The Islamic new year 1435 begins this week. Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar. It is one of the four sacred months of the year in which fighting is prohibited. Muharram is derived from the word 'haram', meaning 'forbidden.' It is so called because it is unlawful to fight during this month. For some Muslims, however, this is the deadliest of all times, and by this I mean the Shia Muslims who are persecuted as they try and perform their religious duty.
This Muharam could be a very violent Muharam for Pakistani Shia. On November 2 the Pakistan Interior Minister mourned the killing of terrorist Hakimullah Mehsud, who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Shia. The minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, said of the drone strike:
"This is not just the killing of one person, it's the death of all peace efforts."
Contrast this with the reaction two days after the All Party Conference at which it was agreed to hold peace talks with the Taliban, when General Niazi of the Pakistan Army was assassinated. It did not make big news nor was there any mention of peace process being sabotaged. Yet after the death of Mehsud an immediate press conference was summoned for the Interior Minister to say Pakistan would review it's relations with the US.
Under the Pakistan Taliban leader Mehsud, his brutal and heartless organisation slaughtered Pakistani soldiers and civilians, targeting Shia Muslims, and almost derailed this year's general election by selectively targeting liberal parties.
Yet this mass murderer is given a higher respect than an army General. This is calculated to demoralize the security forces, some 8,000 of whom have lost their lives fighting extremism.
On the same day as the Minister's speech, 6 Shia Hazara were killed, but the massacre wasn't even worthy of mention..
Security has been removed from the homes of prominent Shia families despite the fact that they are the most likely to be targeted for the revenge attacks expected after Mehsud's death.
Meanwhile, the Punjab government has begun a process to destroy Shia practices in the name of security, and has given it a legal cover. What the likes of Saudi Arabian-inspired outfits Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ, aka Sipah Sahaba) have been demanding for years will now be done by the democratically elected government of Punjab.
On Friday Oct 25, 2013, the Environment Minister of Punjab, announced that this time the month of Moharram will be regulated by the Punjab government with the following measures:
1. All unregistered Shia meetings (majalis) and processions (jaloos) will be banned.
2. Shia speakers will require a government licence, to be allowed to address the majalis.
3. Shia speakers will not be allowed to provoke people.
4. Shias will not be allowed to use loudspeakers for the majalis.
All fascism begins in the name of legality and general goodness, even in the name of the 'good' of the victim. This programme is a good example, and here is an analysis of what it means on the ground.
Unregistered meetings and processions
For centuries, the Shias of the subcontinent have been holding meetings and taking out processions to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and his companions. Shia religious meetings are not, and have never been, of proselytizing or provocative nature. Why should they have to get registered in order to perform their religious duty?
What now is the consequence of this ruling? If the Shia hold 'unregistered' meetings, they will have broken the law. If they protest against denial of registration, they will be breaking the law. And if they stop mourning, they will be conceding that the lawfulness of their beliefs is subject to the government's regulatory discretion.
Permit for Shia speakers
There is not a hint of what the criteria will be for issuing the permit, but the fear is that it will be denied when it is suspected that the applicant would 'provoke'.
In the past, no Shia speaker has been convicted or even blamed for being provocative.
On the other hand the ASWJ/LEJ have demanded that Shia must leave Pakistan; that they should be legally pilloried as 'Kufr'; that they should be barred from all key positions, and that Pakistan should be an exclusively Sunni state.
A law against incitement to religious hatred would definitely be useful in Pakistan, but a law requiring permission in advance for religious speeches would violate Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, though Malaysia is one of the few states that haven't signed it.
Not allowed to be provocative
Shia speakers in rural areas do react emotionally to provocation by Takfiris, whose messages of hate should indeed be prohibited by law, but this does not happen during the month of Moharram, the month of mourning. Shia speakers do not say a word against Sunnis; they merely refute Takfiri propaganda against their faith.
Ban on loudspeakers
Prohibiting the use of loudspeakers specifically at Shia religious meetings during the holy month of Muharram is a direct attack on the rights of Shia to propagate their faith, as they always have done. Again, it is an assault on their religious freedom.
There is only one conclusion to be drawn from these four 'legal' measures to be implemented in the province of Punjab, and nowhere else in Pakistan. This is a move by the Punjab government to deny the Shia the right to their mourning practices, a cornerstone of their faith, as a step towards the eradication of Shiism in Pakistan. Yet despite the billions of dollars invested by Saudi Arabia in their murderous acolytes the ASWJ and the LeJ, whose terrorists have slaughtered 700 Shia so far this year, the Shia continue to practice their faith. It will take more than petty regulations to extinguish beliefs that have been held for over 1,500 years.