By Mehr Tarar
Pakistan, between November 5 and 26, witnessed one of the biggest lockdowns in its troubled and tumultuous history. A few thousand protesters of the religious organisation Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah, adherent to the Sunni Barelvi school of thought — a sect considered to be non-violent and apolitical — staged a protest in Faizabad, Islamabad. As the Dharna gained momentum, protests headed by Barelvis were seen in many major cities of Pakistan, bringing daily lives of ordinary Pakistanis to a standstill.
The 21-day long Dharna, one of the biggest protests after the 2014 Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaf sit-in, ended with the signing of an agreement between the leadership of Labaik, the foul-mouthed Khadim Hussain Rizvi, and government of Pakistan, endorsed by the interior minister Ahsan Iqbal — a devout Muslim who is a veteran politician and is highly-educated — and underwritten and supervised by a military official.
There is a great deal that is wrong with this picture, and for a number of reasons.
From the creation of Pakistan in 1947 to the induction of the Objectives Resolution in 1949 to the 1953 anti-Ahmadi riots — which led to the imposition of the first martial law in Pakistan — to Bhutto’s 1974 inclusion of the Second Amendment in the Constitution declaring Ahmadis to be non-Muslim, to General Zia-ul-Haq’s enforced Islamisation from 1977-1988, Pakistan’s history’s significant markers had the stamp of religion.
Religious organisations that had opposed the creation of Pakistan — a state to safeguard the interests of people belonging to one majority faith — made their way into the mainstream politics chanting a slogan few Pakistanis, including non-Muslim ones, could have the heart or courage to repudiate: "Pakistan ka Matlab Kya, La Illaha Illallah".
What Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah said in reference to the slogan remains unheard, unheeded; this was in response to a Muslim Leaguer’s slogan at the last session of the All India Muslim League: “Neither the Muslim League Working Committee nor I ever passed a resolution [called] ‘Pakistan Ka Matlab Kya’ — you may have used it to catch a few votes.”
In From Memory, his 1966 memoir, the former prime minister of Pakistan, Firoz Khan Noon, wrote: “This situation [anti-Ahmadi riots] was brought about by people who wanted to get into power in the Centre. They thought that by creating unrest, the men at the helm of affairs in the Centre would have to go. The old tried method of attacking a religious minority sect called Ahmadis was used to inflame the minds of otherwise peaceful people.”
The same tactic, along with the card of blasphemy, is used to date: to “change” the system, to redraw paradigms of power.
Any protest based on the premise of safeguarding the sanctity of Khatm-e-Nabuwwat (finality of Prophethood) is a guarantee of evocation of a deep sense of reverence and loyalty in any Muslim in Pakistan, while triggering a plethora of emotions that find little or no relevance in rationality.
What ensues is the appearance of one group’s hegemony, turning the very paradigm of constitutional power on its head. The protest of Labaik, a group that was said to be in possession of guns and grenades while holding Islamabad to a virtual siege, initiated with the inclusion of a now discarded amendment to Pakistan’s electoral law.
The mere alteration of words “I solemnly swear” to “I solemnly affirm” opened a Pandora’s Box of outrage, unleashing a protest that had nothing to do with the teachings of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh): restraint, decorum, a civilised way of interaction to resolve issues, respect for one another and those in disagreement with, and above all, forgiveness.
Watching the federal law minister Zahid Hamid’s video message evoked a feeling of sadness within me, and millions of other rational Pakistanis. To watch an elected representative of the people, a federal minister, in a personal message, insisting on his devotion to Islam and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was not a service to Islam: it was submission to a group of fanatics who use religion to make themselves relevant on the chessboard of power in Pakistan. Take Allah’s name and no one will question you. Use the prophet’s name, and people will rally with your cause. Chant slogans to uphold the sanctity of the finality of Prophethood, and whatever chaos you unleash will be pardoned.
Faith is personal. Faith is the human connection to the divine. Faith, or lack thereof, is to be judged only by God.
What is forgotten here is that in an almost 97 percent Muslim Pakistan, everything starts and ends with Allah’s name. For us, no name is more sacred than that of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
The basis of our faith is the acceptance of the finality of his Prophethood. There is no disagreement here but chaos is unleashed using pretexts that shouldn’t even be a topic of debate in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
It is the capitulation of the state and the government to the hooliganism done in the name of religion that is a matter of great distress and concern for all Pakistanis who bow to Allah and yet wish to live in harmony with their compatriots, notwithstanding their faith and ideology. It is the capitulation of an elected government that lacks the will and power to stand up to fanatics that have no real popular support that comes in the form of vote.
It is the capitulation of a civilian government to a military narrative that derives its grassroots power through the subjugation of a population in the name of religion. It is the capitulation of religious enlightenment to blind following of faith that seeks avenues of power through manipulation of faith with binaries of right and wrong that leave no room for discussion, debate or dissent.
While there is no denying the mullah-military nexus in Pakistan that saw unprecedented growth in the time of Zia with the aid of the emergence of Saudi-funded madrasas all over Pakistan, and military nurturing of jihadist organisations, failure of civilian governments to control that narrative cannot be ignored either. Whether it was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto whose appeasement of religious elements could not protect him from their wrath in 1977, or Benazir Bhutto (two-time prime minister) and Nawaz Sharif (three-time prime minister), all governments of Pakistan have done their share of appeasement of religious organisations.
A truly social welfare state working to give a good life to people, a state that would have been Islamic in its moorings and treatment of Pakistan — equality, justice, equal opportunities for all — remains a bitter dream: the majority of Pakistanis live with the hope of a better tomorrow, and what they get is a promise of a better life in the hereafter.
Bhutto’s social Roti, Kapra Aur Makaan was bulldozed by Zia’s religious narrative, and tainted with flawed policies of their civilian and military successors, the aftermath is a Pakistan where distortions of faith-propelled future prizes replace food, clothing and shelter.
Religious organisations work on a singular premise: control the bad now with the promise of a good hereafter. They prevail because of their linear commitment to their cause. All those who bemoan the ascendancy of the bigots do not have the stomach to stand up to them. They have nothing substantial to offer as a substitute. The civilian leaders, the elected ones. And those who vote for them, the Aam Aadmi, the majority. The so-called non-fundamentalists have failed to uplift the masses, change their lives for better, and in turn, wean them from the influence of those who promise them a shortcut to Jannat.
Words are cheap, and so are promises wrapped in chants of religion, covered in skull caps and Burqas, of smug men in white beards smoothed out with stern hands, accusatory fingers wrapped in rosaries, on a mosque pulpit, in a rally, at a protest in Faizabad. Abuse, incite hatred, incite violence, vow to wreak havoc on the country, break laws and bones, harm policemen, destroy peace and property, and do it in the name of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who taught the exact opposite of that.
And forgotten amidst the chaos, there are the Ahmadis of Pakistan, who cannot call themselves Muslim, behave like Muslims, and be treated like Muslims while living life as per the true teachings of Allah and his prophet. Once more the stark outcome of Labaik’s “victory” is an even more blatant ostracisation of Ahmadis in Pakistan: Muslims who are not allowed to be addressed as Muslims.
Along with desecration of their mosques and graveyards, personal harassment, destruction of business and killings, now the ostracisation is absolute. Ahmadis are not human beings; they are the tool with which battles for hegemony of who controls Pakistan are staged and won. Ahmadis are disposable, like non-Muslims and Shias of Pakistan.
The number of Ahmadis in Pakistan is said to be more than two million. A number of Ahmadis contribute to Pakistan’s economy and structure-building: as industrialists, intellectuals and military officials. Their money and service are not Haram, their existence is. A 2011 Pew survey revealed: two-thirds of Pakistanis, in a country of more than 200 million people, consider Ahmadis non-Muslim.
What is noteworthy is that “under Indian law, the Ahmadi community is officially recognised as Muslim, the result of a landmark judgment by the Kerala High Court in 1970”.
Today, I ask the leadership of Pakistan: What are the Ahmadis to do in Pakistan? If they believe they are Muslim — and it is up to Allah to judge them — are they supposed to hide or renounce their faith because the man-made Constitution says so? I’m unable to think of any constitution in the world in which an entire set of people is ostracised from the religion it swears allegiance to. Which constitution other than Pakistan's decrees who is a Muslim and who is not?
As a Muslim who is deeply distraught by the treatment meted out to Ahmadi Muslims, all I can say is: what difference does it make if a constitution or people do not consider you Muslim? Your faith like mine is only to be judged by Allah, leave it all to Him. He will give you justice. If not here, in the hereafter.