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Home Media Reports 2007 A matter of faith
A matter of faith
The News - Internet EditionMonday, April 09, 2007, Rabi-ul-Awal 20, 1428 A.H.
A matter of faith

By Ishtiaq Ahmed

We must thank Maulana Sami-ul-Haq and the Amir Jama’at-i-Islami, Qazi Hussain Ahmed — two leading ‘lights’ — of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) for candidly asserting that in their version of an Islamic state institutionalised discrimination of non-Muslim citizens is a rule and there is no exception. Both are notorious misogynists but in this particular case that is not relevant. Recently both expressed the view that Rana Bhagwandas, the senior-most judge of the Pakistan Supreme Court but a Hindu by religion, could not be the chief justice of Pakistan even on a temporary basis.

They made this statement in light of the fact that Justice Das has been sworn in as the acting chief justice as a result of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry being declared ‘non-functional’ by President Pervez Musharraf. The Pakistan Constitution, it should be noted, has no bar on a non-Muslim becoming chief judge: although none has held this position except Justice A. R. Cornelius but that was a long time ago, who was in favour of amputating hands of thieves.

For taking such a position Justice Cornelius was called ‘Justice Chop-Hand’ when he attended a meeting of top jurists in Australia, but it never impressed the obscurantists at home who held that top positions in their Islamic polity have to be exclusive Muslim preserves. My only prayer is that Justice Bhagwandas should not fall prey to populism, because it only encourages our medievalists to become more obdurate. He has been assigned a most crucial task to find out if the so-called non-functionality of Justice Chaudhry is intra vires or ultra vires. That alone is of importance.

It is quite pointless to invoke the Quaid’s August 11, 1947 address to the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. On that occasion he had said that all Pakistanis will have equal rights and religion will be a private matter of each individual. The late Liaquat Ali Khan on March 7, 1949 when moving the Objectives Resolution in the Constituent Assembly declared that a non-Muslim could be the prime minister of Pakistan. Both Jinnah and Liaquat were presenting a progressive vision of Islam learnt from the writings of Syed Ameer Ali, Altaf Hussain Hali and Iqbal.

The point of reference of Samiul Haq and Qazi Hussein Ahmed are the works of Abul Ala Maududi, Syed Qutb and Khomeini (notwithstanding sectarian differences with him). Indeed these three ideologues of reaction without any hesitation presented Islam as a reactionary worldview with little or nothing to offer to contemporary Muslims that would encourage them to adopt civil and political ethics compatible with a pluralist polity of equal citizens.

It would be interesting to know if another central figure of the MMA, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, endorses the views of his alliance partners on the question of a non-Muslim becoming Pakistan’s chief justice. Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s ideological genealogy is significantly different from the other two in that his party is an offshoot of the Deobandi Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, which took the position that an alliance with Hindus and other Indians was legitimate to liberate India from the British colonial yoke. Thus the idea of a composite nationalism based on wataniyat (common and equal citizenship based on territoriality) was possible for the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind.

The Pakistani Deobandis were actively involved in the anti-Ahmadiyya disturbances because for them the Ahmadis were apostates. This time it is a Hindu whose ancestors lived in Sindh much before Muhammad bin Qasim arrived in that part of the world in early eighth century. I read somewhere in our daily press that Maulana Fazlur Rahman is soon going to visit India in connection with some sort of co-ordinated celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the Uprising of 1857. With what face will he go to India to tell them that Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and other patriots should join hands to commemorate that struggle to oust the British if he thinks that a Pakistani Hindu cannot be the chief justice remains to be seen.

I believe that all cultures must reach the ultimate extremity of negative features within them before a genuine reform can be attempted. Western enlightenment did not suffice to put the Europeans on guard against the curse of nationalism and it culminated in the great horrors of racism, Nazism and fascism and two world wars. Only after 1945 have the Europeans learnt to invest and build on peace and now Europe has the most advanced position on human rights for all human beings who live there. The situation of asylum seekers is not good but for most people things have improved very well.

Hinduism with its great emphasis on respect for life in all forms contradicted this lofty principle by declaring a portion of humanity as untouchables. The conversions of large numbers of people to other faiths promising better treatment and especially the partition of India in 1947 proved to be the necessary shocks that made the Indian leaders choose democracy and equal rights for all Indians instead of caste hierarchy as the basis of national building. I am convinced that this has been the most important decision taken by them in the last two thousand years.

The Muslim world is only now beginning to face the moral crisis that, on the one hand, it claims to be a universal civilisation based on justice and tolerance of plurality but, on the other hand, reactionary and outmoded laws and practices are salient wherever Islamists are in power or have significant influence. We will have to realise that we cannot make a convincing case built on past glory and achievements about good government while practising discrimination and repression in the present. We will have to transcend the schizophrenic situation in which we are placed at present and probe ways of becoming a coherent civilisation.

Whatever twisted logic one might furnish in support of discrimination of the bona fide citizens of Pakistan it remains a breach of trust to all those who were involved in negotiating the right of Muslims to a separate state. How many times have we not been told that we needed Pakistan to escape discrimination by caste Hindus? Ironically, the founders of modern India denounced untouchability and instituted constitutional and legal measures to criminalise that evil practice, but in Pakistan the Islamist list of discrimination only grows longer every time the question of democratic and minority rights and equality is put to the test. This is most regrettable.

The writer is professor of political science at the University of Stockholm, Sweden. Email: Ishtiaq.Ahmed @

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