The Roots of Sectarianism in Pakistan

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By

Khaled Ahmed[1]

Abstract

(The sectarian violence in Pakistan which has marred the final years of the last century continues in the present and has cost thousands of lives. Shia-Sunni tensions were largely   concealed through layers of governance and prevented from degenerating into confrontation during the British Raj. Soon after the emergence of Pakistan, the uneasy relationship between Shias and Sunnis gradually degenerated into open violence by the mid-1980s. The Iranian revolution with “the treat of export” as well as the decade-long struggle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and its aftermath also stoked the sectarian flame in Pakistan which is home to largest concentration of Shias after Iran. Though apostatisation of Shias has not been allowed, successive governments have, at best, been indifferent to the sectarian fatwas issued by extremist organizations such as the   Sipah Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Tayba, Jaish-e-Mudhammad, Al Ikhwan and Harkutul Mujahideen. The violence these have ignited has “resulted in a tit-for-tat Shia response.” Editor).

Introduction:

Tens of thousands of lives have been lost in Pakistan’s sectarian war in the last two decades of the 20th century. And the mayhem continues into the 21st century. A tolerable level of Sunni-Shia tension was inherited by the country from the British Raj, but the two sects squared off violently only after 1980. Like all internecine conflicts, the war of the sects has been characterised by extreme cruelty. It coincided with the onset of the Islamic Revolution of Imam Khomeini in Iran and the threat its “export” posed to Saudi Arabia and other Arab states across the Gulf.

Pakistanis invariably blame Saudi Arabia and Iran for the violence since the two countries funded and trained the partisans of this war. Both are aware that Pakistan was subjected to someone else’s “relocated” war. Much of the internal dynamic of this war remains hidden from public view. A kind of embarrassment over the phenomenon of Muslim-killing-Muslim has prevented Pakistanis from inquiring frankly into how the two hostile states were able to transplant their conflict in Pakistan.

Sectarian violence has drawn its strength from the past too. The schismatic past was concealed behind two important layers of governance. First, the Raj was able to almost completely uproot the Sunni-Shia confrontation during its tenure from 1857 to 1947. A refusal to recognise the jurisprudence of takfir (apostatisation) and a competent encoding of the Muslim Family Law, separating the two sects, almost buried the conflict that had its seeds in the 7th century.

The Pakistan Movement in India that resulted in the creation of Pakistan against the wishes of Great Britain and the secularists of India was spearheaded by the two sects together. The movement carried the promise of a finally successful coexistence and possible integration of the two sects. Early governance in Pakistan was in some ways an extension of the secular impartiality of the Raj. However, after Independence in 1947, two developments took place that sowed the seeds of sectarianism that were to bear fruit later on.

Pakistan began to look for its identity in the stance its representative political party, the All-India Muslim League, had adopted during its competition with the secular and much larger All-India National Congress. Because of the early military conflict with India in 1947, Pakistan’s nationalism began to coalesce positively around Islam and negatively around India. Its textbooks sought their exemplary personalities in historical Muslim “utopias” and imagined “golden ages” that highlighted the particularism of Muslim identity instead of its “liminal” cross-fertilisation with Hinduism at the cultural level.

Pakistani textbooks went back to pre-Raj days and selected periods of Muslim rule where pluralism was at its lowest, and highlighted instead the separation of Hinduism from Islam. (Liberal Mughal kings who treated the Hindus well also accepted the Shia as Muslims.) Most of this selection turned out to be sectarian. While it set Muslims and Hindus apart it also emphasised the conflict between Sunni and Shia communities. In the early period of Pakistan’s history, ignorance of the schism – or amnesia induced by the Raj interregnum – allowed this bias to go unnoticed.

During the Saudi-Iranian standoff in 1980, Pakistan was drawn to the Saudi side for a number of reasons. It had a large expatriate labour force stationed in the Arab Middle East, particularly in the region of the Gulf where the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was formed in 1980 to ward off the Iranian threat. Before 9/11, almost 80 percent of Pakistan’s “foreign remittances” were earned from this region. Saudi Arabia was also the most important ally – after the United States – in “frontline” Pakistan’s war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

Saudi Arabia funded the jihad, it bought Pakistan its first instalment of the 40 F-16 warplanes from the United States, it gave Pakistan the seed-money for its Zakat Fund which now stands at almost Rs 12 billion annually to be distributed among the poor but which went predominantly to the seminaries during the 1980s. Saudi Arabia allowed Pakistan to buy Saudi oil on “deferred payment” which meant free oil. The Islamisation of Pakistan under the military ruler General Ziaul Haq proceeded under the tutelage of Saudi Arabia.

It is not possible to examine the Saudi-Iranian conflict exclusively in a non-sectarian perspective. The schism was reflected in the Afghan jihad, but after the jihad ended, it was reflected in the ouster, from the first government-in-exile, of mujahideen belonging to the Shia militias. The Afghan mujahideen government was set up in Peshawar in 1989, but, under Saudi pressure, the Shia militias were not given representation in it. The rise of the Taliban in 1996, quickly recognised by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, was in a way a reversal of Iran at Saudi hands in the final count. The Taliban were recruited from the Deobandi and Wahhabi outfits, which were historically anti-Shia.

In 1986, the Deobandi seminaries of Pakistan and India had issued fatwas of apostatisation against the Shia population and thus upheld the manifesto of the Sipah Sahaba, a party formed in 1985 in Pakistan on the basis of its demand that the Shia be declared non-Muslim by the state of Pakistan through an amendment to the Constitution. The state had already set the precedence of apostatising Muslim communities and declaring them non-Muslims under the Second Amendment of 1974.

The anti-Shia fatwas were “managed” through a Deobandi scholar of India, Manzur Numani, who had earlier written a book against Imam Khomeini and Iran. Funded by the Saudi charity Rabita Alam Islami (World Islamic League), he wrote to the Deobandi seminaries of India and Pakistan, asking them to give their juristic opinion on the Shia faith. In 1986 all of them sent to him fatwas declaring the Shia kafir or non-Muslim. No attention was paid to the character of the Shia faith in Pakistan, a grave mistake made at the political level.

The Shia of Pakistan had developed as a community tied to the teachings of Najaf. Their religious leaders followed the school of Najaf, which meant non-acceptance of the Iranian brand of faith founded on the concept of Velayat Faqih by Imam Khomeini, giving the Shia clergy the right to rule under the divine charisma of the ruling jurist. There was a strong implication in this of the sharing by the ruling jurist of the divinity of the innocent Twelve Imams. The Shia community of Pakistan was not politically aligned to its clergy, it was even less connected with the clerical hierarchy of Iran. The Shia of certain regions of Pakistan began going to Qum instead of Najaf only after the state of Pakistan under General Zia decided to collaborate with Saudi Arabia.

Laws promulgated in Pakistan against the apostatisation of the Shia do not contain any provision banning the issuance of fatwas as “private” edicts that violate the sovereignty of the state. The state is reluctant to bring the controversy of the apostatising fatwas into the courts of law because the courts themselves function under the sharia and will find it hard to disagree with the fatwas as edicts. The state rightly refuses to recognise the Shia as a separate community and has not given them a separate status in the census, meaning that the state does not “officially” discriminate on the basis of sect[1].

It is generally agreed that Shia are 15 to 20 percent of the total population, with significant concentrations in Quetta in Balochistan, Kurram Agency in the Tribal Areas, and Gilgit in the Northern Areas. If the Northern Areas is given the status of a separate province, it will be a Shia-majority province. Pakistan is second only to Iran in respect of the number Shias living in it.

The sectarian fatwas in Pakistan

It is often said that the people of Pakistan are not sectarian. This is meant to point to the lack of a general anti-Shia animus at the popular level. Yet, Pakistan has seen a lot of sectarian violence in recent years. The truth of the above statement is substantiated by the pattern of killings: the Sunnis kill Shia at large, targeting congregations, and the Shias target-kill – with some exceptions – the self-proclaimed anti-Shia clerics. This pattern tells us that the Shias are aware that the Sunni majority does not hate them. It rather proves that Shia-baiting is a specialised function carried out in the tradition of certain schools of thought among the Sunni-Hanafi confession.

Is the state of Pakistan involved in this sectarian war? The Brussels-based International Crisis Group in its Asia Report No 95 titled The State of Sectarianism in Pakistan says: “In 1988, the last year of Zia’s rule, the longstanding sectarian peace in the Northern Areas was shattered by bloody anti-Shia riots. When Shias in Gilgit celebrated Eidul Fitr, Sunnis, still fasting because their scholars had not sighted the moon, attacked them. Since the initial clashes ended with a truce between local community leaders, Shias were caught unprepared when they were attacked by a Sunni lashkar.” The lashkar consisted of thousands of people from Mansehra, Chilas, Kohistan and other areas in the NWFP. They had travelled a long distance to reach Gilgit, but the government did not stop them. No government force intervened even as killings and rapes were going on. Instead, the government put the blame on RAW (Research and Analysis Wing, India’s intelligence agency), Iran and CIA. In the rampage that followed, more than 700 Shias were killed, scores of Shia villages were pillaged and burned, and even livestock was slaughtered.

“It was on Musharraf’s watch as Army Chief that Pakistan’s Kashmir jihad policy increased the ranks of Islamic extremists in the Northern Areas. In 1999 the Kargil conflict resulted in the influx of Sunni jihadi elements into the region. Extremist organisations like the SSP, Lashkar-e-Tayba, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Al-Ikhwan and Harkatul Mujahideen have since opened offices there. Places like Chilas and Gilgit have become the hub of Sunni jihadi training and anti-Shia activism. And every Sunni attack has resulted in a tit-for-tat Shia response.”

The main reason for the “hate specialisation” is the secret nature of the Shia faith (taqiyya) especially in some aspects of the historic quarrel with Sunni Islam. The clerics who target the Shias dig into early Islamic history to find evidence of “insult” offered by the Shias to the Companions of the Prophet. The argument usually begins by the Sunni cleric positing that the Shias have a covert tradition of denouncing the fundamentals of Sunni Islam. The verdict of apostatisation is therefore purported to be “reactive.” After that, the Shia tradition of offering taveel (secondary meaning) of the Quran is “detected” and a fatwa of apostatisation is issued. Not all the Hanafi schools apostatise the Shias. The Barelvis are seen to offer a “liminal” interface with them for which they are often denounced by the hardline schools like the dominant Deobandi school. (Maulana Jhangvi, founder of Sipah Sahaba, did that.[2])

Islam has many sects. They are supposed to run into scores. Each region however chooses its own primordial hate-object which is then collectively apostatised. The Shias don’t qualify as the “death wish” object of hatred for Pakistan the same way as the Ahmedis. In Iran, it is not the Sunnis so much as the Bahais who arouse primordial hatred. In Pakistan, another sect with equally covert articles of faith – the Ismailis – don’t arouse the same vehemence of feeling as the Ahmedis although hate material against them has recently come to light. The hatred of the Shia has focused on the clerics of Deoband and, after the Afghan war of the 1980s, on the Ahle Hadith. With the hardening of Islam in Pakistan the sectarian trend has grown. It could be predicted even in 1949 when the state of Pakistan embarked on the path of becoming an Islamic state and tacitly said goodbye to the liminality or cultural coalescence of the majority Barelvi school with the Shias.

Attacking the Shia traditionists

Anti-Shia fatwas reveal the mainsprings of the sectarian dispute. The “departure” or heresy of the Shias is seen in documents that don’t have common currency in the country and only the orthodox practising Shias know about them. It is only after the polarisation caused by the Deoband-dominated Afghan jihad that some Shias have come to know about the early Shia writers like Kulayni and Majlisi[3] whose writings contain the kernel of the Shia-Sunni schism. Even the rise of Imam Khomeini in Iran did not bring about any considerable awareness among the Shias about the “facts” of their case in the dispute, although an underground of denunciatory and abusive literature had always existed in some small cities away from the metropolises, usually a result of personal rivalries between local clerics on both sides of the sectarian divide. Marriages between Shia and Sunni spouses were quite common till the sectarian killings tended to increase sect consciousness.[4] In some areas of the country cross-sect weddings have been disrupted by the local clerics under pain of violence.

The fatwa of apostatisation issued against the Shias by one the founders of Karachi’s Darul Ulum at the Banuri Town mosque complex will make clear the basic features of the sectarian quarrel.[5] Mufti Wali Hassan Tonki issued the following judgement in 1986: “The Shia believe that the Quran is created and not eternal and is lying safe with the Occult Imam; that the Quran has been changed as claimed in the works of Kulayni, Mullah Baqar Majlisi and Muhammad Taqi al-Nuri al-Tabarsi; that, like the Qadianis, the Shia accept Muhammad as the last Prophet only literally and not in the real sense and have set up a parallel system to his Prophethood in the concept of Imamate, equating one with the other; that the Shia reject the ijma (consensus) of the Muslim community on the caliphates of Abu Bakr and Umar; the Shia are therefore outside the pale of Islam.”[6]

It is important to understand here the status of the Shia traditionists that the Pakistani ulema attacked in the above fatwa.

The author of al-Kafi was Abu Jafar Muhammad b. Ya’qub b. Ishaq al-Kulayni al-Razi. He died in 940 AD. Very little is known of his life. He first worked as a religious scholar and faqih (student of fiqh or religious law) among the Imami-Shia scholars of al-Raiy in Iran. Then he moved to Baghdad and became head of the religious and legal scholars of the Imamis during the time when al-Muqtadir was Caliph. Al-Kulayni’s life’s work took place during the time of the sufara’ of the Mahdi (the agents who acted on behalf of the Hidden Imam during the lesser occultation, al ghaiba al-sughra). Al-Kulayni is credited with several works during this period. Among these are, as well as al-Kafi, a Kitab al-rijal, (a book in which men are assessed as authorities for traditions), al-Radd ‘ala ‘l-Qaramata (Refutation of the Carmatians, Rasa’ il al-a’immata, Letters of the Imams and an anthology of poetry about the Imams. Only al-Kafi appears to have survived.[7]

Mohammad Baqr Majlesi, son of Molla Mohammad Taqi, was born in 1628 and died circa 1700 and buried in Atiq Mosque of Isfahan. He was a religious leader of the Muslims in Isfahan who, controlled people’s affairs through his wisdom, and solved their problems. He was enormously interested in teaching and the number of his scholars in Riadh was estimated at about one thousand. He travelled to Mecca and Iraq several times. His efforts to propagate his faith were such that Shiism could be called Majlesi’s religion, according to Shah Abdul Aziz’s book Tohfeh. After Majlesi’s book Haqul Yaqin (“The Confirmed Truth”) was published, about 70,000 Sunnis of Syria converted to Shiism. He passed away at the age of 73. Majlesi’s works number more than 60. Some of his important writings are: Bahar Al-Anvar fi Akhbar Al-A’ emah Al-Athar (26 volumes), Meshkatol Anvar, Eynol Hayat, Jala Al-Oyoun, Helyatal Motaqin and Hayat Al-Qollob.[8]

There appear to be many Shia traditionists named Tabarsi but it is Nuri Al Tabarsi (d.1902) who comes under attack for claiming that the Quran was incomplete and would be revealed in its complete form by the occulted Imam Mahdi. But Tabarsi does not receive a consensual acceptance among the Shia because of his recent date. Yet, when the polemic is joined, there is a defence of Nuri Al Tabarsi which must be noted.

“There are three individuals with the title of Tabarsi among the Shia. The one accused of writing a booklet on the incompleteness of Quran, is Husain Ibn Muhammad Taqi al-Nuri al-Tabarsi (c 1838-1902). Those who call the Shia Kafir due to this booklet will be surprised to know that many of the Hadith reports that al-Nuri al-Tabarsi has quoted are, in fact, from the Sunni documents and were quoted from their most authentic books! Actually his book has two parts. In one part he has gathered the Sunni reports and in the other part he provided the Shia reports in this regard. The Wahhabis, who have recently distributed copies of this book to attack the Shia, have intentionally omitted the part related to the Sunni reports! Nonetheless, the Shia scholars of his time disagreed with his conclusion regarding the alteration of Quran. This shows that the Shia scholars strongly believed that nothing is missing from Quran. We cannot call any person (Shia or Sunni) who claims Quran is incomplete, as kafir. This is simply because believing in the completeness of Quran is not an article of faith, nor do we have any tradition saying that anyone who claims Quran is incomplete, is a kafir. Also, the verse of Quran that states that Allah is the protector of the Reminder, can be interpreted differently. (Logically we cannot prove the lack of alteration in Quran by Quran!).[9]” he problem of the six accepted-as-true Sunni collections of hadith reports has cropped up in the past among the Sunnis too because of their objectionable content in the eyes of some scholars like Pakistan’s Ghulam Ahmad Parwez (1903-1985) who rejected the Sunni hadith selectively because of reports found in it about the changing or withholding of certain sections of the Quran. There was intense reaction against him from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. His works were banned in Kuwait and in the NWFP province in Pakistan. In Lahore, where his trust is located in Gulberg, there is always the threat of attack from radical militia-backed religious parties who don’t agree with his Quran-centred and hadith-rejecting approach.[10] The irony of Parwez’s work is that his writings reject the Shia faith while his critical examination of the Sunni hadith strengthens the Shia defence of the belief that the Quran had been tampered with. Parwez of course castigated the Sunni hadith for making this view current among the Muslims. His efforts were paralleled in Iran by Ali Shariati who objected to Shia hadith.

Manzur Numani and his anti-Iran campaign

A number of clerical leaders of Pakistan co-signed or confirmed the fatwa against the Shia in 1986. Among them were two well known names: Muhammad Yusuf Ludhianvi and Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai. Both were to die in the sectarian upheaval that overtook Pakistan during the Afghan civil war of the 1990s and the jihadi reaction to American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Fatwas of apostatisation are on record as having been issued from time to time from all the prominent madrassas of Pakistan. Darul Ulum Haqqaniya Akora Khattak of Maulana Samiul Haq issued its own fatwa of apostatisation of the Shia in 1986 saying that eating food cooked by them, attending their funeral and burying them in Sunni graveyards stood banned. Another fatwa from Jamia Ashrafia Lahore, whose leader Maulana Muhammad Malik Kandhalwi known to be a relative of General Zia, declared the Shias kafir because “they held that the Quran had been tampered with and gave Hazrat Ali a status equal to Prophet Muhammad, claiming that angel Jibreel had made a mistake while taking wahi to the Prophet.”

The above fatwas were circulated in Quetta, Balochistan, in 2003 before the massacre of the Hazara Shias there on two occasions. Since no madrassa is required by the state to register all the fatwas it gives out to the people, the information given by the Hazara leaders on TV fell on deaf ears. However, a compilation of all the Shia-related Pakistani fatwas was made in Lucknow India in 1987, thus offering research workers in Pakistan a glimpse into the activity of the madrassas which mostly disclaim that they are involved in anti-Shia crimes. Lack of knowledge of the Deobandi-Shia conflict of the past is yet another proof of the non-sectarian nature of the general public in Pakistan. It is not generally known that the founder of the state Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was an Ismaili who chose to become Shia in the 1920s to help along his political career. (Shia faith was then more acceptable among Sunni Muslims than Ismailism.) It is also not known that Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani who led the prayer of his public Sunni funeral (a secret Shia funeral having already taken place at night) had earlier signed a fatwa declaring all Shias as kafirs.[11]

The Sunni-Shia conflict as an Islamic schism died down in India under British Raj simply because the British administrators dealt strictly and fairly with sectarian breaches of law. In Lucknow, for example, where the Shia community flourished, both the sects were forced to respect the municipal law under pressure from officers that had no religious affiliations. Had the local deputy commissioner not told a sectarian crowd that it could not take the law in their own hands, Lucknow’s controversial poet Yaas Yagana Changezi would have died as a lynched apostate. The same can be said about Ghalib in Delhi under the British Raj administration when he was accused of being a rafizi (converted Shia) by the Ahle Hadith who had dominance in the court of the Mughal King. Imam Khomeini’s own family, fearing persecution in Iran, had migrated to India and lived in Lucknow for a time because it found the city safe.[12] Amir Taheri interestingly notes that Khomeini took the pen-name (takhallus) Hindi (Indian) in his poems and that his youngest brother Muhammad was named Syed Muhammad Hindi.[13]

Why were the series of fatwas apostatising the Shias issued in Pakistan in the year 1986? Why was there a simultaneity in the issuance of these fatwas? A book was put together in 1993 titled Khomeini Aur Shia Kay Barah Main Ulema Karaam Ka Mutafiqqa Faisla (Consensual Verdict of the Ulema on Khomeini and the Shia) in Pakistan by someone called Chishti Sabri and introduced by Khalilur Rehman Sajjad Nadvi. The text belonged to an Indian cleric Maulana Manzur Numani (d.1994) who claimed that “it is a masterpiece of research.” Why should a collection of fatwas be described as a masterpiece of research? One comes to know that in fact these fatwas were either never available freely in India and Pakistan or had become unavailable after their issuance simply because of the lack of habit of record-keeping in the country and the latter-day tendency of the madrassas to hide their sectarian past.

Maulana Manzur Numani was a graduate of Darul Ulum Deoband in India and had already written against Imam Khomeini in 1984, but in these writings he had not gone beyond accusing the Iranian Imam of heresy. But after that, he allegedly came across more solid evidence proving the Shias non-Muslim. He himself wonders that till the age of 80 he had not cared to look into the writings of the Sunni ulema down the centuries on the question of the real faith of the Shia. The “masterpiece” he achieved came in the shape of a collection of fatwas printed serially in the Lucknow-based journal Al Furqan from December 1987 to July 1988. The fatwas were mostly issued in 1986 and their publication in Al Furqan was undertaken the following year. What made him undertake his anti-Shia readings? He explains it himself. After the appearance of Imam Khomeini on the international scene in 1979, and after the “anti-monarchical” inspiration of the Iranian Revolution radiated in the Arab world, many clerics in the United States began to worry about the future of their proselytising enterprise.

Numani says some ulema wrote to him from the US saying the American blacks were now being attracted to Shiism rather than Sunniism as in the past. Since proselytisation in the US was mostly leveraged with Arab/Saudi money, the fundamental Arab-Iranian religious contest too is visible in Numani presentation of the case. He goes on to cite Imam Abu Hanifa’s well-known edict that since the Shia were ahle-e-qibla (those who bowed to Kaaba) they should not be apostatised. He says Imam Abu Hanifa – the founder of the Hanafi school of jurisprudence – never meant it as a ban on apostatisation of the Shia who actually did not accept the Last Prophet sincerely. Quite the opposite of it, he points to the concept of the Hidden Imam in Shiism and says that the final aim of the Shias is to control the Kaaba and proclaim their ascendancy from there. He then refers to the 1987 clash between Saudi troops and the Shias doing hajj in Mecca and warns that a campaign to depose the Sunnis from the guardianship of the Kaaba could actually be taking shape.

There is an interesting precedent to Numani’s book of fatwas. Numani had written an earlier book in 1984 titled Iranian Revolution, Imam Khomeini and Shiism (Irani Inqilab, Imam Khomeini aur Shi’yyat) with a preface written by a popular Indian religious leader Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi whom one least expected to endorse a sectarian tract. Vali Nasr met him in India in 1989 and this is what he writes:

“Nadwi or Ali Mian as he was popularly known was then one of the most senior religious leaders of India. He was a scholar and the rector of an important seminary in Lucknow as well as a trustee of Oxford University’s Center for Islamic Studies. He was also a leader of India’s Muslim community, often interacting with politicians on behalf of Indian Muslims and travelling across the Muslim world to represent them. Nadwi was an adviser to the Saudi Islamic World League. Although moderate in his views and a critic of fundamentalism, he nevertheless let himself be prevailed upon to lend his authority to Numani’s attack – itself an ominous sign.

“Numani saw Khomeini as the face of Shiism and pointed to Iranian excesses as proof that Shiism was beyond the Islamic pale. The book quickly made a stir. Numani and Nadwi were not marginal opportunists but senior Sunni ulama. Their commentary had the quality of a major fatwa. With Saudi financial support, the book was translated from Urdu into English, Arabic and Turkish for wide circulation across the Muslim world. A copy whether in English or Arabic was available to any interested person who requested one at the Saudi embassy in Washington, DC. The book made Deobandis central to the ongoing sectarian confrontation in Pakistan.

“When I visited Nadwi in 1989, I asked him about the book. I expected him to go into outspoken anti-Shia mode, but to my surprise he grew quiet. He preferred not to talk about the book. When I pressed him whether it was prudent to equate Shiism with Khomeini and to denounce the Shia faith so strongly, he demurred – it had all come down to the fact that Numani had been his friend, and that political circumstances had dictated the book’s production. Moderate Sunnism was being pushed to adopt an unbending position toward Shiism. Nadwi had always been a pragmatic and temperate man. He had travelled to Iran during the Shah’s days and until 1984 had not adopted an anti-Shia position. But, as he hinted, the Saudi-Iranian rivalry was imposing its own radicalising logic on sectarian relations.[14]

The lending of his name to Numani’s book by Ali Mian is an extraordinary event. The profile of this great Indian Islamic scholar, provided by Yoginder Sikand, describes him as a very realistic man despite his correctly appreciated great scholarship. Sikand does not dwell on Ali Mian’s anti-Shia leanings because there were apparently none, but he does list his deep contacts with the Arabs in general and the Saudis in particular. He received the King Faisal Award from Saudi Arabia in 1980 while serving as the rector of the Muslim seminary of Nadwat al-Ulema, as member of the standing committee of the Darul Ulum, Deoband, and participant in the working of many European institutions devoted to studying Islam. He was member of the Standing Committee of Rabita al Alami al Islami (The World Muslim League), Mecca; member of the Consultative Committee of the Islamic university, Madina. Sikand is of the view that his views were greatly moulded by his contacts with the Arabs.[15]

It is quite clear from the above that the “inspiration” to write the books came from one source, Saudi Arabia, while a helping hand might have been provided by others. In 1984, Pakistan’s General Zia had a bad meeting with Khomeini, after which in 1985 the anti-Shia organisation Sipah Sahaba was allowed to be formed; in 1986 General Zia allowed the massacre of the Shia in Parachinar in Kurram Agency, and the same year the Deobandi fatwas were issued from the three top seminaries of Pakistan. In 1984, Numani in India got worried about Iran and wrote his book against Khomeini, which was picked up by the Saudis, translated and distributed all over the Muslim world. Then in 1987 Numani was prompted to put together all the fatwas against the Shia and write another book which has been noted above as the book published by a Pakistani in 1993.

Arab scholar Khaled Abou El Fadl explains the widespread puritanism among the Muslims of today as based on a textualism that leaves very little room for human agency in the interpretation of religion. He thinks that Saudi Arabia was able to guide the conservative salafist trends among the Arabs towards a tough literalist faith after the collapse of Nasserism. Instead of putting the Quran and Hadith at the top of all values in Islam, the puritans use them to empower themselves “to project their socio-political frustrations and insecurities upon their text.” While the puritans seek to dominate and punish fellow Muslims, puritan militants like Al Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden, seek to punish the non-Muslims too. About Saudi patronage of this creed, he writes:

“Initially this process of dissemination (of Wahhabi ideology) consisted of lending financial support to fundamentalist organisations, but by the 1980s, this process became far more sophisticated. So, for instance, Saudi Arabia created a number of proxy organisations such as Rabita al-Alam al-Islami (Muslim World League, a sister organisation of Mo’tamar al-Alam al-Islami or Muslim World Congress) that widely distributed Wahhabi literature in all of the major languages of the world, gave out grants and awards, and provided funding for a massive network of publishers, schools, mosques, organisations and individuals. The net effect of this campaign was that many Islamic movements across the Muslim world became advocates of Wahhabi theology…In many parts of the Muslim world, the wrong type of speech or conduct (such as failing to veil or advocate the veil) meant the denial of Saudi largesse.”[16]

Senior Pakistani journalist Mustafa Sadiq once wrote in Lahore’s daily Jang (21 November 2003) that when he was saying his prayer in a mosque in Dipalpur, a small town in Punjab, he discovered pamphlets there penned by the great late Saudi scholar Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz. He was greatly impressed by the pamphlets and remembered that Bin Baz was rector of the Madina University and wielded a lot of authority with the Saudi royalty. The columnist went to Saudi Arabia in 1966 and interviewed Bin Baz, which he published on one full page of his paper Wafaq. Bin Baz could actually undo the punishments given out by the princes. He was so powerful he could open the door of the crown prince, the most powerful man in the kingdom, and enter at will. He wore his usual long robe but kept a big pocket in it. In the pocket was always a mohur (stamp). Whenever he wanted to give an order that the kingdom had to obey he took it out of his robe and affixed it on the paper carrying his instructions.

A portrait of Maulana Manzur Numani

Qasim Zaman presents India’s Maulana Manzur Numani (d.1996) as a populariser of Islam together with Yusuf Ludhianvi of Pakistan. Numani published his Islam kiya hai (What is Islam?) for the common Muslim reader and sold 70,000 copies of it in India and perhaps an equal number in Pakistan. By the late 1990s the book had been reprinted 38 times and many times more in other languages. Zaman categorises this kind of popular writing as a function of the ulema away from the usually specialised work not grasped by the masses. He refers to Mufti Yusuf Ludhianwi’s similar contribution in a special column on Islam begun in daily Jang of Lahore in 1978.[17] The “media mufti” was not popular among all the sects and was shot to death in 2000 in a market of Karachi. The Indian populariser Manzur Numani remained alive because he was in India and not in Pakistan where his book of fatwas would certainly have led to his death. It is quite possible that he was chosen to undertake the collation of anti-Shia fatwas because of his location outside Pakistan.

Zaman discusses Numani as a sectarian polemicist and mentions Saudi patronage in this regard: “What has been labelled ‘Saudi patronage’ in this discussion comes not only from the state but also from Saudi-sponsored international associations like the afore-mentioned Rabita al-Alam al-Islami or from wealthy private individuals…Saudi patronage helped muster the support of many Sunni ulama against the Iranian revolution which the Saudis saw as a threat to the stability of their regime.”[18] He goes on to mention the efforts made by the Deobandi scholars to attract Saudi patronage in the form of money and training. He makes reference to a Deobandi seminary in Kohat in the NWFP which actually publicised the fact that it had “formulated its goals in accordance with not only those of the other Deobandi madrassas of Pakistan and India but also with those of the Islamic University of Madina and the Islamic Institute of Doha, Qatar.” The Jamia Faruqiya of Karachi, which was to issue its most forceful fatwa of apostatisation of the Shia under Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai (killed in 2004) was set up in 1967, but by 1991 it had 1,775 students. It was rated as the most successful seminary in terms of attracting aid from Saudi Arabia and other international sources. The curriculum of its language-learning department was a mix of styles found in South Asia and the Arab Middle East: “Most of the students here are from the Fiji Islands, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and the institute itself is run by graduates of the Islamic University of Madina.”[19]

The Deobandis began their campaign for Arab funds after the rise of Imam Khomeini. A cable published by Iran from the documents (Vol 2, page 117) captured by Iranian youth after an assault on the US embassy in Tehran, records in 1979 a conversation between the chief of Pakistan’s JUI, Maulana Mufti Mahmud and an officer of the American embassy in Islamabad. Mufti Mahmud asked, “Why can the Arabs not spread their wealth among a broader cross-section of the rebels [in Afghanistan]?”[20] By 1986, only seven years later, the Deobandis were the largest recipients of Saudi funds.

Together with Hasan Ali Nadwi mentioned as Ali Mian by Vali Nasr, Numani began his career in Tablighi Jamaat. While Numani was also a member of the advisory board of the Deoband madrassa, Nadwi was additionally a member of the Saudi-sponsored Rabita al-Alam al-Islami. Numani had engaged in polemics with the Barelvis early in his career and was sectarian-minded in his approach. His next step in the form of his The Iranian Revolution, Imam Khomeini and Shiism was a polemic against the Shia belief and quickly became a bestseller in the world, not a little assisted by Saudi funds and world-wide circulation in many languages. Then in 1987 he put together the fatwas of takfir (apostatisation) that he had elicited from a large number of seminaries from India and Pakistan. First to be listed of course was the Jamia Banuri Town which was to be headed by the late Shamzai whose connection with Afghanistan’s Mullah Umar was later to become well known. After 2001, his fatwa of qital (death) against the Americans became famous as he was known to be a moderate scholar.

Qasim is of the opinion that the mainstream Deobandi ulema engage in an academic polemic against the Shia but the killing is performed by the “peripheral ulema and their operatives.” The leading ulema simply state that the Shia are “infidels” because of their vilification of the great personages of Islam but do not directly prompt the Sunnis to kill the Shia.[21].This can be accepted as true but in the context of the Saudi-Iranian campaign of mutual contest, the issuance of fatwas in 1986 on the request of Numani has to be looked at differently. The truth of the matter is that the “peripheral” ulema who carried out the killings were funded by the Saudis in equal measure with the senior ulema. It is quite possible that great scholars like Shamzai were persuaded to issue the fatwas without knowing that the prompting state had also organised the peripheral clerics to carry out the killings after the issuance of the fatwas. The creation of the apostatising Sipah Sahaba in 1985, followed by the fatwas in 1986 – which coincided with the massacre of the Shia in Parachinar – points to a programming that cannot be ignored. There is a crescendo pattern in this Saudi campaign involving the clergy and President Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan who ordered another massacre of the Shia in Gilgit in 1988 and was to die on the 17th of August after someone had killed the Shia leader Ariful Hussaini in Peshawar on 5th of August.

In his prefatorial remarks to his book of fatwas, Numani refers to all the great personalities that had gone into Pakistan’s nation-building process. He refers to the first apostatiser of the Shia, Sheikh Ahmad of Sirhind and his famous tract Radd-e-Rafawiz (Repudiation of the rejectionists) and points out that Sheikh Ahmad was writing to apostatise them when the Shia were influential in India. The queen of Emperor Jahangir, Nur Jahan, was a ghali (extremist) Shia and her father was prime minister while her brother was also highly placed in the Mughal court. He however remains selective in his account of Sheikh Ahmad and doesn’t comment on Sheikh Ahmad’s spiritual claims purported to elevate him to a status equal to that of the Prophet and higher than the Companions. He neglects to give the disapproving views of Sheikh Ahmad by the Sheikh’s contemporaries like Abdul Haq Muhhadis and Manzur’s own contemporary Abul Ala Maududi.[22] He then refers to Shah Waliullah, the patron saint of the Deobandi school, as another objector to Shia dominance in the aftermath of the long reign of anti-Shia emperor Aurangzeb when his weak successors were manipulated at will by powerful Shia persons in the court. Shah Waliullah wrote his voluminous work Quratul Ainain against the Shia and in his letters clearly placed them outside the pale of Islam because of their doctrine of imamat.

Numani proclaims that all Shia, whether clerical or not, have the doctrine of Imam Mahdi or the return of the 12th Imam inscribed on their hearts, and Imam Mahdi, after his arrival in Madina, will exhume the corpses of Umar and Abu Bakr and punish them repeatedly with death each day for their transgressions of the past. After that Imam Mahdi will enforce hadd (Quranic punishment of death) on Ayesha too.[23] The invasion of Madina by Imam Mahdi will be motivated by the aim of converting all the population to Shiism on the pain of death. Numani mentions this because he wishes to create a tradition of “takeover” of the cities of Mecca and Madina among the Shias to explain the trouble the Saudi government had with the Shia pilgrims from Iran in 1987.[24] He then quotes from Imam Khomeini’s works that it was a religious obligation of the Shia to attempt the “reconquest” of Mecca and Madina whenever circumstances became favourable.

He quotes from the 350-page Kashf al-Asrar of Imam Khomeini that Abu Bakr, Umar, Usman and Abu Ubayda, etc., never became Muslims at heart but were munafiq (pretending to be believers) who had embraced Islam only to get close to the Prophet. These men went against the clear edicts of the Quran and ruled against the orders of the Quran. Had they found that they could not grab power without changing the Quran, they would have done so. They could have also manufactured new hadith reports to prove that the Prophet had actually ordained selection of the caliph through council, not testament. In the end Numani quotes Khomeini as saying that Umar had insulted the Prophet at his death bed so grievously that the Prophet passed away nursing a wound in his heart. Numani invites all Sunni clerics to read Khomeini’s book and let their Sunni followers know that all Shia were filled with the same poison against the Companions of the Prophet. He claims that Mullah Baqir Majlisi whom Imam Khomeini recommends to all the Shia, and whose works the Shia read with great relish at the popular level, had accused Ayesha of plotting with Hafza to poison the Prophet.[25]

Manzur Numani was responsible for spreading sectarianism in India too for which he used the famous Nadwatul Ulema seminary. Yoginder Sikand, a noted Indian scholar of Islam, laments:

“Even madrassas considered somehow more ‘open’ and ‘modern’ are not free from the virus of sectarianism. Consider the case of the Nadwatul Ulama in Lucknow, one of the largest and most influential madrassas in India. Established in the late nineteenth century, the Nadwa was intended as a bridge between the rigidly conservative Deoband madrassa and the thoroughly westernised Aligarh College. Its founders also envisaged it as broadly ecumenical, seeking to promote a sense of unity among the different Muslim sects. Among its early supporters and founder-members were traditional Deobandi-type ulama, western educated Muslims, and even Shias and ulama of the Barelwi school. The Barelvi association with Nadwa proved short-lived, and the leading light of the Barelvis, Ahmad Raza Khan, went so far as to issue fatwas of kufr (infidelity) against the founders of the Nadwa. One of his main grouses against the Nadwa was that it had included the Shias, whom Khan considered to be heretics, in its programmes. The Nadwa did not go on to fulfil the hopes of its founders. Its early Shia supporters soon withdrew, and the Nadwa emerged as a centre for the promotion of Sunni orthodoxy, hardly different from Deoband. From the 1980s onwards, Nadwa began receiving generous Saudi patronage as part of the broader Saudi strategy of promoting conservative Sunni groups to counter anti-monarchical and anti-imperialist tendencies emerging out of Iran. One of the Nadwa’s leading teachers, Manzur Numani, penned numerous diatribes against the Shias in the wake of the Iranian Revolution, branding them as infidels and insisting that Shiism had nothing to do with ‘authentic’ Islam whatsoever.”[26]

Lucknow and the sectarian memory

As Indian scholars like Yoginder Sikand report a revival of the sectarian sentiment in Lucknow in the 2000s, sectarian publications in Pakistan seek to discredit the Shia faith by describing the eclectic culture of the Shia-dominated Lucknow as heresy. To understand why the anti-Shia fatwas were published by Manzur Numani from Lucknow, it is important to look at the city’s sectarian past. Today the capital of India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow was once an annexed district of the Shia principality of Awadh. The state of Awadh itself was created in 1724 by an award from a declining Mughal king in Delhi. The man Burhan al-Mulk, thus rewarded for military services to the king, was a scion of a family of Nishapur in Iran and was Shia by religion. A sectarian tract printed in Karachi describes the actions of the first ruler of Awadh as traitorous. Burhan al-Mulk, made ruler of Agra as well, was supposed to come to the help of the Mughal King when the Shia king of Iran, Nadir Shah, invaded Delhi and put it to the sword in 1739. The Awadh ruler advanced towards the army of Nadir Shah on his elephant but then allowed the animal to wander deep into the enemy lines till he was recognised by his Nishapuri friends in the Iranian army and accepted as an ally.[27]

The book describes the rise of the state of Awadh during the decline of the Mughal rule, which lasted for 140 years. The downturn of the Mughal rule is dated from the conquest of the Shia state of Deccan by the king, Aurangzeb, to highlight the fact that the Lucknow-centred Shia culture sprouted in the North after its first manifestation was destroyed in the South. Like the Qutb Shahi state in Deccan, the Shia state of Awadh was established in the midst of a majority Sunni population. Author/translator Abbasi quotes from a literary figure of Lucknow, Abdul Halim Sharar, to describe the “heresies” of the Shia rulers.[28]

The book quotes Sharar on Nawab of Awadh Naseeruddin Haider Shah (reg.1827-1838): “Naseeruddin used to live among women and had become feminine himself, which affected Shiism in ways never heard of before. ‘Wives of the twelve imams,’ selected out of the pretty girls of the realm, were made to re-enact pregnancies in anticipation of the birth of the occulted 12th Imam in rooms designated as special delivery rooms. The effeminate Nawab himself ‘got pregnant’ among these girls and pretended to experience the labour pains of the Mehdi, after which a mythical birth actually took place from his womb. After that, ceremonies of birth, cutting of hair and bath were also performed for the reborn Mehdi. The Nawab had no time for the affairs of the state as he was busy in carrying out these puerile rituals surrounded by women. Naseeruddin Shah had also started the ‘innovation’ of taking out the funeral processions of the imams who were actually ‘buried’ after a faked funeral prayer.”[29]

Before Lucknow was made the capital of Awadh under Nawab Asaf al-Daula (reg.1775-1797) Faizabad was the capital for nearly a half century. For the tract-writer in Karachi, however, it is important to note that Lucknow was never a Shia city and that till the end, when it became a Hindu-majority capital of the India’s UP province, it was firmly a Sunni city. It was chief minister Hasan Raza Khan under Nawab Asaf al-Daula who first sent money to Iraq for the building of the Hindiya Canal that transformed the desert cities of Najaf and Karbala into fertile land and made it possible for the Iranian scholars living in the shrines to convert Iraq’s exclusively Sunni Arabs to Shiism. It was Hasan Raza Khan again who extended patronage to the Sunnis of Lucknow willing to become Shia. He is called “ghali” (extreme/abusive) Shia by the anti-Shia writers of later times and a lot of detail is given about how Shia mosques were built separately so that Shia could manage to stop saying their prayers together with Sunnis. He also began to send Shia scholars to Najaf to absorb the true, as opposed the eclectic, Shiism of India, which is supposed to have led to the currency of the ritual of tabarra (abuse) of the Sunni caliphs and the modification of the call to prayers to include the name of Ali. This was followed by the first incidence of violent Shia-Sunni encounters in the city.

The spread of Shia faith in Lucknow was facilitated by the inclination of the Mughal court to favour Shiism, in some cases following the conversion of the Mughal king to Shiism. The reaction of the Sunni ulema to this development was understandably intense. Indeed, verdicts on the “culture” of Lucknow were also intensely negative and were applied to the poetry produced in the city by the great Urdu poets, Mir Taqi Mir, Anis and Dabir. The poetry of Lucknow was considered lascivious and non-philosophical and totally given to hedonism.[30] The anti-Shia publications of the 1980s connected the “literary decline” of Urdu to the “effete” Shia rulers of Lucknow. The textbooks in Pakistan too looked down upon the highly cultured but militarily weak nawabs of Awadh as examples of Muslim decadence in India that the new state of Pakistan will shun.

A more reliable and scientific account of Shiism in Lucknow by David Pinault explains the character of the Shia faith in Lucknow as the religion of a minority community endeavouring to live in harmony with the dominant populations of Sunnis and Hindus. Official support to the Shia minority kept it from being discriminated against. Shia rituals were made compatible with Sunni and Hindu faith by toning down the tabarra tradition and by taking on board the darshanic tradition of the Hindu gods. Sunnis were thus enabled to grieve over the martyrdom of the family of the Prophet and the Hindus were enabled to see the rituals of martyrdom in the form of darshan, that is, treating the martyrs as deities in need of being looked after and decorated. The nawabs of Awadh therefore initiated a trans-communal sharing of religion under an akhbari Shia tradition in tune with local cultural accretions.[31]

Three factors changed the nature of Shia religion in Lucknow. First was the arrival if usuli Shia ulema from Iran, including the forefathers of Imam Khomeini, who made it obligatory for the Shia society in Awadh to follow one supreme cleric (marja taqlid) and cleanse the Shia rituals of local Hindu accretions. The conversion to the usuli Shiism forced the Shias to differentiate the Shia faith from the Sunni belief in 1803, thus removing the Sunnis from the rituals of Muharram. The second transformational event was the annexation of Awadh by the East India Company in 1856, removing the patronage of the rulers from the Shia minority population. The third event was the mutiny of 1857 that saw the Muslim community divided on sectarian lines. What followed was the sporadic sectarian violence in Lucknow, reaching its high-water mark in 1977 when there were widespread riots, forcing the Shia community of India to firmly adopt the doctrine of taqiyya (dissimulation) and becoming a silent footnote to the religious politics of India.[32]

A party devoted to apostatisation

The three apostatising fatwas from Darul Ulum Banuri Town, Jamiya Ashrafiya and Darul Ulum Haqqaniya Akora Khattak were issued in 1986. Why were these issued the same year? If Manzur Numani had asked for them, who prompted him to make the request? Did someone or some agency ask them to issue simultaneous fatwas at the behest of the state? It is quite possible that in the mid-1980s, early contradictions between Iran and Pakistan were coming to the fore. (General Zia’s intercessionary diplomacy in the Iran-Iraq war had failed because Imam Khomeini did not acknowledge his credentials as an impartial go-between. He was too aware of the billions of dollars Saudi Arabia and Kuwait had given to Saddam Hussein to take care of his Islamic Revolution. He also knew about the special relationship General Zia enjoyed with Saudi Arabia.) With this background the brazenly anti-Shia organisation, Sipah Sahaba arose in the district of Jhang in Punjab in 1985. The fatwas followed soon after. In the years to follow, Pakistan was to cope with the post-Geneva Accord (and post-1989) situation in Afghanistan, facing an increasingly hostile Iran. Pakistan had already succumbed to the Saudi persuasion by ousting the Iran-based Shia jihadi outfits in the Afghan government-in-exile formed in Peshawar.[33] The ISI formed and executed Pakistan’s jihad policy at this stage.

The foundation of Sipah Sahaba – the party that first demanded official apostatisation of the Shia in Pakistan – in 1985 is another factor that cannot be ignored. The founder became a rich man after coming into contact with the Arab princes in Rahimyar Khan where they have extraterritorial rights for hunting. The militia was set up in Jhang where a strong Shia presence was to be targeted. Aggressive sectarianism in Pakistan was born out of the decade of Islamic regimentation imposed on the country by General Zia and his decade of ideological control in the name of Islamisation. International affairs too played a significant role in inclining the unwilling common man to the feeling of the sect. The rise of Iran as a theocracy exacerbated the sectarian scene in Pakistan. In the initial stages, Imam Khomeini was looked at in Pakistan as an Islamic alternative and a messianic personality without any sectarian underpinnings. This helped move the formerly quietist Shia community to active approbation of the Islamic Revolution. Imam Khomeini himself reshaped the thrust of Iranian Islam to make it pan-Islamic rather than Shiite. In the early phase, Iranian reforms abolished some of the extreme rituals of Shia Islam. To date, Shiism in some Sunni states remains wedded to more extreme ritual behaviour (for instance, violent self-flagellation) than in Iran.

The Iran-Iraq war however pitted Iran against the oil-rich but militarily weak Arab states in the region. Iran’s aggressive conduct in the Gulf threatened these states. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein exploited their military weakness and promised them security against Iran in return for liberal Saudi and Kuwait funding of the war against Iran. Pakistan tried to keep out of the Iran-Arab conflict – for instance, it refused to get involved in the plans to set up a Gulf Security Force – but was not able to sustain this posture for long. The biggest factor in this failure to keep neutral was the conflict in Afghanistan and its crucial financial hinge, Saudi and American funding of jihad.

A number of other factors combined to complete the sectarian developments in the region. The Shia clergy of Pakistan became aware of the charisma of Imam Khomeini and the purity of the new theocracy in Iran. In 1980, the Shia clergy had already refused to accept the new zakat laws promulgated by General Zia and was much strengthened in its resolve to defend its separate jurisprudence by the presence of a truly Shia-Islamic state in Iran. On the other hand, the mujahideen who fought the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union had to be drawn from the Deobandi seminaries in Pakistan since Barelvi Islam was considered apostate in Afghanistan. In its very make-up, Deobandi Islam had a very strong anti-Shia background. Three other factors also weighed in.

The United States, that supplied the funding and the weapons to Pakistan for jihad in Afghanistan, had been greatly hurt by Imam Khomeini when he allowed over a year long but legally dubious siege of the American embassy in Tehran. Washington froze the Iranian assets in the United States then crucially needed by the new Islamic regime; and US Congress imposed sanctions on Iran. Washington also favoured a separation of the jihad on sectarian lines as that would keep Iran from exercising any influence on the war and the future political dispensation in Afghanistan. The parallel provider of funds, Saudi Arabia, actively sought the isolation of the Afghan Shia militias who relied on Iran for their strategy and survival. Funding was also provided directly to the Sunni militias in Pakistan through their seminaries.

With the funding came the Arab agenda. General Zia, and officers after him, favoured the “downsizing” of the Shia factor because of the problems of the “ideological disagreement” they faced with the Shia clergy.[34] The United States did not oppose the anti-Iranian trend and perhaps saw the increasingly anti-Shia pathology of the religious state in Pakistan as a positive factor in its regional strategy. Under the umbrella of the waiver of internal sovereignty by Islamabad in favour of the Deobandi warriors, the mujahideen were encouraged to adopt an aggressive sectarian posture. When the sectarian scene worsened in the mid-1980s as a result of these developments, the Shia found themselves defenceless. It is at this point that the Iranian funds – reactive and defensive in nature – began to come in. Leveraged with money, the sectarian war began in earnest in Pakistan, climaxing in the 1990s when the state in Pakistan had been leached of most of its internal sovereignty through covert wars in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

The third factor was the social impact of Pakistan’s policy of sending workers to the Arab states. From Islamabad, there was no choosing where the country’s surplus labour could be sent. They were absorbed by high-income low-population states across the Gulf and proved acceptable to the Arabs because of their apolitical identity in the intra-Arab ferment of ideas. Economists say large scale migration of Pakistani workers in the two decades of 1970s and the 1980s dramatically altered the character of development in Pakistan and contributed to fundamental changes in the country’s economy and society. In all, there are 3 million Pakistanis working abroad sending home 4 billion dollars annually.[35] Out of them two-thirds are employed in the Gulf region. While the people back home in general did not nurse any sectarian prejudice, their contact with a rising number of returnees from the Arab states tended to wean them from the more pluralist, low-church religion of the past:

“Attitude towards religion are also suggestive of some of the more complex conflicts engendered by the migration experience and contact with other Islamic societies, especially conservative societies such as Saudi Arabia which represented the heartland of Islam. Work in the Middle East allowed some migrants to complete what for many had been an impossible dream – undertaking the hajj and visiting the holy places in Mecca and Madina. There is evidence of substantial divergence in attitude on this point, suggesting that the greater choice brought about by the Middle East migration resulted in greater complexity and, on occasion, increased conflict at a local level. According to one village study, returnees disliked some of the more traditional aspects of rural Pakistani Islam, particularly special prayers on Thursday evenings and visits to the tombs of dead saints or pirs. Such migrants were referred to by villagers as Wahhabi because of their tendency to introduce and endorse new ideas stemming from Saudi Islam.”[36]


[1] Khaled Ahmed is consulting editor of the Friday Times, Lahore.


[1] Census is a controversial institution although the state needs it for non-discriminatory purposes. The fundamental objection to census is its policy of classification of citizens. In an ideal state census would simply be a head-count and not counting according to classifications. Modern states classify for purposes of affirmative action but such action can also attract discrimination against certain identities.

[2] Mariam Zahab, The Sunni-Shia Conflict in Jhang in Lived Islam in South Asia (2004: Social Science Press Delhi) Founder of Sipah Sahaba, Haq Nawaz Jhangvi (1952-1990), a khoja graduate of a Deobandi seminary in the city, was vice-president of the JUI in Punjab.

[3] Colin Turner, Islam without Allah? The Rise of Religious Externalism in Safavid Iran; Curzon Press (2000); P.40 Muhammad Al Kulayni (d.940 AD) was the greatest compiler of Shia tradition, Usul Arb’a, his masterpiece being known as Al-Kafi; Muhammad Baqir Majlisi (d.1110 AH/1679 AD?) arose as the most emphatic of the Shiite traditionists.

[4] Leif Manger (ed), Muslim Diversity: Local Islam in Global Diversity; Curzon Press London (1998). Tor H. Aase of the Department of Geography, University of Bergen, has taken a close look at what happened to the society of Northern Areas after migration and external confessional influences from Pakistan. The watershed event were the riots that broke out in Gilgit over the sighting of the moon and the observance of Ramadan fasting in 1988. Officially 300 people died but unofficially the count was 700. At least three Shia villages were wiped out in Gilgit as a result of the confrontation between the ‘outside’ parties, Sipah Sahaba and Tehreek Jafaria. The official blame was put on CIA, RAW, and MOSAD, while the people pointed to Hizb Allah and Wahhabi movement. Sunni clerics routinely disrupted inter-sectarian marriages till the practice vanished.

[5] Daily Jang (14 June 2003) wrote that the founder of the Banuri Mosque complex was Maulana Yusuf Banuri (1908-1977) who was born in Basti Mahabatabad near Peshawar, son of Maulana Syed Muhammad Zakariya who was in turn the son of a khalifa of Mujaddid Alf-e-Sani. He was educated in Peshawar and Kabul before being sent to Deoband where he was the pupil of Shabbir Ahmad Usmani. He returned to join the seminary of Dabheel. In 1920 he passed the Maulvi Fazil exam from Punjab University. In 1928, he went to attend the Islamic conference in Cairo. He migrated to Pakistan in 1951 and started teaching at Tando Allahyar. He founded the Jamia Arabiya Islamiya in Karachi in 1953 while he led the attack against Pakistani Islamic scholar Dr Fazlur Rehman. He was involved in the aggressive movement of Khatm-e-Nabuwwat from 1973 onwards and was made member of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) by General Zia on coming to power. Today, Darul Ulum Banuri Town is situated in SITE Karachi.

[6] Muhammad Manzur Numani, Khumaini aur Shia kay barah mein Ulama Karam ka Mutafiqqa Faisala (Consensual Resolution of the Clerical Leaders about Khomeini and Shiism), Al-Furqan, 1988.

[7] IKA Howard, Great Shii Works: Al-Kafi of Al-Kulayni, Al Serat Vol 2 (1976), Published by the Muhammadi Trust of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Reproduced with permission by the Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project team.

[8] Posted at http://www.irib.ir/Ouriran/mashahir/mazhabi/majlisi/html/en/page.htm , 12 October 2006.

[9] Shia website: http://www.al-islam.org/encyclopedia/chapter8/5.html, accessed 13 Oct 2006.

[10] Khaled Ahmed, The Genius of Ghulam Ahmad Parwez, The Friday Times, 11 December 1999.

[11] Liaquat H. Merchant, Jinnah: a judicial verdict (East-West Publishing Company Karachi, 1990). The book is an account of a case in which the Sindh High Court sought to know the true religion of Jinnah.

[12] Baqer Moin, Khomeini: Life of the Ayatollah, IB Tauris London (1999). Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1902-1989) led the revolution against the Shah in Iran in 1979. The ancestors of Khomeini were Iranian settlers in the early 18th century in Kintur, a town of Oudh, not far from Lucknow in India.

[13] Amir Taheri, The spirit of Allah: Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution, p.315 (appendix) and Index.

[14] Vali Raza Nasr, The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam will Shape the World, WW Norton & Company, 2006; p.165

[15] Ibrahim Abu Rabi (ed.), The Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Islamic Thought, Blackwell Publishing, 2006. Yoginder Sikand, Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi and Contemporary Islamic Thought in India, p.90.

[16] Khaled Abou El Fadl in his book The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists (Harper/San Francisco, 2005) p.74

[17] Jang later gave Mufti Ludhianwi a weekly full-page in its sister English daily The News. This column was widely read by the more liberal section of the readers whom it shocked with its sectarian content. Mufti himself fell victim to sectarian violence in Karachi in 2000.

[18] Muhammad Qasim Zaman, The Ulama in Contemporary Islam: Custodians of Change, Princeton University Press, 2002. p.176.

[19] Ibid.175.

[20] Mushahid Hussain, Among the Believers, monthly The Herald, Karachi, September 1992. P.36.

[21] Muhammad Qasim Zaman, The Ulama in Contemporary Islam: Custodians of Change, Princeton University Press, 2002. p.133.

[22] Annemarie Schimmel, Islam in the Indian Subcontinent, Sang-e-Meel Publications, 2003, p.92: “His dictum ‘Muhammad has become Ahmad’ points to his own name, Ahmad. He also regarded himself as qayyum upon whom the world rests…towards the end of the 17th century Abdullah Khweshgi from Qasur accused the mujaddid of having arrogated Prophetic qualities, thus lately Maulana Maududi was very critical of Ahmad Sirhindi’s claim to be the mujaddid”. And p.91: “Ahmad’s fame rests on his 534 letters which were described by Jahangir as a ‘bunch of absurdities’…and had him imprisoned in the fort of Gwalior for a year”.

[23] Manzur Numani, Khomeini aur Shia kay barah main Ulama Karam ka Mutafiqqa Faisala (Clerical consensual Verdict on Khomeini and the Shia), p.31.

[24] Dilip Hiro, War without End: the Rise of Islamist Terrorism and Global Response, Routledge 2002: p.155. Iranian and non-Iranian pilgrims together took out a procession of nearly 100,000 which was stopped by the Saudi police amid violence that killed 402 people. After this Saudis brought the Iranian quota of pilgrims down to 45,000 from traditional 150,000, which resulted in a hajj boycott by Iran.

[25] Manzur Numani, Ibid. p.90.

[26] Yoginder Sikand, Qalandar.com, 4 March 2004.

[27] Mahmud Ahmad Abbasi, Badshah Begum Awadh, Maktaba Mahmud, Liaquatabad, Karachi. P.16. Typically undated, the book is a part of the anti-Shia campaign and revives an old publication written in criticism of the Shia culture as evolved in Awadh in general and Lucknow in particular. The central account concerns the lady rulers of Awadh and their religious practices, but it is the 166-page introduction to the old account that  relates the heresy of Shiism to the situation in Pakistan after 1980.

[28] Abdul Halim Sharar, Lucknow The Last Phase of an Oriental Culture, OUP, 1994.

[29] Mahmud Ahmad Abbasi, Ibid, p.10.

[30] Mahmud Ahmad Abbasi, ibid, p.126. The author questions the details deployed by Anis and Dabir in their poetic re-enactments of the Battle of Karbala and its dramatis personae.

[31] David Pinault, Horse of Karbala: Muslim Devotional Life in India, Palgrave 2001, p.17.

[32] Ibid, p.19.

[33] Barnet Rubin, The Search for Peace in Afghanistan: from Buffer State to Failed State; Yale University Press (1999). P.105, Rubin says the Iranian shura (of mujahideen) was kept out because Saudi Arabia was against it. Saudi intelligence spent 25 million dollars per week during the discussions in Peshawar, and each delegate was paid 25,000 dollars to keep the Shias out. The seven parties in Peshawar appointed all the 519 members of the assembly who were mostly Pushtun from eastern Afghanistan.

[34] Chairman of Council of Islamic Ideology Justice (Retd) Tanzilur Rehman was the spearhead of extremist anti-Shia thinking under General Zia, writing two books on the concept of apostatisation (irtidad) in which he included refusal to pay zakat.

[35] Dawn, 24 July 2006, Sultan Ahmad, An outlook on home remittances: “Having achieved a record rise in remittances of overseas Pakistanis to $4.6 billion in 2005, Pakistan now faces a prospect of falling inflows because of a big drop in the number of workers going abroad for employment.”

[36] Jonathan S Addleton, Undermining the Centre: The Gulf Migration and Pakistan, OUP Karachi, 1992, p.158.