More than 23,000 Shia Muslims in Pakistan killed since 1963, according to new documentary

“How can one feel safe when as soon as you step out of [your] home, you see it written, ‘Shias are infidels, you kill them and you enter into Paradise’, written on every single street?”

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“How can one feel safe when as soon as you step out of [your] home, you see it written, ‘Shias are infidels, you kill them and you enter into Paradise’, written on every single street?”

Edit: August and September of 2020 has seen a renewed attack on Shia Muslims within Pakistan. Thousands of anti-Shia protesters recently gathered in the city of Karachi, with many openly showing ties to Sunni extremist groups like Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and Sipah-e-Sahaba, which has documented links to the killing of hundreds of Shia Muslims over the past few years. This anti-Shia rally was linked to a serious of blasphemy accusations against a number of prominent Shia leaders across Pakistan, after a televised broadcast of an Ashura procession allegedly showed participants making negative remarks about certain Islamic figures. Many are fearing a renewed increase in sectarian violence and killings, as extremism continues to grapple pockets of the population and the vulnerable continue to suffer without government protection. 

A new documentary by NowThis has highlighted the horrifying reality for many Shia Muslims in Pakistan: more than 23,000 have reportedly been killed for their beliefs since 1963, with experts claiming that this number is far likely to be even higher than local news outlets admit.

In Pakistan, Shia Muslims make up around 20% of the population, and while the country is tragically home to some of the worst sectarian violence in the world, in 2017 alone 95% of sectarian killings and violence worldwide was focused solely on Shia Muslims. The 15 minute documentary by NowThis travelled to Pakistan to uncover some of the reasons why the targeted violence against Shia Muslims is so extreme in the country:

Speaking to many who have lost family members and friends to targeted killings simply for being Shia Muslim, reporter Zahra Haider spoke to one young university student, whose father was killed in a targeted shooting during the holy month of Muharram. He spoke of the harsh reality of living in Pakistan as a Shia Muslim:

How can one feel safe when as soon as you step out of [your] home, you see it written, ‘Shias are infidels, you kill them and you enter into Paradise’, written on every single street? We have to protect ourselves, although its a basic right we should have from the government.”

Although relatively unknown, the very founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, was a Shia Muslim himself. Establishing independence in 1947 after partition from India with the British withdraw from their colonial hold on India, Pakistan was created as a sanctuary state for Muslims. Initially proud of the fact the founder was Shia, from a minority group, while many others who were part of the new government came from other minority sects such as the Ahmadis, Hindus, and Christians of the country, many have pointed towards the irony of how Pakistan is now treating its religious minorities. Hassan Abbas, a US academic, spoke of how Pakistan is now failing its own citizens:

The Shia community [can] see that they are being targeted, but they are not listened to. The very idea of Pakistan is at stake. The idea of Pakistan was a pluralist nation…the modern-day Pakistan is defying its own idea of pluralism, equality, and democracy…it was supposed to be a sanctuary for Muslims.”

Anti-Shia rhetoric began to grow heavily starting in the 1980s, when Saudi Arabia started building and endorsing madrasas, or religious schools, in Pakistan. These religious schools taught extreme fundamentalism, a form of extreme Wahhabism, to poor children in Pakistan who otherwise could not afford a more standardized education. Religious extremists and fundamentalists have come out of these schools, and have become part of the problem of a growing movement of political parties targeting Shia Muslims.

Sectarian hate-groups like the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat and the banned (but still active) terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi actively promote and preach anti-Shia rhetoric, with many calling on ordinary Sunni Muslims to kill and target Shia Muslims wherever they may be. The government of Pakistan continues to turn a blind eye, and according to Human Rights Watch, allows members of the banned hate group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi to even be pardoned from prison.

I don’t think the situation is getting any better in Pakistan for Shia Muslims. And not only Shia Muslims. Its the same for Ahmadis. Its the same for Hindus. Its the same for everyone, for every minority in Pakistan.”

While this documentary is an important step towards highlighting the horrifying reality for many Shia Muslims and religious minorities within Pakistan, it remains to be seen what the local government, as well as the international community, will do in order to combat the growing sectarian extremism within the region. As Shia Muslims continue to be killed for simply being Shia, it remains imperative on all our parts to remain informed, tolerant, and active towards protecting the Islamic values of peace and diversity.