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Sectarian Divides and Educational Struggles in Pakistan

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

The Shia-Sunni conflict goes as far as it can to a time, that Islamic historians quote it, after the Prophet's death (632 AD). The Prophet's death led to a crisis within the Muslim community regarding the selection of his successor. Two groups arose: People in favor of Abu Bakar while others voted in favor of Ali Abi Talib. Abu Bakr became the first caliph, and Ali Abi Talib was the last caliph after Uthman Ghani and Omer Ibn e Khittab.

Later, these two groups formed two different sects within Islam. With time, sub-groups emerged within these sects too.

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a melange of different sects, including Sunnis and Shias. However, the Sunni sect is more prevalent than other sects. It is due to the historical, political, and social factors. During the negotiations surrounding the Partition of the Sub-continent, Hosseinbhoy Laljee called Pakistan 'Sunnistan.'

The Shia-Sunni conflicts in Pakistan became prevalent during Zia-ul-Haq's regime. He implemented policies aimed at Islamization that favored Sunni Jurisprudence, exacerbating sectarian tensions. There has been killing on both sides, but as a minority group, Shias have been under significant threat. The Shia population in Pakistan comprises approximately 20% of the Muslim community, with Sunnis making up the remaining 80%.

Let's talk about the experiences of students from Shia sects in schools and other educational institutes.

Arooj Ali, in an interview with the BBC, said, 'I realized I was different from my other classmates in the second grade when I offered them Niyaz from a Majlis, and they started to leave.' It is shocking to hear of such religious intolerance instigated in the minds of young children.

Kulsoom Bano says, Once I asked a girl in 5th grade for water, she refused, saying that you shia people spit in everything.' as per BBC.

Most Shia parents can not give particular names to their children to be recognized as Shias and get bullied. Marzia Saleh, a student from the Hazara Shia community, talks about her experience: 'Every day afternoon, we would inquire about the daily killings of Shia members in our community, and if the news were positive, we would cheer because today all lives were safe.'

Growing up, many Shia students are bullied in schools because of their beliefs. The taunt 'Kafir, Kafir, Shia Kafir' and other derogatory slogans can often be heard from their peers. It is alarming to witness that these children face bullying from their classmates. Such intolerance towards different religious beliefs is being instilled in them at home, where parents may strictly forbid their children from interacting with Shia students. Furthermore, the Islamiyat curriculum in schools does not acknowledge any Shia belief systems, nor does it mention them at all. Shia students are discouraged from discussing their distinct beliefs, as the Pakistani education system shows little tolerance for sectarian education. This leads to adverse effects, including hatred and bullying from peers that Shia students often face. Minority groups face endangerment in Pakistan, often due to sectarian violence and discrimination.


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