Daily Archives: October 5, 2017

Deadly Suicide Attack Hits Sufi Shrine in Pakistan

QUETTA, PAKISTAN A suicide bomber blew himself up inside a crowded Sufi shrine Thursday in Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province, killing at least 20 people and wounding dozens of others.

The victims, mostly members of the minority Shi’ite Muslim community, were performing the dhammal (dance) ritual, witnesses said.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing of the Sufi shrine.

Doctors in the remote Jhal Magsi district, where the deadly bombing occurred, say they have received “a large number of casualties” and the death toll is likely to increase.

Provincial government spokesman Anwar-ul Haq Kakar told VOA that the bomber wanted to enter the main compound but blew himself up when police guards intercepted him and tried to stop him.

A state of emergency was declared in regional hospitals and more than 50 seriously wounded people were being flown in helicopters to Quetta hospitals, Kakar added.

Source: Voice of America

Iran-Funded Center a Lifeline for Jakarta’s Marginalized Shia Minority

JAKARTA, INDONESIA The first month of the Islamic calendar, Muharram, is not a very big deal for most Indonesians, outside of New Year’s Day. But every night of Muharram since it started on Sept. 21, hundreds of Shia Muslims have come together at a tile-clad building in South Jakarta to ceremonially mourn the death of the prophet Muhammad’s grandson.

They listen to a live or streaming sermon in Bahasa Indonesia or Farsi and pray, often tearfully.

The mourning rites of Muharram are an important Shia tradition, but as Indonesia’s Shia minorities face growing intolerance, they have steadily lowered their profile. So this month’s nightly gatherings at the Islamic Cultural Center (ICC), which was built in 2002 with funding from Iran, are among the largest sites of Shia activity in the whole country.

Over 99 percent of Indonesian Muslims belong to the Sunni denomination, but that belies Shia cultural influence in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. (Sunni and Shia are the two major Muslim denominations, which diverged early in Islamic history over a debate on the rightful successors to the prophet.)

Shia Islam may have been the first strain to reach Indonesia, through Arab traders who reached Aceh around the 12th century, and Shia traditions like veneration of the dead and visiting shrines are still observed in pockets across Indonesia, even by Sunnis.

But most of Indonesia’s roughly one million Shia are concentrated in the Jakarta metro area, and the ICC is a nexus of their community.

Iranian Outpost in Indonesia

ICC, clad in blue and white ceramic tiles imported from Iran, is handily the most striking building on its drab, but busy, South Jakarta road. It’s open seven days a week and has a large Indonesian-language library, decorated with photos of the Ayatollah of Iran and framed posters for Iranian tourist sites.

Ali Hussain Alatas, the ICC’s secretary, is a Hadrami, Yemeni diaspora who have lived in Indonesia for centuries, often as prosperous traders. He grew up in Central Java and studied for five years in Qom, Iran, the global center of Shia scholarship.

In Jakarta, we rarely have problems carrying out our activities, whether they are classes or religious celebrations, said Alatas, over cups of tea at the Center. We maintain good relations with Nahdlatul Ulama, Muhammadiyah, and the government. But cultural understanding has really decreased in recent years.

ICC offers classes in religion, Arabic, and Farsi, and facilitates scholarships to Iran. It has also become an inadvertent community center for Jakarta’s sizable refugee community from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, many of whom have been trapped in Indonesia for years after Australia closed its maritime borders to refugees in 2014.

There were hundreds of young Afghan men and families last Thursday night at ICC, enough to spill out from the Farsi sermon to the steps outside.

Growing Intolerance

In 2012, an East Java branch of the National Ulama Council issued a fatwa against Shia Muslims, calling them deviants, and the same year, several Shia were driven out of their homes. There has been a trickle of anti-Shia violence since then, and in 2014, a National Anti-Shia Alliance of Indonesia was founded in Bandung, West Java.

Our goal is to provide information to Muslims throughout Indonesia about the Shi’ite heresy and awaken Muslims who have been affected by Shi’ite heresy to return to the true teachings of Islam according to the Qur’an, said Athian Ali Muhammad Da’i, a Javanese cleric who leads the Alliance.

When pressed for reasons why he felt Shi’ism posed a threat to Indonesia, he listed contract marriages, which he claims have created an epidemic of HIV and fatherless children in Iran, and a culture of self-harm during the Muharram mourning rituals, which he said were so inhuman, even animals do not do it.

Culture Wars

Just a five-minute walk from ICC is LIPIA, the Saudi-funded university that opened in 1980 and is a major outpost of Saudi proselytization in Indonesia. This makes a narrow strip of Warung Jati Barat Road a microcosm of the Muslim world’s arch-rival spheres of influence.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have been waging cultural proxy wars ever since the 1979 Iranian revolution: both are large, oil-rich theocracies with aspirations to set the agenda for the global Muslim community.

Alatas said the ICC’s location was just a coincidence, but went on to denounce Wahhabism, a derogatory label applied to Saudi Salafism.

There is growing intolerance against our community, when Islamic radicalism arising from Saudi Wahhabi beliefs is the real threat, he said.

He claimed that LIPIA students sometimes come to discreetly browse the ICC library, perhaps, he said, seeking an alternative to the puritanical ideology taught at LIPIA.

Iran’s imprint on modern Indonesia is negligible compared to that of Saudi Arabia, whose institutions have supported some of the nation’s most prominent conservative politicians and independent figures, like Habib Rizieq Shihab, leader of the thuggish Islamic Defenders Front.

The growing popularity of Saudi Salafism has often been linked to intolerance against Shia and Ahmadiyya, another Muslim minority group, in Indonesia. But it’s not quite so simple: several mainstream, so-called moderate Indonesian organizations like Nahdlatul Ulama embrace anti-Shia rhetoric too.

The National Ulama Council has distributed pamphlets against Shia and Ahmadiyya, said Noorhaidi Ismail, a professor at State Islamic University of Yogyakarta. The government has developed an anti-Shia discourse because they periodically need a common enemy. In my opinion, it is not the Salafis who are responsible for this intolerance.

Being Shia in Indonesia sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard, said Rohma, a 40-something Indonesian woman who cleans ICC during the day. She converted to Shi’ism after working in Saudi Arabia for five years, during which she developed a distaste for Salafism and eventually the Sunni faith in general.

I like the Shia tradition, she said. It is simple, I believe in it, and I like these people here for me, it is worth it.

Source: Voice of America

Award Honors Slain Indian Journalist’s Courage to ‘Write and Fight’

MUMBAI Two fearless Asian women who have risked their lives campaigning against religious extremism � one of whom was murdered last month � won a joint award on Thursday for their common courage.

Gauri Lankesh, 55, a outspoken Indian newspaper editor, was shot dead outside her home by unidentified assailants in the southern city of Bengaluru, at a time of rising nationalism and intolerance of dissent in the country.

“This award is a morale booster for people who want to write and fight,” Lankesh’s sister, Kavitha, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone. “It honors what Gauri stood for � that you cannot silence me.”

Lankesh shared the annual Reach All Women in WAR (RAW in WAR) Anna Politkovskaya Award with Gulalai Ismail, 31, a peace activist who has faced death threats for speaking out against the Taliban in northwest Pakistan.

Concerns about press freedom are mounting in India, where journalists seen as critical of Hindu nationalists are often insulted on social media and women reporters have been threatened with assault.

“People are wondering if they should get into journalism at all,” said Lankesh’s sister. “There is an apprehension among people who want to do ethical work.”

Lankesh, the editor and publisher of a weekly Indian tabloid, was a staunch critic of right-wing, political ideology.

She often wrote about religious violence and the malaise of India’s hierarchical caste system, and she criticized the rise of hard-line Hindu groups since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept to power in 2014.

‘Common struggle and courage’

Nearly 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers) away in Pakistan’s northern city of Peshawar, co-winner Ismail said she felt numb with grief when she heard about Landesh’s slaying.

“It was heartbreaking that an advocate of democracy, a courageous voice, was silenced,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Peshawar.

“This award recognizes our common struggle and courage.”

Ismail co-founded the advocacy group Aware Girls when she was 16 to challenge violence and oppression of women in northwest Pakistan. She also trains young peace activists in democracy to counter militant radicalization.

Ismail has been threatened with violence on social media, branded as Islamophobic for speaking out against extremism, and accused of atheism.

“My home has been attacked twice,” she said, describing how four armed gunmen tried to force their way into her home when she was delayed at the airport. “I have been branded a traitor.”

The award marks the 11th anniversary of the killing of Politkovskaya, a Russian investigative reporter who uncovered state corruption and rights abuses, especially in Chechnya.

She was shot dead in the lobby of her Moscow apartment block at age 48 on October 7, 2006.

RAW in WAR, a London-based, nongovernmental organization supporting women human rights defenders and victims of war, also honored Rohingya refugee Jamalida Begum, who spoke out publicly about her rape by Myanmar security forces.

Source: Voice of America

Pakistan Army Says Plan in Place to Integrate Militant-linked Groups

ISLAMABAD The Pakistani army on Thursday confirmed that a plan was in place to try to integrate militant-linked groups into the mainstream of the country’s

politics.

Milli Muslim League (MML), a new militant party controlled by Islamist Hafiz Saeed, backed a candidate in the September by-election for a seat vacated by ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the eastern city of Lahore. The United States has offered a $10 million bounty for Saeed’s capture.

Reuters reported last month that the foray into politics by MML and other Islamists groups followed the integration plan. Three of Sharif’s confidants and a retired army general said it had been presented by Inter Services Intelligence to Sharif last year, but the then premier had rejected it.

Army spokesman Major-General Asif Ghafoor told a news conference in Islamabad the plan was aimed at developing a constructive role for them.

Asked about the MML party loyal to Hafiz Saeed, whom the United States and India accuse of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people, the army spokesman said it was part of “a process that has started.”

“It is in my knowledge that the government has started some discussion over it, that, how do we mainstream them, so that they could do constructive contribution,” Ghafoor said.

A government spokesman did not respond to calls.

House arrest

Pakistan’s interior ministry has asked the country’s electoral commission not to register Saeed’s party, but hasn’t taken any other steps to stop it. Another militant party is campaigning for a by-election later in October.

It remains unclear whether the army or the ISI went ahead with its plan despite Sharif’s rejection, or if the military and the civilian government have recently agreed on the idea.

Another Islamist designated a terrorist by the United States, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, told Reuters he too planned to form his own party soon.

Within two weeks of Sharif’s ouster, the MML party was announced. It later got the backing of Saeed and his lieutenants in the by-election to secure five per cent of the vote.

The other hardline party, Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan, gained over six per cent of votes by riding on the back of a blasphemy killer Mumtaz Qadri whom it called a hero and a martyr.

Saeed has been under house arrest since January in the eastern city of Lahore.

MML is the political wing of Saeed’s charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa, JuD. JuD and Khalil’s Ansar ul-Umma organisation are both seen by the United States as fronts for militant groups the army has been accused of sponsoring against neighbours, arch-foe India and Afghanistan � a charge the army denies.

Reports of the plan to bring militant-linked groups into the political mainstream have stirred debate at home and abroad.

“Now, how to take it further – that, the time to come will tell,” Ghafoor, the army spokesman’ said, “For that, the government will take a decision.”

Source: Voice of America

Pakistan Army Says Plan in Place to Integrate Militant-linked Groups

ISLAMABAD The Pakistani army on Thursday confirmed that a plan was in place to try to integrate militant-linked groups into the mainstream of the country’s

politics.

Milli Muslim League (MML), a new militant party controlled by Islamist Hafiz Saeed, backed a candidate in the September by-election for a seat vacated by ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the eastern city of Lahore. The United States has offered a $10 million bounty for Saeed’s capture.

Reuters reported last month that the foray into politics by MML and other Islamists groups followed the integration plan. Three of Sharif’s confidants and a retired army general said it had been presented by Inter Services Intelligence to Sharif last year, but the then premier had rejected it.

Army spokesman Major-General Asif Ghafoor told a news conference in Islamabad the plan was aimed at developing a constructive role for them.

Asked about the MML party loyal to Hafiz Saeed, whom the United States and India accuse of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people, the army spokesman said it was part of “a process that has started.”

“It is in my knowledge that the government has started some discussion over it, that, how do we mainstream them, so that they could do constructive contribution,” Ghafoor said.

A government spokesman did not respond to calls.

House arrest

Pakistan’s interior ministry has asked the country’s electoral commission not to register Saeed’s party, but hasn’t taken any other steps to stop it. Another militant party is campaigning for a by-election later in October.

It remains unclear whether the army or the ISI went ahead with its plan despite Sharif’s rejection, or if the military and the civilian government have recently agreed on the idea.

Another Islamist designated a terrorist by the United States, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, told Reuters he too planned to form his own party soon.

Within two weeks of Sharif’s ouster, the MML party was announced. It later got the backing of Saeed and his lieutenants in the by-election to secure five per cent of the vote.

The other hardline party, Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan, gained over six per cent of votes by riding on the back of a blasphemy killer Mumtaz Qadri whom it called a hero and a martyr.

Saeed has been under house arrest since January in the eastern city of Lahore.

MML is the political wing of Saeed’s charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa, JuD. JuD and Khalil’s Ansar ul-Umma organisation are both seen by the United States as fronts for militant groups the army has been accused of sponsoring against neighbours, arch-foe India and Afghanistan � a charge the army denies.

Reports of the plan to bring militant-linked groups into the political mainstream have stirred debate at home and abroad.

“Now, how to take it further – that, the time to come will tell,” Ghafoor, the army spokesman’ said, “For that, the government will take a decision.”

Source: Voice of America

Suicide Bombing At Pakistani Sufi Shrine Kills At Least 18

Pakistani officials say a suicide bombing at a Sufi shrine in the country’s southwest has killed at least 18 people and wounded more than 30.

The attack took place on October 5 in the Jhal Magsi district, which is located about 300 kilometers east of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan Province.

The attacker detonated his explosives vest when he was stopped for a routine search by a police officer guarding the Dargah Fatehpur shrine where hundreds of people had gathered to mourn the death of a local spiritual leader.

No group has claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Pakistani security forces cordoned off the area and TV footage showed ambulances arriving at the scene of the blast.

Anwarul Haq Kakar, spokesman for the provincial government, said the death toll could rise as some of the wounded were in critical condition.

Mohammad Iqbal, a district police chief, said five children, a woman, and one police officer were among those killed.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi condemned the attack, saying in a statement that “terrorists have no religion.”

He also said that his government will act against the perpetrators with full force.

A bombing at the same shrine in 2005 killed 35 people.

In February, militants of the extremist group Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a Sufi shrine in Sindh Province in which 88 people were killed.

Sufism is a branch of Islam that espouses a mystical inner belief and incorporates music in its worship. It has been rejected as heretical by IS militants and other extremists, who hold a fundamentalist view of Islam.

The resource-rich Balochistan Province — which borders Afghanistan and Iran — has been plagued by sectarian violence, Islamist militant attacks, and a separatist insurgency that has led to thousands of casualties since 2004.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.