Why do I have to tell anyone if I am Shia or not?

Published: May 2, 2015

Around 143,368 Pakistanis would perform Hajj in 2015 under the Hajj Policy 2015. PHOTO: AFP

The natural course of policies made in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always had a negative tilt towards the Shia Muslims of the world. Having the privilege of hosting Islam’s most sacred place of worship, they have monopolised the Islamic faith and exploited the concept of pilgrimage as much as possible. After years of exporting its ideology to Pakistan, and many other countries across the Middle-East, and creating fissures in society, the kingdom took it up an ante – since proxy wars may not always be feasible – they have created divisions even in the unifying act of Hajj pilgrimage; it is mandatory for Shias to declare their sect when applying for a Hajj visa.

While this may not be new, the purpose of this blog is to examine why such a condition exists in the first place.

As we already know the Shia community has been under siege for decades but the general inclusion of such a term not only makes their intention to divide more transparent, it is unethical and to a large extent, immoral. Some people will say this was done to facilitate the Shia women who wish to do Hajj without being accompanied by a mehram or related male. If so and there is a huge ‘if’, why not simply ask if the woman wishes to travel without a mehram?

Adding a few words to the form will not make it any heavier.

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see this as a way of registering Shia travellers and creating hurdles for their visa. Riyadh has made it mandatory for all Hajj pilgrims to declare their sect as it fears that sectarian tensions could rise in the kingdom owing to the conflict in Yemen.

In a state where Shias are killed simply for being Shias, forcing them to declare their sect on an official document is only putting them further at risk. The reported timeline of events is such: Pakistan refuses to send ground troops to Yemen to participate in Saudi Arabia’s war, there is a flurry of activity from the kingdom to put pressure on Pakistan, the Imam-e-Kaaba visits the country and just a few days later, people start putting up pictures of the 2015 Hajj forms which has this clause to further exemplify their blatant bigotry. While the addition in the form took place a few years back, with heightened tensions in Yemen, it is no surprise that this issue resurfaced. The discrimination and fear is apparent, and the pressure on Shias is only increasing. Saudi Arabia is supposedly worried about a repeat of the 1987 protest that ended with 400 people dead but conveniently forgets that those protests were not done by Pakistanis.

This discriminatory clause is but one among many in our official applications but first one to be put in at the behest of a foreign power. Petro-dollars can buy you much, even the power to divide people along sectarian lines when they are applying for an act that reduces the divisions between them. Instead of protesting against it, there is a tacit acceptance.

When there is an actual or perceived act of discrimination against Muslims by non-Muslims nations, we rise up in arms, with possible exception of China which can get away with pretty much anything including banning fasting in Ramazan because a few billions get you that impunity in Pakistan.

The latest cause of outrage is the expulsion of a 15-year-old Muslim girl in France who was suspended from class for wearing a long black skirt which is seen as a sign of Islamic influence or belief. But when discrimination is being done by a Muslim country, we stay quiet and quiescent.

What’s next for next year’s Hajj forms for marking out Shias?

Black stars? Facial marks?

I always thought Germany in 1933 was an aberration in the course of human history but are we really heading there?

Pilgrimage is supposed to be a unifying force, getting Muslims around the world in one glorious act of submission to the Almighty. It is deeply disturbing that those that claim to be the Keepers of the Kaaba are bent on creating divisions even there – deeply disturbing, yes, but not surprising given their politics and past history.

Correction: The reference to the Shia clause as being ‘recent’ was incorrectly reported and has been removed. The error is regretted and has now been rectified. Please accept our apologies on behalf of The Express Tribune. 

Sibtain Naqvi

Sibtain Naqvi

A writer and social commentator who has written extensively for various Pakistani English dailies. An art critic accredited by the AICA and the Royal College of Art, London, he dabbles in music and sports writing and tweets @Sibtain_N (twitter.com/Sibtain_N)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Desy

    Hilarious article, till when Pakistani shias regarded House of Saud or Saudi govt. as a friend or a brother or even a fellow muslim country. Shia community have always treated them with disdain. KSA can’t do no right and Iran can’t do no wrong. Iran has been supressing Irani sunnis, not let them build a mosque or performm the azaan in shia majority area, i’v never heard a squeak coming from this community in danger. First stop taking sides and remember Saudii Arabia and Iran both r not supportive of Pak’s interests including yours so stop polarizing your own country.Recommend

  • ovais

    as per my knowledge this is necessary and has been part of the form since years since shia fiqah allows women to travel for hajj without a mehram unlike sunnisRecommend

  • Jalal

    What are Shias complaining about? The box for religion has been all over for a long time. Have Shias just woken up when their kind is effected?Recommend

  • Ibaad

    That’s what I have heard as well. This is a very ill informed article. All kinds of opinions should be published, even the most extreme ones, but ET blog editors should do a better job at checking simple facts.Recommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad

    This question was already there for many years. Highlighting it in present circumstances is an intellectual dishonesty.Recommend

  • Mureed

    Pakland is a Sunni country. They will follow orders from their
    masters in Saudia. The Khawarijis in Pakland, will try to outdo
    their Wahabi lords in Riyadh….when it comes to Shias.
    There is already a Shia genocide in progress, in the Land of the PureRecommend

  • Mujab Rizvi

    yes, the phrase of question is not appropriate but it is not like according to your thinking. Actually the question about shia is inducted as the Fiqah Jafria pilgrims have slightly different arrangements of Hajj, like they are exempted from mandatory mehram clause.. they are proceeding to Hajj in shape of large groups and Karwans and to accommodate them in one building club with provision of one camp in Mina and arafat, separate arrangements are required. Further fiqah jafria pilgrims are exempted from mehram condition thats y to seperate them from mehram clause this question was added to the hajj spp form… Further, next year it may be re-phrased.Recommend

  • Jayman

    Shias have always been non-violent and upstanding citizens of the world. Can’t say the same for Sunnis. The world should back the forces of moderation against extremist philosophy.Recommend

  • Faulitics

    What you are saying is false.Recommend

  • nishantsirohi123

    Saudi Arabia has practically hijacked islam. No muslim dares to condemn their activities , be it their beheading sprees, discrimination against expats , or destroying the buildings from the days of the prophet to make malls or the centuries old castle. Nobody utters a word cuz they fear that they shall be banned from hajj .Recommend

  • Akbar Mohamadzai

    Shii’s are Not considered by Saudi/Wahhabis to be in the fold of Islam. So, Saudis think Shii’s should be thankful even to be admitted at all into the Two Holy Mosques.Recommend

  • AnisAqeel

    Why do I have to tell anyone if I am Shia or not?
    What an innocent or may be a foolish question article !!! Shia people should go back to review the historical papers and articles passed to declare Ahmadis as non-Muslims during the early 70’s and the head of the government was a shia when he declared to solve 90 year old problem. Those Ahmadis have to fill the same kind of affidavits and forms now Shias are filling in. Shias should unite and undo what they supported in the 70’s and bring the matter in the assembly to undo all dictatorial amendments to the original constitution. After Shias next will be another sect you can easily guess who.Recommend

  • Bal Godse

    But…but..but..well,..see,..Ahmadis?..Pathans?…Khojas,…Ismailis?…
    Bohras,…Sufis,..Balochs,..Hazaras,..are all considered non Muslims
    too, by the Saudi Khawarijis. Any one left out? So where the real
    Muslims living?Recommend

  • Gullu Guddu and Gomnath.

    Pray the Iranians don’t catch you praying Sunni style in
    Mashad, or Tehran or Qom. Just run, due East…you will
    hit the Land of the Pure border.Recommend

  • A J Khan

    Shia – Sunni divide increased with Khomeni revolution in 1979. After the revolution Muslim World was impressed & supported the change, but the follow up was aggressive pursuit of promoting Sectarianism rather than Islam. Resultantly the divide started widening. Since then Iran & Saudi Arabia are both playing games with Islam

    In 1985, a surprise attack was made on Quetta by the Hazara Shia community to impose their version of Islam on the valley of Quetta. By evening many were dead and Army was to be called to give relief to the residents of Quetta.

    Saudi Arabia & Iran both fought Sectarian battles in Pakistan.
    In the interest of Islam and Muslims, this infighting must cease.Recommend

  • Hammad Ashraf Khan

    pathetic article…ET really needs to reconsider its bloggers…Recommend

  • Danish

    Surpirsingly, Saudis with strong power of wealth are afraid of Shias who are financially weak and in minority, however they are trying their level best to supress shias and true message of Hussainiat……Recommend

  • Muhammad Shafqat

    I think this year shia fiqah related application will be sort out and taking care or treated special. The applicants will be watched specially due to yaman situation.Recommend

  • Guest

    This is not about any non mehram. If this was the case, they would have simply asked the person “are you travelling with a mehram or non-mehram?” This is to marginalize the shia community by the salafist wahabis who treat shias as enemies.Recommend

  • Kashif Nawaz

    http://www.arabnews.com/saudi-arabia/news/742436
    Check that link, Saudi Minister of Hajj said that, Saudi Arabia doesn’t require pilgrims to declare sect. The Pakistan Hajj Ministry that has issued a form asking its pilgrims to declare their sect “for their own regulatory procedures.Recommend

  • Iqra

    If that were the case,even Hajj for Shias would not be allowed by saudi govtRecommend

  • Khalid Shaikh

    OMG, look at the hue and cry about Are You Shia check-box. Where was the hue and cry when the religion check-box appeared on the ID card forms, and the Passport Forms? Everything that happened to someone else years ago is coming back to haunt everyone who stayed silence back then, the forms, the takfirism, the violence, the negligence……Recommend

  • Ali

    Last time I checked It was Shias who were butchered in Pakistan and Sunnis are not facing anything like that in Shia Iran?

    So may be Iran is better than Saudia & Pakistan. At least they don’t kill innocents based off of their sect?

    Meet any Sunni from Iran and then you will know why western media is dangerous.Recommend

  • Miyagi Jr.

    Apparently in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.Recommend

  • Miyagi Jr.

    Yeah, Shia’s are violent against themselves!Recommend

  • Miyagi Jr.

    What you are saying is false. Religion box is there for a long time to stop a so-called minority sect going to Hajj, nobody ever said a word about it. Now its your turn. What goes around, comes around.Recommend

  • Akbar Mohamadzai

    That will soon be the case.Recommend

  • Umar Waqar

    oooh these lies cant go unspoken man as Iran supports mehdi army which is buthchering civilians in iraq and what about the constant support to bashar al asad, Saudia and Iran are equally responsible, and about your so called analysis based on just the city of tehran. may i invite you to sistan.Recommend

  • Umar Waqar

    i know same goes for iran and its executions and support of terror groups like mehdi army. both of these countries have maligned islam and used it for regional powerRecommend

  • Umar Waqar

    by the way this has been there since 81. have no idea whats bothering now.Recommend

  • Umar Waqar

    same applies to bashar al asad and alawis. a wealth dominated group but afraid of poor sunnis :) .Recommend

  • Umar Waqar

    if only that was true manRecommend

  • Ali

    I am not sure about what goes in Iraq. Lets not deviate from how much Shias are killed all around the world. If you just remember( the millions that saddam killed?

    Bashar might be a puppet to Iran but definitely not a puppet to Israel/USA. Saudia has proven to be a puppet to Israel/USA.

    I would be proud to align with someone who gives an eye to America/Israel but will be ashamed if I support someone who is nothing but a brother to Israel/USA.

    We just need to open our eyes. The only solution is Shia/Sunni unity. Anyone saying against it is either naive or an agent.Recommend

  • Ali

    lol just lies. just lies propaganda from western media to inflame hatred amongst Muslim brothers. That land of pure border was created by a Shia and I am proud of it. What I really worry about is how badly Shias are killed.

    Iran hasn’t killed any Sunni YET because they were Sunnis. Just meet any Sunni from iran you will know that western media or media aligned with them is an enemy to Pakistan.Recommend

  • JayMankind

    Fortunately, it is.Recommend

  • Umar Waqar

    likes of houthis basher al asad the mehdi army gives a different picture,Recommend

  • Umar Waqar

    lol so if there is news concerning sunnis its true. but if against iran then it is lies and propoganda. please dont hide behind the thick shadows. look what shias did in iraq and iran and syria to sunnis. i am not talking about all of them but many extreme ones. you guys try defending more with Iran then being a pakistani.Recommend

  • Umar Waqar

    iran has killed many sunnis for being sunnis. go look at the revolutuonary gurads in sistan and in syria you ll find out. if u think iran is an angel u r disgusted with ur belief then. false cannot hide. thats why i say both iran and saudia are equally responsible.Recommend

  • Ali

    lol. I need links to reputable websites whose agenda is not to DEFAME IRAN. If you cannot provide me links then please stop promoting hatred. Because the only solution to our problems is pious/piety with unity amongst Muslims. A pious man should never accuse without evidence.

    syria? seriously? even america has now admitted how much they are funding against bashar. You call them muslims who take money from usa and kill innocents? around 150,000 have died. USA is smart to use Muslims against Muslims. Majority of Sunnis are not willing to look into this.Recommend

  • Umair

    because the writer was not even born back then
    and just because a wrong rule has been in place for so many years doesnt mean it should not be challenged nowRecommend

  • AnisAqeel

    Z A Bhutto.Recommend

  • Rd px

    Saudi Arab and iran are both extremists of their own sects and both are a bad influence on the muslim world.Recommend

  • Rd px

    Its not true. There are extremists in both sects.Recommend