By Aijaz Zaka Syed
2 September, 2012
What in God’s name is wrong with Pakistan? Just when you think things cannot get any worse, something more outrageous happens to stretch the limits of your sensibilities. The first country to be founded in the name of Islam has suffered the most at the hands of those championing the faith.
This week, responding to my recent piece on Assam, a Hindu friend wrote back: “Typical hypocrisy! What about Pakistan? Why are you silent on the treatment of Hindus and Christians there? What about Rimsha Masih?” The insinuation suggesting Indian Muslims are somehow accountable for Pakistan would have normally rankled me. I’ve myself been deeply saddened by the recent events in the South Asian country. Indeed, the faithful everywhere, including those in Pakistan, are repelled by the crimes being carried out in the name of their sweet faith.
What do I tell my friend? How do you defend the indefensible? How can anyone ever justify the cold blooded killing of fellow Muslims, heading home for Eid, in the blessed month of Ramazan? This, at a time when the Muslims around the world were protesting against the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. This, at a time when Muslim leaders were meeting in the shadow of the holy Kaaba to celebrate the unity of the Ummah. The international media noted with interest how Saudi King Abdullah and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sat next to each other at the special OIC summit in Makkah and were often seen talking and laughing together. It was supposed to send out a message of Islamic solidarity and brotherhood to the world. It has been business as usual though in the killing fields of Syria and Somalia and Pakistan and Afghanistan. The killer clique in Damascus is determined to outdo the savagery and bestiality of the Mongol hordes a millennium ago.
If people peacefully going about their business, as those heading home to Gilgit had been, were isolated on the basis of their sect and gunned down in Pakistan, in Afghanistan our Taliban friends have added another feather to their cap by slaying a group of men and women on the way, allegedly, to a ‘mixed’ party. All this of course was ostensibly for the cause of Islam. This isn’t the first such incident of course. From bombing mosques to targeting religious processions, the game is all too familiar. Sectarian and ethnic killings have become a daily routine in Karachi, once Pakistan’s most vibrant and cosmopolitan city.
The Taliban’s swift, vigilante justice was again in the name of Shariah, just as most of their actions have been – from gunning down a defenceless woman on the suspicion of an affair to poisoning and persecution of school-going girls. What kind of Islam are we preaching to the world? Is this what the Prophet taught us? In the long history of Islam, there’s not a single incident that can be cited to justify the madness that is on the march in the name of religion today. There was a time when minorities and other vulnerable sections turned to Muslims for protection. From Salahuddin’s (Saladin the Great) intervention in Palestine putting an end to the genocide of Jews at the hands of the Crusaders to the protection of Christians and Hindus in the far corners of the Muslim empire, we have had a long history of genuine religious tolerance.
When Jerusalem fell and Sayyidna Omar visited the holy city, Patriarch Sophronius, was so moved by the conduct of the victors that he invited the great Caliph to pray inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The leader of the faithful however declined, fearing it might lead to Muslim claims over the temple. Instead he chose another site to pray where Masjid-e-Omar stands today. Sindh’s Hindus literally deified Mohammed bin Qasim, the first Arab conqueror, because of his conduct.
In more recent times, millions of Jews, hunted like animals across Europe, found refuge in the Ottoman Empire. For decades Turkey was the only Muslim country that enjoyed full diplomatic and close economic-military ties with Israel. All this is part of Islam’s rich history, no matter what Orientalists like Bernard Lewis choose to believe. This is why it’s sad to see minorities increasingly insecure today in a country that was meant to be a model Muslim state. An 11-year old, illiterate rag-picker finds herself behind bars on blasphemy charges. Rimsha Masih is accused of burning the pages of Holy Quran – some say she burnt the pages of the Noorani Qaida, a beginner’s guide to the Holly Book – with other stuff on a garbage dump.
What makes this worse is the fact that Rimsha suffers from Down’s Syndrome and doesn’t always know what she’s doing. While her impoverished family and other relatives have fled their homes in Islamabad slums fearing reprisals, the ever-ready rabble rousers of various outfits have taken to the streets demanding “justice” under the anti-blasphemy law. Of course, it’s not the first time that the law is in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Since the British era law was reintroduced under President Ziaul Haq, there has been a rampant abuse of the law by people looking to settle personal scores. While Christians are a tempting target, more than half of those tried under the law happen to be Muslims! No wonder rights groups have been clamouring for repealing or revising the law. The problem isn’t in the law though; it’s in its abuse.
Besides, this is a symptom of a deeper malaise, not the disease itself. It’s a manifestation of the general breakdown of national institutions and the long years of abuse of power by the elites. And the first victims of the society’s decay and erosion are its most vulnerable sections.
The Hindus living in Sindh and elsewhere for centuries are leaving in droves for the comforting security of a predominantly Hindu India. It’s only understandable considering the growing cases of abductions and forced marriages of Hindu girls with Muslims who clearly think this is some kind of jihad and the shortest route to paradise. With defenders of faith like these, do Pakistan and Islam really need any more enemies? Minorities aren’t the only victims of this growing sickness. The intolerance of various Islamic sects and schools for each other has crossed all limits with everyone throwing everyone else out of Islam and lusting for their blood. Is this what Pakistan’s founding fathers had in mind when they fought for a Muslim homeland?
Jinnah’s speech to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947repeatedly calls for an inclusive and pluralistic Pakistan. “Every one of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second, and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations,” emphasised the man often panned for breaking up India. “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
Jinnah’s dream needs to be rescued and rediscovered. And only Pakistanis can do it. The reasonable, peace-loving majority must speak up and act against the lunatic fringe that claims to speak on their behalf before it’s too late.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is a commentator on Middle East and South Asian affairs.