By Yasser Latif Hamdani
August 03, 2015
Malik Ishaq’s violent death seems to indicate that the state is now ready to take on the sectarian extremism that has plagued Pakistan for a long time now. However, this is merely symptomatic relief while the underlying issue of sectarianism continues to be ignored by the state. The goal that sectarian organisations such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) have pursued is to get Shia Muslims declared a non-Muslim minority in Pakistan, ironic for a country whose founding father was a Shia. They have, however, a precedent for this: the declaration of another sect as a non-Muslim minority in 1974.
The Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan is the fountainhead of sectarian extremism. Not only did it violate all principles of citizenship and a citizen’s relations with the state, it dealt a deathblow to Muslim unity in Pakistan. Takfir (to declare someone an apostate) is not a recent phenomenon: Muslims have been declaring other Muslims Kafirs (infidels) for centuries now. In the 1940s, Jinnah was declared not just a Kaafir but the Kaafir-e-Azam or the great infidel by the Ulema (clergy) opposing him. His crime was twofold: one, he was a Shia and two; he refused to turn Ahmadis out of the Muslim League. What he achieved despite this opposition was unity between the various sects and sub-sects of Muslims. The Ahmadis especially supported the creation of the new country despite not being unmindful of the fact that at some point they may face persecution. Records show that they were well aware of the possibility of all other sects ganging up against them but went along with the idea because they thought it was best for the Muslims of the subcontinent. The Muslim unity that led to the creation of this country, however, was achieved on the basis that no Muslim had a better right to being called a Muslim than any other Muslim. This was a rejection of the clergy’s right to determine who was a Muslim and who was not a Muslim.
The Second Amendment in 1974 shattered that Muslim unity once and for all. Now the principle was established that parliament could excommunicate an entire community by passing a constitutional amendment. This legitimised sectarian politics; after all if Ahmadis could be excommunicated so could Shias or Barelvis and so and so forth, till Pakistan became a non-Muslim majority country by law. When put in this context, it makes perfect sense for Sunni extremists to do whatever they can in their power to get the state to declare Shias non-Muslim as well. Unlike Ahmadis, Shias form more than 20 percent of Pakistan’s population and therefore, by sheer arithmetic, constitutional politics are unlikely to achieve any similar result for Shias. Hence, the Sunni extremists resorted to the violence that has plagued Pakistan for three decades now.
The basic problem with this idea is that parliament can legitimately declare anyone a non-Muslim. I am not going to argue against the constitutional theory of parliamentary sovereignty, which is just another theory. The issue is beyond legal niceties. The Pakistani parliament’s arrogation of powers to act as God’s representative on earth has put the very fabric of Pakistani society in danger. In doing so it has left the door wide open for adventurers and religious bigots to seize it and take over, if not directly then by horrible sectarian violence. What the country needs is resolute leadership and what the leadership needs to do is repeal the Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan. Obviously, there are no takers of this proposition in Pakistan at the moment. Yet so long as the Second Amendment remains a part of the Constitution of Pakistan, sectarianism will continue to have the justification needed for its existence. Pakistani politicians and leaders must reach out to the Ulema of whatever variety and explain to them why the policies that have been followed since 1974 regarding Ahmadis have led to a disaster that encompasses not just that relatively tiny community but all of us. It does not mean of course that you or I or anyone else needs to agree with Ahmadis and their beliefs but what is necessary is to accept that no one has a better right at being called a Muslim than any other person who calls himself or herself Muslim. The decision as to who is right and who is wrong is better left to the ultimate and supreme authority i.e. God Almighty himself.
Once we have established that neither the state nor parliament has the right to decide who is a Muslim and who is not, sectarianism will wither away on its own. No longer will groups have to struggle to achieve supremacy over one another. The Ulema then can finally do what it is that they are required to do: to act as shepherd to their flock and stop preaching hate against each other.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Mr Jinnah: Myth and Reality.