Sultan M Hali
SECTARIANISM is a form of bigotry, discrimination, or hatred arising from attaching relations of inferiority and superiority to differences between subdivisions within a group. Common examples are denominations of a religion, ethnic identity, class, or regions for citizens of a state and factions of a political movement. In Christianity, sectarianism prevailed in the Catholics vs. Protestants strife. Within Islam, there has been conflict at various periods between Sunni and Shia communities. Shias consider Sunnis to be damned, due to their refusal to accept Hazrat Ali as the first Caliph and accept his descendants being infallible and divinely guided. Many Sunni religious leaders, including those inspired by Wahabism and other ideologies have declared Shias to be heretics or apostates. There are numerous other sub sects like Barelvis, Deobandis, Sufis and so on. There was a time when sectarian divide in Pakistan was not visible. Shias, Sunnis and the various other sects lived in perfect harmony, each practicing its rituals according to its belief.
During Military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq’s rule, religious extremism became more pronounced. With the advent of terrorism, sectarianism was exploited and the divide widened. Attacks on Shias increased under the presidency of Zia-ul-Haq, with the first major sectarian riots in Pakistan breaking out in 1983 in Karachi and later spreading to Lahore and Balochistan. Sectarian violence became a recurring feature of the the holy month of Muharram every year. Sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shias took place in 1986 in Parachinar. In one notorious incident, the 1988 Gilgit Massacre, Osama bin Laden , the Al-Qaeda leader-led Sunni tribals assaulted, massacred and raped Shia civilians in Gilgit after being inducted by the Pakistan Army to quell a Shia uprising in Gilgit.
Terror groups purposely assaulted a particular sect and lay the blame on the other, forcing them to retaliate. The sectarian breach between Saudi Arabia and Iran also became ominous as Pakistan became a theatre of proxy war. Pakistan, one of the largest Muslim countries the world, has seen serious Shia-Sunni sectarian violence in this period. Almost 80 – 85 percent of Pakistan’s Muslim population is Sunni while the Shias comprise 10 to 20 percent. In the last two decades, as many as 4,000 people are estimated to have been killed as a result of sectarian violence. The major culprits being the Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and now the Islamic State or Daesh. Another protagonist targeting Shias is the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The Hazara Community of Balochistan has been periodically attacked. Safoora Goth episode in Karachi, in which a whole busload of Ismailis was attacked in which forty five innocent lives were lost. The IS claimed responsibility for the attack.
This bleak milieu merits steps to be adopted by the state and opinion builders including theologists and religious leaders to take up the cudgels for inculcating the ethics of intersect harmony. It is heartening to note that the Bahauddin Zakaria University of Multan recently conducted a two days’ training seminar under the aegis of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Higher education Commission and a non-governmental organization, Bargad. The seminar urged the transformation of communities for peaceful coexistence and underlined the need of promoting social justice and forbearance in the society for achieving the objectives of intersect harmony. Titled “Ethics of Intersect Harmony”, the moot emphasized that humanity was the greatest religion of the world adding that all human beings were born free having equal rights. The speakers highlighted that Islam advocates human rights the most; they said and added that the Charter of Medina was the first constitution wherein the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) assembled the believers and non-believers on one platform. It is imperative that more initiatives of similar nature are organized in which emphasis is laid on the factor that civil society was the backbone of executive, legislature and judiciary while educational institutions, mosques, religious seminaries, playgrounds and some other factors constitute the civil society by definition. We need to stress that the tenets of Islam teach the principles of live and let live and profess respecting each other irrespective of colour, creed or belief were the golden principles of leading a peaceful life.
Brotherhood is the basic teaching of Islam while the 1973 constitution guaranteed the rights of every citizen of the country. In this backdrop, the government should promote forbearance and staying power to end jealousy, extremism and narrow-mindedness from the society. The need of the hour is that since humankind is the fountain head of the universe around which everything revolved thus civil rights of every citizen of the country should be protected without any discrimination. We are blessed with the Holy Quran, one the best gifts sent to us by Allah through his messenger (may peace be upon him). The Book of Allah speaks about the respect of each one of us while the freedom of expression is also right of everyone. If we trace the history of human rights, we note that The Last Sermon (Khutbah Hajjatul Wida) delivered by the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) was the greatest document of human rights. In the same vein, Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus have also been targeted by extremists. This is in direct contravention of the teachings of the founder of Pakistan, who had directed us to safeguard the life and property of the minorities as they are equal citizens of Pakistan.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.
Sultan M Hali