By Yasser Latif Hamdani
The burning down of a factory owned by an Ahmedi family followed by the ransacking of an Ahmedi place of worship in Jhelum has once again showed how precarious the situation is for that community in Pakistan and how easily they can become victims of mob outrage and hatred, which has been cultivated slowly and steadily over the years. Against their will, they were cast out of the fold of Islam by the National Assembly (NA) in 1974. Then, in 1984, horrendous sanctions were placed on their freedom of religion and speech in the form of Ordinance XX of 1984, a law that mirrors, in its ruthlessness, the Nazi regime’s laws in Germany in the 1930s. Since the mid-1980s, the rest of us have been forced to abuse them and the founder of their sect in order to get a passport as Muslims in Pakistan. It seems there is an organised campaign to target the community’s economic well being by destroying their businesses, harassing their youth and ransacking their communal properties.
This did not happen overnight; it is a result of the state’s tolerance of hate speech against this particular community, and other sects and religions in general, which has become the norm since the late 1970s. The state has allowed hate mongers and bigots to flourish in small towns and qasbahs especially those in upper Punjab, lining the famous GT Road and on the Seraiki belt. These towns and qasbahs have now become hotbeds of extremism and religious and sectarian exclusivism.
Take, for example, Ishtiaq Ahmed, the so-called detective storywriter, who passed away a few days ago. Since the 1970s, Ishtiaq Ahmed has written over 800 novels in the Inspector Jamshaid, Inspector Kamran and Shoki Brothers series all of which contain messages — subliminal, implicit and explicit — against the Ahmedis, Shias, Christians and Jews. In his novels, these groups were portrayed as perpetually scheming against Islam (obviously Sunni Islam) and Pakistan. The irony that Pakistan’s founder was a Shia and its first foreign minister was an Ahmedi was completely lost on the late author. Or perhaps it was by design. In the two children’s magazines Ishtiaq Ahmed edited, numerous issues were dedicated to Ahrari leaders like Ataullah Shah Bokhari, Mazhar Ali Azhar and Shorish Kashmiri who were presented as the real heroes of Pakistan and Islam. These Ahrari leaders, for those who are not familiar with history, were the ones who had called Pakistan Kafiristan and Jinnah Kafir-e-Azam.
Christians, in Ishtiaq Ahmed’s mind, were the perpetual enemies of Muslims, a misinterpretation of the Quranic verse about forbidding Muslims to take Christians and Jews as their friends. What is missing is the context for the Quran, in other places, encourages Muslims to look at Christians and Jews as ahlal kitaab or the people of the book, permitting even intermarriage with them. Ishtiaq Ahmed never bothered to explain to his young readers that the Christians and Jews being referred to were Christians and Jews the nascent Muslim community was in conflict with in the early period of Islam. He whitewashed over the fact that the holy Prophet (PBUH) had even opened up Masjid-e-Nabvi to Christian messengers or that the Mesaq-e-Medina or Medina Pact described Jews and Muslims as one ummah or community. Christian Warqah Bin Nofil’s contributions to the life of the holy Prophet (PBUH) form no part of this narrative. Islam’s exhortations of tolerance and acceptance of other creeds are dismissed by the likes of Ishtiaq Ahmed as mere expediency of the time. People like him are an Islamophobe’s dream come true.
For decades — right up till his death — Ishtiaq Ahmed was allowed willfully by the state to poison young minds with his hateful propaganda against minorities as well as against the state itself. In Wadi-e-Marjan, a novel Ishtiaq Ahmed wrote at the height of his popularity, the entire state is shown to be in the clutches of Ahmedis who have supposedly ensconced themselves in high places and are planning a takeover of the state. Behind the Ahmedis are supposed to be Jews and Christians plotting from afar to destroy Islam in Pakistan. It is this mindset that the nation is now at war against. It is this mindset that creates the support base for al Qaeda, the Taliban and more recently Islamic State (IS) or Daesh. Mark these words, dear reader, Pakistan will not win this war so long as hate material such as Ishtiaq Ahmed’s novels are allowed to circulate with impunity. Already, as many as two generations have been tainted with this mentality and it is this mentality that we see at work when certain sections of our society garland murderers of sitting governors.
Answers to our predicament are easy enough. Clamp down on hate speech and materials. Will the National Action Plan (NAP) be implemented in true letter and spirit or will it become a No Action Plan as many fear it has become? In the case of Ahmedis it must be recognised by the state that by bestowing upon them a minority status against their will, they are eligible for the treatment that minorities are promised by the Constitution in general and the Objectives Resolution in particular. Extra effort must be made to protect them from the onslaught of a hostile and radicalised majority that has developed an unsavoury bloodlust for them. The foremost responsibility of the state, as was repeatedly emphasised by the father of the nation, is to ensure that the life, liberty and property of every person living in this state of Pakistan is fully protected. Unless the state protects this community and other minorities against the fruits of its own actions, the state of Pakistan has no right to claim itself a civilised democracy and a responsible nation amongst the comity of nations. If the Prime Minister (PM) is serious about what he promised in his Diwali speech recently, one hopes that he will begin by taking real and stern measures to combat the proliferation of hate materials in society. Pakistan must ensure that the life and liberty of each Pakistani, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, is equally protected and safeguarded by the state. A Pakistan that fails to do so is a Pakistan not worth having.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Mr Jinnah: Myth and Reality