Shia and Sunni have been two sides of the same coin for centuries. While on the outside, the Muslim community presents a unified front. As much as this is true and there is a perpetuated vision of the Muslim community that is true in some sense, there is an internal conflict that is dictated by governmental law. One that is more so directed towards Shia Muslims. These Muslims face violence that is often not even discussed and has occurred for centuries. Although many countries have exhibited sectarian violence toward Shia Muslims, one of the most rampant nations that currently have this issue is Pakistan.
History of Violence in Pakistan
The Shia-Sunni conflict can be taken back to very near the birth of Islam itself. After Prophet Mohammad passed there were many questions on who was meant to lead the Muslim community. This question led to a multitude of conflicts and is now the basis of the distinction between Shia and Sunni. Over time, some Sunnis and Shias have unified and created communities in which there is a sense of collectivity. However, there are still largely inherent conflicts that exist between the two groups. Commonly, there is a display of superiority complexes that exist. Specifically Sunni superiority. Within Pakistan’s population, 95-98% are Sunni. This statistic is what sets the stage for a clear power imbalance to exist in the nation.
While Pakistan does exhibit a sense of community between the Sunni majority and the Shia minority, there are still specific areas in which sectarian violence runs rampant. This violence within Pakistan has existed for centuries and has been characterized by the commonality of terrorist attacks on specific communities.
Sectarian violence has been a massive issue and has claimed the lives of thousands of people within Pakistan. The violence although painted in a religious light is not fully due to religious issues. The political climate, power struggles and economic issues are all causes that have led to this violence.
Since the birth of Pakistan, the conflict has been on the horizon. Although not a massive issue during the first years of independence, sectarian conflict began to grow and grow. More Shias were attempting to take an active role in democracy whilst Sunni power began to grow within the government. This is due to internal factors regarding equality within the nation, as well as external factors like foreign involvement from countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Politically speaking, there are dichotomies in place. Turning a humanitarian issue of equality into a political issue.
These issues are clearly denoted in conflicts that have existed over the years of pre and post-Pakistan as an independent nation. The ethnic cleansing of Shia Muslims in Kashmir, The Madhe Sahaba Agitation, Thehri Massacre are all examples of how destructive this conflict has become over time. There is no justification within each of these events. This is a genocide. an ethnic cleansing. Calling it anything else is a disservice and dishonourable towards Shia Muslims.
This violence is not just denoted to a Shia-Sunni conflict but also the disregard for other sects within Islam. Within 2010 and 2011 a multitude of attacks resulted in the killing of Sufis. 2019 also was a year that displayed rampant anti-Sufiattacks. Sufism being another sect of Islam, one that follows mystic Islamic practices.
The Murder of innocent people has now turned into issues that aren’t relevant to sectarianism in itself. It has lead to economic issues such as poverty and migration issues, fear, the destruction of the reputation of Islam, etc.
Current Situation In Pakistan
Shias still live in fear within Pakistan. In fact, that fear has grown over time. Although as said, the majority of Muslims in Pakistan don’t partake in conflict, cities like Karachi are abundant in violence. Individuals are still troubled every day with thoughts of what could happen if they attract the wrong attention with their beliefs. Within October 2020, over 50 people were accused by officials of violating laws of blasphemy. The youngest of which was 3 years old. Blasphemy is a capital offence within Pakistan. This charge leads to very harsh punishment and has been weaponized into legislation that can harm and kill.
This issue recently isn’t just contained in its legislation. Anti-Shia rallies have been rampant since September 2020. These rallies result in Shias being referred to as infidels, blasphemous and unbelievers. Within these rallies two previously banned Sunni groups, the ASWJ and the TLP, have been at the forefront of confrontation. These groups perpetuate the notion that Shias themselves are the issue when in reality their existence does not cause issues. It creates issues when there is none.
Ethnic Hazara Shia miners were murdered in January 2021. They were slaughtered. this is the definition of ethnic cleansing. These are the instances that Shia Muslims are begging people to listen to. The Hazara community did not bury their dead but rather protested around their bodies. Chanting about how they demand to be listened to. Their people are dying for simply existing. These deaths rather than being pushed for actual legislation and movement towards progress have now been mobilized as a means to communicate theories about foreign involvement. Although politically speaking the prime minister Imran Khan communicated how Hazaras receive an exponential amount of violence and oppression, there is a lack of actual choices being made to improve their situation.
A country such as Pakistan should pride itself on its Muslim population. Frankly, as much as we attempt to ingrain the thought that Shia and Sunni don’t matter, each is Muslim, that thought is not being spread as much as it should be. Me as a Sunni, I understand my privilege. Although in certain areas I do face persecution, Shia minorities are substantially more in danger for their faith than Sunnis are. This is a genocide. there is no other word to call it. For centuries, Shias have begged for equality. The least that can be given is the right to live in society without the fear of persecution.
Equality should not be so hard to achieve that it begins to bleed in with economic and political issues. Turning this into a political and economic issue is frankly counterintuitive. This is not a Pakistan issue. It’s not just Pakistan, it is nearly every Muslim community. Equality for Shias should be a given. Making this into anything else is ignoring the root of the issue. One that revolves around superiority between the sects. One that Shias can’t afford to be the victim to any longer.