LAHORE - Leading religious scholars have termed the act of a prayer leader of declaring Nikah of Sunni Muslims dissolved on attending funeral of a Shia woman against the basics of the Islam.

The critics, however, say it is what the majority of the Muslims in Pakistani society have been taught for decades in the name of religion.

The decree issued by a prayer leader declaring dissolution of Nikah of some 40 Sunnis after attending funeral prayer of a Shia sparked a new controversy in the country. Media reported the 12-day-old incident in Chiniot district of Punjab two days ago.

As per details, an imam mosque Khalid Bashir of a village near Chiniot — 230km north-west of Lahore — not only refused to lead the funeral prayer of a woman who belonged to the same village but also declared marriages of those who attended her last rituals void.

“Those who attended the funeral should renew their faith by reciting Kalima and solemnising fresh Nikkah,” he announced in the village mosque.

Dr Farid Paracha, an Islamic scholar and senior leader of Jamaat-i-Islami, said the incident was unfortunate, regrettable and condemnable. Such decrees, he said, had nothing to do with Islamic teachings. In his view such incidents were linked with ignorance. He said Western powers hatched conspiracies to divide Muslims and Chiniot-like incidents added fuel to the fire where simple Muslims were misled by so-called religious clerics.

“JI former chief late Qazi Hussain Ahmed tried to bring unity among different schools and, along with late Shah Ahmed Noorani [head of JUP—a representative of Brailvi school], successfully developed an alliance of all religious parties Muttahida Majlise Amal (MMA).”

The Milli Yakjehti Council, a conglomerate of more than a dozen religious organisations, he said, was also an example of religious harmony. He said Shia, Brailvi, Deobani and Ahle Hadith parties were representing this alliance. But, he said, religious scholars and leaders needed more efforts to end sectarian intolerance.

Another religious scholar Ainul Haq Baghdadi, who did M.Phill degree in Islamic jurisprudence from Jamia Baghdad, said there were no big differences among different schools but some ‘illiterate people’ used name of religion for their petty issues.

He said difference of opinion among schools was a blessing rather than a curse and reason of clash among believers. But, he added, some so-called religious leaders and parties were using these differences to protect their interests.

Baghdadi, a leader of Minhajul Quran, condemned Chiniot incident and termed it ignorance and mockery of Islamic teachings.

On the other side, critics linked Chiniot controversy to the incident reported in Indian city Muradabad (UP) in 2006 where 200 couples had to retake their vows as Muslims and remarry after they were communicated by a Brailvi mufti for the ‘crime’ of attending a funeral prayer led by a Deobandi cleric.

As per media reports, Abid Ali, an 80-year-old who married to 75-year-old Asgeri had to repeat his wedding vows and perform the Nikah afresh because a top cleric issued a Fatwa dissolving his marriage. Ali was among 200 couples who had to re-do their Nikah in Aharaula village of Muradabad.

The difference between the two incidents is very small. In former, a Deobandi imam Khalid issued decree against attending a Shia woman funeral and in latter a Brailvi went against Deobandi—in other words the decrees are against Shia by a Sunni and against a Sunni Deobandi by a Sunni Brailvi.

“This is what a commoner in Muslim society is being taught by so-called custodians of Islam and unfortunately previous and present governments never came forward to create harmony among believers of different religions and challenge the authority of these custodians,” said Munawar Sabir, a professor in Punjab University.

He said it was a fact that a hardcore believer of one school in Islam hardly accepted the followers of other school. And, he said, these divisions were not limited to Pakistan or India but in entire Muslim world.

“Divisions can be seen on marriages, deaths and particularly on occasions of elections in Pakistan.”

Another social media activist Zaki Naqvi said a cleric of Brailvi faith could not solemnise Nikah of Deobandi, Ahle Hadith or Shia groom. A hardcore Deobandi, he said, would prefer to die than to vote a Shia politician. And, said Naqvi, Ahle Hadith cleric would never be allowed to lead funeral prayer of a Brailvi.

“The division is wide between Shia and Sunni (Ahle Hadith, Deobandi and Brailvi) but it also exists among Ahle Hadith and Brailvi and Deobandi. It is present in every shape in the society — from declaring Kafir to social boycott of each other.”

Almost all big religious parties in Pakistan, (except Jamaat-i-Islami and Pakistan Awami Tehreek as they preach unity among all schools though the former widely considered a Deobandi-Ahle Hadith dominated and later a Brailvi organisation) attract their voters on sectarian line. From JUI-F, a representative of Deobandi school of thought, to the nascent Tehreek-i-Labbaik of Pakistan, a representative of Brailvi school, a religious party cannot even imagine to attract voters from other schools.