IslamTimes: Can you tell us very briefly – before we come to details – what was the protest about?
Syed Mujtaba: The reason was to call for a stop to Shia genocide in Pakistan and bring these matters to the attention of higher authorities, who we are asking to take action against the killers of Professor Sibte Jaffer Zaidi.
IslamTimes: When did such sectarian violence against Shias in Pakistan all start?
Syed Mujtaba: It started in 1980 just after the dictatorship of General Zia. It has been 33 years so far. It was planted and promoted by foreign countries who formed close ties with General Zia and he formed small groups – I have no fear in mentioning the names of the groups – it started with Lakshar E Janghavi (LEJ) then we saw Sipah e Sahaba (SSP) and now it is becoming like an entire company under Tehrike Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
IslamTimes: Can you tell us, for the sake of the international community, who was General Zia?
Syed Mujtaba: He was an army general. He was a fanatic and an extremist. He ruled over Pakistan for 11 years. He was involved in several mass killings in Pakistan. In fact, he was even against the Islamic revolution in Iran and relied a lot on Saudi Arabia – helped them to promote their brand of Islam. I think there is nothing wrong with bringing something new in the country, but in this case it was nothing but extremism. They promoted hatred against Shias – it is not like Shias a small number in Pakistan. I mean, the 40 million Shias in Pakistan make up 15% of the population. It is the second largest religious group after Sunni Muslims. But they have been prosecuted, resulting in several thousand deaths.
What we highlighted in our protest was that the genocide of Shia Muslims is an on-going process. The state has completely failed. I’m not saying it is just the current era but they have failed to protect the Shia community. They have failed to provide justice in any era – whether it was during dictatorship, martial law or democracy – they have all failed. According to figures I have, about 20,000 Shias in Pakistan have been killed over the past 15 years. It is becoming a very serious situation in Pakistan.
IslamTimes: That is indeed a very shocking number. So just to clarify, before 1980, there was no sectarian violence at all?
Syed Mujtaba: Nothing. There was nothing. There were minor disagreements like there would be within different sects but it was just on a minor domestic level. We have got ways in which we promote our religion – through juloos, imambarghas – so some disagreements always happened but there was never any killings happening. Now it is becoming a massacre.
IslamTimes: What is the reason that these terrorist groups give? What is their objective? What are they trying to achieve?
Syed Mujtaba: They don’t want to kill Shias. They want to kill the message of Sayyed-ush-Shuhada (Prince of martyrs) Imam Hussain (as). They are not against the Shias as individuals in Bahrain, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria and so on – they want to cover and hide history. Now the message of Imam Hussain is even famous in the International community, not just Muslims. They simply want to hide the message of Imam Hussain (as).
IslamTimes: Is that because the message of Imam Hussain (as) disagrees with their version of Islam?
Syed Mujtaba: Well you, see, it todays so called civilised world, there are mediums and parameters through which to express your views and make your arguments. You can’t just go around calling someone a Kafir like they do. There have been debates held in the past in places like Najaf and they could not win those debates on any grounds so the only thing for them is now to try and erase the message of the prophet (saww) and our imams (as). You can’t talk to these people, they are simply against us. You can see what is going on in Syria right now. 15 years back it happened in Iraq and Afghanistan and now it is happening in Pakistan.
IslamTimes: Do these groups have friends or affiliations in the current government in Pakistan?
Syed Mujtaba: Of course. It is everywhere. Just do a Google search. There are people who have researched in to this and documented it. There are people who have affiliations with, for example PMLN – Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz Sharif group. They ruled in Pakistan about 5 times and during their times the killers are always out of jail. Now it is the same. Their foreign minister and their law minister have been called to court several times. It is clear now and everyone knows this.
IslamTimes: So if it so clear that the government has failed, do you think the Shias in Pakistan need to build their own defence force, maybe like Hezbollah in Lebanon?
Syed Mujtaba: No I don’t think so. Pakistan has different dynamics. This is not the right time. It might happen but at the moment it is a very important time because of elections and we hope these elections will bring reasonable leadership in our country.
IslamTimes: Which candidate do you think will bring change if elected?
Syed Mujtaba: In my opinion, Imran Khan. I don’t think he can win alone but together with General Musharraf they can work together to bring change in Pakistan. Imran Khan hasn’t held an elective post yet but he has got good support. In general Musharraf’s time, I have seen clearly in my own city Karachi, the military attacking these terrorist groups. They took the best action I have ever seen. They even banned all these groups – that is what I liked about Musharraf’s time – they made it illegal to even register their names. They banned all the groups, including ours but that is because they did not want to seem like they are favouring one group over the other. During his time, Shias were well protected – not only Shias but all Pakistanis. That’s why these terrorist groups and other political groups aligned against General Musharraf and he lived in exile. He is back now. So in my opinion, Imran Khan and General Musharraf are a good option for us.
IslamTimes: Have the mainstream Sunni ulema in Pakistan condemned these actions?
Syed Mujtaba: Yes. 57-60% of Sunni Muslims in Pakistan are Barelvi Sunnis which we call moderate Sunni. These statistics are from the DAWN group. They are clearly against the terrorists. In fact, the groups such as SSP and LEJ have even attacked the Sunni leadership. They are also being prosecuted and now both parties are in court. The truth is, whoever spends the most money will be the most powerful in Pakistan.
IslamTimes: I just want to divert slightly to the issue of drone attacks by the US military in Pakistan. Do you think these drone attacks help terrorist groups recruit people?
Syed Mujtaba: Well, the US play a double game in Pakistan. They want to show the World that they are fighting terrorism so they have these drone attacks and they have NATO forces on the ground. They want to show the World that Pakistan is not a safe haven so it is them who are helping to save the country. But it is a double game. This is all planted by the USA.
IslamTimes: What I meant was: We know that unmanned drone attacks in Pakistan have led to the deaths of civilians. In fact majority of the victims – over 90% are civilians. So these civilians who are affected – their families, wouldn’t they be more prone to falling into terrorist propaganda and join these groups seeking revenge or out of anger?
Syed Mujtaba: Yes you are right. Not everyone but definitely people join these groups because of this. I don’t know the figures – you said over 90% - I’m not sure about the figures but there are people who are joining these groups.
However, these groups are not very strong. If the Pakistan government and military take serious actions against them, it would not take long to get rid of them. We don’t have the right leadership –that is the problem. You can see in Musharraf’s time, it was peak of war in Afghanistan but nothing was happening in Pakistan. Now the war is diverting from Afghanistan to Pakistan and it is the responsibility of the government to resolve this together with the armed forces. They are actually scared of the army. I mean, they attack schools, colleges, juloos processions – it is not bravery. It is cowardice. They killed Professor Sibte Jaffer – it is not an example of bravery. He was returning home from college unarmed on a motor cycle and they gunned him down. It shows how scared they are. We can definitely handle it if the government is serious about it.
IslamTimes: Do you have anything to add?
Syed Mujtaba: Our main focus in this protest was Professor Sibte Jaffer Zaidi and to sake the government to deliver justice in this matter.
IslamTimes: Can you tell us a little bit about this man, Professor Sibte Jaffer?
Syed Mujtaba: The whole World is asking this question because all around the World people were talking about him. He was actually an institution, not just a man. A 20th grade officer, a college principal, a teacher, a mentor, he ran a school for 1000 students, he recited poems, what we call qasidas, nauhas and marsiyas about the Ahlul Bayt. He was a model human being, known for his simplicity and honesty. He has received many awards including honorary award from Harvard University. The reason he is remembered so much is because he had set up several free educational institutes in Karachi, benefitting thousands of people. He was also overseeing several charities and orphanages. All he had was one motorbike – costing 20,000 Pakistani Rupees which is about 150 pounds. Remember, he was a 20th grade officer, a principal of a college – instead of spending his money on himself or his family, he chose to spend it in helping needy people. He ran a school near Karachi in Sindh, where not only Muslims but even Hindus studied for free. People called him ustadh for his brilliant recitations about Ahlul Bayt and he trained hundreds of other reciters. As I said, he was not a man. He was an entire institution.
IslamTimes: So because he represented so many things and was a Shia Muslim, he was the perfect target for these people?
Syed Mujtaba: Yes, absolutely.
IslamTimes: Thank you very much for your time, we appreciate it.