- The Islamabad temple episode shows the resistance of Zia’s influence
“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 State” concluded the Quaid when he delivered Pakistan to the people. Freedom of religion was the first fundamental right which was recognized and affirmed by our founder. In very simple terms, he explained that religious association had nothing to do with the affairs of the state and rightly so.
Unfortunately, these words were blown in the air soon after. Pakistan became the first country to introduce constitutional amendments outlining the faith of the people. Thereafter, General Zia cursed us with his presence and put an end to Pakistan’s journey towards progression. The policies he introduced were so deeply entrenched that they continue to haunt us till date. Intolerance towards others was sponsored by the state during his reign. Though his initial attack had been towards democracy however, during the process he completely annihilated the idea of a secular and progressive Pakistan, one where people would feel secure and be considerate and tolerant towards the others.
Although a blast of fire followed by a puff of smoke took General Zia with it however, his imprint left on our society have grown even stronger over time. The religious intolerance which he introduced continues to be fathomed even by so called democratic governments. Just this past week, news surfaced of a Hindu temple being constructed in the federal capital. The news was welcomed by progressive activists as a step in the right direction in order to promote religious harmony and tolerance, keeping in mind Quaid’s promise; you are free to go to your temples. But the jubilation was short lived as this news was not well received by the many sons of the Zia legacy. There was uproar. How could the Muslim theologians and zealots tolerate the construction of a Hindu temple in the federal capital?
The thin shackles of their faith, once again, came under threat. Constructing a temple goes against the spirit of Islam, claimed most of the objectors. Some political parties, always looking to cash in on situations, joined in support. That being the case, the Quaid-e-Azam, according to our current religious clerics, would be an infidel given his views regarding religious tolerance. How could he allow the people to go to their temples? After all, it went against the very spirit of Islam. Obviously, General Zia was a much better leader than the Quaid. He gave us a better legacy to follow. One which wears bigotry as a crown jewel.
A government which itself continues to bow down to bigotry and intolerance every now and then cannot protect its citizenry against it. The halting of the construction of the temple signifies the daunting prevalence and the power of bigotry in our country. Ch Pervaiz Ellahi should probably change the name of his political party from Q for Quaid to Z for Zia because what it currently stands by has nothing to do with what the Quaid professed. Unfortunately, our revered old man was wrong; you are not free to go to your temples in Pakistan
Which leaves us to come to the democratic governments which came after Zia. One of the two was a creation of Zia itself, so it basically cemented Zia’s legacy under the garb of democracy. The other one was too corrupt to the core to make an everlasting impact on the people. Democracy proved to be a failure. It failed to educate its masses over the past three decades and systematically drain out the intolerance and extremist mindset of the people. On the contrary, the extremist mindset has in fact been condoned. Government after government has bowed down towards extremist sentiment. The most classic example being the incumbent government lead by Imran Khan. Within two years, it has bowed down towards religious extremism a number of times with the temple in Islamabad being the latest. Within hours of resentment by bigoted quarters, the PTI government halted the construction of the temple indefinitely and referred the matter for a decision by the Council of Islamic Ideology. It failed to stand firm on a decision already made only because the religious sentiment of a few intolerant segments had been hurt.
These zealots, probably, first need to take a backseat and revise the teaching of Islam. Our religion, the best amongst all if followed in its true essence, preaches tolerance, harmony and peace. It does not force its teachings on the human race but merely extends an invitation which a person should accept out of his or her own free will. The concept of forced conversion is alien to Islam and has nothing to do with it. It is the bigoted mindset of the children of General Zia’s legacy who have introduced fanaticism in the name of Islam which has ruined even the image of our beloved religion.
For those who are not convinced with simple Islamic interpretations and would prefer to stick to worldly laws, there is a need to review our Constitution. The basic chapter of fundamental rights unequivocally protects the rights of minorities and their ability to “practice” and “profess” their religion. In the presence of a clear protection, opposing the creation of temple is absurd and highlights the remnants of General Zia in our society. Imran Khan, even though he claims to be an upright leader, lacks the nerve to stand up to extremist ideologies. The entire nation is aware of his earlier escapades pertaining to religious extremists. In fact he has had a soft corner for the religious zealots for far too long. The Prime Minister is yet to issue a clarification in regard to calling Osama Bin Laden a martyr. His spokesperson did not even bother to term it a slip of tongue and merely insisted that he used the words “killed” twice. Therefore, not much can be expected from such a leader in when it comes to religious tolerance.
A government which itself continues to bow down to bigotry and intolerance every now and then cannot protect its citizenry against it. The halting of the construction of the temple signifies the daunting prevalence and the power of bigotry in our country. Ch Pervaiz Ellahi should probably change the name of his political party from Q for Quaid to Z for Zia because what it currently stands by has nothing to do with what the Quaid professed. Unfortunately, our revered old man was wrong; you are not free to go to your temples in Pakistan.