December Issue 2015

By | News & Politics | Published 8 years ago

No surprises here. As expected, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s statement at an international conference in Islamabad, that the nation’s future lay in a “liberal, democratic” Pakistan, sent alarm bells ringing among the self-appointed custodians of Islam and they sprang to action.

They held a protest demonstration and demanded that Sharif retract his statement. In their skewed worldview, liberalism is the same as godlessness and, hence, poses a threat to Islam.

In fact, what poses the greatest threat to Islam is not liberalism or secularism, but the religious fanaticism of militant groups like Al Qaeda, Taliban, and now, the most lethal of them all, IS, who have unleashed havoc across the globe with their terrorist acts and fanned the flames of hatred against Islam and Muslims.

Meanwhile, their cohorts in Pakistan go about their despicable business with the same zeal as their foreign counterparts, targeting fellow countrymen — both Muslims and those of other faiths.

The most recent example of this was the burning of a chipboard factory owned by an Ahmadi and the ransacking and occupation of an Ahmadiyya mosque in Jhelum last month, following accusations of blasphemy levelled against an Ahmadi from a mosque’s pulpit. In Karachi’s Akhtar Colony, meanwhile, the office of a Christian web channel in a predominantly Christian neighbourhood was also set on fire. Alongside, targeted killings of Shias continue unabated.

And so, while we lament the wave of intolerance sweeping across neighbouring India, can we please stop to introspect and ask: are we doing any better?

To add to our woes, the Lal Masjid brigade has returned to impose its brand of Shariah. The last time round that meant the thrashing of Chinese beauticians and women drivers in Islamabad. And now, that its women’s wing Jamia Hafsa has sworn allegiance to IS chief, Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi, the master of sadism, of torture and beheadings, it could mean far worse.

For starters, these zealots along with other religious groups are demanding a reprieve for Punjab Governor Salman Taseer’s killer, Mumtaz Qadri. They brand him as a hero of Islam for killing an alleged blasphemer. And other religious groups are close on their heels in respect of zealotry and obscurantism.  The poster of a Jamaat-i-Islami member contesting the local bodies elections from Karachi, displayed Qadri’s photo prominently as part of his electioneering campaign. But perhaps this should not come as a surprise: the Jamaat, supposedly a more moderate party than others of its ilk, has been known to commit many (un)holy acts in the past.

Take, for example, the shenanigans of the IJT, the Jamaat’s students’ wing. They beat up Karachi University boys and girls for playing cricket together at the campus. Earlier, the same group had forced an educational institution in Lahore to move its music faculty out of the premises.

For far too long, the religious lobby has been allowed to get away with assorted criminal offences – all in the name of religion.

One of them is the forced conversion of Hindu girls. A long-standing demand of the Hindus has been to declare such conversions illegal and to allow for the registration of Hindu marriages to avert this and the forcible remarriages of already married Hindu girls.

But the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Council of Islamic Ideology refuse to yield to such demands. They apparently see nothing wrong in the alleged conversion of 1000 Hindu girls every year.

While attending a diwali function in Karachi this year, Prime Minister Sharif said that he would ensure equal rights for all minorities. Will the PM use his office to walk the talk and push for the passage of this law through his parliamentarians and, additionally, ensure justice for all those Ahmadis and Christians who have been persecuted in the name of blasphemy? Or should one assume that he was merely playing to the gallery?

This article was originally published in Newsline’s December 2015 issue.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.