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Shi'a Pundit

Devoted to the viewpoint of Islam of Muhammad SAW and Amir ul-Mumineen, Ali ibn Abi Talib SA, in the Shi'a Fatimi Ismaili Dawoodi Bohra tradition.

January 1, 2004

being hated for your beliefs.

I don't buy into the assertion that in order to fully understand being hated for your religious beliefs, you need to have personally experienced such hatred. But it certainly helps. via MEMRI, here's what Saudi Wahabists think of Shi'a:

The Muslims should be careful, because the Shi'a do not hesitate to cooperate with the Crusaders and the Jewish enemies [of] the Sunna. The Shi'a believe that the threat of the Sunna and their heresy is greater than the threat posed by the Jews and the Christians. Whoever follows history knows that the Shi'a assisted the enemies of the nation who stabbed her in the back. It suffices that the Shi'a defiled the sanctity of Allah's house and stole the Black Stone [the Ka'ba] for twenty years,[2]before it was brought back to its place. Those who are familiar with the beliefs of the Shi'a can hardly fathom the depth of their evil and hatred. Beware [of] them, Oh Muslims.

We also caution against those who advocate befriending the Shi'a. Such [an] approach can only cause further harm to the nation. To get close to the Shi'a is more dangerous than getting close to the Jews, because the animosity of the Jews is well known, while the Shi'a pretend [to be friendly] and deceive the nation…""How can we approach those who believe that we should curse the followers of the Prophet Muhammad and accuse them of heresy? They, who curse the Prophet's wives and accuse [the Prophet's wife] 'Aisha of prostitution?... If you advocate getting closer to people with such beliefs, then getting closer to Christians is not as bad… [N]ot everyone who maintains that he is Muslim is indeed a Muslim, if his deeds completely nullify Islam …

(the theologian inside me would argue that no one person's deeds can "nullify" Islam, only another's perception of it.)

This is not simply theoretical hatred. It has been acted upon throughout history, directed against Shi'a living in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and many other countries - including India, where my community was horribly persecuted by the ruler Aurangzeb. Neither is it a purely historical hatred. In Najaf, Iraq, the Tomb of Ali AS itself was bombed in an attack which succeeded in assassinating Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, a moderate Ithna-Ashari Shi'a cleric who had advocated cooperation with the US occupying forces.

Lastly, this is not a hatred that I know of solely through Google News. In 1999, I visited Yemen on a religious trip, to pay respects and do pilgrimage to the tombs of past Duat ul-Mutlaqin of the Bohra community. Our community is a sub-sect of the Shi'a Fatimi Ismaili branch of Islam, and our melding of deeply-orthodox belief with full embrace of modernism is well-described in the
excellent ethnography, Mullahs on the Mainframe, by Jonah Blank of the University of Chicago Press.

al-Hutaib mubarakOur home base in Yemen was the mountain stronghold of Hutaib, built by the 3rd Dai Syedna Hatim ibn Muhyiddin al-Hamidi (AQ) in the 12th century. It is a breathtaking achievement, clinging to side of a massive rock, with Syedna Hatim's AQ small mosque perched at the very peak, which accessible only via narrow stone stairs hewn into rock.

From here we took trips by aging Landcruiser all around Yemen, visiting the tombs of past Dai ul-Mutlaqin and other sites of interest to our community's long history in Yemen prior to the movement of the seat of the Dawat to India. One such tomb was that of Syedna Ibrahim ibn al-Husain (AQ), a Dai of the 14th century. The tomb was located in the middle of a small Wahabi village, above a rocky plain whose traversal seriously challenged the limits of Toyota shock absorbers.

When our small group arrived in the village, a small crowd gathered, keeping a distance but displaying a markedly unwelcoming demeanour. Our driver refused to accompany us towards the tomb, insisting on remaining with the car, so we had to walk through the scowling faces alone. When we reached the tomb, several of the young men of the village ran inside ahead of us.

The tomb was slightly raised relative to the surrounding buildings. I was shocked to realize that the villagers had cut a second door into the building, with additional stairs hewn up to the floor level - right through the grave site itself. They had defiled the tomb so that to enter the structure, you tread directly over the resting place. Barely concealing our anger, we entered through the original door, determined to go in, say our duas, prostrate in brief prayer, and leave as quickly as possible.

Inside, however, stood the young men, one armed with a nasty-looking rock. He made it clear in no uncertain terms (and despite the language barrier) that if we bent to our knees to prostrate, they would attack us. We were a small group of a half-dozen pilgrims surrounded by an entire village - but it was still enough to make me almost blind with rage. I could have snapped this fanatic in two, given his relative undernourished size. But even if we survived a confrontation, there would have been serious repercussions for the other pilgrims who were arriving later that day and the rest of the week. We were forced to grudgingly retreat, humiliated and seething with frustration at having our simple desire to express our devotion thwarted.

On the way out of the building, I deliberately dropped something I was holding right near the gravesite and then knelt to pick it up. In so doing I sneaked a hurried pseudo-prostration into my action. It escaped the notice of the rock-wielding fanatic and was, in retrospect, a foolish thing to have done. We encountered no resistance as we made our way back to our useless driver and vehicle, and began the long and bruising drive back to Hutaib.

I can't think of a single incidence which put me so starkly with the face of raw religious intolerance. It affected me profoundly, having stripped away my sheltered sense of invulnerability and leaving me shaking with impotent rage. It was a lesson in reality that I did not want to learn. But I've learned it well enough to know the difference between rational victimization-complex hate and pure religious fervor-driven blind hate.

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Nahj-ul Balagha

About Shi'a Pundit

Shi'a Pundit was launched in 2002 during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The blog focuses on issues pertaining to Shi'a Islam in the west and in the Islamic world. The author is a member of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. Bohras adhere to the Shi'a Fatimi tradition of Islam, headed by the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS).

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