By Yasser Latif Hamdani
This last week when the Electoral Reforms Bill was introduced, someone — someone who is gifted with both heart and a first rate brain — removed the ‘religious oath’ from the bill. It was about time. What kind of nation state in the 21st century is still bothered by what the personal faith of an individual is? Need I remind you of what the founder and maker of this country, Jinnah, — “You may belong to any religion caste or creed- that has nothing to do with the business of the state”.
Why then in God’s name are my religious beliefs then the business of this ‘Islamic’ constitution imposed on us by those in the National Assembly of 1973?
One of these constitution makers, Ahmad Raza Kasuri, made quite a scene in Islamabad High Court two weeks ago after his cell phone rang during court proceedings. He refused to turn the phone in screaming at the judge “I am the founding father of the constitution, how dare you take my phone away”. Yes he is many of the founding fathers of the so-called ‘Islamic’ Constitution.
Another founding father of the Constitution was Maulah Bux Soomro, brother of Allah Bux Soomro, the arch pro-Congress “secular politician” who presided over conferences of Ahrars and Momins in Delhi against the Muslim League some time before the Hurs got rid of him for killing Pir Pagaro. Maula Bux Soomro would take special pleasure in abusing and attacking Jinnah and who later, quite appropriately, became chief advisor to Martial Law dictator General Ziaul Haq. He had wanted his son Illahi Bux Soomro to become the Prime Minister instead of Muhammad Khan Junejo.
Yet another founding father of the Constitution of ours is Khan Abdul Wali Khan. This brilliant Pushtun nationalist politician – scion of ‘secular’ Khan dynasty and Bacha Khan’s political heir had voted on serial no8 on the list to declare Ahmadis Non-Muslim through the 2nd Amendment. He did so along with his entire party — the ‘National Awami Party. His father Bacha Khan, the great non-violent secular saint was alive and well then. No protests were heard from these self styled champions of secularism and liberalism while Pakistan converted into a theocracy. Instead, for decades they evaded the question so long as the proceedings were under the wrap but truth did come out. We now know that not only did Wali Khan vote alongside his party, but he also asked the Ahmadi leader that question which seemingly sealed the fate — “do you consider us Muslims?” Should it matter to a secular leader whether someone else considered him or her Muslim? The issue is and will always be of the state making that determination.
And then we had Mr Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto – the gallant soldier of Islam, the Islamic Socialist hero, the arch-patriot, the Quaid-e-Awam and the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party. The PPP likes to claim that ZAB threw the question of Khatm-e-Nabuwat to the National Assembly as a last resort. Whether that is true or not, for years Bhutto took credit for it. In a recent interview to a TV journalist, Khurshid Shah even implied that Bhutto was assassinated as part of an international conspiracy because he dared to declare Ahmadis Non-Muslim. Have some shame at long last Mr Shah.
Even more shameless than the shameless leader of the opposition was the politician from Rawalpindi — Shaikh Rasheed. He invoked the memory of Majlis-e-Ahrar and Ataullah Shah Bokhari in the next session. Yes the same Atatullah Shah Bokhari who famously said that those who vote for Jinnah or the Muslim League are the same as those who eat pork. Majlis-e-Ahrar called Pakistan Kafiristan and called Jinnah Kafir-e-Azam, but in this country that Jinnah founded, we have to live by the diktat of these personnel. The purpose of the Constitution is not to fix your religious belief or Aqeedah. A constitution’s sole purpose is to exist as a social compact between the state and the governed. It is not the state’s business if I believe or disbelieve. My religion is no business of the Constitution. I call upon all citizens of Pakistan reading this article to rise up against this religious tyranny imposed on us.
No, they say, the state was founded in the name of Islam. No, that is not an accurate narration of historical events leading up to the Partition. The state was founded because Muslims and Hindus as legally-defined ethnic groups under the British could not find a constitution acceptable to both. They came close. It was known as the Cabinet Mission Plan. But it didn’t happen. Whatever the case, Pakistan was not founded so that the constitution framed for it impinges upon citizens’ right to exist as free individuals. Jinnah promised as much repeatedly – he repeatedly said that a person’s religion is his personal matter and not the business of the state. So why have the elected representatives of this country spent the last week debating a non-issue? Pakistan will not progress – whatever you imagine its founding myth – unless it separates religion from state completely and uncompromisingly.