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Indian scholars in demand for Moharram

world Updated: Dec 31, 2008 21:08 IST
Kamal Siddiqi

As the Muslim new year starts with the month of Moharram, all eyes are focused on the 9th and 10th of Moharram, when the mourning of Shia Muslims reaches its peak.

Majlis gatherings are held as the Taziya procession on these two days winds its way across the major streets of Karachi and ends at the sea front. The Taziya procession is attended by thousands of people, some of who also flagellate themselves in public to express their sorrow over the series of events in Muslim history. Several thousands participate as spectators.

While Shias all over the world do this, in Karachi it is a much attended ritual. However, owing to the spate of recent terror attacks, there are fears such events may lead to violence between the minority Shia and the majority Sunni population. There are also fears of terror attacks on the processions that are taken out.

While Karachi has been peaceful in the past couple of years, other places like Multan and Lahore have seen attacks that led to several deaths. Every year the police and administration keep their fingers crossed so that nothing happens that may ignite violence and lead to the death of innocent people.

In this charged atmosphere, one welcome addition has been the increasing arrival of Shia religious speakers from India, who followers say are not as politicised as some speakers from Pakistan. Shia followers say the Pakistani speakers who address the Majlis often intersperse them with controversial political messages.

There is an economic aspect to it as well. Some of the Pakistani Shia leaders charge as much as Rs 2.5 million for addressing a gathering on the 10th day of Moharram. In contrast, the Indian scholars, who mainly come from Lucknow, focus more on the religious angle and charge considerably less for their services.

Given that the Pakistan government actually bans the entry of some local religious leaders from one province to another in the hope that this will stop them from inciting people in other areas, the increasing popularity of the Indian scholars is a welcome development for many — including the government.