Muharram is the first month of Islamic calendar.
Tenth of Muharram has special significance. Muslims observe
this day as a day of mourning (Ashura). The Ashura was indeed
turned to day of mourning this time when terrorists hit Ashura
processions in Baghdad and Karbla in Iraq as well as in Quetta,
provincial capital of Balochistan, province of Pakistan.
In Iraq, this was the bloodiest day since March
20, 2003 when George Bush invaded Iraq. The death toll was 182.Another
500 were injured. For Pakistan, Ashura proved the bloodiest
Ashura of its history. It was not just Quetta incident that
claimed 42 lives. In Phalia, a small town in north of Pakistan,
a Shia priest was shot dead along with five others. Yet another
unfortunate incident took place close to Afghanistan border
in the NWFP province. In the Para Chinar town of NWFP, the breakdown
of electricity supply at a Shia mosque created a panic. The
worshippers at the mosque, mainly women and children, thought
the mosque has been attacked by terrorists. It led to panic
and chaos. The ensuing stampede led to 13 deaths.
One of the most important events in early Muslim
history was the battle of Karbala fought in 680 AD. Islam originated
in Western Arabia in about the year 610 AD when Muhammad had
his first visitation of the Voice. The death of Muhammad in
632 AD led to power struggle among his followers. One faction
wanted Muhammad's first cousin and son-in-law, Ali, to succeed
Muhammad as caliph. The other faction however managed to defeat
Ali in this power struggle. The supporters of Ali, known as
Shian-e-Ali, led to a permanent sectarian division in Islam.
This in fact was the beginning of Shia sect that took many shapes
in the days to come. Ali got his turn to rule the Muslim world
after the death of third Caliph. His authority as caliph however
was challenged by Moavia, a close relative of third caliph.
Moavia led a mutiny. First time, the Muslim empire that now
had extended to Egypt on one side and Iran on the other, was
divided into two. Interestingly, Iraq was the central stage
of this bloody power struggle involving wars between Ali and
Moavia, with Muhammad's widow Ayesha siding with Moavia. Ali
was assassinated. The Muslim empire was again under the control
of one caliph, Moavia. Ali's sons Hassan and Hussain went for
reconciliation with Moavia. Moavia, a shrewd politician, nominated
his son Yazid as his successor. Following the death of Moavia,
Yazid became the caliph. Hussain refused to accept him as caliph
declaring Yazid as tyrant. Hussain challenged Yazid. He was
slaughtered along with a small band of disciples in a bloody
battle against Yazid. The battle was fought at Karbala on Muharram
10.Thus Muharram 10 is observed with great solemnity in many
parts of the Muslim world, particularly by Shia Muslims.
Shia Muslims wear black clothes, take out processions.
Lamenting (chest beating), walking on fire, hitting oneself
with knives are some aspects of these processions.
Shia Sunni Divide
Master Serbian writer and Noble laureate Ivo
Andric in his masterpiece ' The Bridge on River Drina', delineates
the unspeakable rivalry, mistrust and bias that exists between
Christian Serbs and Muslims 'neo-Turks'. Same kind of bias one
finds between Shias and Sunnis. Sunnis accuse Shias of sexual
impropriety or their lack of respect for Quran. One grave 'misunderstanding'
or 'bias' one learns as Sunni Muslim is: Shias mix dirt in food
when they send some food dish as gift to Sunni neighbours.
This mistrust has been generated by long historical
process. From rituals to interpretation of Sharia, both Shia
and Sunni differ from each other. This however had never led
to kind of attack one witnessed last week in Baghdad and Pakistan.
In Indian sub-continent, Ashura had a cultural aspect rather
than religious. Not only Sunnis but Hindus even would participate
in Ashura processions.
After Iran, Iraq is the largest Shia majority
country. During the 30-year brutal Baath regime, Shias were
not allowed to take out processions on Muharram 10. Saddam,
himself having a Sunni background, specifically turned to Shia
oppression as Iraq went to war against Iran. But it in no way
meant that he did not oppress Sunnis. As a matter of fact, he
was an oppressor who oppressed all sections of the society.
Following the fall of Saddam regime, rumours and 'analysis'
by media hawks predicting Iraq's divide along Shia-Sunni lines
have been creating confusion across the globe. In Iraq, however
the Iraqi masses have been united against the US occupation.
Also, Iraqis did not know the violence on Ashura
day even during pre-Baath period. The mass basis of Iraqi communist
party that organised both Shias and Sunnis has also left a mark
on Iraqi society. Unlike Pakistan, Iraq has not gone through
a phase of organised efforts to put Shias against Sunnis thus
leading to sectarian violence. The Shia Sunni sectarian violence
has not been any phenomenon in Iraq. 'Interestingly', by this
far, only Shia mosques and Shia religious gatherings have been
a victim of violence in Iraq. Even in Pakistan, it's mainly
Shias' who have been target of sectarian violence.
The US occupational forces have been blaming
Al-Qaida for these attacks. A Jordanian ,Abu Musab Al Zarqawi,
with alleged Al-Qaida have been pointed out by US authorities
for the deadly attacks on Baghdad and Karbala.
Al-Qaida in its turn has strongly denied its involvement in
a letter faxed to a London-based Arabic newspaper. On the contrary,
Al-Qaida has accused the USA of plotting these attacks in order
to divide Iraqis along sectarian lines.
Both sides have not presented any proofs. The US authorities
do not believe in presenting any proofs anyway weather it is
Al-Qaida's involvement in S 11 events or Saddam weapons of Mass
The Al-Qaida accusation against US, despite
some weightage, seems far fetched. It seems one of the greatest
irony of this age that the powers which have been instrumental
in destabilising these countries now wish to resort to some
form of normalcy. Keeping in mind American phobia of terrorism,
Bush would be least inclined to any violence, particularly in
Iraq. Bush needs 'peace' in Iraq when this is an election year
in the USA. Also, colonial powers historically tend to be more
inclined towards status quo which in Iraq's case mean integrity
of the country.
The March 2 massacre in Quetta was the second
big attack on Shias in less than one year. At least 48 people
were killed on July 4 in Quetta, last year in an attack on Imam
Bargah (Shia mosque). This was the deadliest sectarian attack.
One of the ugliest manifestations of religious extremism in
Pakistan has been repeated attacks on the Shias. This July 4
attack was just another in the series. This sectarian killing
is going on for the last almost 20 years.
Since 1989 until July 2003, 1468 persons had
been killed, 3,370 injured in 1,813 such attacks. Most of the
time, Shia mosques have been a target of attacks by an extremist
Sunni group called companions of Prophet Muhammad (SSP).
The SSP, formed in 1985, is widely believed as a Saudi-funded
outfit. It has a limited mass base in couple of districts where
it wins elections. The SSP wants Pakistan to be declared as
a Sunni state and Shias be declared as Kafir (apostate).
The creation of SSP in mid-80s was in fact a
game played jointly by Saudi Arabia and the then Pakistani military
dictator, General Ziaul Haq. General Ziaul Haq had a strategy
to divide the society along as many lines as possible. He encouraged
and patronised ethnic groups putting one nationality against
the other. He helped creating sectarian religious groups thus
putting one sect against the other. On the other hand, Saudi
Arabia worried by the 'internationalist' approach of Iranian
Ayotullahs, wanted to counter the influence of Iranian revolution
Pakistan during 1980s, owing to Afghan war and
Saudi involvement had become a fertile land for the spread of
Wahabism. Saudi Arabia was pumping millions of dollars to open
Wahabist schools in Pakistan. General Zia, son of a Muslim priest,
himself was pro-Wahabism. The Shia population in Pakistan had
traditionally been allied with democratic movement. Many communist
intellectuals and leaders had Shia background in Pakistan. However,
sectarian attacks creating a sense of insecurity isolated Shias
in Pkaistan. More and more Shias were drawn into the fold of
pro-Iran fundamentalist Shia party TNFJ. This served the purpose
of General Ziaul Haq. He wanted to weaken the democracy movement
in every possible way.
Attacks on Shias raged Iran. It really hurt
Iran-Pakistan relations. Bad Iran-Pakistan relations suited
both Saudi Arabia and USA as both were afraid that Pakistan
may export nuclear technology to Iran. In Jnauary 2003, Musharraf
under US pressure, put ban on some extremist groups. But the
ban has served no purpose.