By Kiran Nazish
08 June, 2012
In Pakistan a mosque is not the house of God, but the house of a sectarian God. Although Muslim sects across the world have their own separate mosques for the reasons of Imamat, procedure and methodology of prayers, no one is ever stopped from entering a place of worship or called a Kafir inside one just because they do not come from the same sect.
Recently, I was told by a non-Sunni friend how he was tormented by fellow worshipers at a Sunni mosque during Friday prayers. He was on the road and getting late for Jamaat (congregation), so he went for the nearest mosque he could find - only to discover later that he was a Kafir for doing so. He was identified as a Shia when he did not raise his forefinger for Shahadat during the prayers.
We are led to believe that Pakistan is divided by its provincial politics, and our biggest insecurities come from India and the US, but some of the worst and the most real and physical crimes that people commit against each other in this country are based on religion. It is our pride in sectarian exclusivity that has valiantly strengthened our dissections. We sideline our minorities as people, because we fear them and they fear us. The only one being we trust and fight for is our exclusive sectarian God.
Sectarianism divides our politics, our military, our media and even our militant groups. Eventually our people divide themselves.
We have sectarian terrorist groups that are out to kill Shias and Ahmadis, so as to ensure their specific God's name is saved from the "evil of these sects". The most recent example of this phenomenon is the killing of over 200 people in sectarian violence in Gilgit-Baltistan on 28th February and 3rd April - including the selective slaughtering of more than a 100 Shias in one go.
Looking for political mileage, Imran Khan blamed the PPP government for the violence in a statement on April 7. If at any point in this country's history, any politician had been genuinely concerned about sectarianism, we would not have been in the state we are in.
In Gilgit-Baltistan, where Shias and the Sunnis once had intermarriages, community gatherings, and common hospitals and schools, they have separated their areas with precise boundaries. They cannot even use the same roads, markets and streets, let alone mosques. The entire politics of the region are sectarian based.
Before partition, sectarianism was almost unidentifiable. Much of this could be because of the influence of Sufis and Pirs, but people were generally peaceful. In the contemporary Pakistan, things started changing and the sectarian divide increased between the 1950s and 1970s. It all started with the identifying of Ahmadis as non-Muslims, on which both Sunnis and Shias strictly agreed. Then a few Shia-Sunni clashes took place, but they seemed more politically driven and people remained genuinely peaceful amongst themselves.
It was in January 2005 when Agha Zia-ud-din Rizvi, the popular and respected Shia cleric got killed that people were outraged and a real animosity was seen amongst them. Grave fear ran through the entire region. Sunni mosques were attacked, and there was an outburst of gunfire in different areas. Gilgit's polo ground was so volatile that army and paramilitary troops were called to cordon the area off and search for weapons. About 35 arrests were made, before Section 144 was imposed. But the arrested suspects were later allowed to go. And that is where the problem lies. Every time any arrests are made in G-B, the culprits are either facilitated in the escape, or are officially released. Both Sunni and Shia communities suffer because justice is not served.
The second major issue is with the discourse. Every time there is violence and bloodshed, our intellectuals indulge in rants, discussions, op-eds and research papers on sectarian violence. There has been no study on what actually compels people from the same country and the same religion to kill each other.
Since the media are not very efficient in the region and editors are based in bigger cities, there is a disconnect between the news desk and the on-ground situation. That allows for biased reporting, or in many cases, misreporting.
When I compare the statistic of killings since the 1980s, I find a very close link between retaliatory Sunni killings in small tribal areas and Shia killings in major cities. In the case of Gilgit-Baltistan, Hangu and Parachinar - where Sunnis are in minority - Sunni killings are never recorded or reported, which makes it a challenge for anyone like me to even cite them.
Shia killing are on a much greater scale and frequency but to understand what really exaggerates sectarianism in any place, is it not important to take into account both sides of the story? I have spoken to dozens of Shias, Sunnis and Ismailis from these areas, and they all have one thing in common - the fear of the other. Many families in G-B who have had Shia-Sunni intermarriages before the conflict worsened in the 1980s, have sent their children out to other parts of the country or abroad, because they feel threatened from both sides.
Political negligence, lawlessness, military regimes, and terrorist attacks have caused sectarian hatred among the people, and we have started to worship our own sectarian Gods rather than one God.
Yes, we wept with our Ahmadi brothers in the 2010 carnage, but we are still out to get them in schools, colleges and workplaces. We do cry over Shia killings in tribal areas, but still have no space for them in our mosques.
I would end with an excerpt from a poem called Psalm by Iranian-born German poet SAID.
stay by me
even if I nourish myself from ashes and salt
be still and listen to that name
which I lend to you
because I want to distinguish you from the idols
grant me patience to endure those who are vain
with their empty words
and the converts
who are zealous to confirm their opposite
that my waiting be full of revolt
Kiran Nazish is a journalist and activist. She is currently researching on difficult issues and areas of Pakistan.