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Islam, minorities and Islamic Republic of Pakistan

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More often than not, Islam is boasted and flaunted for it is the only religion on the face of the earth that prescribed adequate rights for non-Muslims (minorities). Is that a valid argument? An imprudent would nod, NO but there are palpable references in Quran and Ahadees that ensure the rights of minorities. Notwithstanding being the Islamic Republic, Pakistan pays less heed to religious minorities and their travails. Is there a distinct version of Islam in the country? Why there are bundles of cases of persecution of non-Muslims in Pakistan? This issue needs to be addressed as it contributes to making Pakistan’s image worse in the international community plus it sows seeds of hate against Islam and Muslims hence providing impetus to Islamophobia in the world.
Pakistan is culturally, ethically, linguistically and religiously diverse. Census of 2017 reveals that Muslims constitute 96 per cent of the country’s population, whereas Christians are 1.59 per cent and Hindus 1.6 per cent. Ahmadiyya (Qadianis) community constitute just 0.22 per cent. However, the figure of Ahmadis can be discrepant as many of them prefer not to disclose their belief due to the intransigence of the masses in the country. Diversity is a boon but it insinuates the religious differences often seen as fatal. Most of the minority community members in Pakistan receive threats from the majority Muslims. There have been profound activities during the recent decade rendered by far-right groups especially targeting and proscribing the Ahmadiyya community. They (Ahmadiyyas) are constitutionally declared non-Muslim which means their certificate of Infidelity has been reinforced by the state. And no doubt they are nowhere near the circle of Islam but it doesn’t mean people should target them discriminately. After all, they are a minority in Pakistan and our constitution doesn’t allow anyone to exploit minorities in any sense.
What Islam directs regarding the rights of minorities is quite contrary to what they (non-Muslim) have been facing in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Quran is frigid about providing rights to non-Islamic factions and it also directed Muslims in the majority to oversee minorities and ensure them of their rights. Allah (JallaJalalahu) says in Quran, Al Kahf (The cave), “Truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills – let him believe and whoever wills – let him disbelieve.” WILL, a big word if one can discern. It means it is their will to decide what religion they want to opt for. And further in continuance of this Ayat, the Creator mentioned that how they (non-believers) are going to be tormented. It implies that the Creator has the primacy and pre-eminence to torment or punish the non-believer but no human has the authority to punish anyone. Another reference from Quran is in Al-Baqarah (The Cow), it is envisaged as “No compulsion in Deen” which sheds light on and forbids the force-conversions. It explicitly means that you cannot impel someone forcefully to embrace Islam. The philosophy of this Ayat is largely misunderstood despite eminent scholars of different schools of thought have written much on it.
In Quran Al-Anbiya (The Prophets) God declared: “And We have not sent you, except as a mercy to the worlds”. Prophet Muhammad (SAAW) sent down by Allah as a Rehmat (blessings) for not only this world but all the worlds. It is not mentioned for Muslims only. Therefore, the last prophet provides humanity with his mercy as a practical concept of Justice, Equity and Fairness. Another aspect of mercy is how Prophet provided justice to the non-Muslim community.
There are abundant Ahadees (sayings of Prophet Muhammad SAAW) and events where the last prophet ingeminates about the rights of the minority. A Hadees in Abu Dawood: “Beware whosoever oppresses a minority or snatches his rights and cause him pain, I Muhammad (SAAW) myself shall complain to Allah at the Day of Judgement – of that person”. Even companions of the last Prophet (SAAW) also protected and maintained the rights of minorities. Second Caliph and close companion of Muhammad, Omar Bin Khattab, when conquered Jerusalem in 637, he promised to the already residing Christians that their rights e.g., physical safety, protection of property, freedom to maintain churches, no forced conversions, right to existing properties etc, would be protected. Minorities should be given their full rights in every Muslims majority state was the clear message and teaching of the religion Islam.
Are these rights conserved in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan? The last decade has been very cataclysmic regarding minorities in the country. First of all, according to the Centre of Social Justice report, from 1987 to 2020, there have been around 1855 cases of blasphemy registered and to everyone’s shock and wonder 75 per cent of the culprits were none other than Muslim Brethren who uttered or passed derogatory remarks about the last Prophet (SAAW), 20 per cent Ahmadis whereas 3.5 per cents were Christians and some 2 per cent Hindus. God knows how much of them would be unreal and planted. Owing to, all too often, blasphemy cases were registered based on hate and disdain vis-a-vis non-Muslim, there is a possibility of falsehood.
I am not a judge neither am I someone to call someone “Gustaakh” (impudent) but it gets bewildering and very hard to believe that a minority community member would utter scathing remarks about the most revered personality among the Muslims while being in a country where 97 per cent of the population is Muslim and most of them are zealots and fundamentalists. Aasia Noreen, also known as Asiya Bibi gets the exoneration from Supreme Court while the inclement dissents labelled her already as “Maloona” (cursed). She was freed but still, she had to spend almost a decade in incarceration until her acquittal in 2018. Why she was acquitted if she had committed a sacrilege? It means the accusations were falsified. It was the misuse of Blasphemy laws.
In 2010, 250 Hindu workers were forced to convert to Islam by their employers after people boycotted the edibles they had been manufacturing, over blasphemy. March 2011, Minorities Rights Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti (he was a Roman Catholic) was gunned down over his efforts to reform the blasphemy laws. What are the blasphemy laws? According to Pakistan Penal Code 1860 (PPC 1860), sections 295 B and C plus section 298-C deal with cases related to desecration. In 2013, A Christian colony in Lahore known as Joseph Colony was torched by an enraged mob despite the accusations were proved wrongful and fabricated. At least 160 houses, 18 shops and churches were burned to the ground by protesters. Where does Quran say go and burn them down? Lamentably, it was awfully opposite to Islamic teachings.
In 2014, a Christian couple was killed by a mob allegedly because they desecrated the Holy Quran. These acts cannot be portrayed as acts of valour and the perpetrators cannot be branded as saviours of Islam. Extremism can only lead to disaster and bloodshed. Who can forget the recent ransacking of a Hindu temple in the Bhong village of Rahimyar Khan? A Group of extremists invaded the temple and vandalised it by tearing the glass showcases and idols, why? Because a mentally challenged 9years old Hindu boy relieved himself in a Seminary. Prophet Muhammad (SAAW) once offered non-Muslim delegation Masjid-e-Nabavi when they had no place to perform prayer in Madinah. Are Muslims of this country anywhere near this demonstration?
At independence in 1947, Hindus composed 20.5 per cent of the population of the areas that are now Pakistani territories. Latest census of 2017 reveals that Hindus constitute 1.6 per cent in population. It implies that either minorities left the country at their own free will which, in Pakistan’s case, seems impossible or their lives were threatened by fundamentalists. It is a bitter truth and a question to the state as well as to the conservative Muslims. A lot of members of minority community are not safe in this country. There are ample cases of lynching of non-Muslims, forced conversions, forced marriages, hurling false accusations of blasphemy and discrimination in social hierarchy. There is a report ofHuman Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) that about 1000 young girls, 700 Christians and 300 Hindus, are forced to change their religion and convert to Islam every year. Where is the philosophy of ‘No Compulsion?’ Not upheld.
The above-mentioned events and statistics are just tip of the iceberg. One can easily find extremely disturbing cases of persecution of minorities. Pakistan is a country that is often seen in the world as a safe haven for terrorists and as the hub of religious extremism. This is a worldwide believe that Pakistan is worst in human rights abuse. If Pakistan is to clear its name among international community, it must first protect its minority to send a message that every live, regardless of any religious affiliation, matters. We need to show the world that Islam is a religion of peace and Pakistan is the country which upholds rights of minorities and respects the human rights.
Unfortunately, our political leadership gives impunity to public after treating the minorities as sons of lesser God. Populist leaders who only worry about to be elected and be known among populace as a good politician, pay no attention to this festering issue. The Diplomat, aninternational magazine, even labelled the current Prime Minister Imran Khan as a populist leader who had chanted the slogans to mend the situation of non-Muslims but soon after holding the office, he gave religious minorities a back seat.
Religious scholars who are believed to be influential among masses should teach uneducated people about rights of minorities and tell them that Islam is a religion of peace and co-existence but unluckily our Ulema sell what is demanded by public instead of educating them. They focus on making fierce tirades against other Ulema (of different sects). They think that Islam is in danger which is not true. Besides, no one can harm Islam owing to God himself has taken its responsibility.Ulema should stop reiterating the crammed ‘Taqreers’ (sermons) andenlightenedpeople with knowledge and make them tolerant in the society.