Local Shia mourn victims of bombings in Pakistan
Suburban Shiite Muslims are coming together today to mourn the killing of more than 100 people from their community by militant groups in recent bombings in Pakistan.
Relatives and friends of victims will attend a memorial service tonight at the Baitulilm Academy, the only Chicago area Shiite mosque, located in Streamwood.
Shiite Muslims form one of two major sects in Islam. Their religious persecution in Pakistan is not new, said Muhammad Mehdi Khawari, chairman of the board of Baitulilm Community Center.
"It has been going on for a while," said the 42-year-old anesthesiologist from Skokie whose cousin was injured and has shrapnel lodged in his brain from a recent attack against Shiites in Quetta, Pakistan.
"He is still in the hospital and a few of my wife's relatives, neighbors were also killed in the last few years," Khawari said.
More than 400 Shiite Muslims have been killed in the past year in Pakistan, according to news reports.
The highest number of casualties occurred on Jan. 10 when 120 people were killed in bombings throughout the country, including 81 people killed in twin bombings at a pool hall in a Shiite area of Quetta in Baluchistan province. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni militant group affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Muslims have condemned the attacks worldwide, while protests have taken place in major Pakistani cities to pressure that government to better protect its minorities. Pakistan, a predominantly Sunni Muslim nation, is home to about 15 million Shiite Muslims, according to the Pew Research Center.
Several of the more than 200 families that are members of the Streamwood Shiite mosque are originally from Quetta, Khawari said.
Khawari himself belongs to the Hazara Shiite tribe whose members migrated to Pakistan from central Afghanistan more than a century ago to escape persecution and who have been targeted in sectarian violence for nearly a decade in Quetta.
"It's a very peace-loving community, highly educated," Khawari said.
Mosque leaders hope to reach out to the families of victims. Community members are considering starting a nonprofit organization to raise funds to help educate children orphaned by the attacks and help victims' widows earn a living through home businesses.
"We are with them," Khawari said. "We feel their pain."
Shiites Muslims here and abroad also are calling for an investigation into the attacks against Shiites in Pakistan, and for increased international pressure on the Pakistan government.
"There should be some special, anti-terrorism courts," Khawari said.
Community members plan to file a petition with the Pakistan embassy condemning the recent massacre of Shiites and the failure of the Pakistani government to provide security to minority citizens, he said.
"There should be some international pressure built up so that the Pakistani government changes their policy and starts to punish these people," Khawari said.
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