The Shia Muslim groups across the country are protesting against the killing Iran’s most powerful military commander, Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in US airstrike. In the Budgam district of Jammu & Kashmir, which has a considerable Shia population, protesters took the street. “This killing exposes the colonial designs of America and it will gravely cost the security situation of the world. This act of America is akin to assisting IS,” said Shia leader, and former legislator from Budgam, Aga Roohullah.
In Ladakh’s Kargil region, which has majority Shia population, the protestors came to streets to show anger against the killing of Soleimani. The protestors chanted slogans against both US and Israel and condemned the killing of the most powerful Shia military general.
In Lucknow, the cultural and religious capital of the Shias of India, the clerics and All India Shia Muslim Personal Law Board (AISMPLB) condemned the attack. “I have appealed to the community people to pray for the departed souls and to offer special prayers for peace,” said AISMPLB spokesperson Maulana Yasoob Abbas.
The city of Lucknow has around 5 lakh Shia community population. The Prominent Shia cleric, Maulana Kalbe Jawad Naqavi organized a protest against the killings in the city. “Protest rally planned for tomorrow in Lucknow by prominent Shia cleric, Maulana Kalbe Jawad on the assassination of #QassimSoleimani by US forces. March to be held at Chhota Imambara in the city,” tweeted journalist Nishtula Hebbar.
Protest rally planned for tomorrow in Lucknow by prominent Shia cleric, Maulana Kalbe Jawad on the assassination of #QassimSoleimani by US forces. March to be held at Chhota Imambara in the city.
— Nistula Hebbar (@nistula) January 3, 2020
ईरान के कमांडर जनरल सुलेमानी की मौत से कश्मीरी क्यों हुए नाराज़?
(वीडियोः शफ़ात फ़ारूक़) pic.twitter.com/RXvYhTscBn
— BBC News Hindi (@BBCHindi) January 3, 2020
The Shia community in India is scattered across many urban centres with Lucknow being the hub of Shia culture. There is no sect specific census in India and therefore it is hard to estimate the exact number of Shiites in the country. According to the Pew Research Centre, the Shia population is between 10 to 13 per cent of total Muslims population which will translate into 2-3 crore people. India has the third-largest Shia population after Iran and Pakistan and the country has more Shias than Iraq.
While Shia community was systematically persecuted by various Muslim dynasties of the Sunni community, they have generally had an amicable relationship with the Hindus of the subcontinent. Prominent Shia scholars like Qazi Nurullah Shustari and Mirza Muhammad Kamil Dehlavi were persecuted during Mughal Empire. They still face discrimination in Sunni majority Kashmir region, where Wahhabi interpretation of Sunni Islam is the dominant narrative. Earlier, the Jammu & Kashmir government went to the extent of banning Ashura Procession (a prominent community event of Shia Muslims) on the demand of Sunni hardliners.
Therefore, the Kashmiri protestors were not only showing their loyalty to the leader of the Shia community, Ali Khamenei, but it was also defiance to the Sunni Majoritarianism in the region.
India is the only country with just small Shiite population to declare Moharram (Shiite festival), a public holiday. The states of UP and Bihar declared the birthday of Ali as public holidays too. India is the only country except the Shiite majority states (Iran, Iraq, and Azerbaijan) where Shiite Muslims are not subjected to state discrimination and persecution.
However, the show of loyalty towards a transnational authority by the Shia Muslim groups in India cannot be appreciated. Not just the Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims also organized protest and rallies against America, when they attacked Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. This is akin to the Khilafat movement of 1919, however, Gen Soleimani of Iran is no religious figure of the Shia Muslims, neither is Saddam Hussein of the Sunnis. Then the question arises, what do certain Indians have to do with Iranian nationalism and the US-Iran war?
The whole war in West Asia is fuelled at the surface by the Sunni vs Shia conflict, with Saudi Arabia being the regional leader of Sunnis and backed strategically by United States, and Iran being the leader of Shia community, helped by Russia. The Muslims in India too are divided on sectarian lines over the issue which stems from religion but grows into far-reaching geopolitical conflicts, and while the Shia community has condemned the recent killing and the Sunni majority has remained silent, India as a nation stands disturbed and uncomfortable by this blatant show of loyalty by a set of Indians to a foreign state.