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Muslim denominations: Are you Shia or Sunni?

Published: November 4, 2014

At that age, it didn’t seem like a big issue. But as I grew, I realised that it was indeed a big issue. PHOTO: FILE

It started quite early. I was seven-years-old. That’s when I first realised that there was something called a “Shia”, and people thought I was one; because in Pakistan, certain surnames are associated with being a Shia. ‘Zaidi’, one of them, sounds similar to the surname ‘Zahidi’, so I was and am often asked this question – “are you a Shia?”.

So I came home and asked my father, to which Abba replied in a very matter-of-factly that by faith, Shias and Sunnis are both Muslims. He explained to me that it’s like two brothers from the same family, we all love Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and his family, and are still very sad about what happened to his grandson Imam Hussain (RA). He further explained, as best as he could to a seven-year-old, that we are from the sect called Sunnis.

At that age, it didn’t seem like a big issue. But as I grew older, I realised that it was indeed a big issue. The issue, basically, is what has caused sectarian and ethnic differences and cleansings and violence over centuries; the issue that has stained many with innocent blood; the issue is that we cannot accept someone different; the issue is of us versus them, of “the others”, this religion versus that, this sect versus that, this province versus that, this ethnicity versus that.

This is an overly simplistic analysis maybe. Or maybe not. We can go into the historical causes, but history will always be partial, lack objectivity and will literally be to each his own. So we have no sure way of knowing why Sunnis and Shias have remained daggers drawn.

Society conditions us in such a way that we have a hard time coming to terms with whoever differs from us, may it be in thought process, language, ethnicity or race, caste, creed and religion. Going against what the Holy Quran tells us to do, we don’t overlook the differences and don’t concentrate on the similarities – we do just the opposite.

I was blessed that I grew up as daughter of a father who, being a Sunni by belief, made sure that solidarity with Shias was order of the day. Abba and I spent countless tenths of Muharram talking about the history of Islam and of the Karbala massacre, with him telling me both sides of the story. He would tell me to not listen to music loudly or not do anything on that day that would hurt the sentiments of Shia neighbours or friends. And he made sure that I understand that differences in perspectives are “natural, because Allah has created each one of us differently, and our circumstances shape us. Therefore, give each other margin”. His words have stayed with me.

Sadly, many of us stereotype the others. Sometimes, you will catch one side whispering amongst themselves about the other. We are scandalised when the other group’s namaz is somewhat different, seemingly, or they break their fast in Ramazan slightly earlier or later. Same Allah, same Messenger (SAW), same Quran just doesn’t seem enough, and so we stereotype each other.

Polarisation between Shias and Sunnis has resulted in followers conveniently deciding to divide, amongst them, the companions of Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

“So I am going with Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman (RA) and you go with ‘Ali, Imam Hassan, Imam Hussain (RA) and Prophet Muhammad (SAW) family. In my religious literature and talks, I will talk about Ayesha (RA) and you can talk about Fatima (RA). For guidance, I can look at the rulings of Abdullah bin Masood (RA) and you can choose Abdullah bin Abbas (RA).”

The worst form of reactionary psychology is then to hit where it hurts the most – disrespecting the ideas or the people the other group holds sacred. Thus, those who were closest to Allah get dragged in our tug of war – a war which makes no sense.

However, when it comes to Hajj or Umrah, both groups are peacefully praying in the same rows, embracing the differences and celebrating the commonalities. They are performing tawaaf of the same Holy Ka’abah, doing sa’ee together between Safa and Marwa, and praying from the same Holy book, though they may differ at times in how they interpret it. Why not carry the same acceptance with them outside the haram too, and say to each other from the heart “Assalamu’Aalaikum” (Peace be upon you)?

But that does not seem to work, and I don’t know why.

What I do know is that for the longest time, every year in Muharram, we pray that these days pass without any casualties. What I do know is that year after year, innocent lives are lost – in retaliation, in reaction. Hatred takes over peace. Anger takes over sanity. The real face of Islam gets blurred, ironically on these most special of days for Muslims.

There is very little we can do about it, except start looking inward, reflect where we let stereotypes rule us, and where we crossed a line and forgot that there is no compulsion in religion.

I am a Sunni, and I peacefully remain one by choice. But another human has an equal right to follow whatever path they want to. The followers of all faiths must feel secure and not be punished for what they believe in. Humanity, peace and the true message of Islam is bigger than these denominations.

Success stories: From Balochistan to Karachi: Sewing lives back together

Zarmina and Bakhtawar display the dresses they have made. PHOTO: FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI/EXPRESS

Whenever a well-dressed woman appears on television, Sohrab Khan Marri calls out loudly to his daughters Uzma and Sanam. “Look. This is the latest design. You can make something like this for your clients,” he says.

A year ago, the environment in this house in Quetta was very different. While Marri and his wife are educated people and allowed their girls to get an education, working outside the home was taboo for women in their family. All that changed after the two sisters stepped out of their comfort zone and travelled to Karachi to attend a six month-long fashion design course, introduced by Institute for Development Studies and Practices (IDSP) to help empower young women from Balochistan. “Before the course, I did not know I had a purpose in life. Now life is so exciting! I have realized I have the power to be a role model for the women of my area. I now teach women at Darul Aman Quetta the same skills I learnt. I also try and build their confidence,” says Uzma. “All of the 20 girls who were chosen for the first batch are from Balochistan. We extend help to anyone who we feel is marginalised and is from vulnerable segments of society,” explains Asma Zafar, Manager Institutional Support at IDSP. Zafar is in charge of these projects, and shares that the second batch of girls will soon start the course. The young women come from communities across Balochistan but they have one thing in common: life has not been easy on them. Their problems are mostly an overlap of poverty, insecurity and violence. “There have been cases on Saryaab Road area in Quetta where acid was thrown on women simply because they ventured out of their homes to work,” says Zafar. According to her, if these women step out of their homes to work, the Pashtoon rikshaw drivers will not take a Baloch woman as a passenger, and vice versa, as they do not want to get involved with the responsibility of helping a woman from another community commute to work. “The girls come to us with social conditioning and ethnic bias at times. But the same girls who initially do not want to talk to each other have, by the end, become best friends,” says Zafar, explaining how the project also serves as a peace-building initiative. Zarina and Bakhtawar speak to each other in Dari when asked if Karachi has been the safe haven they hoped it would be. They are from the Shia Hazara community and migrated to Karachi from Quetta more than 15 years ago, in search of a more secure and comfortable life. But while Karachi has given them a lot, it has also taken away a significant amount. Zarina’s 32-year-old brother, along with two others, was shot earlier this year at Karachi’s Maskan Chowrangi just because he belonged to the Hazara community. “An FIR was lodged but there was no follow-up. My brother has left behind five children, a young wife and our parents,” says Zarina. A resident of Manghopir area, there are 18 family members in Zarina’s house. The ISDP provides these girls with the basic materials they need for the course, like fabric. The profit is shared on a 50-50 basis between the girls and IDSP. In addition the girls are paid separately for the hard work they put in. To help girls like herself, Zarina is teaching 10 girls in her neighbourhood. “I charge them Rs200 each and earn about Rs2000 a month from that too. Recently, a supporter of the organization internationally exhibited the clothes designed by these girls and sold them. “We are taught everything, right from sketching, drafting, cutting and stitching,” says Zarina. What is most interesting is how these girls, in this women-friendly space, learn each other’s traditional stitches specific to the culture of each community. Zarina, for instance, displays very fine embroidery done in the Qibtimaar stitch, typical to the Hazara community. The course includes more than just fashion design. The girls are taught basic skills like oral hygiene and self-grooming techniques. “The first girl from a family comes to us with a lot of difficulty. But once they start earning, the male family members also come on board. The entire family transforms. But this is done one girl at a time,” says Zafar. Uzma adds, “I think we have succeeded in opening a small door to opportunity for the other girls of my family.” Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2014.

Where are you, Mister Prime Minister, when your people need you?

March 5, 2013

A family affected by the Abbas Town blasts mourns over their loss, while Mr Prime Minister plans his trip to India. PHOTO: REUTERS

Headlines, juxtaposed, stare back at me in the morning paper. I am reading it, still shaken by the events of the Abbas Town Blasts. The sky on this Tuesday morning is tinted a strange reddish strain. Maybe it’s just in the minds of traumatised Karachiites who cannot get over the blood spilled in Abbas Town– blood that has still not dried.

Fumes of that blood are now being breathed in also by residents of the hitherto protected upscale neighbourhoods of Karachi who live in fear of their daughters and wives being kidnapped. We are talking about the blood of the (at least) 48 dead and 140 injured – shops and homes burnt, families displaced, children lost.

Broken toys and burnt textbooks and scattered around. Glass panes through which they used to see the world are now lying as broken shards. Torn dupattas, molten electric wires, blistered dreams and mangled photographs of families smiling on Eid decorate the ground.

Yes, the sky is a little reddish today, especially after the funeral procession also came under fire. Even the dead can no longer rest in peace, not because of their own sins, but because of the sins of those who are still alive and armed.

And as a resident of this bloody city (literally), I somehow cringed at this headline:

“Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf to visit shrine in Ajmer Shareef, India”

Really, PM sahab?

With all due respect, it is not your going to Ajmer Shareef that is the problem, sir. Refreshing spirituality, washing sins and praying is as much your right, sir, as is mine. It is the timing! It is the fact that you never cared to visit the site of the blast. Neither did any other bigwigs, the maai baaps, the rulers and movers and shakers who rule and move while our very fabric is shaken up.

However, enough has been said about that. We, the citizens of Pakistan, know now more than ever that we are on our own – abandoned, unclaimed. We are independently left alone to clean up the mess after every carnage. The message “abb khud kuch karna paray ga” (we must do something now) stares at us in the face.

We really don’t have a choice. We no longer trust the promises of getting Rs 1,500,000 each for the families of the dead and Rs 1,000,000 each for the injured. Even if, as part of a huge hypothesis, the amount reaches the deserving hands, will it bring the dead back to life? And wouldn’t it be a band-aid too late, even if it does arrive?

Meanwhile, emotionally drained and angry Karachiites channelise their anger like they should. They vent on social networking sites and outside dhaabaas incessantly, for the sake of their own sanity.

They agitatedly argue about how to react to this; they debate the “what next”; they talk about the ugly head of civil war expected to raise its head. They talk about how it is finally a sad fact even the most patriotic ones of us have to accept that yes, I’d rather let my child become a part of Pakistan’s brain drain.

Let the mass exodus begin. For it is no longer time to say “kaheen Karachi Beirut na bann jaye”. Guess what. We’re already there, but are in denial.

Still, all is not lost! We, the Karachiites, right from Dalmia to Defence,are doing what should be done, and what little is in our power. We stage peaceful protests and raise awareness and collect donations in cash and kind. Our students are tear-gassed and baton-charged and arrested for protesting because the real criminals are a league above – they cannot be laid a finger upon.

The awaam still continues to be resilient. Within 24 hours, 60 bags of blood are donated just outside the phase IV Imambargah Yasrab. Within 24 hours, one million rupees are collected. Within 24 hours, shelters are set up and food, medicines and clothes are reaching the effected. Expats are desperately trying to wire money across to Pakistan. On Sunday night, I got a call from a friend who was weeping because she, after volunteering all day for the victims, still wanted to do more, and wanted to know how she can do it.

I see friends at work rushing out for an hour between work timings to donate blood. I know of parents who train their young children by making them pack boxes for the effected.

It’s not much, we all know, but this is all we can do.

What is most heart-warming is how the miscreants lost a battle there and then when Sunnis of the area opened their homes for their Shia brothers. Abbas Town blasts may be the worst that has happened top Karachi recently, but may bring out the best!

On Monday night, a friend messaged me, sharing how many members of the Shia community who had saved up money to go for Ziarat to Karbala, have decided to donate the money towards the rebuilding of the damaged homes. There are firstly whispers and then more vocal suggestions that money saved for Umrah could be used for the same – suggestions coming from Sunnis.

Mr Prime Minister, you and your comrades could learn a thing or two here, don’t you think, sir?

For me, the biggest silver lining is this: with each consecutive catastrophe, we become braver and more vocal and fearless.

We no longer speak in hushed tones. We are saying no to silence as a nation.

Read more by Farahnaz here or follow her on Twitter @FarahnazZahidi

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/16342/where-are-you-mister-prime-minister-when-your-people-need-you/

Four days on, 87 Hazaras finally find resting place

By Our Correspondents
Published: January 15, 2013

Members of the Hazara community shout slogans during the Quetta blasts’ victims’ funeral ceremony. PHOTO: AFP

QUETTA: The bodies of 87 slain Hazaras, which had been accompanied by thousands of mourners from the Shia Hazara community on Alamdar Road for a full four days, were finally laid to rest on Monday.

Some 17 bodies, unidentifiable due to the impact of the blast, wait for their families to recognise and bury them.

The Hazara Town graveyard, Barory, and Ganje Shuhada graveyard, Alamdar Road, receivedthe victims of the January 10 bomb blasts that claimed more than a 100 lives, only after the community’s elders announced that the protest was officially over. Their decision followed Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf’s announcement that some of the community’s demands would be met, including the dismissal of the provincial assembly and the imposition of governor rule.

The struggle for the community, however, is far from over – this may very well just be the beginning.

“We trust the decision of the elders of our tribe. However, we are wary of trusting the government’s promises. It may be just a pacifier … We have some degree of satisfaction over governor rule in the province, and (the fact that) false cases against our Hazara brothers in police stations and courts (are) being withdrawn, along with release of those Hazaras who are in prisons,” said a Hazara community member who returned home for the first time since the blast, while talking to The Express Tribune. Yet, he shared, his community was not happy with how “giving more power to Frontier Corps (FC) is being dealt with. It reeks of deception. Only time will tell”.

Another member of the community pointed out that most who had lost their lives on that fateful day were young boys volunteering to save those who were injured in the initial explosion. “The first blast had fewer casualties. That was actually bait to draw as many men as possible to the site, so that a maximum number of men lose their lives in the attack,” he said.

The man told about how he lost his 23-year-old cousin who was about to get married soon. “He called us after the second blast saying ‘I have lost one arm and one leg, and I am bleeding too much. Come soon. There are others here who are in worse condition than me’. By the time we covered the 45 minute distance from Barory to Alamdar road, he was gone. We have been through hell. We are still living it.”

Sitting out in the freezing cold for days has left the Hazara community physically exhausted. There has been a spread of respiratory and chest infections, as well as joint aches and pains. Emotionally too, the deaths and protests have taken their toll. Yet, their resolve is unwavering.

“We are not going to give up the struggle. But from the government and the people of Pakistan, all we can request is, ‘bring the culprits to task’. You all know who they are. And if you cannot do that, at least stop supporting them,” said a female Hazara activist, adding that death does not scare her any more.

What has driven the besieged minority is a wave of support which brought several parts of the country to a standstill over the last few days, leaving a fearful government resorting to jamming mobile phone networks once again.

“It is heartening to see how people all over Pakistan and in fact all over the world have woken up to the cause of Hazaras. The turnout of women at the sit-in is no small feat, considering how protective and conservative Hazaras and generally the people of the province are when it comes to their women,” a Hazara activist said. The campaigner added, “It was excruciatingly painful to make our dead wait to be buried. But I think the sacrifice of those who died will not have gone in vain.”

A spokesperson on behalf of Shia Hazara activists gave this statement of gratitude: “To all our honourable brothers and sisters who joined hands with us in these painful moments – We are thankful to those mothers the world over who have trained their children to support the oppressed when in pain …”

It went on to add: “We pray to Allah that you all never have to suffer how we have suffered. Rest assured, if ever a time comes when God forbid you all need support, the Shia Hazaras will be by your side, and will not hesitate from giving any sacrifice to safeguard you. May God be with you. From the Shia Hazara community.”

Demand for army

Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen Central Secretary Raja Nasir Abbas demanded of Balochistan Governor Zulfiqar Magsi to call in the army for security in Quetta.

FC and police personnel, along with volunteers of the Hazara Community, were on alert as the burials took place.

Later, addressing a joint press conference, Abbas along with leader of Yakjehti Council Qayyum Nazar Changezi and the head of the Hazara tribe Sardar Saadat Ali Hazara expressed gratitude towards Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf. At the same time, they demanded that Quetta be handed over to the army, since the FC had not proved effective in the past.

The speakers said they shared equally the grief of the journalists martyred in the bomb blast.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2013.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/494149/four-days-on-87-hazaras-finally-find-resting-place/

A story of the “Others” – Hazara Shias lose all hope in Pakistan

Published: December 31, 2012

Muslim groups demonstrate against the Taliban killings of Shias in Pakistan December 7, 2012 during the “10,000 Souls March” in New York. PHOTO: AFP

KARACHI: Shabana Khan* speaks from behind a screen put up to protect her identity at a recent women’s assembly. I cannot see her. I do not know what her age is. I have no way of observing her non-verbal communication. But what I do know is that this is a person in pain. Intense pain has resulted in eloquence as well as a defiant, almost rebellious fearlessness. She is a young woman from the Shia Hazara community and lives in Quetta. This is an excerpt of the story she tells of herself and her community:

Death is waiting around the corner. Before that, I must share what it means to be a Shia Hazara. Today, I am going to share a bit of my story – the story of me and my people. When one of us comes in front of you, you mostly label us Chinese or Korean. Our complexions are not like yours, neither is our race or genetic composition. We are the ‘others’. And our pain is that of the others. We are Pakistanis but not considered a part of you. Very few will raise their voice for us, even when 27 of us are taken off a bus and are shot and killed just because we are Shias. Just because we have Mongol-like features. Just because we migrated here from Afghanistan.

What is our crime, I still don’t understand. We pay taxes. We make useful things out of spare parts. We want to be peaceful contributors towards the progress of our country, Pakistan. We dream of a beautiful Pakistan where all sects and ethnicities work together towards a common goal.

But what is the reality? How many of you can relate to 5 dead bodies being taken out of a house – father, brothers, sons. What do the women of that house go through? What is the future of these women? Of the Shia Hazara women? When they step outside the four walls of their homes once the men have been slaughtered, to earn a living because they have no other choice, vultures start circling. These are men who have been directly or indirectly responsible for lifting the roof off their heads. Responsible for killing the men in their lives. They offer help to these women in exchange for not cash but kind. I am one of those women.

As a girl from the Shia Hazara community, I know my life is forever at risk which is why I am hidden behind a screen for my safety as I speak to you. But trust me when I say that if tomorrow I am killed, my death will not make newspaper news unless a mass massacre happens.  Most killings of my community don’t make it to national news.Do you know

Why do you take each other’s pictures? Mementos? We, the Hazaras, now photograph each other knowing that probably these photographs, especially of our men, will be placed on their dead bodies during their funeral. The area of the Ganj-e-Shuhada graveyard for the Hazara community is being extended. More dead than alive. And the rest a community of the living dead…constantly living in a state of fear.

We are marginalized. As a working woman, I have seen better days. There was a time when I could travel to 30 districts, safely, even at night and my parents didn’t worry. Now, I  cannot walk even a kilometer down from Meezan Chowk to buy something I need. A Shia Hazara girl today cannot go till the Sariyab Road, Quetta, to the Balochistan University, to get an education. Do you know what it is like to live in a constant state of fear? To be surrounded by people who are also equally afraid? When fear becomes a way of life. Even if the sound of thunder or lightning strikes, we think someone is here to attack us. If a bus is stopped by the police for checking and we are on board, we are sure that this is it – that death has arrived.

These days when Shia Hazara mothers hand over chadars to their daughters when they are stepping out, they advise them to kill themselves in case someone approaches them with wrong intentions. To save their lives, our brothers flee the country as part of a mass exodus, travelling by sea, and many become food for the fish on way. Many are kidnapped in that dangerous journey, and then their families are asked for ransom. If they are lucky enough to reach Australia, they will never be 1st grade citizens of that country.

I often wonder why the contributions of my community are not mentioned in history books. Our ancestors may be from Afghanistan, but we have made contributions for Pakistan. Even today, Hazaras are a silent force, working towards a better Pakistan, peacefully and sincerely. We are doctors and engineers. If nothing else, we are labourers and janitors. We build your homes and lift your trash. All we ask for in return is the right to be able to live a peaceful life in this country we call our own. Is that too much to ask?

My mother always used to say ‘pray for your brother. Allah listens to the prayers of a sister for her brother’. But now I sometimes think none of my prayers are being heard.950

There used to be a time that my community was doing so well as traders and businessmen because of fair dealings. Hazara boys and girls got jobs easily because of their efficiency and integrity. Now, fear forces us to stay at home. Even going to the hospital for treatment is an ordeal. Our dead in hospital mortuaries are also not peacefully handed over to the families till their wives go and identify the bodies.  Even our children suffer. Look carefully at a Hazara child’s eyes.

We also have brave Malalas among us. But we are just not in the limelight.

People ask us where is your ghairat (honour)? Why doesn’t your community fight back?Whom do we fight against? Our ignorant Muslim brother who doesn’t even know why he is killing us? And we who are being killed don’t know our crime!

Political bigwigs have made statements saying ‘death is in Allah’s hands’. Why this fatalistic attitude only for the Hazaras? It is not so easy to accept the death of a little boy who dresses up for Eid namaz and goes but comes back home not alive but dead. Allah has every right to take our lives because He is our Creator. But murderers taking innocent lives, this is not by the will of Allah. This is tyranny. This is oppression.

In Muharram, our Sunni brothers used to set up sabeels for us when we mourned the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. Now, since 2002, we mourn ourselves and lift our own dead and bury them ourselves. We no longer prepare jahez or baree. Because it is cloth for shrouds that comes by the yards.

When hope is lost, all is lost. The Hazaras are reaching that point where we lose hope permanently. Save us before that day comes.”

*Name has been changed

http://tribune.com.pk/story/486883/a-story-of-the-others-hazara-shias-lose-all-hope-in-pakistan/

Numbers:

 In Pakistan there are an estimated 956,000 people belonging to this community of which 600,000 live in Quetta city alone.

 
So far, at least 1000 have been killed in terrorist attacks across the province of Balochistan. More than 1600 have received severe injuries.
 
Many Hazara asylum seekers reach Jakarta and from there, by a perilous and risky sea journey, try and make it to the nearest Australian point, the Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean. At least 950 have lost their lives while going to Australia. In addition, more than 300 have lost their lives while going to Europe via turkey boarder during the last one decade.
Source:
1. Human Rights Commission for Social Justice & Peace
2. Hazara Town graveyard, Barory, and Ganj e Shuhada graveyard, Alamdar road.
3. Local hospitals & the local Hazara community