Identity: Sunni, Shia, Pakistani

Read my piece for Desi Writers Lounge's (DWL) Write for Justice - Creative Responses to the Hazara Conflict here.

A sickness is consuming Pakistan from the inside out. Every day, the country bleeds afresh. 

Edited March 5, 2013: The article I wrote for DWL is posted below. 

Identity: Sunni, Shia, Pakistani

My grandmother, a Shia, migrated to Lahore from Amritsar in 1947. At a refugee camp in the newly created Pakistan, she met my grandfather, a Sunni man, broken after the death of his first wife. He married her against the wishes of his family and brought her to his ancestral home in Old City Lahore.

I would like to think that when my grandparents met, they did not ask each other whether they were Sunni or Shia. I would like to think that it simply did not matter. But it did. It mattered to the point that when my grandmother died after 15 years of marriage, my grandfather was forbidden from burying her in the family plot. Since my grandfather’s family was influential in the city, every graveyard in the immediate vicinity refused to accommodate a Shia immigrant’s dead body. Her children cried next to her corpse on a charpoy for hours until a kindly neighbor offered a burial spot in his cellar. And so a neighbor’s house became my grandmother’s final resting place.

My father was raised Sunni by my grandfather, but a son is always partial to what his mother teaches him. A few years ago he put up the Alam on the rooftop of his office building. A report of this recent development reached my husband, who asked me about it. His extended family began to wonder whether I was Shia. I found out that at one point, I was scrutinized by someone who will go unnamed while offering my prayer to glean more information about my religious inclination. The fact that my father wore black all the time and had displayed the Alam openly made some people in my family uneasy.

I decided to have a chat with my father about this. I was furious with him because of several other things that a father and daughter are bound to disagree on, and so I introduced this topic as a way to fuel the raging fire.

“So, are you going around as Shia now?” I barked.

“What? Where is this coming from?” He asked.

“Well, I am told you have the Alam at your office now.”

“I do. And what I practice is none of your damn business.”

He slammed the phone down. I deserved that and more. I cannot believe that I had the audacity to ask him this question just to hurt him, even though I have always identified myself as both Shia and Sunni because of my grandparents, technicalities and subdivisions and religious decrees be damned.

This is the extent to which sectarian discrimination is ingrained into the hearts and minds of Muslims in Pakistan. I am admitting my weakness in that moment. I am deeply, nay, horrifically ashamed of the question I asked my father and the way in which it came out – accusatory – as if he had committed a sin.

Today, I am proud of my heritage as I have always been. I am both Sunni and Shia. I am Muslim. I am human. For god’s sake we are all human. And I am afraid for my friends and family in Pakistan. I am afraid for my father who still has the Alam perched on his office building. I am afraid for my friends whose names identify them as Shias, easy targets for a fanatic’s bullet.
But I will not let my fear silence me. I am Shia and Sunni and Pakistani. And I am standing alongside the families of all those who were massacred. The demands of the nation are simple: The culprits must be punished; they must be brought to justice; sectarian violence must have serious consequences; Shia murders must be stopped. Now.