Minorities matter too

By Ehtesham Hassan

In Pakistan, it doesn’t take much before you can be labelled an infidel or traitor. Unfortunately, the very social media, which is supposed to be the bastion of democratic voices, is contributing to this ‘noise’. And how.

Early this year, the news about the graves of members of the Ahmadiyya community being desecrated in a village in Gujranwala division, allegedly with the help of local police officers, shook me no end. As I would do with any other ‘shocking’ news I come across, I turned to Facebook to post a status condemning the very deplorable act. What followed in the comments section below my post as well as my inbox is what shocked me even more. Strangers such as this (apparently a) primary schoolteacher had sent me curses, calling me anti-Islam, pro-Qadiani and a traitor against the core idea of Pakistan.

My Facebook inbox was full of spiteful criticism and dreadful threats from people I had never added or known, asking me to shut up or be ready to face the consequences.

Now that we have declared Ahmadis non-Muslims, and ghettoised them, keeping them out of all mainstream social, political and religious activities, should we also stifle any voice on social media that only talks of basic human rights?

I don’t know if it’s our general apathy or some sort of social insecurity — or, merely the result of successful brainwashing at the hands of several men preaching from the pulpit, but this is horrifying, to say the least. On my visit to Hafeez Centre, Lahore, in January, I had found stickers on literally every other shop that provoked Ahmadis to ‘enter into Islam’ before entering the shops.

For every Muslim, Khatme Nabuwat is indeed an integral part of the faith, and according to the Constitution of Pakistan those who don’t subscribe to this are non-Muslims. But this should not mean that any minority’s rights as equal citizens of the country be confiscated.

On very basic human grounds, we should consider how the Ahmadis, in particular, have been condemned to a life of captives. Often, they have to hide their identity to find social acceptance. Just how acceptable is this idea, for any rational mind living in the 21st century?

In 2011, the then governor of the Punjab, Salman Taseer was killed by his security guard, Mumtaz Qadri, because the former had shown support for an alleged blasphemer. That Qadri later became the hero of millions across the country and his subsequent death by hanging led to the establishment of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a religio-political movement led by a highly charged Khadim Hussain Rizvi, is history.

TLP’s very existence is based on a merciless anti-minority — chiefly, anti-Ahmadiyya — ideology. In his various sermons, Rizvi has spoken of those who don’t accept Islam as having any right to live in this country or anywhere, for that matter.

In March 2019, a student stabbed his professor to death over blasphemy allegations. On further inquiry it was found that the youth was ‘inspired’ by the speeches and sermons of Rizvi. More recently, the murder of a man accused of blasphemy in a courtroom during his trial in the city of Peshawar was only a continuation of that mindset. The murderer walked away being celebrated as a “ghazi”, and even the lawyers and policemen considered it a pride for them to take selfies with whom they saw as the ‘saviour’ of religion.

In the general elections of 2018, the TLP won over two million votes. Does this mean that at least two million people in this country subscribe to Rizvi’s religious narrative?

But this ‘minority phobia’ is not restricted to the TLP only. All ‘religious ‘parties seem to have a consensus on persecuting minorities. When the construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad was announced, it riled the religious fanatics who destroyed its boundary wall and streamed this ‘historical’ incident live on social media to be shared and appreciated by millions.

Even the Shia Muslims have their stories of discrimination to tell. The unanimous passing of the Tahaffuz-i-Islam Bill has been criticised by many, including even a federal minister. It is the responsibility of the state to protect all its citizens including the minorities, but here the situation seems exactly the opposite. All of which makes me think that religious minorities are the ‘blacks’ of Pakistan and we must stand up for them, for their lives matter too.

Let’s not forget that Jinnah’s Pakistan was a country whose founder belonged to the Shia community, while our first foreign minister, Sir Zafrullah Khan, was an Ahmadi, and our first law minister, Joginder Nath Mandal, was a Hindu.

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