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The minorities in our midst
A NEWS report quotes the decision of a minorities organisation of Rawalpindi to launch a campaign to oppose the adoption of the Shariat in the Frontier and its likely follow-up elsewhere in the country. I must say it is brave of them to do so in face of an overwhelming and rather intolerant majority.
While in a truly Islamic state, which Pakistan is not (nor is it likely to be with so much hypocrisy around) the ummah is supposed to be the protector of non-Muslims, one is heartened by the courage shown by the Christian minority. I warn them that this is not going to be taken lightly by the ultra-religious elements among the Muslims and might involve a recoil.
As for the other significant minority, the Ahmedis, they dont count. They are not even second class citizens but something much lower, yet to be properly categorised. Quite apart from the blasphemy law which covers everyone, Christians in Pakistan do not appreciate how much we love them. For example, if a Christian pins the Muslim kalima on his breast, well make much of him and exhibit him as an honorary Muslim. But if a Qadiani has the temerity to do that, we trot him off to jail for a year or two.
Similarly all Christians use the salutation Assalam-o-alaikum even among themselves, but if a Qadiani does so it is a crime in the eyes of General Zias law and duly punishable. He can say Namaste or Sat Siri Akal but never the Salam which only means Peace be upon you, and is hardly a religious expression. That is why I say that our Christians dont count their blessings which they are exhorted to do by their faith. Qadianis have been prosecuted for writing Bismillah on a wedding card.
And that is why, when talking to foreigners, the Pakistan government always swears by the Constitution that there is no discrimination against the minorities. A study of press statements of government leaders reveals that Pakistan and its Muslim population have given unprecedented concessions and allowances to the minorities. Though if you ask those leaders to enumerate even one of these concessions they are at a loss to do so. As for our religious gentry, they think it is more than a generosity to let the minorities live in peace in the Muslim homeland. So what more do they want?
The whole atmosphere in the country as regards the attitude towards non-Muslims, as also the attitude of the adherents of one sect towards the followers of other sects, is so vitiated with intolerance that one now really marvels at what the Quaid-i-Azam did on Sunday, 17th August 1947. Readers may recall Ardeshir Cowasjees column describing how on that day the Quaid and Miss Fatima Jinnah attended a special service in Karachis Saint Patricks Church.
After the religious service, which was dedicated to the strength and welfare of the new state, Mr Jinnah reiterated his resolve that there would be absolutely no discrimination between Muslims and non-Muslims in Pakistan. Elderly Christians and Parsis of Karachi recall his words fondly and remember how he assured them that Pakistan was as much their country as a new homeland for Muslims. Today they must be wondering which Pakistan the Quaid was talking about.
Can you imagine a prime minister of Pakistan attending a Christian religious service in a church today? Even General Pervez Musharraf with all his bravado wouldnt dare. The maulvis would tear such leaders to shreds, and they would have to spend the rest of their life in Makkah and Madina trying to prove that they were genuine Muslims.
The masses are exhorted by these leaders on every occasion to follow in the footsteps of the Quaid? Are there different sets of footsteps, one for the people and one for the leaders? Why dont they emulate his example and attend a special service in a church to instil confidence among the Christians? It would do more to assure them of the governments good faith and the states impartiality than empty rhetoric and hollow slogans.
In the present state of affairs which, without doubt, has been brought about over the years by our own political and religious leaders, the most important requirement is that the minorities should feel safe, protected and even privileged. Of course there is no defence against stray cases of fanaticism, but the government and the nation as a whole should never allow themselves to fall below a certain level of civilized behaviour. Unfortunately the steps taken to reinforce society through Islamic principles have tended towards making fanatics of the entire Muslim population.
Six years ago there was Shantinagar, the Christian village in southern Punjab, which was raided by Muslim zealots fed on false rumours set afloat by certain fanatics. They behaved like the Huns and laid the village waste. I have kept a tab on the matter and can say without fear of contradiction that nothing was done by Mian Nawaz Sharifs government to either restore the confidence of the victims or bring the culprits to book. What price civilised behaviour inspired by the tenets of Islam and our much-vaunted tolerance of other faiths?
That apart, the abduction of Hindu girls in Sindh is going on all the time. When a hue and cry is raised the girl is made to state in a court of law that she went away of her own accord, that she married a Muslim of her own accord and that she embraced Islam of her own accord. Then, a few years ago, there was the kidnapping of about a hundred Hindu haris, men, women and children, in a part of the province.
If minority leaders, and a few good Muslims, had not raised the alarm, nothing would have been heard of the affair. On the strength of these events it can be safely averred that today the most privileged individual in Pakistan whom no one can touch is the Sindhi wadera. I refuse to believe that he is afraid of God.
I sometimes wonder if our minorities truly consider themselves 100 per cent Pakistanis, though I have never been gauche enough to ask this from the dearest of my non-Muslim friends. In fact the question should be, Do we, the Muslims, make them feel by our attitude that they are Pakistanis? The question is not irrelevant. The atmosphere pervading the entire country is so completely Muslim in its spirit and impact that a non-Muslim appears to be something alien and out of place.
Two years ago I had quoted from a letter written by a Christian woman to an Urdu newspaper columnist. I shall not recount her complaints against Muslim bias but I do want to repeat just one sentence from it. She had said, Brother, let me share a private thought with you. I honestly feel that it is the prayers of us Christians that are sustaining Pakistan, otherwise you people would have finished it long ago by killing one another and anyone else who disagrees with you. Ominous words, I must say.