By Tanya Shabu

Over thirty thousand people joined to protest in Karachi to display their anti- Shia sentiments, after certain Shia leaders made comments about historic Islamic figures on a television broadcast. Protestors went around Karachi, one of the most highly populated cities in Pakistan, while chanting “Shias are kaffir (disbelievers)” and holding banners with the writing “Sipah- e- Sahaba” the name of a terrorist organization that has been linked to the killings of Shias for years. The anti- Shia comments were made during the Ashura procession. Ashura is an important day for Shia Muslims as it commemorates the killing of prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein at the battle of Karbala in 680 AD— this was the defining moment that gave birth to Shia Islam.

During the period of the protests #shiagenocide was the most trending hashtag in Pakistan. As the young Pakistanis came together in social media sites to shine light on their disapproval on the aggression towards the minority. The rally was organized by the Sunni organization Jamaat Ahle Sunnat and the Islamic party Tehreek- e- Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), both these groups are known for organizing violent protests in the past. Sectarian violence has been present in Pakistan for decades, with incidents of anti- Shia militant groups bombing shrines and targeting Ashura processions that have killed thousands.

People who are against these violent protests against the Shia Muslim blamed the prime minister Imran Khan, who,in the past has made comments against the Shia Muslims and has done very little to lower the tension against minorities. It is also important to note that to this day, insensitive remarks made against Islam can result in a death penalty according to the Pakistani constitution. The Pakistani government is not only failing to help minorities, but making it harder for the Shia Muslims to be heard. For instance, the arrest of the journalist Bilal Farooqi, a known reporter who covers news on sectarian violence and organizations, who was arrested during the anti- Shia protests.

Karachi TLP chief Allam Abid Mubara spoke during the rally and said “if you play with the religious sentiments of the Sunni, we will not tolerate it” he also added that Sunni people could ultimately “get their heads cut off, but can also behead other people”. Despite these aggressive comments that were mentioned, Mufti- Muneed- ur- Rehman who was the event’s main speaker insisted that the rally was aimed to “promote peace”.