Re­li­gion and pol­i­tics

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - Zubeida Mustafa

RELI­GIOUS ex­trem­ism has come un­der dis­cus­sion in nu­mer­ous fo­rums as in­ci­dents of vi­o­lence and ter­ror­ism have in­creased in re­cent years re­flect­ing neg­a­tively on what many claim to be Pak­istan’s Is­lamic iden­tity. This has left peo­ple con­fused be­cause what­ever is done is in the name of re­li­gion. Yet the sit­u­a­tion is get­ting worse.

Has it to be so? Cre­ated as a home­land for the Mus­lims of the sub­con­ti­nent as a re­sult of a po­lit­i­cal strug­gle spear­headed by sec­u­lar lead­ers, Pak­istan was soon af­ter its birth hi­jacked by el­e­ments who have used Is­lam as a lever to gain con­trol over so­ci­ety and the state. These were par­ties that had vo­cif­er­ously op­posed the cre­ation of Pak­istan.

Weak and lack­ing in con­fi­dence, the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship, that con­stantly de­nied its sup­port for a theo­cratic state, went on the de­fen­sive. With­out the vi­sion to an­tic­i­pate what its weak stance would lead to, the Mus­lim League went all out to cham­pion the cause of Is­lam in pub­lic life. The Ob­jec­tives Res­o­lu­tion adopted by the Con­stituent Assem­bly in 1949 was the first demon­stra­tion of this weak­ness. This in due course suc­ceeded in cre­at­ing rifts be­tween the Mus­lim ma­jor­ity and those who fol­low other faiths.

In 1974, Z.A. Bhutto, a sup­pos­edly lib­eral and sec­u­lar leader, find­ing him­self on a weak po­lit­i­cal wicket didn’t hes­i­tate to play the re­li­gion card. He de­clared the Ah­madis non-Mus­lim, thus ar­ro­gat­ing to the state the priv­i­lege of de­cid­ing who is or is not a Mus­lim. Yet he could not save his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer or his life.

This is not how it was sup­posed to be. When the Pak­istan res­o­lu­tion of 1940, that con­cep­tu­alised ‘in­de­pen­dent states’ as a home­land for the Mus­lims, was adopted it was clearly stated: “Ad­e­quate, ef­fec­tive and manda­tory safe­guards should be specif­i­cally pro­vided in the con­sti­tu­tion for mi­nori­ties in these units and in these re­gions [where the Mus­lims are in a ma­jor­ity] for the pro­tec­tion of their reli­gious, cul­tural, eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal, ad­min­is­tra­tive and other rights and in­ter­ests in con­sul­ta­tion with them….”

In his Aug 11, 1947 in­au­gu­ral speech to the Con­stituent Assem­bly, the Quaid-iAzam said, “You are free; you are free to go to your tem­ples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of wor­ship in this State of Pak­istan. You may be­long to any re­li­gion or caste or creed — that has noth­ing to do with the busi­ness of the state… We are start­ing with this fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple that we are all cit­i­zens and equal cit­i­zens of one state….”

Then what went wrong? Why do non- Mus­lims feel so in­se­cure in a state whose found­ing fathers had promised them full pro­tec­tion? They suf­fer dis­crim­i­na­tion in jobs and ed­u­ca­tion, have spu­ri­ous charges of blas­phemy lev­elled against them, their young daugh­ters are ab­ducted and forcibly con­verted, many are tar­geted and as a re­sult those who can are flee­ing this coun­try.

Even though the vast ma­jor­ity dis­ap­proves of these ways it lacks the strength and courage to speak out be­cause the state pro­vides no se­cu­rity to its cit­i­zens be they of any faith. As a re­sult many non-Mus­lims live in fear. The re­port of the Na­tional Com­mis­sion on Peace and Jus­tice doc­u­ment­ing the con­tents of our school text­books es­tab­lishes how the au­thor­i­ties ac­tively pro­mote ha­tred against other faiths. This re­li­gion-bash­ing has vi­ti­ated the so­cioe­co­nomic at­mos­phere for the mi­nori­ties and re­in­forced the mul­lah el­e­ments’ drive to gain con­trol over so­ci­ety.

It is time we ad­dressed this is­sue be­fore it is too late and the ir­ra­tional ex­trem­ists take to­tal con­trol of state poli­cies. In a con­sul­ta­tion or­gan­ised by the Pak­istan In­sti­tute of Labour Ed­u­ca­tion and Re­search re­cently, mem­bers of non-Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties ob­jected to their be­ing re­ferred to as ‘mi­nori­ties’. They felt it sym­bol­ised a dis­crim­i­na­tory and ex­clu­sivist ap­proach that sep­a­rated them from the main­stream and thus negated the equal sta­tus that Ar­ti­cle 25 of the con­sti­tu­tion grants them. Al­though the ba­sic law spells out many safe­guards for the rights of non-Mus­lims, the Pak­istan Pe­nal Code has pro­vi­sions which mil­i­tate against these safe­guards.

In the present sit­u­a­tion, the reli­gious par­ties have plenty of space to pro­mote their agen­das of ex­clu­siv­ity. A sec­tion of the elec­tronic me­dia has played a dis­gust­ing role in the whole af­fair. They have fanned the fires of ha­tred against mi­nori­ties by giv- ing un­due pub­lic­ity to the hate-mon­gers in the name of pro­mot­ing Is­lam. Has any­one pon­dered the real mo­tives?

As­ghar Ali En­gi­neer, an In­dian so­cial ac­tivist, who has in­ves­ti­gated scores of com­mu­nal ri­ots in In­dia, once told me that with­out fail he has found an eco­nomic mo­tive be­hind ev­ery act of vi­o­lence in the name of re­li­gion. Some­times, ti­tle to land was at stake. At other times busi­ness ri­valry or em­ploy­ment was the causative fac­tor. In our case po­lit­i­cal power is also the cov­eted goal. In this con­text the move by for­mer se­na­tor Iqbal Haider to form a demo­cratic and non-party plat­form to pro­mote sec­u­lar­ism is a sig­nif­i­cant one. In its in­au­gu­ral dec­la­ra­tion the forum spoke of cre­at­ing pub­lic aware­ness about sec­u­lar­ism and the need to re­move dis­tor­tions in laws by ap­proach­ing law­mak­ers.

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