Shia Ismailis has to proof their Islam - Ismailis in Deadly Education Spat...by Sudha Ramachandran
- Is it clear what Ismailis believe in. Ismailis believe that Ali is God and God is Ali. But Shia Ithna Asheri believe that who ever believe Ali as God is Kaafir.Now what is the believe of Ismailis. Do Ismailis follow the Holy Quran as Muslims both Shia Ithna Asheri and Sunni beleive in. Do Ismailis take all resources of Islamic Education from the Holy Qur'an and Ahadith of Prophet Muhmammed.Do Ismaili say 5 times prayers as Shia Ithna Asheri and Sunni does.Do Ismaili fast in the Holy Month of Ramadhan or they have different interpretation of fasting. Many questions arise, Ismailis have to make clear first to be beleiver of Islam taught by Prophet Muhammed s.a.w.ASIA TIMES OnlineSouth AsiaMar 11, 2005Ismailis in deadly education spatBy Sudha Ramachandran
BANGALORE - 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 AgaKhan'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) believethey 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. In 1947, Pakistan was created as a home for the subcontinent's Muslims. It is overwhelmingly Muslim; 70% of the population is Sunni and 20% Shi'ite. The Sunni-Shi'ite rivalry, which goes back centuries, exploded into violent bloodletting since the 1980s. More than 4,000 people have been killed in the sectarian violence in Pakistan. While Pakistan has not witnessed Hindu-Muslim riots - some would suggest that this is because Hindus have either fled to India or keep a very low profile in the country - sectarian violencehas occurred often with various minority sects being targeted. For instance, Ahmadiyyas have been persecuted from the 1950s onwards.
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 declarednon-Muslims and, worse, be targets of mob violence. They have bitter memories of Sunni mob violence. In 1982, in the Chitral area in northwestern Pakistan, about 60 Ismailis are reported to have been killed and their community buildings burned down. In recent years, employees of the Aga Khan Foundation have been attacked.
The Aga Khan Foundation is involved in extensive development work in Pakistan, especially in the fields of education, health, socio-economic development and so on. In January, Sunni extremists gunned down a prominent Ismaili leader and scholar in Gilgit. The killing was aimed at stoking sectarian tension in the region and it was successful in doing so for violent riots raged in the area for days. The violent targeting of Ismailis comes against a backdrop of growing anti-Ismaili feelings. This should be viewed in the context of post-September 11, 2001, anti-Western/Christian feelings among Sunni hardliners in Pakistan. Sunni militant groups have targeted Christians several times in recent years. Sunni hardliners have often accused the Aga Khan of working with Israel and the US against the interests of the Pakistani state. While the "Western" lifestyle and the "blasphemous beliefs" of the Ismailis might haveprovoked 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 AgaKhan 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 AKUEB follows the British O-level and A-level system of education. So far, access to this system has been limited to the rich. The induction of the AKUEB into the national education system would make it affordable and therefore accessible to a larger number of people.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.
They have criticized the curriculum of the AKUEB as undermining the tenets of Islam. The Sunni hardliners have misrepresented the work the Aga Khan Foundation is doing with regard to women's reproductive health. They have accused it of encouraging "immoral lifestyles" and introducing "a free-sexenvironment".
The Jamaat has accused the AKUEB of secularizing the country through the introduction of this system. However, the ordinance allowing the AKUEB system states that it would follow the national curriculum and syllabus. So what are the Sunni hardliners scared of, especially since the adoption of the AKUEB system is voluntary?
The Ismaili businessman argues, "Sunni hardliners fear that the AKUEB system being more efficient, more people - including those who have hitherto been forced to opt for the madrassa education the Islamic fundamentalists offer - will now go for the AKUEB education."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. There is little reason Shi'ite hardliners would want to hold hands with their Sunni counterparts.
After all, relations between the two, which have been marked by violence and bloodletting over the past two decades, have deteriorated considerably over the past couple of years. Pakistan's Sunni majority largely considers Shi'ites as infidels. However, Shi'ite hardliners are as insecure with the Aga Khan Foundation's work and the system of education it provides as are the Sunni hawks. They feel threatened that it would shrink the size of the turf over which they wield influence.
A new dimension has been added to sectarian violence in Pakistan, which has generally run along the Sunni-Shi'ite divide, with Ismailis emerging as the main targets of Sunni hardliners. 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.
Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in Bangalore.Check the discussion forum on: http://forum.atimes.com/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=811<>
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