By M Ghazali Khan
No matter how much we try to run away from ground realities, do sweet talking and keep on emphasising on the need and importance of unity of the Muslim Ummah, the fact is that we continue facing the punishment of the violation by Muslims of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH)’s warning 1400 years ago that ‘Never draw your sword against the other of my ummah, Once if it is, it will not go back in its sheath till the Doomsday.’ (Mishkat-ul-Masabih).
The smouldering fire of hatred among Muslim Ummah that flared up and caused the great tragedy of Karbala is refusing to die down till today. This could be one of the other several methods of the Master of the universe to test His servants. But to pass this test, the only way, it seems, is to adopt the middle path, avoid reviving old controversies and stop behaving like eye witnesses to those painful tragedies that took place long gone years ago, and move forward. Let’s not forget that on the Day of Judgement we will be questioned about the role we are playing in the world we are living in and not about the actions of previous generations. Therefore we need to play our role with open hearted honesty and fairness and be prepared to denounce the wrongs and injustices being committed before our own eyes today.
After the overthrow of Raza Shah Pehelvi and Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 a very attractive and inspiring slogan, ‘La Sunnia, La Shi’ia, Islamia Islamia’ (No Sunni, No Shi’a Only Islam, Only Islam) was heard from Tehran. After several centuries the news of the overthrow of a powerful and autocratic king and implementation of Islamic laws in its place, such a slogan was sweet music to the ears of every Muslim who had longed for unity in the Ummah and Supremacy of Islam.
In those days I was a student at Aligarh. Contrary to the belief that only Sunnis belonging to a certain organisation sympathised with the Islamic Revolution of Iran, each and every Muslim who was opposed sectarianism and division within the Ummah welcomed it and I was one of them.
I remember the speech delivered by Shi’a a’lim late Maulana Kalbe Abid Saheb in Kennedy Hall in which he said that to call the Islamic revolution of Iran a Shi’a revolution was sheer injustice. Explaining his point further he said that Iran being a Shi’a majority country the implementation of Shi’a jurisprudence there was natural. Just like the implementation of Sunni jurisprudence would be applied when an Islamic revolution takes place in a Sunni majority country.
Few months later news came of the executions of Shia ulema in Iraq and a protest meeting was held in Kennedy Hall and that was attended by many Sunni and Shi’a ulema who deplored Saddam Hussain’s brutality in the strongest possible language.
When I compare today’s sectarian-hate-filled atmosphere to that environment echoing by the chants of La Sunnia, la Shii’a, Islamia Islamia, it looks like a dream shattered. But it is not that the massacre in Syria today has broken this dream. The task of creating cracks in it had started from Iran itself and what we have witnessed in Syria now is merely a climax.
In those days of the success of Islamic Revolution in Iran and in the mesmerising atmosphere of slogans calling for the unity of Ummah, I had befriended with some Iranian students who used to give me several Iranian publications to read. It was through these publications that I learnt about Iranian scholar Dr Ali Shariati and had a chance to read some of his writings. I also read his Sociology of Islam and was impressed by him.
Then to my surprise all of a sudden Dr Shariati’s writings stopped coming in those publications and then I learnt that he had lost all the love between him and the mullahs. Had he not died in suspicious circumstances in 1975, then he could have also been one of those who were sent to gallows after being tagged as foreign agents.
My illusion about Iran’s Islamic revolution got started dissipating while I was still a student when I came across blasphemous writings in some Iranian publications against some companions of the Holy prophet. However, when it was pointed out these publications were removed from the Iranian centre/library that had been established by Iranian students in Dodhpur, Aligarh.
Then a news hotly started circulating in the campus that Ayatullah Khomeini had refused to see a delegation from Lucknow and had asked them go to back and firstly resolve Shi’a-Sunni differences in Lucknow. Only Allah knows how authentic it was. But when you have good opinion or high regard for an individual or a group you tend to believe anything good about them especially when it seems to be fulfilling your own wish. Like many other likeminded students I also believed it.
We can’t judge what is in someone’s heart as only, ‘Allah knows what is in your hearts. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Forbearing.’ (Qur’an, 33:51). But from all the news coming out of Iran later it started becoming pretty clear that the call of unity of Ummah was merely a slogan.
News now had also started coming of ‘exporting’ the Iranian revolution to other countries. It is nature’s phenomena that during any water seepage, water first makes its way through the weakest seam. For Iran the weakest point was its neighbouring country Pakistan. News of Iranian literature being spread in Pakistan were already in circulation. Then in 1982 a Shi’a-Sunni riot broke out in Karachi making an Iranian diplomat lose control over his hidden desire and prompted him to declare, ‘This is the beginning of an Islamic Revolution in Pakistan.’
Pakistan protested against the statement and, as far as I can recall, Iranian Government had to recall that diplomat. However, it would be unfair not to blame Saudi Arabia and Iran both for the present spread of sectarian hatred in Pakistan. However it is a separate topic to explore.
After coming to London in 1983 I had the chance to interact with some more Iranian students. After talking to them I learnt that to them excepting their own government, each and every government in the world was hypocrite. And those simple minded people who wanted to give them some latitude and still had good opinion about their sincerity and were still optimistic about the ‘Islamic Revolution’ attributed it to their youthful zeal and inexperience. But when I talked to Shi’a friends from Pakistan I had an interesting observation. They were opposed to Zia-ul-Haq not for his wrong policies and dictatorship but for sectarian reasons. It was interesting to see their enthusiasm for Islamic Revolution in Iran but a distaste of Islamisation in Pakistan. It was all right, in the name of unity, for Sunnis in Tehran to be denied the right to build a separate mosque of their own but in Pakistan introduction of compulsory Zakat by the government was unfair (in Fiqha-e-Jafriah government cannot force the people to pay and collect Zakat from its citizens).
There is no doubt that Saddam Hussain was a brute dictator. One of his several other mistakes was the attack on Iran. No Muslim as well can agree with the racist ideology of Pan-Arabism of Gulf states. Feeling threatened by an ‘Islamic Revolution’ in a Muslim country, the weak governments of these states persuaded and helped Saddam to attack Iran in 1980 and supported him in the eight year long war that ended in 1988. However, the then President of Syria Hafez al Assad, an Alawite Baathist— regarded by the Mullahs of Iran as a kafir — and who believed in the philosophy of pan-Arabism and secularism supported the Islamic Iran against the Baathist, and an Arab, Saddam Hussain who had much common with him. And the Mullahs, who regarded everyone else except themselves as hypocrites, welcomed the support of a secular Baathist. Later they supported Syria at every step and the ugliest climax of which has been their connivance in the massacre in Aleppo.
Injustice and oppression is a curse and must be deplored regardless of where it is done and who is the oppressor and who the victims are. Iran is justified in protesting, and has every right to do so, against the unfair treatment meted out on Shi’as in the Gulf. But should the country demanding justice in other countries not set its own house in order first? Why does it brand and condemn everyone who raises the issue of injustice with Iranian Sunnis labelled as wahabis, Saudi agents or the supporters of Al Qaidah or Daesh?
The most ridiculous term being used by the Iranian media for Daesh and organisations like them is Takfeeri. This is not to defend Daesh or its heart-wrenching crimes against humanity. However, in the situation in which we are, one fails to understand which Muslim sect is not Takfeeri. And who is guiltier of it than the Shi’a scholars who have not even spared the first three caliphs and the wife of the Prophet (PBUH) and mother of the faithful Aisha (RA).
Almost everyone in the Sunni world has condemned the crimes of Daesh. Many scholars have gone as far as declaring them as non-Muslims. But, sadly, except the former Secretary General of Hezbullah, Subhi al-Tufayli, there has been no condemnation from any other Shi’a of the massacre of innocent men, women and children in Syria. Far from deploring the annihilation of civilians they have instead condemned Subhi al-Tufaili as a Saudi agent.
When it comes to playing politics, Iran has not hesitated in using even as important act of obligatory worship as Hajj. Instead of training its pilgrims to maintain decency and unity during Hajj, it continues to defend their chants of marsias and the slogans of ‘Ya Hussain‘ when millions of Muslims gathered there are busy glorifying Allah SWT and reciting Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik. I am sure everyone who has had the privilege of performing Hajj will have seen them doing so while going from Mina to Muzdalifa.
The fact is that there is a large Sunni community in Iran about that not much is known in the outside world. Like the Shi’as, they had played equally important role in overthrowing the Shah. Even in the first Majlis (Parliament), formed after the Revolution there were three Sunni members: Maulana Abdul Aziz, Hameedullah Muradi (both elected from Sunni majority province Baluchistan) and Allama Mufti Zadeh (nominated).
Despite several attempts, I have been unable to find any Sunni organisation in London that could brief me any further on this subject. However, the news coming from Iran suggests that instead of improving the situation of Sunnis in Iran it has only worsened since 1992, the time when I had interviewed in London Ali Akbar Mulla Zade ,the son of Maulana Abdul Aziz (a graduate of Darul Uloom Deoband), who then headed External Affairs Committee of the newly formed Majlis-e-Ala Ahl-e-Sunnat, Iran.
This interview was published in Delhi based Urdu weekly Akbar-e-Nao, then edited by Mr M Afzal, who later became member in Indian Parliament and also served as an Indian ambassador to Angola and Turkmenistan.
For the interest of the readers I am producing full translation of that interview:
Q: Your father was himself a member of the Majlis and a great supporter of Islamic Revolution. Why are you unhappy with the Revolution?
A: First of all, my father was an elected representative and it was neither a favour to him nor the Sunnis for including him in the Majlis. Secondly in bringing to an end the monarchy and paving the way for the implementation of Islamic rule, Sunnis had made as much sacrifices as were offered by the Shi’as because we believed that after the King was gone, Iran would become an ideal Islamic state. But when the Government was formed and country’s constitution was formulated, Shi’ism was declared as the official religion of the state and a clause was added in it making it necessary that only a Shi’a could hold the office of the president, vice president or other high posts. This triggered protests by the Sunnis. Baluchistan was worst hit. Following this a delegation, including my father Maulana Abdul Aziz and myself, met Ayatullah Khomeini and drew his attention towards the issue. Khomeini agreed with us at that moment.
Later my father also delivered a speech in the Parliament and said in an unambiguous term that if these conditions were not removed, Islamic Government would meet the same fate as that of the one led by the King. That speech is on record.
When protests in Baluchistan got intensified, Ayatullah Khomeini sent the then Foreign Minister Dr Ebrahim Yazdi to Baluchistan to assess the situation there. After coming back Dr Yazdi recommended that not only Shi’ism should not be declared as the state religion but also the condition requiring one to be a Shi’a to occupy the office of the President or other high offices be removed. But the result was nil. Only after few days my father resigned. He did not remain in the Majlis for more than 20 days while other Sunni members did not sign the constitution in protest.
Q: But Iran is a Shi’a majority country. What is so objectionable if Shi’sm has been declared their official religion? Five percent of Sunnis have 12 representatives in the Majils. What is your objection then?
A: Sunni population of Iran is 15 million that comes to around 30% of the total population. Only in Tehran there are half a million of Sunnis but there is not even a single Sunni mosque there.
Q: Is it necessary to divide Mosques on sectarian lines? Can’t Shi’a and Sunni pray together?
A: This question should be answered by the Government. They should tell us why there is not even a single mosque in Tehran with a Sunni Imam in it? Those ones who talk about unity should lead by practical example. You would remember during General Zia ul Haq’s government in Pakistan a legislation was passed making Zakat compulsory for all the Muslims. The Shi’as of the country created a great uproar against it because under Shi’ism the government is not allowed to collect Zakat. As a result they were given exemption from it. Even the Prime Minister’s wife, Mrs Nusrat Bhutto, had obtained exemption from it.
Q: What does Iran’s Islamic Revolution have to do with it?
A: I am coming to that. The Government determined to export their Islamic Revolution all over the world should have asked the Shi’as of Pakistan to pay Zakat for the sake of unity. On the contrary when a Shi’a-Sunni riot broke out in Karachi, an Iranian diplomat fired a statement claiming that that was the beginning of an Islamic Revolution in Pakistan. But neither the Pakistani government could dare protest to Iran nor did the Iranian government sought any explanation from its diplomat for that outburst. How could they? What the diplomat had said was their wish dear to their heart.
In addition, look at Iran’s role in Afghanistan. Only for five million Shi’a population there they are demanding a fleet of 120 members in the cabinet of Mujahideen. While out of 15 million Sunnis in Iran you will not find a Sunni at the post of a minister, deputy minister, diplomat, officer in the army and judiciary, governor general or any other high position. Zahidan, where the Baluchistan University happens to be, and where 90% of the population is Sunni, of the 2000 Students only nine are Sunnis.
Q: You are saying that the Sunni population in Iran is 150 million while general impression is that it would be between 4-5 million. 15 million looks like an exaggeration.
A: I am not surprised at your question. Yes, general impression is that it is 50 lakh (5 million). This is also a fact that Iran was once a Sunni majority country. Three hundred years ago when Shah Ismail invaded and occupied Iran he massacred Sunnis. Only in Azerbaijan three lakh Sunnis were martyred. This is a long story. I would like to mention that personalities like the authors of Hadees books, Muslim and Tirmizi, were all Sunnis. But today Sunnis are found only in the border areas or around hilly areas. This is because when the Safavids attacked Iran, either they could not reach these areas or in order to save their lives Sunnis moved to mountainous areas for shelter and defended themselves there. However, that remaining population is still about 30% of the total Iranian population.
Q: There has not been any news of any suppression or excesses against Sunnis since the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
A: This is exactly our misfortune that the world is unaware of what is happening to us. Things are done in such a sophisticated manner that the outside world gets a completely different impression. After the revolution first they focussed on the Sunni province Kurdistan. With great shrewdness and cunningness they forced Iranian communists to flee to Kurdistan so that they could misguide the people there and the government could have an excuse to declare a war on them. Therefore, Iranian government launched massive air raids killing thousands of innocent men, women and children there . Several villages were completely raised to ground. It was also claimed that they would be treated like kuffars. This was given the colour of a war against Communists. The residents of the villages that were attacked were all Muslims though. those women who were looted were all Muslims and children who were crushed by tanks were Muslims as well. This was followed by a legislation that put the Sunnis in the category of Jews and Christians and they were deprived of all the civil rights.
I have told you about the speech my father had delivered. In his speech in the full house of the Parliament he said, ‘For God’s sake don’t divide the Muslims and don’t deprive the Sunnis of their rights. Don’t revive old hatred and prejudices in Iran. Otherwise your Government will meet the same fate like the Shah and his family.’
No one listened to him he therefore boycotted the Parliament. He met Ayatullah Khomeini but what was the result? There were massive riots in Sunni areas and in [full name of some place that is not legible in the photocopy except the word Bandar] after Friday prayers army attacked the congregators and more than 20 Sunnis were martyred there. Then Turkmen Sahra was attacked and for three days residents were forced to remain confined in their houses. Anyone who dared come out was shot dead.
After this bullets were showered upon the people in Zahedan, the capital of Baluchistan. Curfew was imposed there that lasted for one week. The intention was to terrorise the Sunnis.
But the Sunni ulema, including Maulana Abdul Aziz, Allama Ahmad Mufti Zadeh, Maulvi Abdul Malek, Maulvi Abdul Azeez Al-hiari, Nasir Subhani, Maulvi Ibrahim Madani, Maulvi Nazar Mohammad and several others, continued to raise their voices and reminded the government of Allah’s wrath only to be told that according to a 50 years plan no Sunni would remain in Iran. There would be no Sunni left and thus there will would be no problem there. Ulema were imprisoned and some were martyred. But Allah’s designs are such He brings blessings through tragedies. Had Iran-Iraq war not started no adult Sunni would have been left alive in Iran and to convert the remaining Sunni children to Shiaism would not be a difficult task.
Q: This is all about the past. What’s the situation now?
A: As I have already said not even a single Sunni occupies the post of a minister, ambassador or an army or judiciary officer. Mass media has adopted a policy of creating hatred and hostilities against Sunnis. This includes blasphemy against the first three Caliphs and Ummul-Momineen Hazrat Aisha (RA). The history taught from primary school to university level has been written from Shi’a point of view that is based on hatred and insults cursing the revered personalities of Islam. In education Sunnis have been deprived of their rights. They don’t have the permission to bring out their newspapers and publish books. Bank loans and licenses are available only to Shi’as. Sunni communities are made to fight among themselves and are thus being forced to migrate to Pakistan or other countries and non Sunnis are getting accommodated in places left vacant by emigrating Sunnis. For example Allama Ahmad Mufti Zadeh has been incarcerated and has been kept un horrendous condition. He was one of the three members of the first Parliament. He had performed a leading role in the Revolution and was in those days an apple of their eyes. But today, for speaking the truth, he is being kept in the conditions in which Shah used to put his opponents.
Q: You say you have no say in Iran and no one listens to Sunnis in Iran. Do you intend to start an armed struggle?
A: No we have no such plans. As a matter of fact this is the very first time when we are raising the issue of injustices against us outside the country and have opted for this only when we realised that all our peaceful efforts inside the country are going in vain. In response to our peaceful and sincere requests all we are getting is oppression. Now we are trying to inform the outside world about our plights and whoever learns about our plight gets stunned.
Q: What is the Majlis-e-Ala Ahl-e-Sunnat Iran?
A: This is a united platform of Iranian Sunnis. I am the Incharge of its foreign affairs department. This has been formed to raise our voice against injustices against Sunnis. Efforts were being made for such a platform for quite some time. On 20 April  this was officially formed. It consists of Sazman-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat Iran, Jumbish Mujahideen Baluchistan, JumbishPaidari Baluchistan, Ittehad-e-Islami Baluchistan, Mubarazat Ahl-e-Sunnat Iran and other sunni organisations.
Q Why no such effort was made during the time of your father while, as you claim, these problems and issues were there then as well?
A: Such movements were started during my father’s time as well. He had even formed an organisaton, Hizb-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen, But soon after the Revolution the situation those days got in such a way that this organisation could not work as effectively in other Sunni areas outside Baluchistan. Later the Government banned it. But when they felt the need for it they founded, in cooperation with Turkeman Ahl-e-sunnat, another organisation and named as ShuraMarkazi Ahl-e-Sunnat and was known by its abbreviation SHAMS [in Persian and Urdu it means sun]. It was headed by my father and Allama Ahmed Mufti Zadeh. But the government accused it of having Saudi and American connections and banned it too. Organisations like these are not allowed to work in Iran. After this all of such organisations were formed outside Iran and their area of work was very limited. Majlis-e-Ala Ahl-e-Sunnat is the first organisation of its kind with a very wide sphere and represents all Sunnis of Iran.’
Interestingly the same newspaper also carried in its 20-26 March issue, an interview with a Sunni Member of parliament, MaulanaIshaq Madni, that was conducted at the Iranian Embassy in Delhi. For the interest of readers I am producing translation of some of its excerpts as well.
Q: What is the population of Sunnis in Tehran?
A: There is been no census in Iran on the basis of religion. So it is difficult to tell how many Sunnis are there in Tehran.
Q Are there Sunni organisations in Iran?
A: There are organisations in Iran but not on the basis of Shi’a or Sunni sects. Iran meN Shi’a Sunni ki bunniad pe dukan dari nahiN chalsakti [Shi’a, Sunni currency does not work in Iran].
Q: It’s said Iranian Sunnis are not happy with the government. What is your view about it?
A: If some Iranis are unhappy this is not because they are Shi’as or Sunnis but because of their personal interests.
Q: Is it true that there is not even a single Sunni mosque in Tehran while there are hundreds of Shi’a mosques?
A: As far as mosques are concerned, this has not happened after the Revolution. It’s not that there was a mosque that was closed or was handed to another sect…
Q: Did Sunnis also offer sacrifices for the Islamic Revolution and Jang-e-Tehmeeli?
A: Yes, during the Islamic Revolution and Jang-e-Tehmeeli about 11,000 Sunni brothers were martyred or injured.
Q: But you said there has not been a census in Iran on the basis of religion. How did you find out about this number?
A: This number is based on the information received from areas whose populations are purely Sunni or have Sunni majority.