Muharram participants and security
ISLAMABAD, Nov 20: With Ashura five days away, Binte Zehra prepares to go to the women imambargah of her locality in Shehzad Town on the outskirts of Islamabad.
But she is worried and stressed due to security concerns.
Being an active member of the imambargah management, she knows that some of her colleagues in the committee have received a couple of threatening calls.
Though the matter has been reported to the quarters concerned, her family members are taking the issue seriously trying to figure out the next move.
“There has been a blast in Karachi and who knows some incident may occur here as well. But the main thing is what can we do?” She quickly adds: “We cannot just stop from going to majalis and accept the dictates of those who are the followers of Yezid.”
However, the threats have left some impacts on the participation in majalis. Not only that Ms Zehra observed the number of women coming to the imambargah has declined slightly but the Sunni women, who came in the early days of Muharram, skipped two days of majlis after the news of the threats.
While the terror threats might have discouraged some people from participating in majalis and azadari processions, the community leaders seem less moved.
Agha Syed Hamid Ali Moosavi, the leader of Tehrik Nafaz Fiqh-i-Jaferia (TNFJ), said threats and attacks had failed to restrict azadari in the past.
“We are not going to get upset or are afraid of death if it comes while following the path of Imam Hussain (AS),” he remarked.
However, taking note of the terror threats, many residents have devised their own innovative safety plans.
“When we thought that any centre could be attacked, it was decided that the family members would go to different locations as majalis are held in many places in almost every locality,” said Azra, a local zakira in Pindora area of Rawalpindi.
She said asking someone to sit at home and not go to majlis was difficult as azadari was a combination of both faith and emotional attachments.
“Whenever there is a conflict between head and heart, it’s the heart that usually wins,” she observed, adding: “Same is the case here. Even when we are convinced that there is a real threat it is difficult to stop recalling and remembering the sacrifices rendered by Imam Hussain.”
This clears the confusion created due to the contradiction between some accounts that the number of participants in majalis in certain imambargahs has reduced and a recent report released by the special branch of the Punjab police.
The special branch report said the number of majalis and processions had increased and it was constantly rising as more people were organsing events.
The twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad do not have any tradition of attacks on Muharram processions or majalis. However, in the wake of the ongoing wave of terror attacks across the country, authorities here are not ready to take any chance.
Police and the administration of Islamabad have held meetings with almost all the organisers of over 9,000 majalis and 275 processions in the capital city.
During one such meeting held by the Rawalpindi police, it was stated that during the 10 days of Muharram more than 1,400 majalis and 361 processions were held in the city.
While police sought cooperation from the organisers of majalis and processions, the issue of threats was also discussed. “Police wanted us to cooperate with them not only in maintaining security but also by not taking out processions without permission,” said Maulana Ashfaq Wahidi, a local leader of the Shia Ulema Council.
The country has a sensitive history of attacks on majalis and processions, some very deadly like the 2009 Ashura blast in Karachi, and incidents in Quetta, Parachinar, Gilgit etc., cannot be ignored.
The authorities neither in Islamabad nor in Rawalpindi consider the situation volatile. But keeping in view the terror activities in the twin cities in the recent years, the security requirements for majalis and azadari processions cannot be taken lightly.
Those organising majalis at homes, where police guards are either not posted or have a very thin presence, have asked volunteers to provide them security support.
“We block roads during these gatherings and my three cousins remain guard at different locations,” said Asmat Zehra, a resident of Satellite Town.
Similar attitude has been observed for the male majalis which are held mostly in the evenings.