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2005-03-16 Afghanistan/South Asia
Ismailis in precarious position
Part of the continuing slide of Pakistan into a Sunni state. The Ismailis are a moderate, easygoing people, and how many other religions are led by playboys? There is also the inevitable ethnic/tribal issue here, as most of the Ismailis are physically similar to Tibetans, unlike most Pakistanis.
An alliance of Sunni religious organizations in Pakistan proposes to have the Nizari Ismaili community, also known as Aga Khanis, declared infidels. The proposal comes amid increased targeting of members of the Ismaili community and criticism of the educational institutions they run in Pakistan. The Nizari Ismaili community is an Islamic sect whose members are followers of the Aga Khan. The Koran is their primary religious text. They could be described as a Shi'ite sub-sect, as like the Shi'ites they regard Ali as the Prophet Mohammed's successor. However, they broke away from the Shi'ite mainstream centuries ago when they adopted Ismail as their seventh imam, instead of his younger brother. Another difference between Shi'ites and Ismailis is that the latter consider the Aga Khan's birthday and the anniversary of his inauguration as more important than Muharram - the most important event on the Shi'ite calendar, when the battle of Karbala and the death of Hussein are commemorated. Ismailis, unlike other Muslims, rarely undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Ismailis regard themselves as "proper Muslims". However, Sunnis and Shi'ites in Pakistan (and other countries where Ismailis live) believe they are "different". For one, they seem quite "Westernized". Ismaili women are not expected to wear the burqa (veil). In their congregation halls, women pray alongside men - on separate but similar and adjacent carpets, denoting equality between the sexes. The schools run by Ismailis are co-educational. A distinct Hindu influence is also discernible in their style of worship. They sing hymns while praying and believe in reincarnation.

Ismailis, who had escaped by and large the attention of Pakistan's Sunni hardliners, are now under attack. About 22 Sunni organizations have come together as the Difa-e-Islam Mahaz (Front for the Defense of Islam) to spearhead the anti-Ismaili campaign. A Karachi-based Ismaili businessman told Asia Times Online via e-mail that the current campaign of Sunni hardliners to declare Ismailis infidels might be in its preliminary stage, but it has already triggered considerable alarm within the community. "There are fears that we will suffer the fate of the Ahmadiyyas," he said.

Like the Ismailis, the Ahmadiyyas have a liberal interpretation of Islam. In 1953, anti-Ahmadiyya violence in Pakistan resulted in the deaths of thousands of Ahmadiyyas. In 1974, the Pakistani constitution was amended to declare Ahmadiyyas non-Muslims, because they do not consider Mohammed to be the last Prophet of Islam. They were subsequently threatened with death if they tried to pass themselves off as Muslims. It is illegal for Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan to pray in mosques or inscribe Islamic prayers on their gravestones. Ismailis now fear that they, too, will be declared non-Muslims and, worse, be targets of mob violence. They have bitter memories of Sunni mob violence.

Continued from Page 2

While the "Western" lifestyle and the "blasphemous beliefs" of the Ismailis might have provoked to some extent Pakistan’s Sunni hardliners, their anger appears to have more to do with concern over the Ismailis’ growing secularizing influence in the educational arena in Pakistan. In addition to innumerable hospitals and charitable organizations, the Aga Khan Foundation runs a network of schools that provide quality education to young Pakistanis. In 2002, the Pakistani government signed an executive order inducting the Aga Khan University Examination Board (AKUEB) into the national education system. The Pakistani government’s announcement that it would allow schools to adopt the system of the AKUEB triggered angry criticism from the Islamists. Jamaat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed issued a warning to the Ismailis that he would launch a campaign against them similar to the one against the Ahmadiyyas. Over the past year, Sunni extremist outfits have launched a virulent smear campaign against the Aga Khan Foundation, its work and the Ismaili community. They have accused the foundation of receiving money from the "enemies of Islam", ie the US, Israel and India, to spread anti-Muslim ideas among the people.

The battle is for control of the minds of young Pakistanis. And the Sunni extremists are fighting in the only way they know - violence, death threats and intimidation. An array of Sunni hardline groups that have otherwise been at loggerheads with one another have come together to fight their common enemy - the challenge posed by the system of education provided by the AKUEB. According to a report in the Daily Times, an English newspaper in Pakistani, the Difa-e-Islam Mahaz hopes to get other Islamic sects including the Shi’ites and Ahle Hadith on board its effort to have a fatwa (decree) declaring Ismailis as non-Muslims. Whether the Shi’ites join the effort to target a sub-sect of their own community remains to be seen. On which side the Shi’ite hawks decide to jump - whether on the side of their Ismaili "brothers" or of their hardline counterparts in the Sunni fold - will significantly determine the contours of the conflict in the coming months.
This article starring:
Difa-e-Islam Mahaz
Posted by Paul Moloney 2005-03-16 12:09:02 AM|| E-Mail|| Front Page|| [468 views since 2007-05-07]  Top

#1 Fred, that's the picture worth a thousand words. *sigh* The more things change, the more that people remain the same?
Posted by trailing wife 2005-03-16 11:27:38 PM||   2005-03-16 11:27:38 PM|| Front Page Top

11:39 Skidmark
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11:20 Frank G
11:20 swksvolFF
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10:56 g(r)omgoru
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10:46 Procopius2k
10:44 g(r)omgoru
10:41 g(r)omgoru
10:40 swksvolFF

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