Paradoxes of the Shia Minority in Pakistan

Shia girls in Lahore. Copyright Michael Dwyer

Paradoxes of the Shia Minority in Pakistan

Tuesday, 1 December 2015 - 2:00pm to 3:30pm
Fellows' Dining Room
Andreas Rieck (Berlin)
Dr F Devji
South Asia Seminar

The Shias of Pakistan are the second largest Shia community worldwide after that of Iran, but in Pakistan they constitute only a minority of some 15 per cent. During the last decade they have been frequent victims of terrorism, directed both at religious gatherings and Shia individuals, especially academics and other professionals, in all provinces of Pakistan.


Yet Pakistan’s Shias are by no means an “oppressed minority” in their country. They played a prominent role in the Pakistan movement until 1947, and in the following decades they have assertively and successfully stood up for their full equal rights whenever they perceived these to be in danger. They are more than well-represented in Pakistan’s professional elite, and none of the mainstream political parties makes any difference between Sunnis and Shias from bottom to top of their members. The law-enforcing agencies are doing their utmost to protect tens of thousands of Shia annual religious processions all over Pakistan in the month of Muharram and at other occasions. But security for Shias has become a serious problem, mostly because of the mainstream parties’ reluctance to seriously confront home-grown extremists, whether out of fear or opportunism. Shia movements have been able to mobilise much street-power to press for their cause, but they have so far never made any impact at elections.


Andreas Rieck received a PhD in Islamic Studies from Hamburg and has since worked in Lebanon, Germany, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has a special affection for Pakistan where he has spent seven years (between 1991 and 2006), most recently as Resident Representative of the Hanns-Seidel-Foundation. He now works for the Federal Government in Berlin.