Sectarian issues in Pakistan

By: Kainat Saif

In simple words, the term sectarianism refers to excessive and immoderate devotion to a specific party or sect, especially in religion. Sectarianism becomes a nuisance when representatives of a particular faith show bigotry or prejudice towards each other. The followers of each sect consider themselves true Muslims and the others as “disbelievers”. Muslims kill Muslims. Innocent believers are attacked in the name of religion in sacred places like mosques and Imam Bārgāhs. The strict or narrower interpretation of Islam and jihād by semi-educated mullahs has damaged the true image of Islam. This Partisanship had promoted hostility, violence, and brutality in Pakistan. The biggest example of this sectarian conflict in Pakistan is Shia and Sunni within Islam.

Pakistan is home to people of different cultures, religions, and ethnicities. According to an estimate, only second to Iran, Pakistan has the largest Shia community living comprising 10-15 percent of the total population. The Shia community is in danger as Sunni being the majority in Pakistan are allegedly involved in doing conspiracies against them. The Guardian in its article shed a light on an incident where blasphemy law was manipulated against the Shia community. Al-Jazeera noted about the Wadi-Hussain: a graveyard in Karachi, Pakistan. This graveyard consists of hundreds of graves of Shia Muslims who have been killed by bomb attacks, guns, and targeted executions. Shia community professed that they are being subjected to discrimination to the point of oppression. More often than not extremist factions of Sunnis habitually denounce Shias as “apostates”.

There are a lot of such instances; however, not everything is as real as it is depicted or portrayed. What are the reasons behind this sectarian violence? Many of them have a strong nexus with foreign agendas. Sponsored projects to promote hate and violence because of vested interests can’t be denied. Religious segregation created by extremist Madaris is producing fanatics. Other factors such as power dynamics, cultural gains, political games, and economic gains play an equally important role. The air of intolerance is breathed in by every lung in Pakistan to pump out detestation.

Social media and its keyboard warriors who find it obligatory to get indulged in incapacitated hateful debates are creating havoc. Forwarding messages without proper verification multiplies this messy situation as every message shared is creating a narrative and building a perspective. In the time of misinformation and disinformation – social media is a tool for an enemy for hybrid warfare.

In Pakistan, the Supreme Law of the land is the Constitution of Pakistan 1973, and it suggests in Article 20 that every religion, let alone sect, has the freedom to profess their religion and manage religious institutions. In Article 33, it is advised to the state to restrict Parochial attitudes. Furthermore, Article 227(1) clearly states that interpretation of Quran and Sunnah to be followed according to the respective sect. People don’t tend to care about laws anyways. The radicalization of Shia and Sunni identities promotes barbarity and people lose touch with reality. This psychotic behavior lets them violate the laws.

There are many worrisome consequences of sectarianism on an individual and society as a whole. An individual’s life always feels threatened. The state of terror is present all the time. An increase in the rate of suicide bombings, terrorist attacks, and assassinations has shaken the primary foundations of Pakistan. Violence, hatred, intolerance, and disorder in society have created a chaotic situation hence the unrest.

This deliberate divide amongst people through sectarianism is a part of the greater game. The division encourages war and unity compliments peace. Servitude towards ill practices, such as poking nose in religions of others, is a lame exercise. As Abhijit Naskar said: “Enough with the worship of chains! Now let your character reign.”

The wisdom, indeed, lies in hanging all sectarian idols. To worship love and liberty is the essence of all religions. Everyone shall be an ambassador of peace and humanity. Inclusivity is the main ingredient of a non-violent society.

Implications of sectarianism in Pakistan are grievous in nature both domestically and internationally. Even though countering sectarian conflicts is easier said than done, we still shall put our serious and sincere efforts to minimize the cause. Limiting foreign aid/funding of sectarian representatives followed by strict monitoring of utility of those funds is necessary. Uncompromising surveillance of surreptitious activities through police, military (when required), intelligence, and other law enforcement agencies can benefit in getting desired results. Curriculum and modus operandi of both schools and madaris shall not promote feelings of hatred and animosity – this also begs for stringent check and balance. Regularization of social media is a sine qua non. Maneuvering tactics for lawfare shall strictly be abolished. Banning the outlets which influence the emotions of people is another suggestion to be made in front of concerned authorities. Civil Societies can jump in to foster the concept of diversity by conducting different activities, programs, symposiums, seminars, and conferences.

The writer is a freelance columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]m