Shia as the ‘Other’ in Pakistan

‘Hazara Shia’s refuse to Bury their Dead’. This was a morbid headline, one would have hoped to hear only once in a lifetime.  Coming to terms with such horrific tragedies is a near impossible task but having to reconcile with the same grotesque violence within less than a month of  is surely a travesty.  One  witnessed with silent tears and an aching numbness the painfully tragic  sight of another hundred Hazara families sitting on Alamdar road for days in February 2013.  Earlier on January 10th, 2013 two bomb blasts targeting the Hazara Shia community killed almost 120 people in a busy marketplace in Quetta.

While such violent incidents are not a novelty for Shias in Pakistan, what was novel was the way in which the protest against these incidents was registered. The Hazara Shias of Quetta who have been systematically and ruthlessly killed for almost a decade, refused to bury their dead and sat alongside with 86 bodies on the streets for three days and nights, through torrential rain and cold weather. Such a heart-wrenching protest, which drew an overwhelming  nationwide response of sympathy from not just from Shia communities but from mainstream civil society, sought to highlight the injustices faced by the community and the lack of state response which can be judged from the fact that none of the perpetrators have ever been arrested or prosecuted or even punished for the incendiary vitriol spewed by such militant groups.

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(Translation: ‘I will strengthen all hearts against the Shias to the extent that no Sunni will ever agree to even shake hands with them. They will die their own death, we will not need to kill them anymore.  We will make it difficult for the Shia to even breathe and they will think how can I stay in this city any longer’ Aurangzeb Farooqi, Leader Sipah-Sahaba Pakistan January 13, 2013). Continue reading

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Shi’ism @ Columbia

Looking forward to this upcoming panel discussion at Columbia University. Will be moderated by my former professor Najam Haider…should be interesting. Those who are in New York and can take the time out should come, since good discussion on Shi’ism in the social context in South Asia is difficult to come by.

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Contemporary Karbala Narratives and the Changing Gender Dynamics within Shi’i Communities

The commemoration of the ‘Battle of Karbala’, which took place in 680 A.D, is the locus or the ‘root metaphor’ around which Shi’i rituals and devotional practices are located. The Karbala narratives that are derivative from this historic event, the martyrdom of Imam Husayn being seen as a key moment in Shi’i history, form the basis of the Ashura commemorations and are therefore a defining paradigm in Shi’ism. In the earlier Karbala narratives, women were largely seen as passive victims of the Karbala tragedy and known largely through the trials and tribulations they faced. In the past few decades however a gender-dynamic transformation has taken place with regards to the transmission of the Karbala narrative which has consequently bought about renewed attention to and a re-evaluation of the role of women in the aftermath of the Karbala battle. Continue reading