This despite the fact that the state, ruled by the Qutub Shahi rulers and Nizams not long ago, has been home to a large Shia community and Iranian population. The Sunnis and Shias had been, and continues to be, so heavily intermingled with each other in this part of the world that they seldom view one another as Us versus Them. Some of my closest friends and beloved teachers and some of the top names in Indian literature and poetry happened to be Shia.
From social, political and cultural interaction to religious gatherings, nothing had been divided in terms of Sunni and Shia. Although of late we are beginning to have some trouble on Hindu-Muslim relations front, there has never been any unpleasantness in the Sunni-Shia ties. Unlike Lucknow in North India, Hyderabad thankfully never witnessed any Sunni-Shia riots.
In fact, I had never been made conscious of my so-called Sunni identity until I arrived in the Middle East. Or to be more precise, until Iraq happened to us!
Which is perhaps why I still find it rather difficult to comprehend the fact that Sunnis and Shias can detest each other so much that they can bomb each other, as they have been lately doing in Iraq and Pakistan.
Earlier this week, there had been yet another attack on a Shia religious gathering in Peshawar, Pakistan killing at least 15 people including the city police chief. Iraq continues to burn and bleed to death as the so-called Sunni insurgents and Shia militias take on each other.
Regular readers of this column would testify that I have been a trenchant critic of the Iraq war and all that has taken place over the past three years in the name of democracy and freedom. Okay, the US and its ‘willing allies’ are fundamentally responsible for this most unjust and pointless war in recorded history and the utterly devastating occupation that has followed it.
But the Sunni and Shia leaders of Iraq must share the blame with the occupation powers for perpetuating the misery of the Iraqi people by unleashing this genie of sick sectarianism on the country. The British medical journal, Lancet, has estimated the toll of Iraqi casualties to be over 655,000. That was last year. Thousands more have died since then. More than 34,000 Iraqis died last year alone, as a UN report recently disclosed.
Iraq’s Sunni and Shia leaders must share the responsibility with the occupation powers for sending all those innocents to their death. They have fortified the occupation and justified the crimes against humanity by joining the free-for-all bloodletting of Sunnis and Shias. What began as the resistance against the US occupation after the fall of Saddam Hussein has degenerated into sectarian genocide of most fearsome proportions.
At least a hundred people die daily on an average in Iraq today. And few of them die as a result of the US occupation or insurgent attacks on foreign forces. Today, the majority of the killings taking place in Iraq are of sectarian nature —executed in cold blood by the Sunni insurgents or Shia militias.
No wonder the desperate Iraqis are fleeing the country in droves. The UN says at least a thousand people are fleeing their homes daily. Over the past one year alone, some 360,000 Iraqis have fled the violence without having the means to leave the country.
A report released in the US this week warns that Iraq is rapidly sliding into an all-out civil war that is likely to spill over into neighbouring countries, resulting in mass deaths and refugee flows, serious disruption of Gulf oil supplies and a drastic decline of US influence in the region.
This grim forecast is set out in Things Fall Apart, a 130-page report released by the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy. The Brookings Institution and Saban Center, two of the many powerful think tanks of the mighty Israeli lobby, should know what they are talking about. After all, they started it all. It is the Israeli lobby that planted the idea of a new Middle East and a new Muslim world pushing the neocons to invade Afghanistan, Iraq and now possibly Iran.
The lobby and its powerful friends in the US establishment would of course do anything to protect and perpetuate the Jewish state from the people it has enslaved. Saddam’s Baathist Iraq that claimed to champion the Arab cause and Palestine has been humbled and reduced to dust along with its flamboyant and boastful leader. Well, that is the price you pay when you dare to take on the Zionists and their powerful friends. And don’t be surprised if Iran that has been lately looking to claim the leadership of the Islamic world goes the same way —for questioning the legitimacy of the Jewish state.
Now the Lobby and its patron saints in Washington couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome in the Middle East, could they? On the one hand, the Palestinians, who for more than six decades refused to accept occupation and give in to Israel’s bullying, are fighting among themselves —cheered on of course by Israel, the US and Europe. On the other hand, Iraq —once the most powerful country in the neighbourhood and potential threat to Israel —is being torn apart between the warring Shias and Sunnis.
More importantly, the deadly conflict between Islam’s two sects is not only set to spill over beyond Iraq’s borders into neighbouring states but also threatens the entire Islamic world —from Morocco to Malaysia. For Sunnis and Shias live side by side all over the Arab and Muslim world, from Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon and Bahrain on the one hand to Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan on the other. If this conflict is globalised, the possible scenario for the Muslim world —already saddled with myriad problems —is too frightening to imagine. The whole of Muslim world could end up as a big and burning Iraq.
Do we want that to happen? Would Iraq’s Shias and Sunnis —and Muslims everywhere —want that? How long would they allow themselves to be used and exploited as pawns in the hands of imperial powers? When would they wake up to the fundamental reality that before they are Sunnis or Shias, they are Muslims and human beings first?
How can they slaughter each other with impunity over a pointless academic debate that is as old as Islam and that too in the name of a faith that stands for peace, mercy and forgiveness? Where is out mortal outrage? Where are the protesting Muslims and their leaders? And what is this Sunni-Shia business anyway? Who created and divided us into Sunnis and Shias? Islam certainly did not. And pray, what are we fighting over? Both Shias and Sunnis love and revere Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, and his noble descendants. So what is the point of this conflict?
The Prophet did not bring Sunni or Shia Islam to us. He brought Islam to us —pure and simple. And Islam does not preach, accept or condone the killing of innocents, whatever their sect or faith. The blood that the Sunni mobs and Shia militias are shedding across Iraq daily is not Sunni blood or Shia blood. It is Muslim blood. And it is the blood of innocents.
And remember what the Prophet had to say about spilling innocent blood? Standing before the Kaaba in Makkah, the holiest place in Islam, he said: ‘O you sacred Kaaba, the blood of a human being is more sacred than you.’
All Muslims believe in One God, One Book and the Last Messenger who brought it. Is that not enough to unite us?Aijaz Zaka Syed is Assistant Editor of Khaleej Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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