Back when I was in high-school, I had a classmate named Zainab. Although I made a lot of friends in high-school, she’s the only one whose introduction I still vividly remember.
“Hi, my name is Zainab. But I’m not a Shia,” she said with disgust. Like being a Shia is a cringe-worthy disease no one wants to be linked with.
The name Zainab is usually common among the Shia community. Traditionally, a man named Ali, Hasan or Hussain or a woman named Zainab, Rubab or Zehra would be Shia. And maybe it was important for her to detach herself with the traditional identity that comes with her name.
This was back when I started high-school in 2009. At that time, being Shia didn’t mean much to me. Yes, I did pray three times a day instead of five. I broke my fast few minutes after the majority of Muslims in Pakistan. I did mourn the death of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, in the first three Islamic months. But that was pretty much it. Being a Shia was just an identity I was born with. Just like I was born a girl.
So I was taken aback when she introduced herself, but I didn’t think of it much. For me, it was just an unnecessary addition to her introduction. But as I got more involved, I realized how important this identity was to me. I understood what it meant to be a Shia-Ali.
For those of you who aren’t aware of this term, Shia is an Arabic term which means “a follower.” To summarize: after Prophet Mohammad passed away, the Muslim community split into two. Those who believed that Prophet didn’t appoint a successor and considered Abu Bakar as the Caliph are known as Sunni. While those who believed Prophet appointed Ali as the successor are commonly known as Shia-e-Ali – followers of Ali.
So when Shia religious scholars, lawyers, and doctors are targeted, Shia mosques are attacked, it is because of this identity. The very identity that makes them apostates in the eyes of many religious fanatics. They aren’t killed because they are Muslims, but because they are Shia.
Just this year alone, Parachinar – a predominantly Shia city in Pakistan, has been attacked multiple times. In the beginning of this year, a bomb went off in the vegetable market killing 25 people and wounding 87. Two months later, another bomb blast killed 23 people and wounded more than 100 people. And the recent back-to-back attacks in Parachinar which were ignored by the Pakistani media and the politicians claimed 96 lives and wounded more than 200 people.
The media was silent. The government was silent. The whole nation celebrated Eid a few days after. Eid shows had music and dance, guests and festivities, but no mention of Parachinar. Why? Does being a Shia makes us less human? Does our pain mean nothing to our fellow countrymen?
Pakistanis protest and talk about Islamophobia in the West. But do we realize Islamophobia exist in our own country as well? We don’t give rights to the minorities including Shia, Ahmadis, Hindus, and Transgender community. Why?
I’ve had conversations with my non-Shia friends about Shia Genocide. Most of them either aren’t interested in these topics because they are too controversial or they don’t think Shia Genocide exists.
‘By labeling them as Shia Genocide, we are dividing the Muslim Ummah,’ they would say.
But we are divided. We have been divided on some fundamental issues since the time of Prophet. Like any other religion, Islam is also divided into many different sects. But does this justify the killing of a specific sect?
We cannot be united if we don’t accept and respect the difference between different sects and religions. And we definitely can’t be united if we don’t acknowledge the reality and existence of Shia Genocide.