April Issue 2005
Interview: Qazi Hussain Ahmed
“The Quaid’s fears for minorities in Pakistan were unfounded”
– Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Amir, Jamaat-e-Islami
A: It was not the MMA which opened the debate on the religion column in passports — rather it was the imprudent decision by the military regime to scrap it, after 30 years in practice. This has not only wasted a huge amount of national exchequer funds, but also inflicted a severe blow to the religious sentiments of the faithful. The MMA and other religious parties took up this issue, calling for the restoration of the religion column, to guard against the adoption of further secular postures by the regime to please its foreign masters, and because it was a move which could indirectly benefit the Qadianis by allowing them to slip into sacred places under the guise of Muslim names. The alliance wanted to nip the evil in the bud and make it fully known to the rulers that the secularisation of Pakistani society will not be tolerated at any cost. Our call was even endorsed by certain religion-loving quarters from within the ruling party, which proves the division in the ranks of the ruling party and their displeasure at the reopening of an already settled issue.
Q: Most Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, do not have such a column. Why is it that we in Pakistan need to wear our religion on our sleeve — isn’t faith a personal matter?
A: For the addition of a religious column in the Pakistani passport we are indebted to the resolute struggle of the Majlis Tahuffuz-e-Khatam-e-Nabuwat. This was the driving force behind the decision to have the Qadianis declared a minority in the country. Having sanctity accorded to this declaration in the Constitution of Pakistan was a landmark achievement of the religion-loving people of Pakistan. This happened during the premiership of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
[The fact is, the rest of the] Muslim world is not exposed to fitnas (trouble-makers) like the Qadianis in their respective countries. The title ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’ is reflective of the ideology the majority of its subjects adhere to. The same is not the case with respect to other Muslim countries; none of them call their country an Islamic state. One has to adopt a very subjective approach in ascertaining the rationale behind the demand for the restoration of the religion column. The Constitution of Pakistan makes it binding on the state to provide its subjects ample opportunities to formulate their individual and collective lives in accordance with Islamic teachings. If religion was the personal matter of any state subject, this would not have been envisaged in the ground norm of the constitution.
Q: Do you believe the goal of making Pakistan a ‘truly’ Islamic state is in consonance with Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan?
A: What are the formulae for ascertaining Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan? Reference to out-of-context excerpts from the Quaid’s speeches cannot help us determine his vision about the country which he founded through his relentless efforts, and for which tens of thousand Muslims of the subcontinent laid down their lives. It is an established fact that Mr. Jinnah and his followers did not struggle for a secular Pakistan as it is against the basic creed and faith of a Muslim to sacrifice his life for such a secular cause. The driving force behind their tireless efforts was, without a doubt, the aim of setting up a country where the people of the subcontinent could practice Islam as their state ideology and in turn make this divine faith a role model for humanity at large, especially for the Muslim ummah throughout the world.
In August 1947 the Quaid had in his mind unfounded fears for the non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan and wanted to assure them that in an Islamic Pakistan they would be treated as respectable citizens according to Islamic teachings and traditions.
The MMA’s goal of making this country a truly Islamic state is in total conformity with the vision of the founding fathers of this state and the Objectives Resolution.
Q: What do you think the Quaid meant when he said in a speech to the Constituent Assembly in August 1947, that: “you may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state”?
A: Reference to an isolated speech at the Constituent Assembly made by Quaid-e-Azam in August 1947 is not the one and only point of reference through which to determine his vision for Pakistan. His entire struggle for an Islamic welfare state needs to be taken into account to ascertain his vision of and commitment to an Islamic Pakistan.
Q: Why are you so opposed to the Aga Khan University Examination Board? It is, after all, a purely voluntary body, seeking to enhance the quality of education in Pakistan, not westernise it, and its fee structure is geared towards easier accessibility of quality education for all segments of society…
A: Bringing in the Aga Khan Board would have far-reaching implications for the future of the education system in Pakistan. The proposed Aga Khan Board is more than what meets the eyes. Handing over the educational board to the Aga Khan Foundation is not meant to improve the quality of education [in Pakistan]; rather the move is part of a well-thought-out plan to globalise education so that any ideological references in text books can be scrapped. This recent move has invited severe criticism from all quarters of Pakistani society. The head of the Aga Khan group has himself been on record in India saying that they wish to formulate joint syllabi for the subcontinent. States professing two different ideologies and altogether different cultural and social set-ups are forcibly being brought closer through such orchestrated policies aimed at battering the ideological foundation of Pakistan. The questionnaire put forward by the Aga Khan educational set-up seeks to explore shameful details about the personal lives of people. This can promote waywardness in our society. We cannot allow a religious minority to formulate the educational syllabi for the majority and control their education infrastructure.
Q: Do you believe karo kari is an Islamic practice? If not, then why did the MMA kill the bills submitted first by the PPP and then by the PML(Q)’s Kashmala Tariq in Parliament, seeking to make it a compoundable offense?
A: The MMA’s rejection of the bill on karo kari does not reflect its opposition to bringing the shameful practice of honour killing to an end. Rather, the alliance’s rationale for rejecting the bill was based on the fact that it had major legal lacunae. The government wants to make this offence a non-compoundable offence which is in complete violation of Ayah 178 of Surah Bakara. The proponents of ‘enlightened moderation,’ on the one hand, call the capital punishment in Hudood cases “barbaric,” while on the other hand they are not willing to uphold the Quranic verdict enshrined in Ayah 178 of Surah Bakara which calls for adopting a forgiving attitude. This speaks of the double-standard of the government on the karo kari bill which forced the MMA to oppose it. Allowing anyone to become the wali of an affected women is total infringement of the family institution, which the NGO mafia wants to exploit for promoting its own vested interests. The MMA considers karo kari murder, and its perpetrators liable to punishment under the relevant penal code provisions.
Q: It is widely perceived that the military-MMA battle is just ‘noora-kushti’ since you both are traditional allies with regard to ’causes’ like Kashmir, strategic depth in Afghanistan, etc…
A: It is totally wrong to infer that the MMA and the military regime are working on the same frequency vis-a-vis Afghanistan and Kashmir; and the apparent discord on various issues is nothing but a ‘noora-kushti’ between them. Afghanistan and Kashmir are popular issues in Pakistan. The people of Pakistan have a religious and historical attachment to these issues. They have been supporting these causes, deeming it their religious obligation to do so. The people of Pakistan did not take a u-turn on these issues, but a general-led regime has put the Kashmir issue on the back-burner, and this regime collaborated with the US in its attack on the Taliban regime which was recognised as a legitimate and representative government in neighbouring Afghanistan. The pomp and show in regard to the cosmetic measures towards the normalisation of India-Pakistan relations is nothing but [an attempt] to make the people forget the Kashmir issue. The MMA is expressing the wish of the people by raising these issues and voicing concern at various fora so that no army general dares to compromise on such strategic national issues and shelve them.
Q: Maulana Fazlur Rehman recently accused Musharraf of favouring the PPP, presumably because of an ostensibly more conciliatory stance adopted by him towards its leaders. The MMA professes to want democracy in Pakistan. In that case shouldn’t all parties be given a level playing field?
A: Indeed, the MMA pleads for a plural democratic society and considers it imperative to ensure the due democratic rights of the people. The alliance has had working relations with almost all shades of political life in Pakistan. It still endeavours to cement relations with the ranks of the opposition to save the country from military autocracy and the whims of a general who is not willing to pay heed to peoples’ demands, or respect constitutional obligations [or pledges he] made. It was the general’s stubborn personal agenda which battered plural democracy in Pakistan and made the two twice-elected Prime Ministers flee the country. He has been on record as having said that Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto cannot be allowed to return until 2007. Yet one fine morning you hear that the general is a changed man and he starts issuing clean chits to the self-exiled leaders of certain parties. This u-turn speaks of his political defeat and helplessness in the face of the challenge posed by the MMA. We are for the immediate return to Pakistan of the exiled political leadership. Let the people of Pakistan decide through their vote the political fate of such leaders. However, take my word that the backdoor entry of such leaders to the contemporary political scene will fail to avert the doomed fate that awaits the sitting military dictator.
Q: Why did the MMA back down on the issue of the President’s uniform and support the 17th amendment?
A: The MMA did not back down from the issue of the President’s uniform. [In exchange for accepting] the 17th Amendment, General Sahib gave a cut-off date vis a vis doffing the uniform — December 31 at the latest. In order to save the country from total political chaos and for the good of Pakistan, we accepted his word and the constitutional commitment as a sacred binding force. [He then justified his decision to] retain the two offices for an indefinite period on the basis of his notions of ‘the international scene.’ He, thus, violated all the commitments made to the people and the MMA. So we have now taken to the streets to press our demands.
Q: In an interview with Newsline on the eve of the 2002 elections you had said the MMA was here to stay. Now Maulana Sami-ul-Haq has pulled out and several differences have emerged between the alliance’s component groups. Will the MMA be able to survive?
A: Maulana Samiul Haq did not quit the alliance nor is he willing to do so. His abstinence from active participation is an internal affair of the alliance. He has an equal right to voice his grievances in the Supreme Council meeting as and when he feels. Efforts were underway to create a wedge in the ranks of the religious forces, but the prudence and far-sightedness of the MMA has foiled such state-sponsored plans. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal is there to survive and grow even stronger. Despite all odds, it has successfully mobilised the masses against the unpopular and anti-Islam policies of the sitting government. Difference of opinion in any party or alliance is reflective of the variety of thought and action in that particular group. The MMA is no exception in this regard. This variety or difference of opinion should not be construed as a prelude to the disintegration of the alliance.