By Yasser Latif Hamdani
March 18, 2013
As Pakistan has mercifully completed one complete democratic cycle and is now heading towards, hopefully, a second one, one hopes that some of those outstanding issues vis-à-vis identity, culture, religion and society will also be settled in light of the highest standards of human conduct of our times.
The Joseph Colony incident reminds us that we are very much a reactionary and medieval nation despite our democratic constitution, or perhaps because of it. The problem of Islamist street power dates back to the Khilafat Movement when Pan-Islamism was deployed in the service of non-cooperation. Mahatma Gandhi, who should have known better, had thought that by supporting the Muslim cause of Khilafat he could achieve Hindu-Muslim unity. Gandhi was strongly advised against encouraging religious divines by Mr Mohammad Ali Jinnah but he paid no heed to it. The result was frightful. As Jinnah had predicted, Muslims and Hindus began clashing soon in that movement, with Moplahs declaring jihad on Hindus in South India. Khilafat Movement may have temporarily brought Hindus and Muslims together but in the longer run, it made religious identities non-negotiable.
Similarly, both the idea of Pakistan and the Two Nation Theory has been mangled beyond belief. What was in essence a push for communal power sharing in a divided society, has been misinterpreted — deliberately — by the state to be something quite different. A whole generation is deluded into thinking that Pakistan was founded in the name of Islam. This is a blatantly untrue statement and the more we insist on it the more we delude ourselves. Pakistan was merely the result of a disagreement between the Congress and the Muslim League over where effectively powers would lie in the new federation of India. Yes, lots of people died but they did not die so that the new Muslim majority could turn around to oppress its minorities.
The Objectives Resolution was where religion first crept into the constitutional debate. It was a foot in the door but even this document paid some lip service to equality and freedom of religion etc. Now here we are in the 21st century still procedurally, substantially and constitutionally unsure of ourselves. Consider Ansar Abbasi’s article in response to the Joseph Colony incident. He mercifully condemns the incident, which is, no doubt, a big improvement on what he generally has to say. However, he then goes on to speak of Pakistani non-Muslims as dhimmis. It is clear to me that Abbasi has not bothered to investigate this issue. Even under the Islamic law, not all non-Muslims are dhimmis. We have clear Islamic precedent in the case of Misaq-e-Medina where the Jews of Medina and Muslims were declared one Ummah. That document was approved by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) himself.
The distinction is a clear one. Dhimmis were protected people in the immediate aftermath of conquest. They were de-militarised but their civil rights were kept intact and they were allowed to continue with their religion, business and lives as before. This does not apply to people who were not conquered, such as Pakistani non-Muslims who are at least promised equal citizenship under the constitution. Therefore, the Misaq-e-Medina precedent is more applicable to our case. Pakistani non-Muslims are not dhimmis but equal citizens and form one community just as Jews and Muslims did under the Misaq-e-Medina. Pakistan was not conquered by Jinnah. He envisaged a free and democratic state, which would not discriminate on the basis of religion. Unfortunately, Pakistan has become everything else but that. Our democracy is dysfunctional and patchy and we discriminate on the basis of religion at every level. A few token examples aside, minorities are discriminated against. Civil service and the armed forces do not promote non-Muslims beyond a certain level. Even in the judiciary where you have had Cornelius, Dorab Patel and Bhagwandas, there is hardly any hope for a religious minority in Pakistan to make it to the top. Then of course there is the constitutional bar against non-Muslims becoming president or the prime minister of Pakistan. Heck, they cannot even become the interim prime minister of Pakistan.
The situation is even worse for Ahmadis in Pakistan as I have stated many times earlier. Their existence on the same electoral rolls as Muslims seems to threaten the faith of millions. This is despite the fact that the country has joint electorates in place. In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan there seem to be two lists: Ahmadis and non-Ahmadis. One hopes that the Chief Justice of Pakistan will undo this patent injustice against a patriotic Pakistani community.
No Pakistani is a dhimmis. All of us, whatever our faith, are equal citizens with equal obligations and equal responsibilities. It is high time that we all have equal rights as well and this means absolutely no bar against any community. So long as a Pakistani — on merit — deserves a job, his or her religious beliefs should not be hindrance to him getting his fair share, be that the job of the president of Pakistan.
Let us build a Pakistan on truly inclusive and democratic lines. Or else we will continue to slide down a slippery pole.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Jinnah: Myth and Reality.