February 4, 2023 10:35 am

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How Mahsa Amini’s Death Is Exposing Sectarianism in Iran

The recent Hindu-Muslim clashes in Leicester had grabbed the attention of world politics. But it has now been thrown in the background as the fresh case of scuffle between two Muslim groups in the capital city of London has come to the forefront.

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Clashes broke out between the Iranian protestors (who were protesting in London over the killing of Mahasa Amini) and Shias (from Pakistan), who were holding the Arbaeen procession at Marble Arch in London on 26th September 2022.

Earlier on Sunday, protestors marched at the Iranian Embassy in London over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman who was tortured to death by the Iranian moral police for violating the Islamic dress code of not wearing a Hijab.

Both the groups again clashed on Monday morning. The Iranians who were protesting to overthrow the Khamenei regime were seen chanting slogans like “Death to Khamenei” and “Death to the Islamic Republic” whereas the Shias chanted “Labbaik Ya Hussain” & “Death to Shah” indicating the existing deep sectarian gulf in Islam.

The recent Hindu-Muslim clashes in the eastern England city of Leicester had grabbed the attention of world politics. But it has now been thrown in the background as the fresh case of scuffle between two Muslim groups in the capital city of London has come to the forefront.

The Arbaeen Procession

The organization of the Arbaeen procession is as old as 1400 years old. It is a sacred procession for the Shia sect of Islam to commemorate the death of the Prophet’s grandson, Husayn, who was killed in the battle of Karbala, in modern-day Iraq in 680 AD.

The defeat of Husayn against the forces of Umayyad Caliph Yazid I  served as a foundation of the present Shia-Sunni rift in Islam. Every year, Shias from various parts of the world take part in the Karbala march.

Sectarianism in Iran

The recent clash in London is indicative of the rising Shia-Sunni gulf. The Kurds are overwhelmingly Sunni and constitute nearly 10 percent of the 84 million population of Shia- dominated Iran. 

Mahsa Amini was a Kurdish woman. The Kurds were not able to assimilate with the Persian or Iranian culture and as a result of the Iranian revolution of 1979, the Iranian regime’s harsh laws were not accepted by the Kurds. The regime even tried to defame the Kurds accusing them of establishing another Israel within Iran. 

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini on 19th August 1980 declared a Jihad against the Kurds who were protesting for their democratic rights within the Iranian borders. This led to the extra-judicial killing of the Kurds.

The death of Mahsa Amini has created a global uproar, demanding the overthrow of the Iranian regime. Calls are being made to bring back Reza Pahlavi, the oldest son of the Shah of Iran. Before the Iranian revolution of 1979, Reza Pahlavi was the crown prince of Iran and was supposed to take over as the ruler of Iran. 

The recent clashes in London show the widening gap between different sects in Islam. Iran enjoys backing from Shias all around the world including Pakistan and the slogans like  “Death to the Shah” which were raised during the protest by them indicate their support for the Iranian revolution of 1979.

The Kurds with a population of approximately 25-30 million, happen to be one of the largest people without any state, who make up for sizable minorities in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. 

The killing of Mahsa Amini has for the first time brought Baluch, Arabs, Persians, Azeris, and other ethnic minorities together with the Kurds. The protest now has moved beyond the issue of the Hijab, as the slogan of “Jin, Jiyan, Azadi” (“Woman, Life, Freedom”) which was used by Kurdish female forces in the Syrian Civil war has been raised in the ongoing protests.

Kurds have a sizeable population in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Their decade-long quest for freedom has been marked by persecution and marginalization. Their condition has further deteriorated with the rise of the dreaded terrorist organization ISIS, against whom even the  Kurdish women have taken up arms.

The divide between Kurds and other sects in Islam has come to the forefront, ironically, in England, where the world media was focussing on riots involving Muslims. The clashes have suddenly propped up the divisions and conflict at a stage which is at the center of European politics — instead of the grounds they were born in and evolved. In Amini’s death, this facet has come under light unexpectedly.

Shubham Joshi
Shubham Joshi
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