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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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The sectarian divides and educational struggles faced by Shia students in Pakistan are deeply troubling. It's disheartening to see young children experiencing intolerance and bullying based on their religious beliefs. The impact of discriminatory practices and the lack of acknowledgment of Shia beliefs in the education system contribute to a hostile environment for Shia students. Encouraging a more inclusive curriculum and fostering tolerance from an early age are crucial steps toward building a harmonious and accepting society. Have you personally witnessed or experienced such sectarian divides in educational settings, and how do you think these issues can be addressed effectively?

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This post struck a deep chord with me, and it was very well-written; especially, the accounts of Arooj Ali, Kulsoom Bano, and Marzia Saleh painted a vivid picture of the challenges faced by Shia students in Pakistan. This reminded me of one of my childhood friends who belongs to the Shia community - I recall an incident where a classmate's parent, upon discovering his Shia background, explicitly requested their child be separated from him in a school activity. The fact that the teacher complied presented a distressing revelation about the deep-seated prejudices in our educational institutions. Your post made me reflect on how these biases aren't just confined to interactions among students, but are subtly reinforced by our educational system's…

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01 dic 2023

Fatima, I am so moved by this blog. The way you mentioned how parents choose not to give specific names to their Shia children to avoid potential bullying reminds me of this one anecdote. I get mistaken for being a Shia quite a lot because of my last name. I recall this one time my mother was at a bank, and the bank manager, upon hearing my brother's name, got very excited and claimed that at first he thought my mother was a Shia because of her last name, but upon hearing my brother's "non-Shia" name, he was relieved and very happy. This incident left me flabbergasted and at a loss for words. I've seen some of my own Shia…

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Your blog reminded me of the discussion we had with professor in class where he told us about the revamping or changes to the curriculum in Pakistan and all the representatives of different communities were called except for Ahmedis. This then links to the reading of power and empowerment. Power can be used for coercion, manipulation and to also hide things. Power can be given as well as taken away from people/us. Power is also used to deliberately keep minority groups or the groups that are discriminated against, under you. This is extreme unfair marginalisation. What is even more daunting is how normalised the hate against certain communities has become, which is again the subtle workings of power. No one…

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I totally agree! It does make a link to the 'Power and Empowerment' reading. Sunnis have more power in Pakistan and they shape everything as they wish to do so. Moreover, about the INEE standard handbook, it is a crucial point. Our minorities should be recognized so the majority learns to coexist and tolerate.

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The depiction of the Shia-Sunni conflicts in Pakistan and the experiences faced by Shia students in educational institutions is deeply disconcerting. It sheds light on the prevalence of religious intolerance and discrimination, particularly within the educational framework. The fact that muslim to muslim hate happens within our society just goes to show how intolerable Pakistanis must be towards non - muslims in our country.

This leads me to my question: How can educational institutions and the broader society work collaboratively to promote religious tolerance and inclusivity among students? What do you think are the steps that can be taken to reform educational curricula to include diverse perspectives and foster an environment where different religious beliefs are respected rather than marginalized?

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Contestando a

Absolutely, the conflicts within our society, especially in educational settings, are truly troubling. It's a harsh reality highlighting religious intolerance, even within our own Muslim community. Your question's on point. Collaborative efforts between institutions and society can pave the way for promoting tolerance and inclusivity. I believe reforming curricula to embrace diverse perspectives and fostering an environment that respects all beliefs, rather than marginalizing any, is a crucial step forward. It's about nurturing understanding and respect from the ground up.

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