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Islam at War, Land of the Intolerant

KARACHI, Pakistan - “I fear they will kill me”

The speaker was Syed Kareem speaking from his current place of hiding. Before he decided to hide, he was an ambitious 21-year-old student. His personal charisma and empathy towards social issues had earned him a large following on Facebook, before early September when he condemned the assassination of Shia Muslims which had happened years ago. This had caught the attention of followers of Ahmed Ludhianwi (Extremist Sunni Schoar), who cried out for his execution, accusing him of insulting the Prophet Mohammad and calling “Gustakh-e-Rasool” (someone who has disrespected Prophet Mohammad or his companions). They had no evidence but no evidence was needed. The police did not ask the cybercrime specialists to investigate the accusation and rather filed an FIR under part 295-A of Pakistan Penal Code, which pertains to a case of blasphemy against Kareem. Fearing the violent fate that is inflicted upon Shia Muslims who are accused of blasphemy, last month Karim and his family decided to disappear. Karim is one of the 50 Shia Muslims who have been accused of blasphemy and antiterrorist charges for allegedly “insulting the companions of Prophet” over the last month. The youngest was 3 years old.

FOR many Pakistanis, this made them raise questions for the nation’s future. But for me, it was just a transportation back into the past, “Write a note on two nation theory”. The Two-Nation Theory allowed space for a monolithic identity of Islam; which was the sect that was in majority after the Partition: Sunni Islam. The theory had no room for religious harmony within Islam itself.

The Two-Nations Theory was dynamic, useful, lucrative. And it still is lucrative. It's best rewards are found nowadays in the high ratings of Pakistan's newly independent TV channels.

One could have once claimed that the theory could have died with its founders but it was actively kept alive and made lucrative: first by a set of unelected bureaucrats, then by generals, then by landowners, and then by generals again (Guardian, 2020). Islam was used to exploit and blackmail the people; an Islamic dance was danced.

The theory was however broadened in Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, who came with the ideology to “Islamize” the nation. With the Afghan War happening in the 1980’s, the Iranian Revolution taking place in 1979 and the 1991 Gulf War taking place in Iraq, these three major events happening simultaneously allowed the theory to branch out. To attract American money, the theory was made anti-communist and to attract Arab money it was made anti-Shiite. The United States, Saudi Arabia and even Iraq may have not intended to create anti-Shia narrative among the mass majority of Muslims living in Pakistan, rather they were merely interested to counter the rising Iranian influence. But in local terms anti-Iran was easily translated into anti-Shia. Hence, not only did this competing strategic interests of the International influences led to massive polarization among Sunnis and Shias Muslims, but it also weaponized both these sects which led to the beginning of the sectarian conflict in Pakistan.

So when in September 2020, the anti-shia protests were announced by the two extreme Sunni Muslim groups, Ahl-e-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat (ASWJ) and Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), the nation was run by more than 30,000 stick-wielding youths descended in Karachi’s major highways MA Jinnah Road and Saeed Manzil Road, burning car tires and smashing windows, chanting and declaring “Shia Kaafir!”, no one was surprised. Some were saddened. But most took it as a matter of course. The march was reported but not explained. The event was in many ways like the burning of the Christian village outside Lahore. While some also compared it to the televised killings of the armed clerics in Islamabad’s Red Mosque by the military itself. However, no one could deny that it resulted in more despondency than fear.

But for all those 18 years’ old’s who were participating in the march and chanting ‘Shia kafir’ as familiar a slogan as a cricket team anthem, I wondered about their ideas. Had they taken these things from the Constitution? Or were they inspired by the one of those heretic speeches by Parliamentarians? Did they hear from there ustaad (teacher) in their madrassah, or did they picked it from the talking walls (wall chalking)? Did they read about Islam in a textbook? Or were they one of those (Forty million? Fifty million?) who have not been provided with education and can’t read?

Several theories now, hard to pick just one!

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