I once had a friend who told me they felt disrespected and looked down upon by their Sunni friends for being a Shia Muslim.
Now, I am no longer friends with said individual for a few very legitimate reasons. But not one of them has anything to do with religion, race, sex, orientation, or class. Nor do I believe that any of our friends cared what this friend believed in either. However, the fact that they even said this is very indicative of a huge problem the Islamic world has had since the death of the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh).
We have absolutely failed as a collective Ummah when it comes to solidarity and acceptance of each other.
Nearly 50 people were killed in a bombing in Abbas Town, a predominantly Shia area in Karachi, Pakistan earlier this month. The attack is just the latest in a series of recent attacks by Sunni militant groups.
“Some activists called 2012 the worst year in living memory for attacks on Pakistan’s Shia community, with rights groups estimating that about 400 perished in militant attacks.
But this year is also shaping up to be among the deadliest: nearly 200 people were killed in two separate bombings targeting Shias in the south-western city of Quetta in January and February.”
I was interning at The Express Tribune (Pakistan’s first internationally affiliated newspaper in partnership with The International Herald Tribune, the global edition of The New York Times) when several bombings took place in Quetta and the northern Swat Valley on January 10. 130 people were killed and at least 270 were injured. For days, the headlines covered the effects of the blasts as well as the ensuing protests, particularly one in which members of the Shia community and local Shia officials refused to bury their dead for four days until the army took control of security in the city.
The very next month, at least 84 people were killed and 190 injured in yet another attack in Hazara Town, right outside Quetta. Most victims were of the ethnic Hazara community, a predominantly Shia demographic.
Pakistan has a history of Shias being persecuted, as do quite a few other predominantly Sunni Muslim countries. For as long as I can remember, every Muharram (one of the four sacred months of the Islamic calendar, and an especially important one for Shias) I hear about riots and attacks on Shia religious gatherings in my birthplace of Karachi. This past Muharram (November 14- December 14) seemed to have catalyzed something even worse than in years past. Thousands of men, women, and children have become victim to the violence, often caused by militant groups Lakshar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a Sunni militant organization with ties to Al-Qaeda and the Tabliban.
The violence is the work of militant groups with whom the large majority of Pakistanis strongly disagree. But the fact of the matter is that not enough of the Muslim majority are speaking out against this. And that stems from the fact that there is bias, there is misunderstanding, there is even hate coming from both Sunnis as well as Shias.
Both sects have a disturbing amount of ill will towards the other. Most of the time it is mild, but it is there. I do not personally know a single Muslim who condones violence in any form against others regardless of who or what they are, yet the subtle prejudices do exist. The aforementioned individual once went on a rant about the differences between Shiaism and Sunnism and literally deemed some of our beliefs “stupid”. This is a person whom always struck me as an intelligent one, yet here they were not only disrespecting their fellow Muslims but actually saying it straight to someone who adheres to Sunni Islam. I know quite a few Sunnis who have said things about Shias such as “They’re not true Muslims,” and “If you’re going to marry a Shia, you might as well marry a Christian.” Both Sunnis and Shias have inflicted violence upon each other, both groups have been discriminated against by the other but in many countries, Shias, as the 10% minority, lose.
I myself do very much disagree with some of the doctrines of Shia Islam. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be Sunni. But that does not mean that I feel I have the right to disrespect someone else for their beliefs. Us Muslims tend to be very intolerant of those who differ in beliefs from us, whether it is on the subject of the oneness of God or how high of a skirt a woman should be allowed to wear. We fight over these petty things and set a horrible example for rising generations when what we should be teaching them is tolerance, respect, and a love of peace and harmony. Without those basics, Islam is not Islam. Period.
And in Pakistan, where a little mentally challenged girl received death threats in a village for burning copies of the Qur’an, where a Christian federal minister was killed by the Taliban for pushing for reform of blasphemy laws, where the Hazara community has lost 800 of its own to terrorist attacks, its people tend to forget the words of a one particular Shia Muslim whom they claim to respect and adore:
“You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed. That has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
Ab imo pectore,