Violence Against Shias: An Assault on Islam
It is another day in Pakistan and it is another assault on Shias in Pakistan. It does not matter how many have died. It is not a game of numbers because the life of every human being is sacred. What matters is the continued helplessness of those who stand for human dignity and life. Fourteen-hundred years have passed and the Muslim community and its scholarship, by and large, has failed to effectively develop a method to resolve peacefully its political, social-cultural and theological differences. On the contrary, the idea that the opposition must be eliminated physically has gained more popularity. It is a sad situation for every sincere and serious follower of the Quran and its eternal message of peace, freedom, unity, and justice for all. An assault on Shias is anti-Islam. In fact, killing a fellow human being unless it is in self-defense without the intention of killing is anti-divine.
The Prophet and his closest supporters, including the first four Caliphs did not identify them as Shias or Sunnis. They had differences over their style of governance and their interpretation of the Quran, but rarely did they demonstrate violent tendencies towards each other to settle them. Imam Ali did not exhort his supporters to take up arms against Caliph Abu Bakr or Omar. Rarely did we find any reference in his or their sermons of cussing or cursing those who are often accused of usurping his right to leadership or challenging their authority.
The Shia and Sunni differences rest upon the issue of political and spiritual leadership of Umma. For 1.1 billion Sunnis it is the Khilafat that is important and for 350 million Shias, it is the Imamat that is significant. Even though the majority of the religious leaders of the two communities (leave alone the masses) would not be able to clearly identify the differences between the two approaches of governance and succession of the Prophet, they are willing to condemn each other for it. Sunni leaders, by and large, think that Shia's are not genuine in their commitment to Islam and the Shia leaders, by and large, view Sunnis as supporters of a political system that was illegitimate and corrupt. For over 6 billion of people of the world, this debate is irrelevant. A great majority of non-Muslims have adopted political ideas that negate the philosophy of Imamat and Khilafat altogether. And in the most world, including the predominantly Shia Iran or Iraq or Sunni dominated Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, no one takes the khilafat or imamat seriously in political realms.
All other differences have stemmed from this basic issue that emerged in a tribal culture and played out in a despotic environment that was still adjusting to divine teachings pertaining to the sanctity of human life and dignity, equality, the rights of women and the right to dissent.
People usually interpret violent events such that took place in Pakistan with political spectacles. Some have already argued that India’s intelligence RAW, or CIA or Mossad might be involved in them as they want to destabilize Pakistan, especially at a time, when China and Pakistan are increasing their level of cooperation in the upcoming port of Gawadhar in Baluchistan.
Regardless, the fact is that the seeds of hatred often leading to violence are sown by those who claim to speak in the name of God and his Prophets. They could have come together to look at the differences to decide that they would not resolve to violence to settle them, that they would refrain from using vulgar language to denounce each other and that they would deal with the opposing viewpoints with respect.
The divine teachings do not promote violence or terror. Their purpose is to help individuals to control their anger to create a peaceful environment so that people can learn to grow out of their differences. By emphasizing the differences, the clergy, is not only defying the divine teachings, but also rebelling against it, a sad reality that most of us have accepted and cherished.
The only way out is to stand up against these differences and assert that Muslims will not identify them with either Shia or Sunni or Hanafis, Maliks, Ibadis, Ismaelis, Hanbalis, Shafais, Malikis, Deobandis, Barelvis. The malice of disunity and conflict has pervaded our culture for long and it would take long before its impact can be reduced. The first thing we need is to have people who can say boldly and clearly that we are Muslims and we are part of the Umma of the Prophet. It means that we stop asking the question: are you a Sunni or Shia or this or that? It means that we stop fighting over differences that we see among ourselves. It means showing respect to differences even if the opponent is not willing to show respect to you.
If we do not change ourselves, both Shias and Sunnis would become irrelevant to Islam as they have already become irrelevant to the world. They would have only a nuisance value that through these killings they have been demonstrated. In the words of the Quran: “while that which is for the good of mankind remains on the earth. Thus Allah sets forth parables.” (13:17)