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Book Review: The Shi‘as of Pakistan – An Assertive and Beleaguered Minority

In his profound research The Shi‘as of Pakistan: An Assertive and Beleaguered Minority, Andreas Rieck has produced an important volume and has covered the historical evolution of Shi‘as in Pakistan.

India—a country embracing minorities (including Muslims), has now become a dangerous place for them. It was the first and, so far, only state which has constitutionally declared the Ahmadiyya community a ‘non-Muslim’ sect. Since the 1947 partition, the Ahmadis have been subjected to violence and subsequently they have been ghettoised to a small city, Rabwah, in Punjab. On the other hand, Shi‘as—a significant minority constituting 20 per cent of the population—have also been victims of both non-state actors and state-sponsored violence. I will not discuss here who has suffered the most violence between the two communities but Shi‘as, despite being an influential minority, are victims of systematic and more importantly, an organised violence. In his column for BBC Urdu, Pakistan’s renowned journalist and author, Muhammad Hanif has satirically argued that by showing organised killings of Shi‘as, even the Ahmadis would say that “thank God, we are ‘infidels’, not Shi‘as”. Indeed, no other minority has witnessed selective and highly organised killings of doctors, professors, lawyers, intellectuals and activists. As a result, some—among whom are political activists—refer to this as a ‘slow genocide’ or identify it as a ‘violence with genocidal proportions’. In his profound research The Shi‘as of Pakistan: An Assertive and Beleaguered Minority, Andreas Rieck has produced an important volume and has covered the historical evolution of Shi‘as in Pakistan.

This nine-chapter long book comprehensively covers different facets of Shi‘a politics in the subcontinent. It starts with an in-depth introduction on the emergence of Shi‘as dating back to 16th century with the arrival of Shi‘a preachers from Iran. More importantly, the first two chapters discuss the emergence of Shi‘as’ struggle and resistance to protect the Azadari from the Sunni majority within United India, sometimes siding with Mughal Emperors, joining the camps of Congress and the Muslim League in pre- and post- partition settings. The third chapter [End Page 125]discusses the historical shift Shi‘a politics after 1947 as partition brought unexpected challenges for the minority. New organisations were formed such as All Pakistan Shi‘a Conference (APSC) and Idarat-i-Tahaffuz-i-Huquq-i-Shi‘a Pakistan (ITHS) to meet challenges and again, protect the Azadari. The fourth, fifth and sixth chapters primarily discuss Shi‘a politics under three dictatorships and brief democratic regimes. These three chapters highlight the emergence of more recent Shi‘a movements such as the Shi‘a Mutalbaat Committee (SMC) and the Tehrik-i-Nifazi-Fiqah-i-Jafaria (TNFJ), the internal split over nature of Azadari and also, efforts to incorporate Shi‘a fiqh in the Pakistani constitution and demands for a separate syllabus for Shi‘a students in schools and colleges. Furthermore, these chapters also highlight that Shi‘as had been successful to achieve their goals (politically), arguably, in all the regimes except under Zia-ul-Haq who marginalised them through his ‘Islamisation’ process. As a result of Islamisation, chapters seven and eight highlight the transformation of the Pakistani state into a more Sunni state and the labelling of Shi‘as as ‘Iranian agents’ or a suspicious community. Both chapters also discuss the rise of sectarian violence by Sipah-i-Sahaba (SSP) and Sipah-i-Muhammad (SMP) and terrorist incidents targeting minorities such as Shi‘as and Christians. The book concludes that despite a recent spate of attacks on Shi‘as, they have historically been an assertive entity; challenging and influencing the state and waging violence against the Sunni majority such as SMP. Thus, they could be seen as victims of violence while not qualifying as an ‘oppressed’ community.

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Bibliographic Information

Title: Book Review: The Shi‘as of Pakistan – An Assertive and Beleaguered Minority

Author: Jaffer Abbas Mirza

Published in: Journal of Shi’a Islamic Studies, Volume 10, Number 1, Winter 2017

 Language: English

Length: 6 pages

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