership in addition to Aamir Liaquat, the host of a popular religious show. The key comments from the show are:

Aamir Liaqat demands a legislation which bans the abuse of the Sahaba or other religious figures essentially putting the Shia community under a blasphemy law.

  • He further adds that bloodshed will not stop unless the sectarian literature is banned.
  • Professor Dost Muhammad Khan of DSZIC demands that the Shia should participate in taraweeh prayers, which the Shia do not hold of any religious significance and is primarily a Sunni practice. 
  • Hamid Mir, the host of the show makes note of the differences in practice and beleief of the two sects saying why some pray with hands tie while others with hands straight and recommends praying together to end sectarian killings.
  • Aamir Liaqat further adds that Shia must participate in the Youm-e-Farooq-e-Azam, a day most Sunnis will not know of as it is organised by a small minority primarily the Sipah Sahaba ASWJ LeJ. He claims that as long as the Shia do not participate in Sunni events and the Sunnis do not participate in Shia events, there will be no end to this bloodshed.
Below is a screenshot of a tweet by Hamid Mir following the show:
Hamid Mir's tweet
Hamid Mir’s tweet

This is a classic case of what is wrong with the mainstream discourse on Shia Genocide. Mir is trivialising a very serious situation and is making people believe that it is some sort of tit for tat violence where both Shia and Sunni are killing each other solving religious/ideological differences will resolve it – key here is that ‘resolution’ of differences translates into giving up your belief, culture and identity for the sarkari Islam.  It serves a purpose and that is to hide the actual issue, undermine the genocide and importantly provide a cover to the killers I.e the alliance of Pakistan’s security establishment and Takfiri Deobandi terrorists of SSP ASWJ LEJ MDM. They are not even named but even after 22,000 deaths Shia are presented as some sort of a problem and not victims.

Similarly, below is another screenshot of a Facebook discussion on the same sectarian issue where the commentator is blaming the Shia for inviting their bloodshed for allegedly abusing the Sahaba:
My next case study is another TV talk show named Maazrat Kay Saath aired 12th November 2012 with Sipah Sahaba ASWJ’s Ahmed Ludhianvi and Ali K Chishti as guests. The key comments from this show are:
  • Ali K Chishti demands a Shaan-e-Sahaba law to ensure the disrespect of the Sahaba is controlled which will in turn put an end to Shia killings.
  • All participants demabd Shia and Sunni participating in each other’s events.
  • The issue is again presented as tit for tat violence and not an organised campaign against the Shia.


And finally, my last case study is this two part GEO TV talk show named Sar-e-Aam (Part 1 / Part 2) aired on 10th and 11th August 2012 discussing the differences in fasting timings in Ramzan. I would recommend to watch the program but key comments from the show are:
  • The host continues to demand why can we not agree to have Sehri on one agreed upon time and not on different times because of interpretation issues.
  • The Shia scholar comments that why do we want to become similar, why don’t we just accept the difference instead of trying to convert everyone to one opinion. He adds that this is like asking people to give up their identity, interpretation, beliefs, culture and practices.
  • One from audience comments that we hear announcements on TV saying Fiqh-e-Hanafi and Fiqh-e-Jaafria and claims this divides the Muslim Ummah and gives bad impression and we must resolve this.
  • Another from audience adds that we should use Science and come to an agreed solution on this.
  • The Sunni scholar comments that if 95% are doing one thing (referring to the majority Sunni Muslims) and the rest 5% are acting another way, naturally and logically the minority should change ways and this will give an impression of collective unity of the Muslim Ummah.
  • He further adds that if majority of the Muslims across the world break their fast at Maghrib, then as a Muslims we should agree on it and come to a collective belief and identity.
  • The Shia scholar insists on a individualist approach commenting if someone is sure it is time for breaking the fast, he can do it but it does not affect another individual and they have the right to interpret religious sources in their own way and make a decision for themselves.

As we have identified some of the key aspects of the mainstream discourse, now let us analyse these and see if they do have any merit and if not, why are they propagated.

 Is this sectarian or tit for tat violence?  Is this is a Iran-KSA proxy war?

Despite the killing of more than 22,000 Shia in Pakistan, the mainstream discourse has not changed and it is still referred to as sectarian violence or tit for tat violence suggesting that Shia and Sunni are killing each other and there is no organised killing of the Shias. The data suggests that 1450 Shia were killed in year 2012 alone and more than 411 Shia deaths have been recorded in running year 2013. In less than 6 months, the Shia have dig four mass graves in Quetta and Karachi. The silent persecution of the Shia in Parachinar, Hangu, Kurram and GB largely goes unnoticed and at most times unreported.

Back in 90s after Sipah Sahaba was spilling Shia blood across the country and the state failed to protect the Shia, a Shia militant wing Sipah Muhammad retaliated and targetted members of the SSP and LeJ. These were targetted attacks and there is no history of indiscriminate attacks by the Shia on Sunnis killing men, women, children in markets, education institutes, religious centres or elsewhere. Unfortunately, the retaliation attacks of the Sipah Muhammad come to haunt the Shia community to date though the organisation was banned several years ago. From the turn of the century, even the retaliation attacks have ceased and the Shia community has been a target of endless violence with the only response from them coming in form of peaceful protests across the world.

I have extensively studied the data on sectarian violence published by SATP, HRCP, AHRC and other organisations and I have not come across a single incident where the Shia targeted the Sunnis indiscriminately. The retaliation attacks of Sipah Muhammad (for a limited time window) can not be used to cover up an organised genocide of the Shia as a tit for tat violence. Fortunately, I do not see any Sunni mass graves, I don’t see the Shia calling for declaring Sunnis non-Muslim (Farooqi of SSP ASWJ demands to declare Shia non Muslims), I don’t see the Shia blowing off Sunni pilgrims on way to Saudi Arabia (see LeJ killing Shia pilgrims) , I don’t see Shias offloading Sunnis off the buses and killing them after identification (see Kohistan massacre video), I don’t know if Shia have distributed pamphelts threatening to kill Shia or asking them to flee Pakistan (see LeJ fatwa) and finally I do not see any Shia saying they will make the life hell for Sunnis (see Farooqi threateing Shia).

More than 100 incidents of attacks on Shia Imambargahs and mosques have been recorded while several thousand high profile Shia professionals specially doctors and lawyers have been killed. An Amnesty report documents that more than 50 Shia doctors were target killed in Karachi alone in 2001 and 2002. Only a few of the other professionals killed include Pakistan’s finest enterprenuer known for setting up Engro and PSO Mr. Shaukat Raza Mirza, Olympic boxer Abrar Hussain, Deputy Director Geological Survey of Pakistan Mr. Mohsin Naqvi, senior banker Muntazir Mehdi Rizvi, senior session judge Zulfiqar Naqvi, Deputy Director Intelligence Bureau Qamar Raza Naqvi, advertising veterrn Mukhtar Azmi, Prof Nazima Talib Mehdi and Dr Kaneez Fatima. Among writers and poets, Mohsin Naqvi,  Rais Amrohvi (brother of John Aleia), Shabiul Hasan and Sibte Jaafar are prominent. A few of the famous Shia religious scholars killed include Allama Aftab Jaafir, Allama Arif al Hussaini, Allama Hasan Turabi Hamid and Ali Bhojani of Khoja Jamaat. Shia politicians like MQM MPA Raza Hassan have also been targetted. If this was a tit for tat violence, there would have been proportionate response by the Shia on Sunnis which is not the case.

As numbers always help, below is some critical data in this regard:

  • According to University of Pennsylvania data, 95% of all terrorists captured in Pakistan between 1990 and 2009 are from Deobandi sect. The rest 5% is divided between Shia, Barelvi, Ahle Hadith and others. [Reference]
  • The same report as above also suggest than 90-95% of all terrorist organisations operating in Pakistan belong to the Deobandi sect.  [Reference]
  • The Deobandi sect has 71% share in total number of madressahs in Pakistan while they are only 15% of the population. The Shia who make up 20% of the population have only 4% share in madressahs while Barelvi Sunnis with 55% of population have only 16% share in madressahs. The Deobandis are 56% better off because of support from Pakistan’s security establishment who use them to further their agenda and in return give them free license to spill Shia blood which is their favorite hobby. [Reference]
I refuse to believe that with 2-3% share in terrorists, the Shia community have be part of a tit-for-tat violence and compete with someone with 95% share in terrorists.

Is the genocide of the Shia a result of ideological differences or ‘abuse of Sababa’ ?

This is the most dishonest but most popular aspect of the discourse on killing of Shia but it doesn’t take a minute to debunk this nonsese. If the Shia are killed for allegedly abusing or disrespecting the Sahaba, why the Sunni Sufi adherents were killed at the shrines of Rehman Baba in Pakhtunkhwa, Data Darbar in Lahore and Ganj Shakar in Pakpattan? These shrine going Sunni Muslims hold the Sahaba very dear and respect them like all other Sunnis. Why was Sunni Mufti Naeemi killed in Lahore? Did he abuse the Sahaba too? Why hundreds of Ahmadi Muslims, a denomination of Sunni Islam, are subject of worst form of racism and persecution in the land of the pure? In May 2012 in Lahore, nearly a 100 Ahmadi Muslims were indiscriminately killed in a mosque while praying with respect for the Sahaba in their hearts.

Sunni Muslims belonging to the Barelvi sect have been a target of violence for long. Leaders of Sunni Tehrik including Saleem Qadri, Abbas Qadri, Saleem Raza, Iftikhar Bhatti, Akram Qadri and Dr. Abdul Qadeer Abbasi were assassinated. In April 2006, the Eid Milad un Nabi celebration event organised by Sunni Tehrik in Karachi was attacked by a suicide bomber which wiped off the entire leadership of the party, killing nearly 60 and injuring more than a 100. Does the Sunni Tehrik and other Barelsvi Muslims also disrespect the Sahaba?

According to  Center for Islamic Research Collaboration and Learning (CIRCLe), since 2005 more than 209 peole have been killed and 560+ injured in more than 29 terrorist attacks on Sufi shrines in Pakistan which are visited largely by Sunni adherents of the Sufi saints. Facts and data clearly proves this popular argument nothing more than rhetoric and nonsense.

The fact remains that this argument is an obfuscation technique used by those who want to hide the identity of those who are responsible for Shia Genocide and want to present it as a turf war. This is clearly a result of Takfiri Salafi/Deobandi ideology exported by Saudi Arabia, promoted in Pakistan with the support of ISI and funded by Arab states of KSA, Qatar and UAE. This exclusivist ideology is upto redefining Islam using literalist interpretation of religion and destroy different interpretations of Islam (which give birth to sects) in the name of unity of Muslims. This ideology has not only killed Shia, Sufi Sunnis, Sunni Barelvis and Ahmadi Muslims because they differ from them but they are also responsible for persecution of other minorities in Pakistan. The burning of Christian houses in Pakistan in Gojra, Faisalabad, Gujrat and Lahore or using blasphemy laws against them has always have involved the same activists of Sipah Sahaba ASWJ who kill the Shia. 

 The demand for blasphemy law in this regard is another attempt to cease the academic debate on history of Islam and to curb freedom of expression. These laws in the name of Shaan-e-Sahaba will mean that the murderer of Karabala, Yazid will become Hazrat Yazid RA as per preference of Zakir Naik and with time, the history of Islam will be murdered, as KKAziz would have called it.

Peace is dependent on coming to a mutually agreed interpretation of religion

The raison d’être of Shi’ism as a distinct religion or sect is their difference from the mainstream Islam – not just ideological, but political and cultural. Shi’ism relies on allegoric and metaphoric interpretation of Quran while the mainstream Sunni Islam relies on a more literal interpretation. The Shia gauge the authenticity of Hadith through their connection to the family of the Prophet giving them special significance while the Sunni Islam consider both the family and companions of equal importance with no significance to the family. Politically, the Sunnis believe in a system of caliphate with special significance for the first four caliphs after Muhammad while the Shia do not accept the legitimacy of those caliphs and altogether reject caliphate in favor of Imamat. For centuries, Shia have been persecuted for these differences – starting with Ummayads, then Abbasids and Ottomans and present day states of KSA, Qatar, Bahrain, Egypt, UAE, they have all persecuted the Shia. They have had to pay the price for being different. Many analysts do not seem to understand that this difference is the sole reason for the Shia sect. If they have to give up their interpretation of religion, their culture, their identity in favour of Sunni beliefs and culture, what is the point of Shia sect?

 Not tough to understand – that is why this argument is always floated; the kind of mutual agreement expected will mean the end of Shia sect. Religious scholars, analysts and ordinary Muslims – they are all of the opinion that if the Shia and Sunni come to a mutually agreed belief system, a culture, a identity, then the problems will be resolved. They know that this agreement will come at the cost of the Shia minority losing their distinctiveness. The TV show I earlier quoted on Ramzan timings is a prime example of how unity in the Muslim world translates to hollow unification, of everyone being painted in the same color, and not acceptance of difference and tolerating it. If the Muslim world is not ready to accept the internal differences and considers unification a solution, will it call for Christians and Hindus to be Islamofied next? Yes, that is exactly what has been happening in the Muslim world. We have seen Hindus being forcibly converted, non Muslims forced to fast in Ramzan in the name of Ehtaram-e-Ramzan and countless blasphemy cases lodged against non Muslims.

Why should the guarantee to life of the Shia, a fundamental human right, be tied to respecting the Sahaba, offering taraweeh or participating in Youm-e-Farooq? Why not accept that someone honourable to us is not so worthy of respect to someone else. The whole idea of Shaan-e-Sahaba, blashpemy laws and mutual agreement on Islam is meant to cover up the bloody history of Islam and the great divide in the Muslims following the death of Prophet. The idea is to turn some heroes into villains and some villains into heroes and with turn of time history of Islam will be rewritten – the Shia sect which has always been a threat for mainstream Islam seen as rebellious and a religion of protest, put to the dustbin of history. 1400 years back, the Shia were killed in Karbala because they refused to accept the legitimacy of de facto leadership and de facto Islam. They were killed after they refused to accept the legitimacy and refused unify. They centuries they continued to protest, they continued to reject the de facto leadership and interpretation and have been subject of persecution with the same aim – either unify and accept the de facto Islam or face the consequences. The obfuscation techniques of themainstream discourse on Shia persecution is just a modern day representation of Saqifa or Karbala.


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