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#ShiaGenocide: Eating our own flesh – by Harris Khalique

The time has come when in Pakistan you are advised not to name your children after the members of the house of the Prophet of Islam (pbuh). For the new born, you also need to avoid choosing the names of his descendants through his only daughter. Your children can be castigated, threatened or eliminated if they bear such names. Some people may not even wait for them to grow up. In old tribal societies, when a murder has to be avenged and there is no young or middle-aged man in the family who can be killed, the avengers wait for years for the boys to grow up. Today, the killers have no such patience. We have entered the age of speed.

Shia Muslims in most parts of Pakistan can name their new born babies differently or rename the older ones to be saved from instant persecution. But what do the Hazara Shias of Balochistan do? How many of them can have their facial features changed? Quetta saw another massacre, another pogrom.

Hazaras are killed in large numbers and with such impunity that it could easily be termed a genocide. I recall scores of Shia medical doctors marked and killed in Karachi during the 1990s. The target killing of Shias and the bombing of their processions continue across Pakistan. This cannot just be brushed aside anymore as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran or as the wrongdoings of foreign operators on our soil.

The blame can no longer be shifted to external actors by our coveted defence strategists and political analysts. We are fragmenting fast. There is an implosion happening. There are no widespread riots but the Shia-Sunni divide is at its worst in the history of Pakistan. It is not only the month of Muharram that is sensitive; Shia Muslims are targeted all around the year.

When the pulpit is instilling hate in the hearts and minds of people, it is important for us from the last row of the faithful to raise our voice. We have to speak up otherwise all unuttered truths will haunt our future generations. We must remind everyone that the founder of this nation was above board when it came to any sectarian association in his public or personal life. However, he was born into a Shia and Ismaili family.

His marriage ceremony with Ms Ruttie Jinnah was performed according to the Shia Muslim way. His sister and one of the icons of Pakistan’s struggle for democracy, Ms Fatima Jinnah, held a Majlis-e-Aza to mourn Quaid-e-Azam’s death in 1948. If I remind you of Allama Iqbal’s verses in praise of Hazrat Ali (AS) in both Persian and Urdu and his pronouncement of considering Ali his true spiritual leader, some fanatic may decide to dig up Iqbal’s grave.

Like we disowned Dr Abdus Salam, the only Nobel laureate we produced, for being Ahmadi, I dread a time will come when Shia artists and writers will be repudiated by the majority Sunni population of Pakistan. Just think of the enormous services rendered by Shias in the fields of medicine, engineering, banking and sports and in so many other disciplines. Pardon me, but how barren this country and its society will become if you discount what the Shia community has contributed to the collective civilisation, culture, thinking and sensibility. If you add those who may not have been the followers of Shia jurisprudence but believe in the greatness of Hazrat Ali (AS) as the beacon of knowledge, wisdom and spirituality, very few will be left for a mention in our intellectual and cultural history.

I write with great sadness that it is not safe anymore to name living Shia Muslims who are prominent in their fields. But this is the month of February when Faiz was born and Ghalib had passed away; both were secular in their outlook but had known proclivities towards Hazrat Ali and Imam Hussain. There are two other great Pakistanis whose death anniversaries fall in this month. They were both Shias too. Sadequain, the greatest artist and calligrapher this country has produced, died on February 10, 1987. Josh Malihabadi, the arch revolutionary Urdu poet of the 20th century, had died a few years earlier on February 22, 1982.

Josh is one of the most prolific and powerful composers of poetry. There was a time when he ruled the world of Urdu poetry by reciting his verses in mushairas all over South Asia. His autobiography is also considered avant-garde in terms of being uninhibited and poignant. He was anti-colonial, pro-people and progressive to the hilt. At the same time, he penned some superior elegies in the genre of marsia for the martyrs of Karbala. His poetry presented a unique grandeur and revolutionary zeal. He is buried in Islamabad.

I have written about Sadequain before. What a man and what an artist. I met him with my father a couple of times as a child and as a young boy. Abbas Zaidi refreshes my memory about the great artist who was also a poet of recognisable merit. His rubaiyaat (quatrains) earned him considerable acknowledgement. Abbas Zaidi served in Pakistan’s foreign office and retired as an ambassador. But that was his job, not his occupation. He is essentially a connoisseur of art and an aficionado of literature.

He enjoyed a close personal friendship with the artist. I went to see him on Sadequain’s death anniversary and again looked at all the paintings, sketches and calligraphy of the great artist in Zaidi’s treasure. We then sat for hours and chatted about the life and times of Sadequain. A fakir that he was, his whims and idiosyncrasies, generosity and magnanimity, were all remembered and cherished.

Gen Ayub Khan was the country’s president. Sadequain was commissioned to paint a mural when Karachi’s Services Club was being renovated on Ayub’s orders. A major came to see him before the inauguration and invited Sadequain to the event. He, however, said that the artist had to either wear a sherwani or a suit. Sadequain said that he always wore a sherwani so that shouldn’t be a problem.

The major dismissively looked at the grey, crumpled sherwani and stained kurta and pyjama Sadequain was wearing at that time and told the artist, “It better be a black pressed sherwani and a clean dress under it.” Sadequain stared into the major’s eyes and said, “Was Gandhi wearing black underwear or a white one when he went to the Round Table Conference in London?”

When writer and senior civil servant Mukhtar Masood and Sadequain were once arguing about the worth and standing of Sadequain’s calligraphy, Masood got a little enraged and told Sadequain that he had limited talent. Sadequain retorted, “Even this limited talent has prevented me from becoming a CSP officer.” Another episode is when ZA Bhutto was a minister and wanted to visit Sadequain’s home.

The whole family got excited and spruced up the front of the house and the outer room where Bhutto had to come and sit. All the household junk was moved to the room at the back of the house that opened into a dingy, narrow lane. It did not occur to the family that Sadequain used to come home late in the night through that room and would bring Bhutto to his house through the same door that he always used.

So my dear readers, perhaps it is time for you to imagine a Pakistan without Shias. Without poets, writers, artists, painters, sculptors, teachers, professors, doctors, engineers, architects, journalists, and sportsmen who are Shia.


The writer is a poet and author based in Islamabad.

Source: The News,

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