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Documentary Highlights Sectarian Issues

Thursday 1 January 2015

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By Syeda Shehrbano Kazim

54a49bc51bb0cISLAMABAD: The Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), an Islamabad-based think tank, in collaboration with the Minority Rights Group (MRG) UK, hosted the launch of a documentary titled ‘Shaheedo Tum Kahan Ho’.

The documentary gives an account of the target killing of the Hazara community in Quetta.

The documentary contains an account of sectarian issues prevalent in Pakistan highlighting how the Shia Hazara community is facing discrimination in their everyday life while security concerns and death threats make routine activities like going to school and to the market a potential hazard.

The interview-based documentary attempted to weave a comparison between the violent discrimination against the Hazara and the problems faced by couples in inter-sect marriages.

Another dimension was added by references to Sufi poetry and ideology in what one imagines was an attempt to delineate the philosophy of love and tolerance from extremism which is currently infesting Pakistani society.

The documentary is poignant in parts where mothers and siblings weep for martyrs, appalling in others where happily married Shia-Sunni couples discuss the opposition they dealt with when they were courting.

Renowned scholar Ahmad Salim said: “This showing of the documentary marks the beginning of a new tradition at SDPI where we will present the work of partner organisations followed by interactive discussions.

“This documentary discusses two main issues in the Muslim community which is the vulnerability of minority groups specifically the Hazaras and the Shia community in general and then sectarianism versus Sufism. It is a crucial issue which needs to be raised again and again.”

He added: “Religious communities face atrocities in Pakistan despite the fact that the Constitution of Pakistan pledges to safeguard the rights of all religious communities. He said that the issue is not of law and policy but of implementation.

Dr Humaira Ashfaq, a scholar of women’s Sufism, said: “We are fortunate to have a range of religions and sects in Pakistan as this diversity makes us more colourful and beautiful. Sufism has a clear message of peace and conflict resolution which makes it relevant today.”

Imtiaz Ali Qizilbash said: “Beyond the brutal killing of the Hazaras, what is shocking to me is what is being said today in terms of intermarriages between sects. This bias and intolerance is a recent phenomenon. Historically these differences were created artificially under Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship to prolong his own regime.”

He added: “The killers of the Hazaras say they are killing Hazaras, why isn’t the government doing something about it?”

Shahid Minhas added to Qizilbash’s statement asking, “What is the role of the government in promoting peace? We need to teach real Islam in schools and colleges and promote interfaith harmony.”

Mome Saleem, Research Associate at SDPI, said: “The state should not have anything to do with mandating religion in curriculum and practice. The state is responsible for protecting all religious community and should make sure that they freely observe their rituals and practice them without having a fear of being killed or targeted.”

Tanveer Mahmood said: “I’m a Sunni and when we were growing up, participating in Shia processions was normal. The differences and violence we see today is rooted in the failure of the state and we have to ensure the state intervenes to rectify the situation. The rule of law must prevail.”

The persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan has intensified in recent years and has now reached critical levels.

Despite some recent signs of progress in Pakistan, including the first democratic transition of power in May 2013, religious communities such as Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus live in daily fear of harassment and intimidation.

Escalating violence against Shia Muslims also points to the growth of an even more exclusionary form of nationalism based on a very specific understanding of ‘Muslimness’.

The discrimination facing non-Sunni Muslims in Pakistan has emboldened extremist groups and enabled the proliferation of hate speech, which circulates in mosques, on social media and even in the classroom.

Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2015

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