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Faded networks: the overestimated Saudi Legacy of anti-Shi‘i sectarianism in Pakistan

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This article questions the often-assumed centrality of Saudi Arabia for the development of anti-Shi‘i sectarianism in Pakistan. I argue that those groups and individuals who have been most vocal about the Shi‘i ‘threat’ since the 1980s lacked (and continue to lack) any strong lineages with the Kingdom. Instead, their local polemics in Urdu foregrounded Pakistan as a political idea and global promise for Islam. This status of Pakistan’s self-view was acutely threatened by the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the subsequent establishment of a religious state under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini. Consequently, Pakistani sectarian scholars transcended earlier Salafi-inspired arguments and tried to render Sunni Islam ‘fit’ to compete with powerful Shi‘i symbols. In doing so, they displayed a remarkable willingness to appropriate and rework Shi‘i concepts, something that is far from the mind of Saudi clerics.

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