Title: Sectarian War - Pakistan’s Sunni-Shia Violence
and its links to the Middle East
Author: Khaled Ahmed
Publisher: Oxford University Press, Pakistan (2010)
Pages: 402 pages, Hardback
Price: PKR. 995
Rightly did Faiz say on Pakistan’s independence, “This is not the one, the long-awaited morn,” because, for one, communal riots of united India gave place to a bloodier sectarian war in the new country.
Before independence it was Hindus versus Muslims. But with Pakistan’s birth Muslims began to fight Muslims. It started with the Sunnis attacking Ahmadis in 1954. Twenty years later the government threw them out of the pale of Islam (in Pakistan).
But the most enduring and the bloodiest conflict in Pakistan has been between the Sunnis and Shias. During early Mughal rule, particularly because Iran had offered sanctuary to Emperor Humayun, Shias enjoyed much influence at the court. “The anti-Shia trend in India,” pioneered by Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi, “came as a reaction to Akbar’s policy of tolerance to Shias.”
During Aurangzeb’s reign antiShia tilt became more pronounced in his Fatawa-i-Alamgiri, on which the Deobandi School in Pakistan later based its futwahs of apostasy against Shias.
The two communities coexisted peacefully not only in British India, but even in Pakistan for many years. Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and its first president, Iskander Mirza and another president Yahya Khan, were Shia. Moreover, Shias not only supported the Muslim League in India but also the Objectives Resolution in Pakistan.
Nonetheless, differences surfaced quite early, leading to separate Shia and Sunni funeral prayers being offered for Quaid-e-Azam and Miss Fatima Jinnah.
In his book “Sectarian War,” reputed journalist Khaled Ahmed not only discusses Sunni-Shia violence in Pakistan and the Middle East, with meticulous detail, but also traces the very genesis of the Shia-Sunni split from the time when the Prophet (S.A.W.), before breathing his last, asked for pen and paper (to dictate his will). But Omar did not allow it. Shias believe that the Prophet was going to will Ali as his political successor which Omar deliberately prevented, and therefore revile him bitterly.
Shias and Sunnis differ from each other in practically everything ex- cept their belief in Allah as One and Mohammad as His Messenger. Their prayers (timing, number and process), fasting, marriage and funeral rites, zakat, fitra and haj; even their azan and kalima are different.
And yet in India, they had lived together for centuries and even intermarried. The drift started when in the eighteenth century Nawab Asafud Daulah’s chief minister began building separate mosques for the Shias in Lucknow and giving “currency to the ritual of tabarra (abuse) ….,” that led to the “first incidence of violent ShiaSunni encounters in the city. ” (p.103)
In Pakistan “Sunnis and Shias grew up as one Muslim community” up to the 1980s. Things changed with the rise of Ziaul Haq in Pakistan and Imam Khomeini in Iran when the clergy of both sects became aggressive to create awareness about their respective differences.
It was under Ziaul Haq’s “plan to teach the Shias of Jhang a lesson for having opposed his zakat laws that Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) was founded in 1985” and Sunnis started issuing apostasy futwahs against Shias. In fact