With the arrival of the holy month of Moharram, conversations and fears arose in Shia communities and whether the Moharram commemorations were celebrated as usual, or whether they followed the amendments amid the Kovid-19 pandemic. The tenth of Muharram (Ashura) refers to the martyrdom of Imam Husain (RA), the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh), and is the largest gathering of Shia Muslims in the respective countries around the world. While the Ashura procession is a passionate religious tradition for many Shia Muslims, it symbolizes much more for the Hazaras of Quetta.
In addition to the security threats that the Hazara community must face from terrorists, there is an additional challenge of infectious disease this year. Although official data shows a sharp decline in positive Covid-19 cases in Pakistan, the risk of exacerbation or the emergence of a second wave continues. Because of the risk of spreading the coronavirus, local authorities did not allow a public commemoration of the Yom-e-Ali parade in May this year, and there were fears in many Shia communities in Quetta for this year’s Ashura procession.
At the beginning of the year, Hazara Shia in Quetta had to be the victim of a coronavirus outbreak in Pakistan, and was therefore subjected to religious discrimination. Hazara Shia, a victim of systematic genocide and facing discrimination of all kinds for decades now, sees the epidemic as a new tool for their further arrest. So the insecurities seem to force the community to march on the Ashura.
Haji Jawad is the general secretary of the Balochistan Shia Conference (commonly known as the Shia Conference), the main organizing body of the Ashura and Yom-e-Ali processions in Quetta. He said,
“The Ashura procession in Quetta dates back to at least 1850 and the path of the Ashura procession has not changed since independence of Pakistan.”
“The Ashura procession is not only a religious ritual but also of political significance; This is one of the indicators of our existence as stakeholders in the city ”.
Ashura is not only integral to a sense of religious identity but also symbolizes the political resistance of the Hazara community. It anchored the expressions of the community and was a powerful tool for social and political preparedness. Dr Abdul Rahim Changzi, an assistant professor in the Department of Social Work at the University of Balochistan, said.
“People are proud to be part of the biggest gathering of the year and showcase to other communities that we exist and in such numbers. We can be one on one agenda and we can shut down the city one day.”
Deputy Commissioner of Quetta (DC) u Rangazib Badini, speaking on pandemic and religious independence, said that the Yom-e-Ali procession conducted by Hazara Shias in Quetta caused severe discontent among the Sunni population.
“The majority (Sunni community) thought the Friday prayers, Taraweeh and Iftar gatherings were blocked but the Shia communities were freed from their usual mourning”.
In an effort to maintain administrative balance in treating communities (Shia and Sunni), he asked, “Why should it (Ashura procession) be in this particular way in the bazaar; Why not be in the stadium for example? ”
Dr. Changezi strongly disagreed and argued,
“When the Ashura procession was attacked (in 2004), the Jamiyat (Ulama-e Islam, Sunni religious party) and the Pushtunkhwa (Pashtun nationalist political party) recommended that we confine our gatherings to the building, mosque or grounds. It will cause political harm. So, if there is an explosion in mosques, should we even close them? ”
Understanding the dangers of the Kovid-19 transmission and the government’s concerns in this regard, Haji Jawad explained, “They (Hazara Shia) will follow government SOPs for this year’s parade but there will be no change in route.” Hajara Democratic Party (HDP) MPA Qadir Nayel responded that the HDP understood the religious and cultural significance of the Ashura procession and opposed any recommendations of possible changes in its historical path.
DC Quetta cited the verdict of Ayatollah al-Sistani, which urged Shia Muslims to cooperate with their governments in commemoration of Muharram and Ashura. He lamented that the Shiites in Pakistan wanted to organize a general parade in huge numbers. He argued that the administration was not aiming to curb aggression but only asked people to be accountable and to follow SOPs.
For the Hazara community, not organizing the Ashura procession paves the way for their marginalization and restrictions on their religious freedom. Kazim, Hayat Imambaraga Wali Asr Hazara Town President,
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