Qila Bhatianwala: A tiny oasis of Sunni-Shia unity in Pakistan – by Karamat Bhatty

LAHORE: A small village near Lahore has achieved what most of the country has failed to forge: religious tolerance.

In Qila Bhatianwala village, Shia and Sunnis live, pray, celebrate and mourn together, while the rest of the country sinks deeper into religious intolerance, ethnic violence and a generally distressing divide within society.

But the village’s practice of religious harmony is not a compromise, say the residents; it’s an obligation. And what is perhaps even more exemplary is that the villagers go one step further and realise the worth of this tolerance as the only road to progress.

Qila Bhatianwala’s population of 2,000 people is equally divided between the Shia and Sunni sects. But this divide is anything but significant to the residents. Dozens of them are close relatives of each other. They tie knots without any discrimination. Being Sunni or Shia does not correlate with being superior or inferior or vice-versa.

The Azaan at the Jamia Masjid in Bhatianwala echoes more than five times a day – the Shia clerics give the call for Fajar, Zohar and Asar earlier, while the Sunni cleric calls for Maghrib and Ishaa’s prayers.

Two funeral prayers is a common phenomenon in Qila Bhatianwala.

If a Majlis takes place at the time of Jumma, the Sunni maulvi out of respect gives a sermon in Urdu without a loudspeaker. Shias reciprocate by arranging Majlis after Taraveh prayers in Ramazan.

Sunnis celebrate Eid Milad-un-Nabi on 12th of Rabiulawwal, while Shias celebrate it on the 17th of the same month – in the same mosque.

“This compatibility shouldn’t be translated as compromise on beliefs.

Each of us elaborates one’s school of thought publicly while respecting others’ feelings. Yesterday in Jumma sermon, I candidly spoke about the life and martyrdom of Hazrat Usman-e-Ghani (RA). Same is the pattern with the days of Hazrat Siddique-e-Akbar (RA), Hazrat Umer-e-Farooq (RA) and of course Hazrat Ali (RA),” says Hafiz Abdurrashid, a Sunni cleric, who has been at the Jamia Mosque for three decades.

Shia Imam Zill-e-Husain, a soft spoken 35-year-old, says, “More often we preach about commonalities rather than dissimilarities. We respect each other while firmly believing in our own school of thought. This atmosphere of respect and care is translated outside the mosque in a fantastic way.”

Former president Ferozwala Bar Association Abdul Quyyum Bhatti, who is also a native of Qila Bhatianwal, told The Express Tribune that different schools of thought exist in every society. “The true path of progress is when you manage to educate people about tolerance,” he says.

Abdul Quyyum added that despite the fact that there are only two primary schools in the village – one for boys and one for girls – education is given a lot of significance. Ten lawyers, three doctors, a deputy district public prosecutor and 15 police officers belong to the village, he boasts.

“From the late Pir Karrum Shah to Mufti Jaffer Husain, all prominent Ulema of both sects have come here to speak at the congregations to preach the true teachings of Islam,” he added.

Sharafat Ali Bhatti, a retired schoolteacher, who is widely respected throughout the village, told The Express Tribune that the credit for the harmonious atmosphere goes to the elders of the village who make it mandatory to respect the beliefs of others.

He said those who abide by the teachings of Islam in letter and spirit usually avoid biases.

“You see, the prayers we offer have nothing to do with Islam if they hurt or create troubles for others,” says Sharafat.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th, 2011.



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