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Imran Khan’s well intentioned but naive views on Shia Islam and Iran at the USIP interview




Unwittingly, Imran Khan has once again stated some deeply problematic stuff.

I do not like Imran Khan nor did I vote for him. Imran Khan is not a prejudiced sectarian. In this regard, IK is better than the subtle anti-Shia activists of Pakistan’s Commercial liberal mafia.

Furthermore, it should also be stated that Imran Khan was trying to deescalate the rising tensions between the United States and Iran and even offered his services in that regard. We must appreciate this point regardless of our political disagreements with Imran Khan.

Imran Khan has also correctly pointed out the fallout from the reckless adventurism of the pro war chicken hawks in the current US administration. However, his discussion of Iran’s potential use of asymmetric fightback is both poorly expressed and deeply problematic. It once again highlights his shallow understanding of the issues.

There are several problems with Imran Khan’s statement on Shia Islam and Iran.

He has equated Iran = Shia.

Iran has a population that is estimated to be 85-90 % Shia Muslim but also has sizeable Sunni, Christian, Jewish and other faith communities.

How would we feel if someone discussed a faith diverse country like Pakistan and Sunni Islam as being equivalent. Not only does Pakistan have a significant Shia minority (between 15-20%), the Sunni majority of Pakistan is also diverse (Sufi, Barelvi, Deobandi, Salafi)

This is not to forget that 5% of Pakistan is estimated to be Hindu and Christian with smaller percentages of Ahmadis (0.25 %) , Sikhs and Kalash.

Then he discusses Al Qaeda etc with the Shia Muslim idea of martyrdom in a way that is highly problematic. As though the two are interlinked.

Al Qaeda etc are modern day “reform” “revivalist” movements that are inspired by the stark literalist doctrines of Luther and Calvin. From Afghanistan in the 1980s to Syria, Libya and Yemen, we know that the WSD doctrine that inspires Al Qaeda is sponsored by the West and its Dictatorial theocratic allies like Saudi Arabia etc.

Pakistan’s role in this regard is largely limited to a regional level (Afghanistan) and that also to elements in its security establishment and elements in the judiciary, media and politics (Nawaz Sharif and even Imran Khan) that backed these movements.

Talking about things like “cohesiveness” and martyrdom” within Shia Islam as Imran Khan does is highly problematic.

No doubt martyrdom is a key element of not just Shia Islam but also schools within Sufi Sunni Islam who also revere Shia Imams as Saints.

However, since the 20th century and the rise of political Islam (Afghani, Qutb, Obeidullah Sindhi, Pervaiz, Banna etc), the concept of martyrdom has been cheapened across the Muslim world. It has been reduced to cheap leftist symbolism by the likes of Ali Shariati (someone IK read around 40 years of age)

The martyrdom of Shia Imams is still held in deeply reverential awe by hundreds of millions across the globe. It is viewed as Divine sacrifices with metaphysical ripples – and NOT as some political tactic.

With his shallow understanding, Imran Khan has fallen in the trap of political Islam which tries to cheapen and reduce the element of sacrifice and patience as some lefty tactic.

It cheapens belief and it cheapens the lives of not just Shia Muslims but other citizens of Pakistan who have fallen victim to Takfiri terrorism sponsored by Saudi Arabia and other GCC monarchies. The very countries that Imran Khan thanks in the same interview!!

To reiterate, Nawaz Sharif’s pro Saudi tilt was far worse than Imran Khan. The unfair and prejudiced criticism against Imran Khan has always been his Sufi Sunni beliefs and his open mindedness to Shia scholars and friends.

We should nonetheless appreciate Imran Khan’s efforts in trying to deescalate tensions between the United States. The following comment made in reaction to this post needs to acknowledged:

“I wish more leaders like him instead of bibi and MBS should visit Washington. And caution Trump. Even UK is engaging in brinkmanship with Iran- it is crazy; he is among the rare ones to have warned and cautioned US”

We must acknowledge this reality.

Still, this was typical Imran Khan – expounding on issues where his understanding is still shallow even if it is clearly well intentioned.