In January 2016, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr – a Shi’a cleric was executed in Saudi Arabia for speaking out on behalf of his group. Shi’as constitute only 10-15% of Saudi Arabia’s population. And are mostly persecuted. As Mohammad Taqi writes in his article in Daily Times (March10, 2011) “Saudi Arabia: the prized domino”, that Saudi Arabia’s treatment of Shias is like apartheid.
The Saudi regime is also acutely aware that, in the final analysis, the Shiite grievances are not merely doctrinal issues but stem from socioeconomic deprivation, as a result of religious repression and political marginalization bordering on apartheid.
In Pakistan on the other hand, over 1900 Shias have been killed in less than 3 years from 2012 to May 2015 by targeted bomb blasts (often in their mosques) or gun attacks.
Murtaza Haider says in an article in Dawn paper (Feb 17, 2013) that it may be time for Shias to leave Pakistan all together.
In such troubling times some Shias may have a choice. They may sit and wait for a messiah or relocate to a Shia-exclusive enclave elsewhere, or to escape from Pakistan altogether. It may sound harsh, but it is an inescapable truth that Pakistan has been run over by the extremists and life is going to be even tougher for the minorities and moderate Sunnis in the near future.
The persecution against the Shias happens throughout the Sunni world with Bangladesh, Bahrain, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Malaysia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia leading the charge. The following description of how Shias are treated in Saudi Arabia is implemented in other Sunni countries in part or full – depending on the “motivation” of the ruling elite.
In Saudi Arabia, Saudi Wahabis restrict Shias from any sort of involvement in the government. Some of Saudi’s famous personalities even sanctioned the killing of Shias by issuing fatwas. There have been no Shia cabinet ministers. They are set aside out of critical jobs in the armed forces and the security services. There are no Shia Mayors or police chiefs, and not one of the three hundred girls’ schools in the Eastern Province has a Shia principal the government has circumscribed the names that Shias can use for their children in an effort to discourage them from showing their identity. Saudi textbooks are antagonistic towards the Shia Faith, often characterizing the faith as a form of heresy worse than Christianity and Judaism. Teachers frequently tell classrooms full of young Shia school children that they are heretics in the eastern city of Dammam, where three quarters of residents are Shia, Ashura is banned, and there is no distinctly Shia call to prayer. There is no Shia cemetery for the 450,000 Shias that live there. There is only one mosque for the city’s Shias. The Saudi government has often been viewed as an active oppressor of Shias because of the funding of the Wahhabi ideology which decries the Shia faith.
Are only the Shias the victims in the Islamic world? Well no. The equation is reversed in Iran. Iran was a Sunni society until the 16th century. The Safavid dynasty came and changed the whole demographic to Shia. And, Sunnis were persecuted. The Sunnis in Iran are 5-10% and are mostly Kurds, Larestani people (from Larestan), Turkomen, and Baluchs.
Basically, Iran does to Sunnis that Saudi Arabia does to Shias. Here is some of what the Sunnis in Iran face.
In practice, however, the status of Sunnis appears more precarious. As of the end of 2015, the State Department said there were hundreds of religious minorities, including Sunnis, imprisoned. Sunnis complain that though there are an estimated 1 million of them in Tehran, there are no Sunni mosques in the capital. In addition, the State Department noted in its most recent annual religious-freedom report that religious readers had said Sunni literature and teachings were banned in public schools, and new construction of Sunni mosques and schools was banned.
And, then there is the whole story of the Ahmadis. Ahmadis in the Indian subcontinent are the followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. They consider Mirza Ahmad to be the Mahdi and Messiah for which the Muslims have been waiting for so long. Well, the mainstream Muslims – both Sunnis and Shias – do not consider Ahmadis to be Muslims at all!! In fact, the hatred for the Ahmadis amongst the Sunnia and Shias is so strong that Ahmadis are persecuted if they even suggest that they are Muslims! Here are some of the things that they face in Pakistan, which has officially declared that Ahmadis are non-Muslims in its Constitution!
- Pakistani laws prohibit the Ahmadis from identifying themselves as Muslims, and their freedom of religion has been curtailed by a series of ordinances, Acts and constitutional amendments
- When applying for a Pakistani passport, Pakistanis are required to declare that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was an impostor prophet and his followers are non-Muslims
All an Ahmadi has to do to be persecuted under the draconian blasphemy act is to say that his place of worship is a Masjid or that he is a Muslim and believes in Quran, while being an Ahmadi. Please check out the stories and facts of Ahmadi persecution on this site.
The irony of the matter is that it was the Ahmadis who were at the forefront of the fight for partition of India – where a separate home for Muslims was fought for by Jinnah and his men. All because Muslims could not live with the Hindus because they were two different nations! The man who most eloquently expressed this “creed of hate and intolerance” was none other than an Ahmadi – Ch. Zafrulla Khan! Even more bizarrely, Ahmadis are proud of that achievement!
Can the real Muslim please stand up?
As one can see, a Muslim is safe in a Muslim country as long as s/he follows the prevalent denomination of the country. A Shia is not safe in a Sunni country, a Sunni is not safe in Shia country and others like Ahmadis are fair game in all of these two groups of countries. So, where are the Muslims safe?
Let us hear it from Tarek Fatah – a Canadian-Pakistani who has commented and analyzed on this topic for a number of years.
Muslims – of all denominations – have been the safest in non-Muslim countries. However interestingly, they have been the safest in India. No Ahmadi is attacked in India. Nor are Shias killed – specifically in their own mosques a la Pakistan!
Persecution is typical to Muslim societies
Yes, it is. We have seen that a “Muslim” is fine in a Muslim country as long as he is the “right Muslim” for that country. If he is someone else, he is persecuted mercilessly. The ironical situation of Ahmadis – who built a country – Pakistan – on the foundation of hatred and intolerance and got consumed by the same fire.
The fire of intolerance that a Sunni has for Shia, is the same that Shia has for Sunni. It is the same that both have for an Ahmadi. And the same that all three have for the non-Muslims. It is Kafir-ology of sorts. Who is a Kafir for whom! One man’s Muslim is another man’s Kafir.
When a culture and a religion mandates the difference between one and another – then that chasm is difficult to fill. The chasm separates one man from every other. And, it is that seed of “Me vs Them” that is central to a society dominated by Muslims. It takes a majority of others – like in India or the West – for letting Muslims respect the humanity of another Muslim itself! Left with their own domination, Muslims in larger numbers kill/persecute all others. After all, wasn’t what is now Pakistan, once India? How did its demography and tolerance amongst Muslims change so rapidly while in India it still reflects the earlier co-existence?