By Ayesha Ijaz Khan
October 20, 2017
As someone who lives in the West, I am troubled by the rise of Donald Trump in the United States and of far-right anti-immigrant movements across Europe primarily because, as a Muslim, I resent their Islamophobic politics. I am concerned about their attempts to scapegoat Muslims and stir fear and hysteria against a minority community. Yet I am also heartened by the fact that the law does not discriminate against Muslims, and that Muslims do technically have the same rights as those belonging to any other faith. This includes, for example, in the case of the United Kingdom, state funding for Islamic schools.
Think about that for a second. Muslims in the UK can get funding from the government to run an Islamic school. While there have been cases where some of these schools have found themselves at odds with the government regulator or been the targets of rather negative media attention, fundamentally, the eligibility for government funding remains intact. The rights of Muslims, thus, are not Muslims are never targeted unfairly or discriminated against but it does mean that the law is, by and large, fair.
Ironically, this is only possible in a society that acknowledges that religion must be separate from the business of the state. The state must protect all its citizens equally and this can only be done if it is not partisan to any community and does not declare itself to have an official faith. Muslims in the West routinely rely on this principle to enforce their rights.
What happens then to our sense of fair play when it comes to the rights of those who may not adhere to the majority faith in our own countries? The recent tirade against Ahmadis by the dubious Captain Safdar springs to mind. The very fact that the floor of the National Assembly could be used for such invective is mind-boggling. Nor is he alone in attempting to demonise this community. It has happened so many times before, by the likes of Sheikh Rashid, PPP’s Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, and most recently, PTI’s Ali Mohammed Khan.
To someone like me, viewing the situation from abroad, the frenzy such men try to whip up against Ahmadis is no different from how the Islamophobes target Muslims in the West, and scapegoat their problems on a minority community. The big difference is however that if, like Captain Safdar, a member of parliament in the UK spoke so derogatorily about a minority community, like Muslims in the UK, he would have been booed and hissed by the opposition and marginalised by the community at large.
Unfortunately, in Pakistan, the Ahmadi card is so potent that instead of putting Safdar in his place, the National Assembly was cowed down into unanimously, and without any discussion, restoring the Khatam-e-Nabuwwat laws. Captain Safdar alluded to Maudoodi’s vision, a man who opposed the very idea of Pakistan, and sadly those who prefer Jinnah’s vision were too afraid to speak up.
We, as a country, have become obsessed with declaring Ahmadis non-Muslims, it appears. But let me ask a few simple questions. How come none of Pakistan’s founding fathers and mothers felt the need to affirm Khatam-e-Nabuwwat in order to get passports or hold public office? Was Pakistan not a Muslim country in 1947 but suddenly became one in 1974? Was Jinnah, who actively courted the Ahmadi community in the quest for Pakistan and appointed an Ahmadi as Pakistan’s foreign minister, less of a man than Z A Bhutto, who capitulated to right-wing pressure and declared Ahmadis non-Muslims?
What did Pakistan accomplish with this declaration and subsequent amendments to our laws in 1984? Did the rest of us become better Muslims by declaring that Ahmadis are not Muslims at all?
Wouldn’t it be better to leave such judgments of faith to Allah alone?