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Islam and Sectarianism ( 23 Apr 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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A Social Pariah Even In Maryland – All Because I Am Shia



By Farheen Rizvi

April 22, 2014

After almost two years, I returned to my old home town in Maryland. It was a small town and when I had lived there, nearly 40 Pakistani families resided in the area; most of them were from Punjab and a few were from Karachi.

Many of these Pakistanis were physicians, pharmacists and businessmen. My husband was also a physician; hence we had anticipated many similarities within the neighbourhood. However, soon after we moved in, I realised how wrong we were.

Even though I made a few good friends, I never felt wanted in the neighbourhood.

The reason I left Maryland in the first place was the social isolation inflicted upon me by my fellow Pakistanis.

In retrospect, I now understand that the reason I had became a social pariah, all those years back, was not because I didn’t fit in with their materialistic ideas or their hypocrisy, it was because I belonged to a different sect.

Surprised to hear that such prejudices existed beyond the borders of Pakistan?

Well, yes, they did. All the stereotypes of a particular Pakistani society were present in that small community in Maryland. I was the only Shiite Muslim amongst all of them and this, along with the fact that I saw their lust for materialism truly detestable, led to my isolation. For the women of that community, the size of one’s house and the number of branded clothes one wore were the criteria of friendship. I found this behaviour utterly revolting.

Their beliefs and practises confused me and this isolation left me with no choice but to go back to school and pursue a Masters degree.

Then, in 2010, I visited Pakistan and saw the miseries of the flood victims. This sight perturbed me and I decided to help out in any way that I can even upon my return to the US. I looked for different charity organisations and approached many people in Washington DC; after a while, I found an organisation suitable for me to work in.

This US-based charity was organised by a few Pakistanis, from Karachi, and the organisation had some great projects running in Karachi, one being a school for children. They had other projects as well, established in Haiti, Uganda, Philippines and many other places around the globe. Hence, the reputation of the organisation merited trusted.

I decided to work for the flood victims and launched some good projects under the charity’s banner.

The director of the charity was politically active in Washington DC and his political affiliation made many people biased against the cause of my charity event. Instead of helping me raise money in Maryland for the flood-hit areas on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), Punjab and interior Sindh, people became suspicious of my intentions, as if I had some separate, Pakistani political agenda for which I was collecting their money.

Suddenly, I was unwelcome in their parties and get-togethers. I was seen as someone who was affiliated to a political party and was there to spread propaganda in the Republican-dominated town. I received many emails that maligned the charity and spread rumours against it. Unfortunately, as a result, not many people supported my event, even though it was for helping Pakistanis who were in desperate need.

Interestingly, the Indians and Sri Lankans of that town supported me more than my own people and I raised a handsome amount of money.

Although their isolation made me a social worker, a blogger and a social media activist, I was gravely hurt by their lack of unity. True, their behaviour became a blessing in disguise for me, and I found a chance to explore myself and serve the people of Pakistan even though I was thousands of miles away. But what broke my heart was the prejudice of these people and their hatred.

I think it was their materialism that made them so blind and they didn’t even think of what their own brothers and sisters were going through after the flood in Punjab.

Fortunately, in 2012, I moved out of that town but one question still continues to nag at me wherever I go; will we, the Pakistanis, ever leave our political affiliations and ethnic prejudices behind and become one nation?

Not yet… but I hope one day we can.

Correction: An earlier version of this blog depicted Maryland as a town – the mistake has now been rectified and the error is regretted.