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Islam and Sectarianism ( 24 Sept 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Parochialism in the Wrong Places


By Mohammad Ali Mahar

September 17, 2013

While addressing judicial officers at the Sindh Judicial Academy in Karachi recently, the most honourable lordship is reported to have decreed that people living in the interior of Sindh are Muslim only in name

Fear the times when parochialism reaches the places it should have absolutely no place in. While writing Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan, Stanley Wolpert met Alvin Robert Cornelius, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Justice Cornelius was an Urdu-speaking Christian from Agra, a former ICS officer-turned-judge, who opted for Pakistan because “it would be much easier for me to get promoted here”, and also because, “I could have never become Chief Justice in India, without any barrister training, you see.” He, foreseeing that in Pakistan everything would be possible for an immigrant, made his immigration for opportunity, not for the love of Pakistan. Wolpert had gone to interview Cornelius regarding the death sentence granted to Bhutto by his protégé, Justice Anwar ul Haque. The former judge, on his deathbed at that time, “ventured no opinion of Mr Bhutto, or the infamous trial other than to say ‘I am sure they did the right thing.’” Most interesting, however, was his parting comment: unlike other immigrants, he chose to settle in Lahore “...because you can’t trust a Sindhi.”

“...because you can’t trust a Sindhi.” This ‘hate speech’ coming from a person who had once been the chief justice of the country! One could well imagine how fair this judge would have been while hearing cases where one of the parties was a Sindhi.

Sometime ago, I was reading an autobiography Shahab Biti by a former ICS officer, Shaha¯buddi¯n Rah?matulla¯h, who, while mentioning Justice Anwar ul Haque, wrote that the former was sent to the judiciary because the lowest performing ICS officers who could not fit anywhere else were thrown into the judiciary at that time. Both Haque and Cornelius were ICS officers dispatched to the judiciary. Had they stayed in India, it would have been hard for them to rise to even the next tier.

Regarding this kind of immigration for opportunity, I cannot keep from quoting another immigrant, Iftikhar Arif: “Shikam ki aag liye phir rahi hai shehr ba shehr/Sag-e-zamaanaa hain, hum kiaa, hamaari hijrat kiaa” (The fire of hunger takes us from town to town/We are animals of opportunity. What migration! Who is an immigrant?) Interestingly, Arif himself migrated to Pakistan after finishing his master’s degree in India, rose to the highest bureaucratic grade without the required wherewithal for the positions he acquired in the land of opportunity at a very young age.

Sindhi newspapers these days are abuzz with the golden words attributed to the honourable Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court. While addressing judicial officers at the Sindh Judicial Academy in Karachi recently, the most honourable lordship is reported to have decreed that people living in the interior of Sindh are Muslim only in name!

This verdict coming from the Chief Justice of Sindh! What is next? Shouldn’t the whole population of the interior of Sindh be tried for Irtidad (deviation)? But wait a minute. Don’t these words sound familiar? Aren’t these the same words our another honourable Chief Justice Maulvi Mushtaq Hussain of the honourable Lahore High Court used in his verdict while granting the death sentence to another Sindhi, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, some 35 years ago?

Granted, Sindhis are generally known to be a tolerant, secular lot, but this labelling from a superior judge is a bit too much to digest. I have absolutely no reason to believe that the honourable judge would ever have let these prejudices interfere with his ability to adjudicate the cases concerning nominally Muslim Sindhis.

When I first read this in a newspaper, I thought of climbing to the rooftop and shouting Hazrat Ameer Khusro’s Persian verse: “Khalq mi goyad keh Khusro butparasti mi kunad/aare aare mi kunam, baa khalq ma ra kaar-I neest” (People say that Khusro worships idols/yes, yes. I do. What have I to do with people?).

Now to another matter occupying a lot of space in the Sindhi print media: Some time ago, a young man named Shahzeb Khan was murdered in Karachi, a city where a single murder is not news. The culprits quickly got identified and duly sentenced. In another clime this would have been a straightforward case. Not in our country. Hearing of this murder, a TV anchor, who is already infamous for his parochial and biased analyses against Sindhis, took it to the TV screen, giving it a racial colour by terming the culprit as “Wadere ka beta (son of a feudal lord).” Remember the term Wadera is associated with only one ethnicity in Pakistan: Sindhi. This divided opinion. While all the other communities saw the murder committed by a Sindhi, the Sindhis, on the other hand, saw it as an anti-Sindhi campaign, an opportunity started by a biased TV anchorperson to malign the Sindhi nation as such. At any rate, the courts found the culprit guilty and sentenced him to death. After some time, the family of the victim forgave the murderer in the name of Allah according to the Islamic law.

But then again our honourable superior judiciary comes into the picture. When the Supreme Court judges citing this case commented against the practice of forgiveness of murder in the name of Allah, the Sindhi media raised its eyebrows. The questions being raised in Sindhi papers being when Raymond Davis, who killed two people in broad daylight in Lahore, was freed from a court and allowed to leave the country after the family of the victims forgave him, why did the honourable Supreme Court of the country not take any action? Is it because in that deal the angels were involved? (Those interested in details and who mediated the deal, please read Mark Mazzetti’s The Way of the Knife. I have absolutely no interest in getting my name mentioned in the next missing persons’ list!). Why cannot this young man be forgiven when terrorists who have killed thousands of people are being freed on one pretext or the other by the courts every day?

Shouldn’t there be one law for everyone in the land?

Mohammad Ali Mahar is an independent commentator