opinion
We British Pakistanis need to confront sectarianism amongst our friends
By: Samia Khan
Published: 18th March 2018

A few years ago, while having lunch with friends at my university’s café, we started talking about the invasion of Iraq. I was against the war.

Then a friend said, "But Saddam Hussain was a great guy." I was somewhat surprised and asked him why?

"Because he killed the Shias only, what’s wrong with that, they are kufars (non-believers) anyway nothing’s wrong with that."

I went pale, I hoped it was just a sick joke but it wasn’t.

After seeing my horrified face he said, "I am sorry if you are a Shia, are you?"

I simply told him how disgusting he was. This was a well-educated British Pakistani that hated the Shias and all other sects except Sunnis.

When the killer of the Governor of Punjab (Salman Taseer) was hanged to death in 2016, here in England Mumtaz Qadri was mourned and the death of Mr Taseer celebrated. (Pictured above - Qadri's funeral in Pakistan)

An acquaintance saw me reading Aatish Taseer's article, 'My Father's Killer's Funeral' and told me Pakistan was made in the name of Islam and people like Taseer were "sellouts".

Then he said "May ALLAH bless Shaheed Mumtaz Qadri's soul."

I couldn’t believe my ears. He was adamant Mr Taseer "deserved to die" for trying to change Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

"Many people from Luton went to attend [Qadri’s] funeral back home. Samia, the crowd Subhana'Allah was crazy, he is so lucky," he added.

When I told him I was happy that justice had been served against Qadri, and it was one of the greatest moments in Pakistan's judicial history, he said: "I thought you were a good Muslim Samia, but I was wrong."

We never spoke again.

* * * * * *


Sectarian violence is not something new for Pakistanis. We have repeatedly watched attacks on Shia mosques, Sufi Shrines and outright killings of ‘the wrong kind of Muslims’.

But the same problem is alive and kicking among Muslim youths, of Pakistani heritage in particular.

Ask an Ahmadi or a Shia that how comfortable they are in telling people about who they are? My sister’s college friend was an Ahmadi but feared to tell her lest she lost her friendship.

She eventually said “I did not want to tell you because I thought will lose you too.” My sister hugged her.

In March 2016, when shopkeeper Asad Shah had been stabbed to death, the immediate reaction of Muslims was of shock. The attack was blamed on Islamophobia and the media. Condemnations of the murder poured in on social media.

But when it emerged he had been killed by a fellow Muslim for being an Ahmadi, all the talk of ‘United Ummah’ dried up.

There are not any official documents that keep record of inter-faith violence. But Tell MAMA, a hate monitoring group, have been looking into hate crimes against Shias and Ahmadis and say they are receiving more such reports over the years.

Just recently there was an attack on Shia gravestones in Blackburn, England. 'In the attack only Shia gravestones desecrated but the headstones of other Muslims were not touched.' Tell MAMA reported.

In February 2016, when the local council of Scunthorpe approved the building of a mosque for the Ahmadiyya community, other Muslims protested against the decision. But the plan went ahead anyway.

“In Pakistan we never really told anyone that we were Ahmadi Muslims, except for a few neighbors who knew, due to the persecution of Ahmadis,” Hanya told me. In the UK, though she has friends she is still “cautious” about telling others about her identity.

Atif Rashid, an Ahmadi journalist told me, "I know people who have lost friends when they found out they were Ahmadi. They are told not to associate with Ahmadis, that we were not Muslims."

The media too can be forced to take sides. In March 2014, an Ahmadi ad appeared in a local Luton paper to celebrate their 125 years. The ad caused an outrage among other Muslims. The paper was forced to publish a statement in which they “disassociated” themselves from the ad’s content and said it has caused “offence”.

The police do not focus on sectarian extremism.

“These incidents are typically recorded as religious or racial hate crimes. The police don’t necessarily record specific details of whether it involved sectarianism or not,” a spokesperson told me.

There are numerous initiatives to stop young British Muslims from radicalisation but I hardly see any measures to stop these rapidly growing flames of sectarianism.

Living in a multi-cultural and multi faith society means having to live with people we might disagree with, and to respect their way of life. We don't have to accept people’s beliefs in order to co-exist with them.

There should be no space for hatred, bigotry and even racism in the society we live in.


Opinion published on 18th March 2018 in the World section




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