South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

At the time of the writing of this article, the police in Islamabad have already begun its operation against Faizabad protesters. There are reports of sporadic protests from all over the country but the government has taken the extraordinary step of taking off all news channels off line. Furthermore Facebook and Twitter have been blocked on several ISPs to ensure that there is a complete media blackout of the events unfolding around the country. Whether these methods will work or not, only time will tell. However Pakistan once again stands at a crossroads in its history as it has stood several times in its history.

Pakistan’s origin and genesis as a Muslim majority state carved out of British India have always been subjects of controversy. There are many in the subcontinent who do not quite agree with its creation and continue to curse it. Certainly the bloodshed that accompanied the partition of India lent credence to the view that the idea to create a Muslim homeland was a mistake. The continuing debate over identity and the role of religion in politics that has plagued most of the country’s seven decades in existence has further muddied the waters. However what is undeniable is that there was an original vision of Pakistan as an inclusive and modern democratic state, which would treat all its citizens regardless of their religion or sect equally and without distinction that was postulated by the founding father of the country, which is the only way out of the current mess. It is this vision we need to reclaim today more than ever before.

Commonsense dictates that if Pakistan has the system of joint electorate there is no need for separate lists for Muslims and Non-Muslims. Therefore the oath that has come under debate recently is not only discriminatory but rudimentary. Admittedly Ahmadis were declared Non-Muslims through the 2nd Constitutional Amendment but the real question is whether or not they were stripped off their rights as citizens as well? Are they to be considered non-citizens for the purposes of law and constitution because they refuse to accept the status imposed on them by the constitution? Starting with Captain Safdar’s hate filled speech in the National Assembly against notable Ahmadis like Zafrullah Khan and Dr Abdus Salam, we have witnessed growing hate speech against this community all over Pakistan. One fears for the safety and well being of members of this community who now live in the shadow and threat of violence and even genocide in the country.

There will always be naysayers who will say that Pakistan was obviously going to be a theocracy and that Islam as a belief system is incompatible with a modern democratic and inclusive state. In Pakistan we have an opportunity yet again to prove them wrong and show that a Muslim majority can run a progressive and secular democratic state in the 21st century

Time therefore has come to reclaim Pakistan as an inclusive democratic and liberal albeit Muslim majority state which does not discriminate on the basis of religion or sect. To do this, the state must firmly bring under its control the religious clerics and fanatics that have been let loose under one pretext or the other. These unwashed and rough edged Mullahs like Khadim Hussain Rizvi are doing no service to Islam or its cause in Pakistan. Indeed the kind of language used by the protesters at Faizabad is distasteful to say the least and is bringing Islam into disrepute. It is a great tragedy to think that the discourse in Islamic learning has deteriorated so badly that we have people like Khadim Hussain Rizvi and his followers passing off as Islamic scholars. What they have been saying at Faizabad is something that no sane person can even dare to repeat.

Reclaiming Pakistan as a modern and inclusive state is impossible without reclaiming Islam as a progressive theology, which is compatible with modernity and democracy. The powers that be in the country need to identify and promote Islamic modernists in the tradition of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Chiragh Ali who can guide the Muslim community in face of challenges of the 21st century. We need jurists of the calibre of Syed Ameer Ali to preside over Ijtehad and modernization of Islamic jurisprudence and bring it in conformity with modern standards vis-à-vis human rights and individual rights. This is the Islam Jinnah invoked during the Pakistan Movement i.e. Islam which was ontologically emptied and a veritable shell for reason and progress. The only way you can have a secular democratic state in a Muslim majority country is if you can convince the Muslims that such an idea is not alien to Islam and its doctrine but is in fact in perfect harmony with it.

I know that Islamophobes do not like to hear it but Islam did light up the world at a time when it was in utter darkness. It was for its time a radically new idea, which promoted equality and brotherhood of man. That over time Muslims left the way of Ijtehad which was the method for this great system to rejuvenate itself and apprise it with challenges of changing times is a great tragedy. In the process Muslims got bogged down in traditions, customs and backwardness. As a result we have people like Khadim Hussain Rizvi making a mockery of the faith today.

Speaking at Aligarh on 5 February 1938 Jinnah told his listeners: “What the League has done is to set you free from the reactionary elements of Muslims and to create the opinion that those who play their selfish game are traitors. It has certainly freed you from that undesirable element of Maulvis and Maulanas.” Almost 80 years later, it seems that we need to free ourselves of the same undesirable element.

Updated On: NOVEMBER 27, 2017