The Polemics of Apostasy in Pakistan: Did Shia Muslims participate in anti-Ahmadiyya movement?

Founders of Pakistan: A Shia (M.A. Jinnah) and an Ahmadi (Zafarullah Khan)

Related posts: What role did Pakistan’s Shias play against Ahmadis?

Debate on Shia role in Ahmadi persecution – by Ali Abbas Taj

In Pakistan, our limited intelligentsia is further limited due to a combination of both academic laziness and dishonesty. Therefore, it is important to challenge widely held beliefs because of the undue influence of our establishment on academic discourse and media narratives.

One such relatively new narrative in Pakistan’s (elitist) English media is the role of Shia Muslims in apostasizing of Ahmadi Muslims. The latter’s apostasization is a dark blot on Pakistan’s conscience. Its genesis can be traced to the Objectives Resolution of 1949. With no Constitution to challenge it, this resolution opened the doors to the theocratic lobby. Ahmadiyya Muslims had to suffer violent pogroms in 1953 and the Munir Commission report by Justices Munir and Rustam Kiyani went some way towards questioning the role of the theocratic lobby and challenging the latter’s deeply flawed and bigoted visions. Justice Kiyani is reputed to have been a Shia Muslim as was Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder. So far in Pakistan’s history, Shia Muslims were clearly the strongest allies of the Ahmadiyya Muslims.

Based on feedback received from Shia activists and commentators, Pakistan’s prominent Shia scholars not only stayed away from the apostasization drive against Ahmadis but in the case of Agha Pooya, they provided the basis against such bigotry.

Agha Pooya and Mufti Kifayat Hussain were arguably Pakistan’s two most prominent Shia Muslim scholars in the first few decades of Pakistan. Pooya sahib is the same scholar who provided the commentary for Prof Mir Ahmed Ali’s English translation of the Holy Quran. On being approached by the Jamaat-e-Ahrar led anti-Ahmadi Sunni lobby groups, he outrightly refused to join them. His reasoning was that such an initiative could be used to prove anybody as non-Muslim and he could use similar reasoning to prove the Jamaat-e-Ahrar lobby as non-Muslim. This is an oral account of at least two of his junior associates who were interviewed recently.

Aside from the odd polemics, which occurred between the Shia and Ahmadi sects, there is no account of a Shia-led movement to apostasize Ahmadis. On the contrary, Shia Muslims had themselves been a historic victim of polemics by the majoritarian Sunni sect of which the Ahmadis were considered a part of.  One only has to refer to Ibn Taymiyyah to see the hate literature constructed against Shia and Sufi muslims that exists since the 13th century AD.  One can also refer to the polemical tracts written by Shah Abdul Aziz and Shah Waliullah in the 19th century. Prof. Athar Abbas Rizvi provides a good account of these anti-Shia polemics which were then academically countered by Shia scholars. Many of the discreditted arguments used within these 19th century tracts are still used against Shia muslims in the 21st century. In this regard, there are no records of Ahmadi Muslim scholars either participating in such anti-Shia polemics or condemning them. On the contrary, there is, unfortunately, some evidence of at least some Ahmadi Muslims adverse comments against other Muslim sects including Shia Muslims.  Again, this raises the question of whether it is ok to condemn an entire community on the basis of exceptions.

And this brings us to the crux of the argument. While the 1974 Anti-Ahmadi drive did include token Shia sellouts, it is unfair to hold the entire Shia community accountable for it. A community that is both ethnically and ideologically diverse. There is no record of Shia-led violence against their fellow Ahmadi muslims. Similarly, there are no accounts of Shia partcipation in the mass violence against Ahmadi muslims that continues today.

One cannot deny bigotry or intolerance or pig headedness amongst the 15-20% of Pakistan’s population that is supposed to be Shia. One comes across many Iran-influenced or Pakistan army influenced Shia sellouts who brazenly do the following:

– Preach and practice intolerance.

– Like the TJP, sit in alliances with mass murdering fanatics like JI and JUI (S) who ironically, even during the MMA coalition, were endorsing hate fatwas against Shias that lead to the latter’s mass murders.

–  Own up to disgusted apostasization drives like the Anti-Ahmadiyya movement and in some instances, allegedly even endorse the Blasphemy Laws that also target the Shia community.

Who can forget Khomeini’s fatwa of death against Salman Rushdie; a fatwa that has little if any basis in Shia Muslim faith but which was an expedient political move to highlight to Sunni regimes that Shia theocrats could be as bigoted as their Sunni counterparts.

It is important to note that Shias in Pakistan vote not for these ISI-IRI backed clerics but for quasi-secular parties like PPP, ANP and MQM.

Today, it is not just Shias and Ahmadis, but Sunnis and Christains who are being killed by the same inter-connected ISI-backed Jihadis. These Jihadis don’t need any legislation and have become powerful not because of bad governanace but a wilful resolve by the State to empower them for achieving the objectives. Today, there is a Shia genocide taking place in Pakistan and millions of Shias are looking up to the intelligensia and human rights groups to highlight their cause to the rest of the world. Barring the exceptions, they have mostly disappointed.

There are the honourable exceptions like Dr. Taqi, Farhat Taj, Saroop Ijaz, Mehmal Sarfaraz, Kamran Shafi, Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa and the two most recent contributions by Marvi Sirmed and Professor Hoodbhoy. Both Marvi and Hoodbhoy have publicly written and talked about this and both have faced the ire of the State-backed rightist militias. However, in their otherwise excellent essays, they have also referred to what many Shias feel is a conflated and inaccurate narrative that Shias are simply reaping what they did with regard to the participation of some of their folks in the 1974 apostasization drive. Sadly, that black law passed by the ZAB-lead PPP-NAP parliament is a blot on all our conscience. Token participation and a generally-shared apathy to bigotry neither justifies nor seeks to explain the deep rooted causes of religious bigotry or violence.

What Marvi and Professor Hoodbhoy have, perhaps inadvertently, done is not new.  Unfortunately, it is part of an existing tactic to dilute and rationalize the ongoing Shia genocide taking place in Pakistan.  One tactic to both dilute and misrepresent this issue is to conflate token Shia representation in the Anti-Ahmadi Muslim apostasization drive with the rest of the community.  This is similar to another tactic by the Sipah-e-Sahaba which blames Shia genocide on the latter’s different historical narrative and criticism of certain historical personalities. This tactic conflates the few stray acts of abusing such personalities by some misguided Shias as a justification of total Shia genocide!

In the main, these are all diversionary and dilution tactics that seek to legitimize and rationalize the ongoing Shia genocide taking place in Pakistan.  One only has to look at Marvi and Professor Hoodbhoy’s work in totality to understand that this was not their goal. However, they too are hamstrung by the lazy, dishonest and outright false scholarship on this topic and their application of this should not in any way demean their sincere attempt to highlight Shia genocide.  Their generalization in this regard is a product of their environment and should not reflect on their bold activism against religious extremism.

Shia genocide has nothing to do with acts of misappropriation, misattribution, tokenism and exceptionalism.  It is directly linked to the Jihadist goals of the Pakistan’s Jihadi Military State which is consuming not just Shias, Ahmadis but has also caused mass death and suffering to different Sunni communities in Pakistan. The policy of Strategic Depth has destroyed the largely secular and nationalist aspirations of the Pashtuns. It has fractured the Sindhis, Balochis, Punjabis, Seriakis, Baltis etc and caused suffering to all.

By presenting the genocide of the Shias as part of the trails of the “minority” and inadvertently diluting it with the literature of tokenism and exceptionalism, well meaning and brave activists are falling in the trap of Pakistani establishment.  Once it is pointed out that such a discourse is actually against the interests of the gross majority of Pakistan, it will hopefully provide some solutions.

5 responses to “The Polemics of Apostasy in Pakistan: Did Shia Muslims participate in anti-Ahmadiyya movement?”

  1. Shias as a community (despite their internal segmentation) played brilliant role in the politics of Indian Sub-Continent.

    Two good examples of Shia Muslims to quote here are that of His Highness Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Agha Khan and Raja Sahib of Mehmood Abad.

    His Highness was unanimously appointed the First President of All India Muslim League in 1906 by the active vote of all the Muslim delegates from all over India. Sir Agha Khan also led the Muslim Delegations to the Round Table Conference.

    None of the other Muslim dignitaries in attendance (being Non-Shias) ever raised an objection.

    Raja Sahib Mehmood Abad was ruler of the richest Estate in UP India and he was the founder of Muslim Students Federation, Member of the Mulsim League Working Council and he abandoned his Estate for Pakistan; which is recently assessed by the Indian Government having a worth Rs 30,000 crores.

    Beauty of things in those days is that majority of the Elite Leadership did not believe in Kufr Fatwas.

    Quaide Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was also a Shia and no other Muslim dignitary ever called him Kafir except a Maulvi Mazhar Ali Azhar of the Ahrare Islam Party.

    In this context, neither H.H. Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Agha Khan nor Raja Sahib of Mehmood Abad nor Quaide Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah nor any of their other working colleagues had any problem(s) in having Sir Muhammad ZafarUllah Khan as their trusted team mate.

    By the way Sir Muhammad ZafarUllah Khan was the President of All India Muslim League for the year 1931.

    Prime period of (their active involvement) H.H. Sir Agha Khan, Raja Sahib Mehmood Abad, Quaide Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and many other leaders of the Indian Sub-Continent was before these agitations. None of these dignitaries (in their entire worldly lives) ever supported or acknowledged any Fatwa against Ahmadiyyat.

    Things started changing only when Mullah’s were given way into the politics AND with an extra liberty to impress their rigid perspective over the public at large.

    The creeping Islamization, particularly in the aftermath of the 1949 Objectives Resolution also meant that liberal, secular Shia leadership receded and some right-wing leaning, Jamaat-e-Islami influenced Shia leaders started to emerge.

    Shia Leadership in 1953, 1974, 1984 and the years in between, around and later, showed no match with the progressive, secular leaderships of the old times. While majority of them stood quiet, some Shia leaders did support the Anti-Ahmadiyya Movements and some Shias still call Ahmadis, Kafir; though not as loudly as some other organizations do.

    Adapted from Shahid Pervaiz’s comment

  2. I really hope Marvi Bibi and Hoodbhoy will refrain from generalizing and misrepresenting accounts of Shia genocide.

  3. What is very important is to challange the concept of a “central orthodoxy” in Islam. To understand the concept of apostasy and its historical narrative ,its important first to describe the tendencies which describe a “central orthodxy” within Islam. Its against this orthodoxy that leads to declartion of “heresay” and later to apostasy.
    It was firmly established in Abbasid times. Though existed before as well but was institutionilized in Abbasid empire where celeric were required to issue appostasy fatwas for Alawite regimes and resistance movement. Prior to that this concept was problematic and leading Sunni Imams like Abu Hanifa took Murj’i position, which nullied appostasy discourse! He stated anyone who prays towards Kaaba is a Muslim. Its was the Caliphate which ultimately prevaled , so appostasy narrative since start has been a tool of the state!
    Islam has historically been an heterodox religion where parallel and contradictory historical development of differnt version took place. In Iran state introduced a central orthdoxy through Vilayat e Faqih , a concept alien to traditional shia thought! It was rejected by all leading Murja esp of Iraq.Its important to challage this assumption that Islam has some concrete orthodoxy , deviating from which can lead to apostasy. 2ndly it has to be asserted again and again that apostasy narrative in principle a “political” naarative with its root in pre state (monorchy) and state. It also represent the process of alliance of cleric class with state, which was essentially achieved with murder of Abu Hanifa at hands of Mansoor and his disciples joining the Abbasid empire , becoming a tool in their hand to fight Fatmids of Magrib and Alavites