- Why so much religious persecution?
On 31st May 2018 the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a statement labelling Pakistan as a ‘country of particular concern’ with regards to religious freedoms afforded by the state. A few months ago, on 22nd December 2017 the US Secretary of State had placed Pakistan on a Special Watch List for “having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom”. However, the US State Department has refrained from USCIRF’s suggestion of placing religious sanctions against Pakistan, even though such reports have been surfacing since 2002. Despite successive US presidents’ ignoring of this, the severity of the situation can’t be undermined.
As a country borne out of the necessity to practice religion openly, we have matured as a country much farther away from the actual ideals set out by Quaide-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. During a meeting of the Constituent Assembly on 11th August 1947, Muhammad Ali Jinnah outlined the vision for Pakistan in terms of its people. He 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.” Seventy years to this, and we realise how far we are from creating Jinnah’s Pakistan. After decades of sectarianism, one believes how much of Pakistan does one get for belonging to the majority Sunni section? Or the multitudes of minorities who exist along with us. How much of Pakistan does a Pakistani get for believing in Jinnah’s vision?
This extensive slicing has occurred over a period of 71 years, but began as soon as Pakistan was created. While some would argue that the existing ethnicities were always too many to bring under one umbrella; interpreting the creation of Pakistan in terms of large differences that existed and were integral for reaffirming beliefs in the notion of separate homeland – one can trace back the inherited division-ist agenda amongst all Pakistanis. This programming and validation can be attributed to a sequence of events.
With the loudly applauded religiosity for persecution of minorities, and quietly appreciated religious extremism for majority, the progression of Pakistani society has been stymied
The possibility of Pakistan’s name appearing on the Special Watch List should be taken as an indicator for the prevailing domestic conditions.
Soon after independence, problems started to pour in for the Ahmadiyya community of Pakistan. The greats like Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, Pakistan’s first foreign minister and the first Asian to preside over the UN General Assembly and the International Court of Justice, the prominent leader in the Pakistan Movement, was deposed because of his ethnicity and religious beliefs. Zia, a theocratic dictator couldn’t win over the clergy even with his rigorous Islamic reforms. The forces he unleashed were materialised by Bhutto’s Second Amendment to the Constitution in 1974, declaring the Ahmadiyya faction non-Muslims. While over the years it has been argued that the persecution these people have faced isn’t state-sponsored, the successive failure of the governments to condemn these has mired and ultimately removed any chances for creating a favourable environment for all minorities.
But tracing back, one realises that religion in the creation of our country had always been used as a tool. The tool which used for mass mobilisation has completed a fairly long journey and ended in the hands of religious zealots, propagating a separatist agenda to an end unknown. If the end is to secure a better place in the hereafter, why is it that the prevailing conditions are threatening even bare survival for the majority of people?
With increasing numbers of factions emerging in the political scene; their unmatched support and the religious sentiment that awakens with it – the overwhelming parallels between the struggle for independence and the non-realisation of Jinnah’s vision seems rather logical.
The persecution of Ahmadis at their own mosque in Sialkot is no small incident that can be easily ignored. There’s a reason why certain factions of our society continue to support the anti-state, extremist elements. When religion-based violence exists at every level in society – the lines separating condemnable crimes from the overlooked coalesce together; engendering a largely religious-intolerant society where the rule of law can never prevail.
With the loudly applauded religiosity for persecution of minorities, and quietly appreciated religious extremism for majority, the progression of Pakistani society has been stymied. With sentiments of millions of Pakistani Muslims tied to a rather unique brand of Islam, the faux pas of the political candidates for the 2018 elections would rarely make a mention of this – for censure takes one away from the society; and validation to either creates brands that can limit the scope of political lobbying. But we need to ask ourselves for how long can we let religion; the basis of our struggle, be used as a tool against the society it was to serve.
Is there no room for debate when matters concerning such freedoms are relayed across the world? Are we, as a society, even ready to address these brands of religion as an A-religious debate, and try identify which of these brands are a threat to force, and other merely beliefs of a certain people?
It’s time someone rises to the occasion and tries to answer these.