New Age Islam Edit Desk
The firing at the Shia mourners at the Imambargah Wazirganj has resulted in the death of two men, one Muslim named Shanu and the other a Hindu named Ved Prakash Yadav. The firing was allegedly carried out by the members of an unidentified extremist Sunni group of Lucknow that may be called “Indian Taliban” and is seen as the first fruit of the efforts made by Saud cleric and Imam-e-Kaaba Sheikh Sudais and Jamiatul Ulema’s Deobandi leader Arshad Madani to foment Shia-Sunni tensions in India.
Lucknow has the largest population of Shias in the country. Although there have been tensions between Shias and Sunnis in the distant past and even some minor clashes, for many years in the recent past there has been complete peace. This was the result of a conscious decision by leaders of both Shia and Sunni communities that none of them should allow members of their respective communities to provoke one another. But even in days when some tension prevailed nothing like the incident of last Wednesday ever took place. The clash between the two communities in the past remained limited to stone pelting. The modus operandi of this operation points towards a larger and more organised conspiracy to foment serious Shia-Sunni clashes in the city. This also points to the violent turn the sectarian divide is going to take in days to come.
According to reports, the atmosphere had been tense for a few months now with rumours that indicated that something serious was happening behind the scenes and a conspiracy was being hatched to carry out armed operations against the Shias of the city to teach them a lesson in Pakistani style. In Pakistan, the extremist Sunni outfits regularly kill Shias by firing on their congregations, in their mosques and on their processions killing dozens of innocent Shias. They even attack school vans carrying Shia children to school and kill them.
Wednesday’s attack in Lucknow was an operation on the same Pakistani line in which the attackers opened fire indiscriminately injuring dozens of Shias who had congregated in an imambargah for a religious ceremony. Two of the injured later died leading to communal and sectarian tensions in the city.
That the incident was pre-planned and Sunni extremist groups which can aptly be called the Indian Taliban were behind the attack is evident from the facts that have emerged after the incident. Azhar Naqvi, a resident of Lucknow, has given some hints about the motive and the persons behind this operation in a letter published in the Urdu daily Sahafat today. Here is a translation of the letter:
“Rumours were doing the rounds in Lucknow for the last few months that this time the Shias of Lucknow will be taught a lesson in Pakistan style. Since it was a rumour, paying attention to it was considered a waste of time. It was hard to believe that now the plan has been made to bathe the mourners in blood instead of pelting stone at them. How could one believe that the followers of the faith could execute such satanic plans at any cost? ...
“The prudence of the majority of the Shia and Sunni communities has ensured the maintenance of peace and harmony in the city till now. Now it is the duty of the administration not only to arrest the terrorists accused in the Wazirganj attack but also to find out where the weapons came from and who are in possession of the weapons as the rumours were also doing the rounds that this time illegal arms had been brought for the destruction of Shias. And if it was not true, the terrorists would not have fired so fearlessly. It is also suspected that the Lucknow Taliban may have links with foreign terrorist organisations. The government and the administration should immediately take steps to curb this menace otherwise these terrorist forces may play their bloody game on the 8th and 12 of Rabiul Awwal again turning Lucknow into another Karachi.”
It is clear from what Mr Naqvi has written that the operation had been planned well in advance and that the Indian Taliban of Lucknow, if indeed such an organisation exists, have vowed to ‘punish’ the Shias in Pakistan style, that is by firing at their procession, in their mosques, on their processions and celebrations and by target killing of Maulana Abid Bilgrami Karachi style while he was giving a speech. Mr Naqvi also hints at the fact that some powerful people are connected with this conspiracy who have helped in smuggling in illegal weapons for this purpose.
Clearly the efforts made by Saudi cleric and Imam of Kaaba Sheikh Sudais to foment Shia-Sunni trouble in India with the help of Maulana Arshad Madani of Deoband, Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid of Delhi and Ahl-e-Hadees has started bearing fruit in less than a year since March last year when the Imam-e-kaaba visited India and gave a fillip to “Azmat-e-Sahaba” conferences organised by Arshad Madani held throughout the country following his visit.
New Age Islam was the only news organisation in India to warn of the impending dangers and try to warn the Muslims of the real implication of Sheikh Sudais visit and Saudi efforts.
The Editor, New Age Islam, Mr Sultan Shahin, for instance, told a London-based journalist Sahar Saba in a interview on 20 May 2011: “At the moment, we at New Age Islam are trying to warn Indian Muslims of an obvious Saudi attempt to promote Shia-Sunni sectarian division and conflict. The Imam of Kaaba was here with the anti-Shia message and soon after his departure a massive Sunni conference is being organized today in Lucknow, the Shia heartland of India, to basically denounce Shias, though the cover is that the conference is to praise the companions of the Prophet whom Shias are supposed to revile.
“Why the companions of the Prophet couldn’t be praised anywhere else in India where Sunnis are in a majority? Why go to Lucknow? Only one answer is possible. To incite the Shias.
“Now if Saudi Arabia comes to Lucknow, can Iran be far behind. Indeed, Iran is already there. But so far India was probably one of the few countries without a history of Shia-Sunni conflict despite a strong 15 percent Shia minority among Muslims. There have been a few disputes in the past but they were easily resolved. At least in the recent past there has been no tension at all.”
New Age Islam columnist Akram Nawaz wrote: “Rather than talking about democracy or other social and political problems facing the Arab monarchs, Sudais in India focused in his lecture on establishing institutions and councils in order to protect the companions of the Prophet from vilification and execration. He said this in the backdrop of a tradition of Shia Islam which allegedly engages in vilification and execration of some of the companions of the prophet (pbuh). Saudi government’s massive propagation of Wahhabi Islam and blatant support to “Sipah-e-Sahaba (of Pakistan)” has already wreaked havoc in Pakistan. Will Sudais’s India visit engender same kind of schism in Indian Muslim society and polarize it into Shia and Sunni sects so as to crush the uprisings in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries and to protect their dynasties?.”
Wednesday’s attack on the Shia gathering should, therefore, be looked at in this background. The firing and the death of two people is closely linked to the ideological differences of the two Muslim sects –Sunni and Shia. Sunis revere the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) called the sahaba who made enormous sacrifices, physical and material, for the defence, growth and spread of the deen. The Shias, however, have serious reservations about some of the prominent sahaba and the wife of the holy Prophet (pbuh) Hadhrat Aisha’s role during the post-Prophet (pubh) clashes and differences between the sahaba and the family of the holy Prophet (pbuh). Therefore, they allegedly curse and vilify the companions of the Prophet during the month of Muharram. The allegation itself evokes angry responses from the larger Sunni population. The Shia deny any such practice known among Sunnis as Tabarrah (repudiation, moving away, distancing oneself, ''cursing, expressing disgust).
However, in India, the Shias understand the consequences of the public vilification of sahaba and confine their tabarrah, if at all, to private meetings and thus avoid sectarian tensions and clashes.
However, this Shia-Sunni divide has widened across the Muslim world, thanks to the persistent Saudi efforts. Pakistan is in the front line of this conflict. Other countries where Shia-Sunni clashes have turned into violent intermittent riots and bloodshed are Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Iraq. The larger Sunni sect believes that Shias are not Muslims as some of their practices disqualify them as Muslims. The Wahhabi school of Islam, the official religion of Saudi Arabia, considers them kafirs (non-believers) and wajibul qatal (deserving to be killed). In Pakistan Shias including their innocent children have been declared kafirs and wajibul qatal (deserving death). In India, the Darul Ifta (Fatwa centre), Deoband too has declared them kafirs in its online fatwa.
The Wahhabi school of thought is at the root of violent differences between the Sunnis and the Shias. In this desert of sectarian intolerance, India had so far been oasis of peace and harmony. In Kolkata, for instance, where a sizeable population of Shias live, there is no acrimony between the two communities. Shias hold their congregations and take out processions during the month of Muharram without facing any obstruction or opposition.
But the recent growth of Wahhabi and ahl-e-hadith groups in India with the help of Saudi petrodollars is gradually intensifying this sectarian divide. In recent times, the special interest of the Saudi government in Indian Muslims has raised some eyebrows. Last year, the imam of Kaabah Sheikh Al Sudais visited Darul Uloom Deoband to attend an Azmat-e-Sahaba conference in Deoband on the invitation of Maulana Arshad Madani. He also led the prayer in Delhi and met the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Not unsurprisingly, he did not meet any leaders of the majority Barellvi Sunni sect or Shias. He did not visit any Bareilvi or Shia seminary or institution, making it clear that he was not the imam of the Muslims of all ideological denominations but of a particular ideology.
At a time when Muslims of India are facing a number of challenges on social, economic and political front, his visit to India and that too to Deoband, close to Lucknow, to attend a conference on the greatness of Sahaba (companions of the Prophet, some of whom are reviled by the Shias) raised some questions. A general Muslim may object to the reservations about it as there does not seem to be anything wrong if someone eulogises the holy companions. But seen in the backdrop of the grievances of the Shia community against some of the holy companions and their vocal criticism of their alleged role vis-à-vis the family of the holy Prophet (pbuh) it becomes a serious issue. When efforts are made to bridge the gulf between two communities, the points of differences are ignored and the common traits and beliefs of the two communities are stressed. When Sunnis and Shias have different approaches to sahaba it would be detrimental to peace and harmony to focus on the differences and that is exactly what has been done and perhaps will be done in future as well.
There is no threat to the greatness of the Sahaba in India or to Islam as a whole for that matter. Why then does Deoband organise conferences only to eulogise the Sahaba and not to stress the collective message of Islam? There are a lot of areas in which Muslims should work collectively and the Saudi government can contribute to the promotion of education, eradication of poverty and promotion of inter-sect harmony among the Muslims. But instead of doing all this, the Saudi government has been sending its ulema only to foment sectarian troubles in India where both the communities have tried to co-exist peacefully.
Visits of Saudi ulema and imams to India at the behest of the Saudi government during the last couple of years indicate that the Saudi government has some hidden agenda of promoting Wahhabi ideology in a country where all the ideological groups of Muslims have been living peacefully. Last month, the ahl-e-hadith organisation held a major conference in Kolkata in which reportedly crores of rupees were spent.
Therefore, instead of focussing on the educational and economic uplift of the Muslim society of India, the stressing on the points with which Sunnis differ with Shias smacks of mala fide intentions of the Saudi government and the Wahhabi centres of Islamic thought in India. And from the recent incidents of bloodshed in the name of Sahaba only shows that the efforts of the Saudi Wahhabi lobby have started bearing fruits now.
The plight of the Shias under Saudi rule is known to all. They are not free to practice their rituals freely in the dominant Sunni country where they form 15 percent of the population. They are looked upon with suspicion being politically and spiritually close to Iran and perceived as a national threat. The Saudi government occasionally carries out aerial attacks on the Shia population of Yemen and has helped the dictatorial government of Bahrain to crush the Shia uprising against the tyrannical rule.
Thus by focussing on the point on which the Sunnis and Shias differ in approach, the Saudi government and the Wahhabi factions of the country have only demonstrated their plans to perpetrate violent attacks on Shias as is going on in other countries. Some Muslim political leaders seem to be patronising the “Indian Taliban” in Lucknow by providing them legal protection and helping them smuggle in illegal weapons.