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Is Another Wave Of Sectarian Violence Unfolding In Pakistan?

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The Muttahida Sunni Council successfully held its “Azmate Sahaba wa Ahle Bait” march close to top security zones of Islamabad on Thursday (September 17). Thousands of people participated in the rally.

The gathering was a continuation of the council’s earlier conference with the same name, held in Karachi on September 12. The conferences targeted Shia Muslims of the country, ostensibly in retaliation to some controversial remarks passed by a Shia cleric in Muharram about the companions of the Holy Prophet (pbuh).

Formed under mysterious circumstances, the council is a conglomerate of different Sunni (Deobandi) outfits, notably Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (formerly Sipahe Sahaba Pakistan, which is now banned). It has planned rallies and marches in different cities in the coming days. The council is making demands for the arrest and punishment of all Shia clerics who (in their view) passed blasphemous remarks against the Prophet’s companions in the recent past. It is also calling for the passing of legislation in this respect. Many observers are seeing this as a means to marginalise the already persecuted Shia community further.

Parallel to the council’s march in Islamabad, the country’s top religious party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F), organised a mass meeting in Chitral, KP, while the pan-Islamist organization, Jamaat-e-Islami, held a sit-in in front of Punjab chief minister’s office in Lahore.

Maulana Fazlur Rahman and Sirajul Haq, heads of the JUI-F and JI respectively, addressed the gatherings and targeted the PTI government’s policies.

Both the parties earlier organised separate Khatme Nabuwwat conferences in Peshawar on September 6 and September 7. They reiterated their commitments to resist, what they call, the “Ahmedi propaganda”, which Maulana Fazlur Rahman claims is being pushed under the “pro-Qadiani” Imran Khan government.

Jamaat-e-Islami organized Tahaffuze Khatme Nabuwwat Conference on August 24 at its headquarters in Mansoora, Lahore, which was attended by the Sunni (Barelvi and Deobandi) custodians of shrines from across the country. It also plans to host another Tahafuzze Khatme Nabuwwat Conference at Mansoora on September 24. Invitations for the second conference have been sent out, including to Moavia Azam, an MPA from Jhang.

Meanwhile, the Barelvi Sunnis, who were generally considered moderate and who make up the majority of Pakistani Muslim population, have also recently become active. The Azmate Sahaba wa Ahle Bait march in Karachi on September 12 was organised by one of the main parties of the Barelvi school, the Sunni Tehreek, and was attended by thousands of its followers. Many top Sunni clerics from across the country, including the grand mufti of Pakistan, Mufti Muneebur Rahman, addressed the participants at the rally.

The most interesting development amid all these events is the expected meeting between Maulana Fazlur Rahman and Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi, reports of which are doing the rounds in the religious organisations. The leaders of the two largest Deobandi and Barelvi organisations respectively are expected to meet sometime during the next three weeks. When contacted, however, they remained tight-lipped about the possibilities of the meeting.

This is part 1 of a two-part story.

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