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  • The Shias of Pakistan: An Assertive and Beleaguered Minority by Andreas T. Rieck and: In a Pure Muslim Land: Shi'ism between Pakistan and the Middle East by Simon Wolfgang Fuchs
  • Paul Rollier (bio)
The Shias of Pakistan: An Assertive and Beleaguered Minority, by Andreas T. Rieck. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. 564 pages. $75.
In a Pure Muslim Land: Shi'ism between Pakistan and the Middle East, by Simon Wolfgang Fuchs. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019. 376 pages. $90 cloth; $34.95 paper

Though home to the second-largest Twelver Shi'i community worldwide, Pakistan is often relegated to the periphery, in scholarly terms, of the Shi'i world. Taken together, Andreas Rieck's The Shias of Pakistan and Simon Wolfgang Fuchs's In a Pure Muslim Land go a long way toward rectifying this anomaly. These two books deliver a comprehensive assessment of the political and intellectual trajectories of Pakistani Shi'a in the 20th and 21st centuries. They effectively show how Shi'a's minority status in British India and later in Pakistan, combined with their geographical distance from the centers of religious learning in the Middle East have powerfully shaped Shi'i religious debates and modes of political engagement in South Asia.

Rieck's carefully researched text provides the first thorough history of Shi'i organizations in Pakistan and their relationship with the state. The originality of this book lies in its meticulous use of previously untapped Urdu sources, including numerous Shi'i periodicals. His punctilious treatment of the primary sources is astounding, as evidenced by over 140 pages of detailed footnotes, and by the author's attentiveness to the dazzling array of meetings, actors, and events that have marked Pakistani Shi'a's history of [End Page 675] communal mobilization in the postcolonial period. As such, Rieck's unprecedented contribution will probably become a reference book for anyone interested in Shi'i politics and organizations in Pakistan.

The Shias of Pakistan methodically chronicles the history of Pakistan's Shi'i communal organizations by focusing on three interrelated themes: internal Shi'i debates and quarrels over political leadership and religious orthodoxy, the efforts of Shi'i representatives to secure particular rights for their community, and the evolving nature of sectarian conflict in the country. With respect to Shi'i politics in the post-colonial period, he documents how community leaders have sought to safeguard specific rights for the Shi'i minority, who account for about 20 percent of the country's population. Rieck shows how in their negotiation with the state, these community leaders were often eager to foster their own class interests and to avoid antagonizing the Sunni majority. Mired in rivalries over resources and communal leadership, these 'ulama-led organizations were nevertheless successful in preventing Shi'a from becoming a constitutional minority with curtailed rights. However, Rieck clearly demonstrates how their readiness to foreground Muslim unity and to find common ground with Sunni Islamists has often been detrimental to Shi'a's communal interests. For instance, in a bid to come across as part of the Islamic mainstream, Shi'i clerics fully supported their Sunni counterparts in excommunicating Ahmadis. Similarly, rather than denouncing homegrown Sunni extremist organizations, these leaders have tended to embrace the dominant Islamist narrative on sectarianism, according to which anti-Shi'i violence in the country is squarely attributable to Western conspiracies and foreign agents.

Rieck's main concern lies in formal, organized forms of politics. But he also hints at a more spirited and radical form of politics centered on protest movements aimed at defending the right to carry out 'azadari (public mourning) rituals. Largely autonomous from the 'ulama, these protests often entail defying state restrictions and bans and exposing oneself to the risk of terrorist attacks in order to publicly mourn the family of the Prophet (Ahl-al-Bayt). With its roots in the late colonial period, this kind of communal politics typically revolves around the logistics of processions and assemblies in public space, and directly engages the state in demanding that public Shi'i rituals be actively protected from attacks. Although Rieck does not formulate it as such, his evidence seems to suggest...


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pp. 675-679
Launched on MUSE
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