I remember a Muharram in Quetta when we lived peacefully…

Published: November 12, 2013

In Quetta, my neighbourhood used to be an example of religious harmony; non-Shiite Baloch, Brahvi and Pashtoon, all honoured the religious sentiments attached to the month of Muharram. PHOTO: REUTERS

Gone are the days when Muharram was observed by nearly all Muslims belonging to different sects of Islam. Now it is observed strictly under security from law enforcement agencies.

In Quetta, my neighbourhood used to be an example of religious harmony; non-Shiite Baloch, Brahvi and Pashtoon, all honoured the religious sentiments attached to the month of Muharram.

Playing football, flying kites and sharing our lunches with our friends, regardless of what sect they came from, was a part of my everyday life as a child. There was no objection from my elders regarding my routine as they used to socialise with our neighbours on a daily basis as well, which also included events such as weddings, funerals, Eids and Muharram.

No religious hatred ever existed between the people. Life was uncomplicated and harmonious.

During Muharram’s mourning processions I, being an alam (flagstaff) bearer, would take the alam inside the homes of non-Shias. The women would fasten a colourful chaadar around it to express reverence and high regard to Imam Hussain (AS). They normally didn’t take part in the matham but would attend different majalis (congregations) and distribute “Nazar-o-Niyaz” (alms) in the neighbourhood.

On Ashura, my father would take me to the stall of Bohra Muslims near Mizan Chowk where I would have a refreshing glass of rose syrup mixed with milk and black khashkhash (poppy seeds), my favourite. Barelvi Muslims would distribute a chunk of cooked lamb meat wrapped in naan; this attracted many more people, mourners and passersby alike.

A group of Pashtun brothers on Pir Abul Khair road would distribute mouth-watering biryani. The prominent stall of Ahle Sunnat with its huge banner was easily identifiable and would attract the procession of mourners to come and drink some sharbat.

Paramedic staff and scouts organisations, inclusive of both Shia and non-Shia sects, would fill up the main route of the mourning procession and in between, Sunni religious scholars were allowed to lecture the mourners on Islam. In short, Muharram was a month in which the highest form of inter-faith harmony was exhibited.

The peaceful religious environment started decaying when religion was politicised by both Khomeini’s agenda from Iran, and General Ziaul Haq’s efforts in Pakistan. Instead of bridging the gap between the different sects in society, religion was used to incite detestation.

It was on July 6, 1985 that the accumulated impact of such a path were realised. I was at school and still remember that it was during my maths class that some parents along with a headmaster entered the class and asked all the Shia students to go home. We weren’t told much about why we were being sent home except that there had been some firing near the city. I arrived home safely but some of those who chose to protest for their religious rights did not return home. That day, approximately 30 people, including policemen, were killed.

This was the first big incident that made me feel truly alienated. Social calls to our previous acquaintances became limited and the harmonious neighbourhood, that we once knew, suddenly became a volcano of intolerance waiting to erupt. Love turned into hate, trust into distrust and belief to disbelief. I started to hate the change, the people who brought on the change and those who adapted to it. Unfortunately, that was all I could do – hate.

I realised, in time, that there was no saviour, no super hero, who was going to come and give us our old life back. The rifts between neighbours increased and hate was replaced with an emotion I had forgotten existed, fear. My safe haven, my home and my friends had turned against me – for a reason we never even considered talking about before.

Insecurity and fear pushed minorities even further apart. Each was forced to move to a locality where they were the majority – in order to protect themselves. Despite living within their own sects and trying desperately to keep a low profile in their own country, minorities are being targeted.

Forced conversions and marriages are pushing Hindus to migrate to India.

Blasphemy cases and bomb blasts in churches are pressurising Christians to move to the West.

Ahmadis have been declared infidels while Shias are waiting for their fate.

What option do they have left but to leave their country?

Killings, bomb blasts, kidnappings, religious intolerance and hate saturate the air of this country. Religious fanatics walk tall and proud whilst renowned professors are being framed in unjust cases.

Ironically, even under the watchful eyes of the government, these so-called religious scholars continue to preach intolerance, resentment, enmity and fanaticism. The government’s silence is being taken as tacit approval for spewing this kind of hatred and why shouldn’t it be? It is not like the government has done anything to protect the rights of their minorities.

My neighbourhood, which was a perfect example of religious harmony, has been turned into a religious cacophony. Now when I look back at those times, I feel numb. Those days were like a dream, one from which I was rudely awakened.

What is true, however, is that those days did exist and that was also Pakistan. We have the ability to live in peace, tolerance and religious harmony. But do we have the will?


Muhammad Younas

A human rights activist and freelance UK based journalist.

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

  • SM

    I have no doubt those days of Moharram did exist, but do you know where they do exist even today? Yes you have guessed it right, INDIA.Recommend

  • shahid

    will you be able to repeat this sentence if Narender Modi wins the election ??Recommend

  • Happy

    Religious intolerance is increasing among shia and sunni in India also.Recommend

  • Patriotic Pakistani

    I wonder how you are able to make this claim after the acts committed by “tolerant” Indian people in Gujarat and Kashmir.Recommend

  • Sampath

    I dont see any difference in religious intolerance between shia and sunni sects, as much as it is between muslims and non muslims anywhere in the world, be it in Sri Lanka, Burma (Buddhists Vs. Muslims) or Philippines. (Christians Vs.Muslims)

    Human beings as a whole, have to elevate themselves as higher evolved souls, with lot of mutual respect, patience, forgiveness, and understanding, for one another, even as one practises one’s own religion dutifully. Let us also respect the Athiests, as they would one-day realise the presence of the God, provided, however, they remain noble in their dealings with the rest of the humanity.Recommend

  • SM

    Didn’t Muslim League made Pakistan because they threatened that “Islam khatrey me hai” in India because of the majority Hindus? What happened? Why do Muslims die almost daily in Pakistan? And if you really want to discuss minority rights, lets compare Hindus in Pakistan with Muslims in India. Oh wait, there are no Hindus or Sikhs left there, and the reminder are plotting how to get the hell out. Back to the point, whats the point of making Pakistan when Muslims are actually unsafe in Pakistan, the fort of Islam, but not as much in India, despite Gujarat and Kashmir. So yes, I will be able to make this claim even more strongly when “Narender” Modi is PM.Recommend

  • Dr Dang

    Go to any website running Gujarat news & see for yourself. Narender Modi literally controls Gujarat but we don’t have Muslims running to neighboring countries asking for refuge.Pakistan was created for muslims & look what a hole its become for them.Recommend

  • Student

    The problem with fanatics is that they don’t understand their own religion. As far as I know, the first word that describes Allah in the Quran is Merciful (Rahman). So, real Islam should be full of Rahmat (Mercy). Hence those who spread hatred among people can never ever be Muslims.

    But we can’t fight hatred with hatred just as we can’t remove darkness with darkness. The light of Love has to spread throughout Islam. That is the only way by which these fanatics can be brought to their senses.Recommend

  • DS

    Rest assured it’s not a matter of all doom and gloom. Such peaceful atmosphere still exists in many parts of the world, including Pakistan. These lunatics, spreading hate and intolerance, are easily distinguishable. I’m pretty sure they will never succeed.
    Let the unity prevail, let the message of Karbala spread, let us all understand Karbala in the context of present world. Let us examine different prospects of this resistance with sound logic. Let us join hands in hands and spread love. I’m a Shia and I love my Sunni brothers. ”Insaan ko Baidaar tou ho lene do, Har qaum pukaray gi Humaray hain Ya Hussain (as)” -Josh Malihaabadi.Recommend

  • Anver

    >> What is true, however, is that those days did exist and that was also Pakistan.

    Yes, indeed those days and that Quetta, a city of peace, tolerance and brotherhood did exist. If it will ever return is any body’s guess.Recommend

  • chaigram

    Your blog reminds me of Karachi of 60’s and early 70’s. During Mohrram you could see people of all sect join in the jaloos, distributing food sweet, water and sherbat sabeels. I don t know, how can broad minded people of Pakistan follow IGNORANT Saudis. May Allah help us all and guide us to the true teaching of our Prophet. Amen.Recommend

  • genesis

    If you go back in time you will realise that they were living peacefully i pre-partiton India as they are doing nowRecommend

  • genesis

    But not to the extent of killing,bombing or exterminating them Why even Ahmadis are doing fine.Recommend

  • Satesh Kumar

    Actually i remember Karachi-Pakistan when it was a safe place to dwell.Recommend

  • Aziz

    Those were the days before Saudi money.Recommend

  • Zain

    You don’t have Assult rifles and SMGs like (AK-47 and MP5) and home-made IEDs and High Intensity explosives like “Acetone peroxide” readily available in your country, and in the hands of every religious, political, separatist, nationalist, criminal group. You give these to your Pundits, Mullahs, Monks and Priests on top of all the crime and poverty that exists in India… well i don’t have to spell out what happens next. We are less fortunate in terms of Guns Control and implementation of Justice. Otherwise extremist are everywhere in every country and are of every religion. Look at Burma for example. They are Buddhist killing Muslims. And as an Indian you know bad things happened in Srilanka against the Tamil Hindus as well.Recommend