Shaheed Sayedain Zaidi: Killed for Defending the undefended

-by Kinza Abbas (Niece of Shaheed Sayedain Zaidi)

The darkness in our society today is evident. But among this darkness of corruption, oppression, injustice and cruelty there exist people who brighten the path for us all. Their character, personality and legacies give us hope that goodness and righteousness isn’t extinct. One such personality was that of Sayedain Zaidi.                                                    

Sayedain Zaidi was born on the 9th of February 1946 in the city of Saharanpur, India to Saqlain Zaidi and Sayedda Zaidi. At the age of 21 he permanently moved to Karachi. Sayedain worked in various fields before entering a Law degree at the SM Law College. From 1977-1997, he worked as a private lawyer until the year of 1997 when he was appointed as an Assistant Advocate General of Sindh. He stayed in this position until 1999. Sayedain spent his golden years in the bustling city of Karachi where he raised his 6 sons and 1 daughter alongside his wife, Feroza Zaidi. In the year 1999, he retired from his post as an Attorney and migrated to Boston, America.

Years passed and Sayedain had now become the grandfather of 17 young grandchildren. He had accomplished the apparent goals of life. Great career, loving family, numerous grandchildren and a relaxed retirement life. But these achievements didn’t satisfy Sayedain Zaidi.   He was aware that our responsibilities are not limited to our next of kin. As humans, we have a duty to broader society. At the age of 67, an age where people relax and focus on themselves he decided to take upon the challenge/duty of fighting the oppressors of the time.   After his death, a close friend that assisted him in this process, documented this decision where he wrote:

‘One day I was sitting in my office when I got a call from Sayedain saying he wanted to meet me. The next day at around 11am he entered my office and sat down to talk. He said, for many years I had worked as an Advocate in Pakistan before I came to America. But today the conditions back home (Pakistan) are worsening day by day. Hearing the daily news of innocent people being killed in Pakistan has left me in deep sorrow, and I wish to return home to serve my people in the face of injustice and oppression.

Also, currently various corrupt organisations have wrongfully arrested our poor, innocent people under false allegations and there is no one to fight for their rights. He then said, I am ready to be their voice using my knowledge, experience and connections established over the years. I will work with other lawyers and advocates to create a legal firm that can be used nationwide in the cases of false imprisonment, this will give me a basis from where I can fight for the release of these innocent men.

I want to spend the final years of my life serving my nation, he said.

His sincerity and passion for this cause could be seen as his eyes welled up with tears and he spoke with a lump in his throat. As he spoke, his life-long desire for martyrdom could be seen as he said, I have already lived my life, my children are all grown up, now I have a desire to spend the rest of the life I have left in serving the oppressed and those in need. Maybe this way I will be worthy of being accepted as a martyr of God. I wish that this insignificant life of mine be used for a higher purpose.’

The purity of his intentions and his passion shone from his words and actions. In making this decision he was fully aware of the high possibility of being killed by the oppressors as many lawyers had been killed previously for taking up the same path. But he was also aware of how hundreds of innocent men were rotting away in prisons for no crime, and until someone didn’t make the decision to disregard the threats, in order to free these men, they could spend the rest of their lives there. Majority of the injustice we see in this world, is successful in being carried out because those perpetuating injustice know that no one will dare question them, let alone oppose them. But imagine a society where we all did what Sayedain Zaidi did? Where the fear of remaining complicit in the face of oppression scared us more than the fear of being attacked by the oppressor.

One of the men he would later assist in freeing was Maulana Ghulam Naqvi. This innocent man had been imprisoned and kept without any trial for 17 years. No one had even opened his case file due to fear of being targeted, but in 2013 when this case was opened both lawyer and judge were assassinated outside the court for fighting this case. These were the sort of ground-breaking cases Sayedain Zaidi fought and eventually won.

To undergo these legal battles Sayedain left his home in the United States and moved to Islamabad, Pakistan in 2014. During the 8 months he spent in Pakistan, he freed more than 100 innocent prisoners, many of which involved dangerous cases like that of Maulana Ghulam Naqvi. The major case he was working on was the‘Raja Bazaar’ case. In 2013, a group of men from various Wahhabi terrorist groups led by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) dressed up as Shia men and carried out gunfire in a Sunni mosque in Karachi. They had previously carried out other such incidents provoking the Sunnis upon the Shias and vice versa. Their intentions were clearly to instigate sectarian conflict within Pakistan. In the specific case of Raja Bazaar, to protect the real culprits and close the case, innocent Shia youth and men were imprisoned without any trial or charge. These were the men Sayedain was working to free.  

Freeing 100 prisoners was a feat within itself, but what made Sayedain Zaidi the extraordinary legend he now is was more about the manner in which he did his work. Firstly, he made a deliberate effort to unite various Shia organisations that had previous disputes. When creating his legal team he purposefully chose lawyers from a range of different organisations and thus united them all under one cause. A united community and society was one of Sayedain’s aspirations. He loathed division, sectarianism and people’s inability to work together due to their apparent differences. As well as implementing this desire into his legal work in Pakistan, he also actively worked with his Houston community to maintain a united and strong community.

Secondly, he didn’t just see the legal work as his only duty, but he also saw assisting the families of these prisoners as an equal responsibility of his. During his time in Islamabad, his daily schedule consisted of him waking up early for the pre-dawn prayers and coming home after midnight, the time in between would either be spent on his legal work or in visiting, talking and giving hope to the families of those who had been wrongfully imprisoned. This was all despite his old age.

Such sincerity and humbleness by someone who was already putting his life on the line for complete strangers by being in Islamabad is unable to be mirrored. So much so, that even upon his return to the US after a year, he would spend his days and nights thinking about the conditions of his people back home. This led him to continue his assistance in fighting the cases of innocent prisoners while sitting in the US.

When interviewing his son, he spoke of three things he believed were the defining factors of his father’s life. His relationship with God, his love for both his immediate and extended family and his ability to recognise and achieve his social responsibility of becoming the voice of the voiceless.

He was a true devoted servant of God who would wake up before usual morning prayers to offer salutations to his Lord. Hours would go past and he would remain in prostration glorifying the wonders and blessings that God had bestowed upon him. But he wasn’t one to restrict this love of God to the prayer mat. Through his actions and words he always worked to be a reflection of God’s attributes in his everyday life.

One such way was how he respected and loved his family. At family events, he would be the light of the gathering. This was regardless of who he was sitting with, whether it was older family members or his younger nieces, nephews or grandchildren. His conversations, stories and laughter would bring a smile to everyone’s face. To display the deep love he had for family, his family spoke of his visits to a distant relative of his. This relative of his had Alzheimer’s and lived alone. Sayedain had made it his Sunday ritual to visit this man and spend time talking to him and give him company. Due to his relatives memory loss, Sayedain would introduce himself every Sunday. Another incident that his family only found out about after his death was that Sayedain had made a vow to another distant relative of his, after her husband’s untimely death. He promised to send monthly payments from his own pocket and be responsible for all her young children’s education. After his death, one of his sons transferred this responsibility upon his own shoulders.

Sayedain Zaidi ensured that his love and assistance touched everyone he met, whether they were innocent men who were locked in prisons or his own family members. His love and compassion was limitless.

But there existed those people who despised these qualities of unity, compassion and selflessness. They wanted to see division amongst the people and create sectarian discord. So much so, that on 29th November 2017 they tried to end all that, using two bullets. One lodged in his back and one in his leg.

On the night of 29th November 2017 as Sayedain was leaving the Babul Ilm mosque in Islamabad, where he had returned to visit his daughter and reopen some case files, two gunmen carried out targeted gunfire on him and four other men. Later intelligence reports revealed that his name was on a hit-list for the work he did in freeing those prisoners. His murder was an attempt to stop the work he had been doing, and ignite sectarian conflict by murdering such a valued and active member of the community.

Sayedain left behind 6 sons, a daughter and his beloved wife. His death surely broke them, but because they carried the same fearless blood as Sayedain, it didn’t scare them. Instead, it raised their heads in pride, that their fathers work had such an impact that it scared those who wanted to maintain a society of oppression and injustice. That fateful night, those who ordered his killing tried to finish the work of Sayedain Zaidi but their efforts only reversed in effect. With each bullet they lodged into his body, a million Sayedain Zaidi’s were born. These aren’t just words, but those who witnessed the reaction of the communities in America and Pakistan upon his death can attest to this statement. For his funeral prayers, people came out in their thousands in a city that is known to remain behind the four walls of their home. One onlooker said in amazement, “Sayedain even brought the people of Islamabad out onto the streets”.

There were messages of condemnation, solidarity and condolences pouring all over social media from every corner of the globe. What made this all so inspiring was that Sayedain impacted these people not with any money, fame or status but merely with his actions, love, sincerity and sacrifices for humanity.

His killers may never face any true punishment, but they shouldn’t be naive in thinking that their actions will be left unaccounted. His ‘real’ killers weren’t those paid bandits who pulled the trigger, rather it was the ideology of Yazidiyat, of injustice and imposed sectarianism that had been implanted into countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan by world powers such as the Zionist, UK,  Saudi and US regimes to destabilise these nations. The same ideology and funders that kill justice-warriors around the globe, whether that be in Pakistan, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria or Palestine. As long as we vow to oppose this ideology and system wherever it sprouts up, we will continue to avenge the blood of Sayedain Zaidi.  

Another way of weakening the killers is by pondering, dissecting, spreading and then acting upon both the manner in which he lived, and the work he did. Through this we will be igniting the same spirit of Sayedain Zaidi and passing on his legacy to one another.

In honour of Sayedain Zaidi let’s vow to contemplate, recognise and then carry out our social responsibility. Let’s not quiver at the threats of the oppressors. Let’s ensure that our work for society is never diluted with self-appreciation, pride or a desire for fame. Let’s help those whom we have no expectation of a return, who we don’t necessarily know or those who have been abandoned and forgotten by others. Let’s develop a desire for a united society, regardless of sect or race. Let’s look injustice directly in the eye and live for the day when falsehood will vanish.

If each of us are able to achieve one of those things, the legacy of Sayedain Zaidi will continue to flourish. His memory will be honoured and his death will not be in vain.