By Fatima Raza
March 18, 2016
His five-year-old clutched the window of the passenger seat as he eagerly looked out the window of the taxi. The church towers loomed up as the taxi turned the corner. Kissing the top of his head, Yusuf shifted his son towards him and patted his hair down. Thick silence emanated from the back of the rather dilapidated cab where his mother and young wife sat huddled together.
He stole a glance at his fuming mother who sat in disapproving silence. Sighing, Yusuf shifted his gaze to his doe-eyed wife. She sat as precariously on the car seat as a nest full of delicate eggs perched on top of a narrow branch. He smiled lovingly at her naivety. She wasn’t used to cars, as a taxi ride was a rare luxury that they could afford only around festivals. The taxi came to a halt and they disembarked. Yusuf tried to help his mother out but she jerked his hand away.
“Amma Jummah Ha Par Chutti Nahi Mili….Nokri Chor Te Nahi Sakda Na!!” he said, irritable at her continued anger.
(Mother, it’s Friday but I didn’t get a day off. Now I can’t quit my job because of that can I?)
His mother walked away, slowly towards the church ignoring his explanation. Yusuf gave up and turned to his wife and son instead. He made sure his son’s shoe laces were tied up and after instructing them on how to catch a bus to get home he turned away from the church with a heavy heart. He could hear the Good Friday service starting as he turned his back on it. Back at the office, he tried his level best not to think about what he was missing. After about two hours of loading and unloading heavy boxes and running around the office serving tea, he saw the clock strike 1:00 pm.
Yusuf Masih watched achingly as all the people around him rolled up their sleeves for ablution to prepare for Friday prayers. The Azaan from the nearby mosque rang in his ears, replacing the faraway clinging of his church bells. Dejected, he became a silent spectator as the believers of one religious majority assembled for prayers, without any obstacles. Yusuf Masih sat there as the Friday sermon filled his ears and blocked out everything else.
This story narrates how large crowds of believers can be oblivious to the few different ones among them; the minority that struggles to fulfil its professional duties at the cost of their religious obligations. Pertaining to the recent, rather reluctant, acceptance of declaring Easter, Holi and Diwali as public holidays by the government, it is important to be highlighted here that minorities enjoy significant rights as per the Constitution of Pakistan as well as the teachings of Islam. Yet this resolution, put forth by Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a PML-N MNA elected on a seat reserved for minorities in Tharparkar district, was a rather pointy bone to be swallowed.
To counter it, the Information Minister, Pervaiz Rashid said that Pakistan already had one of the highest rates of public holidays in the world. Such statements represent the mind-set which is so absolutely narrow and dingy that it blocks out all enlightenment and warmth that comes with the acceptance of other beliefs and their practices.
Thoughts, campaigns or statements that attempt to restrict the broad horizons of Islamic teachings are not authentic but are deluded and misguided versions of a claustrophobic religion which has nothing to do with Islam.
Recently social media reports also talked about the experience of a Christian mother trying to secure admission for her children in a renowned school of the twin cities where she was refused admission on grounds of being Christian. Reports of forced conversion of adolescent Hindu girls to Islam are also not that ancient yet. These incidents, and many more, that continue to add malice to our already distorted fundamentalist image need to be eradicated altogether.
The key is to understand how middle ground can be achieved.
The acceptance of one religion and its festivities is not an affront on the sanctity of the other.
It is at the crossroads of a church, temple and mosque where humanity can find breathing space. The true pride of being an Islamic majority lies in understanding that Yusufs of our society may be free to attend mass with their families on Easter. The prestige of Islam as a universal religion lies in the happiness that little Poojas and Radhaas may feel when they illuminate their houses with candles on Diwali and spread the many colours of Holi in their neighbourhoods. And when all that is accepted and understood in Pakistan without any objections or frowns, that will be the day of a true public holiday, a public holiday celebrating humanity.