M. Basheer Ahmed, M.D.
Recently, one of my friends returned from Pakistan after attending a wedding. He enjoyed the festivities and visiting his relatives. However, he was very scared to go for Friday prayers as people are not sure whether they will be back alive. That is even from a place of worship because of extremism and violence. It is a shame to hear that people are so afraid of going out even for Friday prayers in Pakistan.
It is indeed very disturbing that thousands of people belonging to minority sects in Pakistan have been killed during the last few years. Passengers were recently taken off of a bus and the Shia were identified and executed on the spot. Shia doctors, engineers and businessman had been victims of target killings and Shia mosques were bombed.
During the first week of March 2013, a bomb explosion in the Shia neighborhood of Karachi was even more disturbing when one evening men, women and children were killed maimed and injured by a remotely triggered implanted bomb that buried them in a pile of rubble.
The government of Pakistan has totally failed to provide any security to her citizens, especially to the ethnic minorities. The central government expressed their deep condolence statements while resting blame on the provincial government and foreign intervention for inciting terror events and target killings. It is always easy to blame others to avoid taking responsibility. Fact remains, the ultimate responsibility for the security of the people of Pakistan rest solely with the government of Pakistan.
Today, what is happening in Pakistan reflects on the status of the whole Muslim community. It makes it difficult to watch as a bystander. My major purpose of writing this article is to reiterate the responsibility of the government, to raise the conscience of the entire Muslim community, and to make appropriate recommendations to prevent such occurrences.
Loss of Muslim lives in Palestine, India, Burma or anywhere else receives and rightfully so immediate and forceful reaction against the atrocities, oppression, religious bigotry and hatred. We Muslims plead our case and make known our emotions to the entire world. I really wonder how the people of Pakistan tolerate these inhuman actions of one Muslim group against others and specifically the minorities.
Case in point, the Shia minority: They have been complaining for the last three or four decades, and the result appears to extenuate the atrocities promoting more bloodshed. I am fully aware that many organizations in Pakistan, in the USA, and in other parts of the world have been condemning such acts. That is admirable, worthy as well as necessary. But these statements, press releases and protests do not go beyond lip service and an expression of self-righteousness.
After a week or two, people forget, the human misery is buried in the mist of time, and a new chapter of atrocities is written. The problem remains. We are fully aware that in the last three decades the problem has gone from bad to worse, and the only news we get from the Pakistani government is that they have formed a commission to investigate. We never hear of a single effective preventive measure taken by the government. The people of Pakistan usually agree when the government blames the foreign interventions, especially when related to India and USA. This makes people seemingly less responsible. They avoid feeling guilty and to eventually forget about the whole situation. In my view responsibility lies with people and the government of Pakistan. Unless people and the government take a strong position against the fanatics and terrorist, the problem will never be solved.
Recent Incidents of Violence
The following is a brief overview of violence, just a few examples of how bad the things have gone in Pakistan:
â€¢ On the morning, of February 18th 2013, Dr. Syed Ali Haider, a forty-six-year-old respectable eye surgeon in Lahore was driving with his eleven-year-old son, Mustafa Haider from their home in Gulberg to Aitcheson College, armed militants on motorbikes surrounded his car, opened fire, killed him and his son.
â€¢ Few days later in Karachi, Syed Haider Kazmi a Shia naval officer of Pakistan was driving to work in the morning when assassins fired at him; he died a week later. Earlier, another Shia naval officer was injured after an improvised explosive device exploded beneath his car.
â€¢ A week after Dr. Haider assassination, on February 25th 2013, a bomb exploded at a Sufi shrine in Shikarpur, a few hours from Karachi, killing three and injuring more than twenty worshippers. Soon after the explosion, a tweet came from a leader of Jhangvi group â€œI bow only to God. I am not an heir of those who prostrate at shrinesâ€. Terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi consider not only the Shias but also Pakistani Sunnis, who venerate shrines of Sufi mystics, as infidels deserving death.
â€¢ On March 9th 2013, in retaliation of an alleged blasphemy by a Christian, a rowdy crowd of enraged Muslims ransacked and burned 178 Christian homes and shops of in Joseph Town, a section of Lahore. The incident started on Friday when a young Muslim accused a Christian of committing blasphemy by making offensive comments about Prophet Mohammed. A large crowd from a nearby mosque gathered outside his home that night. The police took him into custody to pacify the crowd. Fearing for their safety, hundreds of Christian families fled the area overnight. The mob returned the next day, burned the houses of the poor people, and most of them lost all of their belongings. A local Bishop in the Lahore Christian community said the incident was really about personal enmity between two men who got into a brawl after heavy drinking and the Muslim made up the blasphemy story against the Christian.
â€¢ In the summer of 2011, a leader of Jhangvi group sent an open letter to the Shia community in Quetta, Baluchistan (six hundred thousand Shias from the Hazara tribe live there) saying: â€œAll Shias are worthy of killing. We will rid Pakistan of (these) unclean people. Pakistan means land of the pure, and the Shias have no right to be hereâ€¦We will make Pakistan their graveyardâ€”their houses will be destroyed by bombs and suicide bombersâ€.
â€¢ In January 2013, there was an explosion in the city of Quetta. Bodies were torn into pieces and the injured were bleeding and crying out for help. A man who had come to buy bread for his children was killed along with eighty one people.
â€¢ Yet a month later, on February 16th 2013, a bomb exploded in another busy market district in a Shia neighborhood in Quetta, killing eighty-four and injuring some hundred and sixty-nine more people.
â€¢ On Sunday March 3rd 2013, another lethal blast in a Shia neighborhood in Karachi killed at least forty-five people and injured more than a hundred and fifty.
â€¢ Within a week of Karachi massacre, four people were killed and twenty five were wounded when a bomb exploded inside a mosque of the Sunni Barelvi sect in the northwestern city of Peshawar. The bomb was planted in a bookshelf inside the mosque and was detonated by remote control during noon prayers. Barelvies strongly oppose Deobandis.
â€¢ In 2009, Christian homes in Gojra, Punjab, were razed to the ground and eight Christians were burnt alive. Under pressure the families of the victims recently withdrew their case against the one hundred and fifty alleged perpetrators.
â€¢ November 8th 2010, Asia Bibi (A Christian lady) was denied water from a public source because an arrogant Muslim woman was drawing the water from the same well at that time. She allegedly cursed Islam, Muslims and the Prophet. Asia Bibi was charged under blasphemy law and death sentence was imposed.
â€¢ A teenage Christian girl with suspected mental disabilities was accused of burning pages of the Quran. But she was later released after a huge domestic and international outcry about her incarceration. A local Muslim cleric from the neighborhood was arrested and accused of planting the pages in her bag to incriminate her. However, he was later freed on bail instead of receiving any punishment.
The killing and terrorist activities have become a daily affair in Pakistan. The condition for Christians and other minorities in Pakistan are shameful.
Islam and Peace
Prophet Muhammad (s) brought us a religion of peace and justice. And even many non-Muslim scholars and leaders admired him in bringing the Arabs from their state of Jahalia (backwardness) to the enlightenment. Micheal Hart in his book â€œ100: Most Influential People in the Worldâ€ recognized Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as â€œThe Best Among the Most Influential Persons in Historyâ€. Unfortunately, 1400 years later, The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has returned to the dark ages of Jahalia. The religion that taught us to be better human beings is not followed by its followers.
I attend many interfaith meetings and I often quote the verse from the Holy Quran, â€œIf you kill one innocent person it is as if you kill the whole humanity and if you save one person it is equivalent to saving all humanityâ€(5:32), to emphasis the importance of human lives in Islam. Most often, within few days of such meetings, there will be another tragic story of some Muslims killing a few more ethnic minorities. It makes one wonder about the beautiful message of Islam and such atrocities by its followers. I feel embarrassed and ashamed that followers of Islam are committing such atrocities. I also wonder about such â€œMuslimsâ€, how can they explain or justify this as an Islamic behavior?
My usual, defense had been that â€œMuslimsâ€ committing such atrocities lack knowledge and they are not following even the basic tenants of Islam. How can one proclaim the golden call for â€œpeace and justiceâ€ in Islam! Just because it is written in our book (Holy Quran)! If not Muslims who have to demonstrate a behavior that reflects the true meaning of the Islam (the model behavior of our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) showing the righteous way to humanity.) Unfortunately, what the world sees today are the atrocities committed by Muslims on minorities and more, in the name of Islam.
Even in war Islam prohibits the killing of women and children of enemies. But now we see that the women and children of ethnic minorities murdered by the bombs. Muslim soldiers were found to be raping and killing women and children. We cannot justify with any logic this inhuman behavior committed by â€œMuslimsâ€ who appear to rationalize and justify these atrocities in the name of Islam.
Murders and atrocities occur in every part of the world. In fact, the highest number of murders per capita occurs in USA. But these crimes are not committed in the name of religion and in US the rules of law become operative immediately to restore trust in the society.
The ideology of hate that some people disguise as Islam is the root cause of terrorism and extremism among Muslims. Every Muslim knows that the suicide bombings and the killing of innocent people is not Islamic â€œtraditionâ€. Yet, it is disguised as Jihad against non-Muslims and even Muslims whose beliefs are different. This ideology is pushing Pakistan and other countries towards the dark ages.
Muslims divided into many different sects Sunnis, Shias, Deobandis, Berelvis, Ismailis, Sufis, and Wahhabis while believe in one God and the same Prophet. But they have their own way of divulging into their own tradition to practice their religion. Many of the adherents to one sect strongly believe that only their beliefs and practices are correct. Unfortunately, a small group of people belonging to the Sunni sect (the most prevalent sect) has declared that the followers of other sects are not Muslims. Most recently, a member of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat stated that he is planning to go the Supreme Court to declare that Shias are not Muslims. Just like Ahmadis who were declared non-Muslims during Prime Minister Bhuttoâ€™s period.
Islam promotes that there is no compulsion in religion and the basic message of Islam is to promote humanity in the world. Our Prophetâ€™s model behavior (pbuh) was a demonstration to the whole world, of an exemplary way to preach and practice a belief system. It was not mere words but the deeds that we call his Sunnah. And that achieved the glorious changes that changed the tides of human history.
The recent incidents of violence in Pakistan do not reflect the glorious difference that Islam teaches. These atrocities against Shias, Ahmadis and more recently against Christians are committed by a small minority of â€˜Muslimsâ€. Unfortunately, the Muslim majority, who we all know, does not subscribe to such behavior; does not voice their opinion strongly enough against such atrocities (specially the Sunni Muslim religious leaders). They accepted such violence as an inevitable occurrence. Of course, this does not reflect well on the entire Muslim community.
Islam emphasizes unity. Muslims are encouraged to think as Ummah Wahidah (one united community). The Quran says, â€œObey Allah and His Messenger and do not argue with one another, lest you lose courage and weaken your strength. Show Patience and perseverance, surely Allah is on the side of the patienceâ€ (8:46)
Pakistan was created for the Muslims of the Subcontinent, an independent state to live and let live in peace and harmony. Yet the deep divisions, the sectarianism, the rivalry and the malice towards all by the current day Muslims are a moment for collective pondering and atonement. Our Prophet (pbuh) strongly condemned taking revenge, the tribal rivalry and killings that were the norm of the days of Jahaliya (prior to enlightment of Islam). In spite of this, the people who claim to follow the Sunnah (follow the examples of Prophet Muhammad) are resurrecting the same old days of Jahaliya by calling the other sects â€œdisbelieversâ€ and causing division among the community as a whole. Each sect seems to have a narrow definition of â€œMuslimâ€ and if you do not fit into the definition, you are regarded as non-Muslims. We need to develop tolerance towards the followers of the others sects to live in peace and harmony.
History of Militant Groups
The countryâ€™s Shias and Sunnis largely lived together peacefully till 1980s. The downward slide began during the dictatorship of General Zia ul Haq who ruled Pakistan between 1978 and 1988. The State of Pakistan used Islam as an instrument of state policy, prayers in the government departments became compulsory, people are punished for not fasting and Hudood law was established to punish other sins and criminal behaviors. It was also required that the candidates demonstrate the knowledge of Islamic teachings for obtaining government and academic positions. Jihad was declared essential for all the Muslims.
A wave of new Madrasas (seminaries) opened from which clerics issued fatwas and declared Ahmadis and Shias heretics and apostates. As Pakistan got involved in the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the power of religious extremists grew. Many of the extremists came from the Madrasas that Zia had helped build. The free education with free boarding and lodging is the major attraction for poor parents who cannot afford to send their children to get any education. Unfortunately, the education system in Madrasas further promoted violence and Jihadi movement by creating a fear that Islam is under threat. These schools are providing free boarding and lodging with the support of donation from other countries. According to some estimation there are 13-20,000 Madrasas in Pakistan. These young students graduating from these Madrasas further influence the government policies. Additionally, people returning from services in Gulf countries created further problem by converting the practices in many mosques specially in villages to follow the strict sectarian believes.
However, many elite Pakistanis have not been affected by all these changes. They remain disconnected with the main population and live their life with comfort of luxury and non-compliance of religious laws.
In mid 1980s, in Jhang – a small town in Punjab – an Anjuman of Sunni extremist cleric led by Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi formed an organization Sipahe-e-Sahaba, (Army of the friends of prophet). It positioned itself as a political party with the aim of declaring Pakistan a Sunni state, and even won some seats in the National Assembly. In 1996, a breakaway faction of Sipahe-e-Sahaba that felt the organization was not violent enough and formed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (the Army of Jhangvi).
After 9/11, General Pervez Musharraf banned both Sunni and Shia sectarian militant groups but it did little to ebb the violence against Shias. In the early two-thousands, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi frequently targeted Shia professionals. During Musharrafâ€™s first term in office from 1999-2003, around six hundred Shias were killed in sectarian violence. In 2003, The Friday Times, the Pakistani weekly newspaper reported that around five hundred Shia doctors had fled Pakistan in few years, after more than fifty of their colleagues were assassinated in Karachi.
The sectarian conflict in Pakistan is a recurring phenomenon for several decades now. It has consumed innumerable lives in Pakistan. The situation is getting worse with the passage of time. The minority sects remain under constant threat of attacks from the majority sects. Shias have also been retaliating counter attacks and mostly killing the leaders of Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar E Jhangvi. The sad part is that majority of the Muslims in Pakistan develop a tolerance and become insensitive towards these atrocities.
Root Causes of Sectarian Violence
Blasphemy is a serious crime in Pakistan that can carry the death penalty but sometimes people take law in their hands and try to punish people for perceived insults of Islamâ€™s Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Once an accusation is made itâ€™s extremely difficult to get it reversed, partly because law enforcement officials do not want to be seen as being soft on blasphemers.
Speaking out against the blasphemy laws can put people in danger. Two prominent officials the governor and a judge were assassinated in 2011 for urging reform to the law. The killer of one of the politicians was hailed as a hero. Often these blasphemy cases are personal grudges or disputes masquerading as religious fervor â€œMost of the time there are other motives involved, such as scaring off Christian residents to grab their property. There are at least 16 people on death row for blasphemy and another 20 are serving life sentences. Lack of conviction in oneâ€™s faith breeds intolerance towards criticism, whereas firmness in faith can lead us to learn from criticism.
Christians, Shia, Ahmadiya, Hindus and other minorities in Pakistan need to feel safe. They must be heard and justice must be served. One of the primary messages of Islam is to promote peace and justice.
The paramount question is: do the non-Muslims or minority sects within Islam have the rights to live in Pakistan as equal citizens and to practice their faith freely? Jamat Islami and some other Islamic parties opposed Quaid-e-Azam over the creation of a Muslim state within India. When Pakistan came into being they tried to convert it into a religious state. Subsequently, more violent religious groups imposed their perception of Islam via violence. The majority sect in Pakistan intimidates, annihilate and brutalize the minority sects both Muslim and Non-Muslim, branding them infidels. These acts block Pakistan from being a modern, secular state where religious freedom, liberty and human rights would prevail.
This is not the Pakistan that Quaid-e-Azam visualized or fought for. The Founder of the Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah addressed the first session of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11th 1947, when he stated (only relevant statement are copied here)
1. â€œThe first duty of a government is to maintain law and order, so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the State.â€
2. â€œevery one of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his color, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations.â€
3. â€œWe should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community would vanish.â€
4. â€œYou are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.â€
5. â€œYou will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.â€
The Pakistanâ€™s constitution Article 20 grants freedom to profess the religion and manage religious institutions, Article 25 states that all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protections of law. Moreover, Article 36 makes the state responsible to safeguard the rights and interest of minorities. Is the government of Pakistan respecting the constitution and protecting the rights of the minorities?
The killings of innocent citizens and acts of terrorism are resulting in a humanitarian crisis. This is not the Pakistan which Quaid-e-Azam (the founder of Pakistan) envisioned where people from all sects and beliefs were supposed to live in peace, love and harmony. Enough is enough. This must stop as it is leading Pakistan to the path of destruction and devastation and giving a bad name to the peaceful and just religion Islam.
We condemn these inhuman atrocities unequivocally. Muslims at large are at fault for allowing the abuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan which is anathema to the Character of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), regarded as mercy to the mankind. It is time for Muslims to mean it.
Although I have given a very detailed description of atrocities committed by Muslims in Pakistan, similar incidents occur in other Muslim countries such as Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Egypt. According to some estimate over 100,000 people were killed during last two years in the sectarian violence. The most recent news coming from Syria is very disturbing. The Syrian forces carried out ethnic cleansing in Sunni areas murdering hundreds of men, women and children whose mutilated decomposed bodies were found in Sunni predominant areas. The Sunni insurgents carrying out summary executions of Alawites who are governing the country and a recent video of killing showed the cannibalistic behavior of an insurgent. They are making the statements â€œI severe to God, we will eat your heart and liver, you soldiers of Bashar the dogâ€.
On May 19th 2013, 95 people were killed in Shia/Sunni sectarian violence reaching the death toll to 240 in last one week. Iraqi Shiite majority was oppressed under Sadam Hussainâ€™s regime. Most serious killing occurred between 2003-2006 but the killings continued. The recent search in bloodshed has exasperated Iraqis making them extremely frustrated due to insecurity of life.
If these revenge killings continue, no Muslim will remain alive when the killing will stopped.
What Can be Done?
â€¢ I have seen hundreds of Fatwas by Muslim scholars by terrorism. Hundreds of Muslim scholars and Muslim organization issued the statement condemning the atrocities in Pakistan and other parts of the world. Articles have been written exploring the underlying causes and pathology of the problem.
â€¢ However, I have not seen a massive protest and agitation against the atrocities committed by Muslims whereas hundreds of thousands of Muslim agitated against the â€œcartoonsâ€ with loss of lives and property damage. Articles were written about educational process promoting deeper understanding in Islam that focuses on meaning and ultimate goals not simply rituals and prohibition. The Muslim scholars and leaders must sit together to focus on commonality of the sects rather than elaborating on the differences.
â€¢ It must be stressed that the leaders who claim to follow the divine scriptures must show the highest human values, show respect to human lives and avoid revenge by evil actions and animosity.
â€¢ Muslims in USA, no matter what their country of origin is, must spread the word through Media and other means of mass communication about the lack of responsibility the Muslim governments have shown towards minorities.
â€¢ It is time for the world Sunni Muslim leaders specially the religious leaders to take a strong position to stop these atrocities against the minorityâ€™s sects and pursue the Islamic fundamental principle of saving human lives. Majority of the Muslims in Pakistan who do not support these atrocities must become vocal and force the government to pass strong laws against hate speeches and hate crimes which are committed by a minority of Muslims but creating havoc in the entire country. If we remained silent, it means that we are accepting what is happening. The anti-Shia, anti- Ahmadiya and anti-Christian group are clearly spreading the hatred by calling them infidel and kafir (Non-Muslims). According to a recent news, one of the leaders of the Jhangvi terrorist group stated that they will make Sunnis so powerful against Shias that no Sunni will want to meet and shake hand with the Shias and they will pursue their demand to declare them Non-Muslims.
â€¢ It is time that the Muslim scholars, intellectuals and leaders must become highly vocal against Muslim groups and governments who engage in large scale crimes against humanity and against their own brothers and sisters. The effort should be continue until a solution is found for this inhuman attitude which is against the teachings of Quran and Hadith and causing a serious damage to the Muslim image. We need to get rid of the spreading head culture which is destroying the Muslim Ummah.
The well-known Pakistani philanthropist and humanitarian Abdul Sattar Edhi stated â€œThe best religion of all is humanity. If religion does not have humanity then it is uselessâ€.
There is confusion about the term of secular among the educated class of Pakistan. Secular does not mean anti religion per se, it means freedom to choose religion and not interfere in others people religion.
It appears that Muslims in Pakistan became insensitive or afraid of these terrorist groups that nobody dares making an open statement in public. They are afraid of their own lives and the safety of their families. Therefore, the first step should be to ban all hate speeches and prescribe severe punishment for such acts. Unless this step is taken nothing can be accomplished. This will encourage the moderate Muslims to speak up and bring the unity among different factions.
Very rarely, the Imams in US give a Khutba or make a statement strongly opposing the violence and condemning the massacre of minorities. They know very well how these atrocities are destroying the human lives and the image of Islam.
If Muslims are subjected to discrimination in this country I hear a lot of hue and cry. Please remember we should not do to others what you do not want others to do to you. If we do not want others to humiliate or degrade us or our religion then we should prohibit degrading and humiliating others. In USA, we have a freedom to think and make rational decisions and our leadership should take this opportunity to have brain storming sessions to resolve the problem. I heard many times that this problem is going on for centuries and very little we can do to change the attitudes. We can set up goals to study the problem, define the objectives and by mutual discussions and dialogues, the solutions can be developed. Muslims have different believes and they all think that their beliefs are the correct one. The major goal is â€œhow one learns to respect others believes and learns not to humiliate or degrade othersâ€. We can have a strong firm believe in our own sect but we must learn to tolerate and respect others believes as we do our own.
I would like to share an interesting story about my own personal experience. I made a presentation on Islam to Christian group about the basic beliefs of Islam, the rituals and the concept of the Ibadah in Islam which is more than performing just the rituals. At the end of my presentation, I mentioned about my work with Muslim Community Center for Human Services (MCC), providing free medical services to the uninsured and the social services to the victims of domestic violence and child abuse. I also mentioned that MCC offers services to all individuals irrespective of color, religion or ethnicity. One lady was very impressed with my presentation and the services we are providing to the community. She thanked me for the presentation and about the services the MCC offers. At the end of discussion, she said to me with care and compassion that I will be â€œsavedâ€ if I believe in Jesus Christ for my salvation. She was sincere in her desire and wanted the best for me. I appreciated her sincerity and I explained that I respect Jesus as a prophet and believed that his message is from God. This example shows how people of other faith have strong belief in their own religion just like we have in our own.
What step we should take to achieve this goal and find ways to implement? If we develop a model and road map, it will be beneficial to implement here and in other parts of the world.
I am asking respected Muslim leaders and scholars in this country to make constructive suggestions to alleviate this serious situation of atrocities toward minorities in Pakistan which is resulting in a loss of human lives and a bad image to Islam. I am certain that with the collective efforts of the highly intellectual and influential Muslim scholars in this country this human crisis can be averted and it can serve as a road map for protection of the rights of minorities in the world.