By Dr Syed Mansoor Hussain
Perhaps the secularists’ anguish is tinged by a sense of overwhelming guilt for never having come out openly against the officially tolerated discrimination that the Ahmedis have suffered for all the years that they have been viciously persecuted
The recent massacre of Ahmedis in Lahore has brought forth a predictable spate of condemnation. And as time has gone by more people have come out to condemn this atrocity both in the media as well as in the ‘blogosphere’. This rising tide of sympathy and support for the Ahmedi community is perhaps an unintended consequence of the massacre. However, it has also exposed the intrinsic differences in the response of those that condemned the incidents.
Predictably the religious extremists and their fellow travellers remained silent. Among them those in political positions of power in Punjab did make some appropriate noises but could not find the gumption to condemn the actual perpetrators. The most bizarre point of view expressed by some of them is that both the victims and the attackers were not Muslims and as such it was not really a sectarian problem at all!
Most Pakistanis it seems were however truly anguished by what had happened. Of these there are two broad categories. The first is the majority point of view that seems to suggest that even if the Ahmedis are not accepted as ‘true’ Muslims they still deserve full protection under the law and respect of their beliefs as do all other Pakistanis.
The ‘secularists’ of the Left though seemed to be the most upset and as the days went by increasingly found their voice. Perhaps their anguish is tinged by a sense of overwhelming guilt for never having come out openly against the officially tolerated discrimination that the Ahmedis have suffered for all the years that they have been viciously persecuted.
Politics in Pakistan is a mess — the liberals, the secularists and the mainstream Muslims are all lost. They talk of individual rights but none have mustered the requisite courage to confront head on the cancer of religious extremism that is threatening the very existence of our country. Religiously motivated terrorism is obviously the greatest threat but it has its roots in the extremism that has slowly crept up and is now difficult to get rid of.
The two people who were responsible for starting Pakistan down this ‘slippery slope’ of extremism and legal discrimination against minorities are both dead and have been for decades, yet their legacy survives and has become a part of our constitution and our system of laws. It seems that even the most unjust laws, if based on religion, not only are allowed to exist but seem immune to change.
Interestingly, after the passage of the 18th Amendment to the constitution our apex court seems willing to examine whether it deserves to exist as an amendment yet no attempt has been made by this independent court to examine the laws that have made a mockery of the very concept of equality under the law for all citizens of Pakistan.
Whether we like it or not, Pakistan is an overwhelmingly Muslim country and as such Muslim sensibilities must be considered in most matters. But then we have enough examples from the past and the much more glorious days in the history of Muslims where considerable freedom existed within the framework of Islam.
At the height of their magnificence, the Abbasids in Iraq, the Umayyads in Spain, the Ottomans in half the known world and the Mughals in India practiced a multiculturalism that would be exemplary for even the most secular European country today. Many pious Muslims believe that the fall of those empires occurred because they became separated from Islamic orthodoxy. The truth is quite the opposite. When these empires started to disintegrate that is when religious extremism took over, accelerating their decay and eventual destruction.
Pakistan is in trouble and unless religious extremism can be controlled, things may spin out of control completely. Already our armed forces are fighting against the purveyors of extremism and terrorism on our western borders but ordinary people need to come out openly and help them win this war.
In this perhaps the massacre of the Ahmedis can contribute. It has the potential of uniting disparate elements of Pakistani society that oppose such violence. I realise that it is virtually impossible to even consider the question whether Ahmedis are Muslims without running afoul of the existing law but they are Pakistanis and as such have the right to practice their faith without fear of persecution and definitely without fear of violence.
It is imperative for all right minded people to come together and proclaim again and again that the Ahmedis must be protected. If once we create the environment where the Ahmedis can practice their faith freely and without fear then only can we hope that the Shias, followers of different Sufi systems, the Christians, the Hindus and eventually even the mainstream Barelvi-Hanafis will also be fully protected.
As far as who is a Muslim is concerned, I have great difficulty answering that question since I am not an expert on religious matters. Frankly, if somebody asks me if I am a Muslim I will of course reflexively say yes, but on further introspection I might wonder if that is true. We all say that we are Muslims, but when it comes to our actions more often than not they are contrary to the spirit of Islam.
I have never espoused ‘tolerance’ for I believe that tolerance is a sham. What is needed is acceptance. In the US, for all the years I lived there, I was always accepted as an equal. Yes, different forms of bigotry existed but it was well suppressed by the law as well as public opprobrium attached to such attitudes.
When somebody said, I am a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim, few people — if any — felt the need to ask them to prove it. And that is what I wish we as a people in Pakistan will some day be able to do. May the spirit of Ali Hajweri, the patron saint of Lahore, guide us in these dark times.
Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org