Let’s Get the Basics Right!
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan boasts that it has a considerate attitude towards minorities. Pakistan however, has little to show to support this claim. To be able to deal with a problem, one has to be aware of its root causes. The government of Pakistan does not seem to even understand the very definition of the word ‘minority’, let alone minority issues.
A minority is a group of people who, for various reasons, feel left out of the mainstream decision-making society. Minority rights apply to ethnic, religious, linguistic gender or age differences from the mainstream. Examples would include children’s rights, women’s rights and refugees’ rights. These rights are normally preserved in a legal framework designed to ensure that a specific group that has a vulnerable, disadvantaged or marginalised position in society, is able to achieve equality and is protected from persecution. It is the minority community then that seeks its rights under that legal framework, unlike as in Pakistan, where a community is deemed to be a minority and laws are made to discriminate and punish that minority and the executive denies all protection to it. In a society where the rights of the minority are protected, neither the minority nor the majority encroach on the rights of each other but encourage dialogue to bring about understanding, tolerance and respect. Sadly, the majority in Pakistan has entrusted this function to a handful of extremists to represent them, and because the extremists are totally bereft of understanding, tolerance and respect, it continues to encroach in ever widening circles on the rights of the minority.
The Second Amendment to the 1973 constitution of Pakistan clearly shows how confused Pakistan is about its minorities. This amendment has been a source of great embarrassment for Pakistan in the international community. A religious community, the Ahmadis, were forced to accept non-Muslim minority status even though that community has always (and continues to) insist they are Muslims. The Third Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community appeared before the National Assembly and presented the case of his community, which was nothing more than an effort to prove that Ahmadis are Muslims. The assembly still went on to declare that Ahmadis were non-Muslims and enshrined that in the Constitution of Pakistan.
This was the first ever incidence that a parliament, comprising mainly of members from a mix of feudal, agnostic, pseudo-religious and extremist backgrounds, decided the faith (and fate) of a community.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim community was established in 1889. Ever since it was founded, it has faced opposition of ideological nature. Debates were held, fatwas were issued by clerics and differences were brought to light. But this was not specific to Ahmadis. This was a common practice among the spectrum of Islamic sects coexisting in the Indian Subcontinent at that time. Hatred was never so pivotal a part of it as in more recent times.
It was not until this Second Amendment that ways were paved for extreme hatred against Ahmadis to cultivate. The then rulers of Pakistan were as short sighted as their successor, General Zia-ul-Haq who nourished a Wahabist militancy in Pakistan but did not envisage that the same militants would one day point their guns against Pakistan. Similarly, his predecessor, Zulfiqar Bhutto, despite being a modernised, educated politician did not envisage that the sectarianism he was sowing would reap in to a hell, not only for Ahmadis, but also for the whole of the nation.
Today, while Pakistan struggles for survival on foreign life support, are its leaders thinking of getting some basics right? The only way to put the basics right is by redefining Jihad, minority, freedom, civic rights and above all, Islam. All these terms need a serious reconsideration. Pakistan has sadly got them all wrong, and life in that country has gone all wrong. Putting them right can help put everything right. At least, it can unite a fragmented society!
Asif M Basit
Member, Board of Directors
Muslim Television Ahmadiyya International, London, UK