By Yasser Latif Hamdani
I hate to keep repeating myself, but repeat myself I must so long as necessary. Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam was a party founded in late 1920s. Its leading lights were people like Ataullah Shah Bukhari, Mazhar Ali Azhar and Daud Ghaznavi. Later these gentlemen were tasked by the Congress’ increasingly Machiavellian leadership under Gandhi and Nehru to divide the Muslim minority of the subcontinent along sectarian lines. Gandhi and Nehru felt that a united Muslim voice would pose political problems that would challenge their single party hegemony over the independence movement. Consequently Majlis-e-Ahrar started two major movements, at Congress’ behest. The first was the Madhe-Sahaba Movement against Shias in Lucknow with the express purpose of weakening the Muslim League. Then they initiated the anti-Ahmadi movement in Punjab by raising the issue of that sect’s right to identify as Muslim. Jinnah was wise to these machinations and swiftly ruled out any such sectarian division proclaiming that anyone who professes to be Muslim is welcome in the Muslim League be he Ahmadi or Shia or Mahdavi or what have you.
Jinnah’s public pronouncement buried the issue for a time but it came back full force after his death in form of the Anti-Ahmadiyya movement started by Majlis-e-Ahrar in 1949. This led to the 1953 Martial Law in Lahore and the disturbances which led to the downfall of Pakistan’s constitutional order. In 1974 Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto sought to resolve the issue by declaring Ahmadis Non-Muslim or so he thought. 43 years later we are still reeling from the horrendous misstep by the PPP government and it has taken a life of its own. It no longer concerns Ahmadis alone though they are the most notable victims, carrying body bags every few weeks.
On 7 September 1974 Pakistan for all practical purposes ceased to exist and the state became Ahraristan. Ahrarism is the de facto ideology of this state now. Its founding father is not the anglicised Shiite lawyer Mr Jinnah who would countenance no discrimination in the name of religion. It is not even Mr Bhutto who naively imagined he was doing the country a favour by resolving the Ahmadi issue. Nor is it General Zia who was perhaps Ahrar’s most effective tool in the country. The true founder of this country in the shape that it exists now is none other than Ataullah Shah Bokhari, the firebrand Congress cleric who had denounced Pakistan as Kafiristan and proudly proclaimed that he would not allow the Muslim League to even make the P in Pakistan.
He couldn’t stop the League in 1947 but his successors claimed the country as their own. They are the ultimate victors. Even liberals have to follow suit. Consequently you find professors from Stockholm and free-lance journalists from New Jersey hiding behind anti-Ahmadiyya propaganda to justify their often unsubstantiated attacks on Pakistan itself. In Pakistan you can abuse Pakistan, Jinnah and everything under the sun, so long as you also abuse Ahmadis. This is why a fraud like Agha Shorish Kashmiri is a respected literary figure in Pakistan.
People often speak about Saudi influence. Saudis have definitely been influential since the 1970s in Pakistan using their oil money to fund rabid clerics. However it is the cancer of Ahrarism that has seeped in so deep that has enabled Pakistan’s steady decline into the abyss. This comes with consequences. Consider the new piece of legislation introduced in the Senate, which calls for making fines and punishments for violation of Ehteram-e-Ramadan Ordinance (ERO) 1981. To begin with ERO is a gross violation not just of fundamental right of religious freedom but vitiates the very spirit of Islam, which is encapsulated in the clear injunction of the Holy Quran that “there is no compulsion in religion”. Yet it is quite a popular thing to trample on religious liberty of the citizens of Pakistan provided it is done in the name of Islam. Unfortunately there is no judge in all of Pakistan who has it in himself to strike down a blatantly unconstitutional and un-Islamic law like the ERO. Consequently Non-Muslims in Pakistan must silently suffer for the crime of being born in a Muslim majority country. They must reconcile themselves with the fact that politicians and the military alike will continue to use religion for their own ends and they will continue to live as, at best, second class citizens of this benighted country.
Another manifestation of Ahrarism is the palpable anti-Shia feeling amongst the Sunni majority in the country. If Iran threatens Pakistan over border disputes or sectarian groups operating with impunity in Balochistan, Shias are expected to denounce Iran and prove their loyalty to Pakistan. The decision to allow an Ex-Army Chief to head up the predominantly Sunni alliance was also part of this sordid saga. Who do they think they were fooling when they claimed that it was a Pan-Islamic alliance and that Iran would be cajoled into joining it? Let us call a spade a spade. It is a Sunni alliance aimed at Shias and Pakistan, home to second largest Shia population in the world, has foolishly decided to join it. What a shame for a country whose founding father was a Shia.
Well such is the nature of international sectarian Muslim politics today. My advice to Pakistanis is that if you choose to continue to tread this perilous path, at the very least you can petition the government to change the name of the country to Ahraristan. That would be truly reflective of the reality of Pakistan today.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a practising lawyer.