An exclusive post by Aamenah Yusafzai for PTH

The recent attacks on two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore demonstrate the urgent need to strengthen the rights of Pakistani minorities. Pakistan is not a country inhabited by Muslims only, or even Sunni Muslims. This is represented by the green and white of the Pakistani flag, a fact often taken for granted. The three quarter green represents the majority Muslim population, while the one quarter white represents non-Muslim minorities.

The preamble to the Constitution provides that provisions be made for “minorities freely to profess and practice their religion and develop their cultures.” Furthermore, it provides for guarantees to “fundamental rights, including equality of status, of opportunity and before law, social, economic and political justice, and freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship and association, subject to law and public morality.” Article 36 further reiterates the security of minorities by the state by stating that “the State shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities.”

The state is required to protect sectarian and religious minorities. Yet it is doing the complete opposite. Section 295B of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) calls for life imprisonment for anyone who “willfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the holy Quran”. Section 295C imposes the death penalty or life imprisonment on anyone who defiles the Prophet Muhammad. Although not enacted to undermine the rights of minorities, unfortunately, that is what Section 295 is often used for.

The blasphemy laws, as provisions of Section 295 have been dubbed, are often exploited to target sectarian and religious minorities, and even moderate Sunni Muslims, by groups who are out to fulfill their personal agendas, mostly radical Sunnis. Even if convictions are overturned, victims face the risk of violence from private citizens who may be fulfilling their “religious duty”. There have been numerous incidents of violence against minorities as well as the majority Sunni Muslims in retaliation for alleged blasphemy against Islam, on the basis of the blasphemy laws. Victims have been killed for accidentally burning pages of the Quran; littering near a mosque; or simply for being followers of a sect declared non-Muslim by the state.

Worse still, members of the Ahmadi sect are often persecuted for their beliefs. This is facilitated by legal sanction granted in section 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), introduced by General Zia-ul-Haq. Ahmadis are practically not allowed to practice their religion. They have also been declared non-Muslim by the Constitution (Second Amendment of 1974). So much for the “fundamental right” of “freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship and association” guaranteed by the Constitution. The one and only Pakistani Nobel laureate, Dr.Abdus Salam, who should be the pride of every Pakistani, was ostracized by extremist groups just because he was Ahmadi.

International human rights norms are being disrespected as well. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; and freedom…to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights similarly provides for the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Ahmadis are clearly not free to practice their religion. By having these laws in place, the message that is being conveyed by the state to the people is that it is not willing to protect a small percentage of the population. Are they not Pakistanis who are equally deserving of protection by the state? Although the laws do not explicitly target minorities, unfortunately, it is they who have to suffer the consequences. It is not only members of religious minorities who are victimized. Muslims too have found themselves being hunted down for alleged blasphemy as well.

There is a need now, more than ever before, to repeal the offending laws. The recent attacks on two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore that killed more than eighty people illustrate this urgent need. Repealing the blasphemy laws may not make extremist groups think differently about Ahmadis and other minority sects and religions. It will, however, go some way in changing the national mindset, i.e. a mindset of intolerance, even if it takes generations. The state must stop coming under pressure and succumbing to the demands of the extremists. Pressure from hard line Sunni parties led to the enactment of these laws in the first place. The Constitutional amendment was introduced by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto after the anti-Ahmadi riots in the early 1950s, and the PPC amendment by Zia-ul-Haq to appease the radicals. When the Musharaf government attempted to amend the law by requiring senior district officials to register cases, it couldn’t do so due to pressure from the so-called religious lobby. The recent Facebook ban is another example of a state institution succumbing to intimidation. One might ask what kind of Muslims are these, who on the one hand condemn, a little too vehemently, drawings of the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook, and on the other, support laws that encourage violence and injustice, something that the Prophet disapproved of all his life.

The state, by not making independent, balanced decisions, is sending out wrong signals. The Army operations in the North West of the country are appreciated, but there is another kind of war that the country needs to fight– a war against intolerance, ignorance and misunderstanding of the “other”. This too is a war against extremism, but one that an Army might not be able to win. One way it may be fought is by changing the school curriculum so that children are taught to accept people who are different from them. The media too can be helpful, as it has the potential to affect the way people think. We cannot have conspiracy theory spouting pop icons  professing intolerance to young people. Finally, the civil society and moderate citizens should be given a louder voice. Happily, they are speaking out. After all, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” (Edmund Burke).



Filed under Activism

10 responses to “REFLECTIONS POST-MAY 28

  1. Syed

    Let me add that since day one Ahmadis have maintained that they are not a minority as such since they are Muslims whether others recognize them or not. Having said that the restoration of the rights of ‘minorities’ and repeal of such laws is a fight for the whole country.

  2. TAHIR

    I one hundred percent agree what Mr Syed has said…………

  3. Azhar Ud Din Multani

    I wish Aamenah Yusafzai had written above article before August 7, 1937 the day my granduncle Fakhar Ud Din Multani Saheed was murdered by Aziz Ahmad in Qadian, India. After the inciting sermon of Mirza Mahmud Ahmad, as recorded in decision of Lahore High Court Honorable Judge F.W. Ckemp on September 23, 1937.
    I am sure if Mr. Aziz Ahmad had read Ms. Aamenah Yusafzai, my grand uncle could have lived for many more years, just like his friend Shaikh Abdur Rehman Misri until mid 1980s.

  4. Azhar Ud Din Multani

    I wish Aamenah Yusafzai had written above article before August 7, 1937 the day my granduncle Fakhar Ud Din Multani Saheed was murdered by Aziz Ahmad in Qadian, India. After the inciting sermon of Mirza Mahmud Ahmad, as recorded in decision of Lahore High Court Honorable Judge F.W. Ckemp on September 23, 1937.
    I am sure if Mr. Aziz Ahmad had read Ms. Aamenah Yusafzai, my grand uncle could have lived for many more years, just like his friend Shaikh Abdur Rehman Misri until mid 1980s.

    Ms. Aamenah Yusafzai, has highlighted very important problem in our Pakistani-Indian society where fanatics without realizing and on incitement of their leaders, murder innocent people who are not liked by their leaders for what ever reason.

  5. Shahid

    Please note that the Pakistani constitution DOES NOT allow the minorities to propagate their religion. So it is not as liberal as made out in the article.

    Also, please remember that every non-Muslim is guilty of insulting the person of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s) just by being a non-Muslim. How you ask? Because he does not accept his claim to being a prophet of Allah. That is exactly why he is a non-Muslim.

    The constitution talks about equality for all. What kind of equality is it which means that a Hindu cannot be the President or the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

    Pakistan’s constitution is the worst example of bigotry and discrimination that one can imagine.

  6. Jamal

    Jinnah Hospital attack mastermind arrested

    Intelligence agencies arrested the mastermind of the Jinnah Hospital attack which occurred two months ago, along with eight other culprits on Thursday.

    Doctor Ali Abdullah, the accused mastermind of the Jinnah Hospital attack, had been missing for the last three days.

    The police registered a case against unidentified persons on the request of Dr. Ali’s Father, Dr Sarfraz who is serving as a senior registrar in the Services Hospital.

    Intelligence agencies disclosed that Dr Ali Abdullah was arrested three days ago.

    Sources said that eight other people have also been arrested for their alleged involvement in the Jinnah Hospital attack.

    Sources have further revealed that Dr Ali helped the attackers execute their plan and provided medical aid to one of the injured attackers.

    Sources further said that Abdullah also gave shelter to the terrorists prior to the attack, and provided them a map of the hospital. He also allegedly provided the vehicle for their escape, and aided one injured terrorist after the assault.

    Despite Abdullah being a junior doctor, they said, he gained access to the terrorist inside the ICU because of his alleged connections with the Islami Jamiat-e-Taleba (IJT) and the Jamaatud Dawa, which is a banned group.


  7. nasir jan

    Great Article – freedom of religion is a right that every individual should have. The constitution of Pakistan was altered by a clown called zia for political gain.
    How would Pakistanis feel if western countries introduced a coulmn in their passports asking you to denounce Osama and confirm you are you not a terrorist – the day is coming unless PAKISTANIS wake up and smell the coffee

  8. Maryanne Khan

    The most pressing issue is for Pakistanis to realise that a nation is impoverished if it counts its citizens ONLY amongst those who adhere to a single set of religious (or any other ) beliefs. Excluding citizens on the basis of their not espousing the dominant religious creed leads to impoverishment of the economic, cultural and social aspects of the polity. Simple as that.

  9. Aamenah Yusafzai

    I would like to correct a factual error that I made in the above article. The constitutional amendment in question (Second amendment) was introduced in 1974, and not in the early 1950s. I apologize for this oversight.

  10. Farah ali

    Aamenah,Sorry for a late response.I really liked your article.You have not only given a very comprehensive account of the sad situation currently prevalent in our society but have also suggested some very viable solutions.I hope we’ll pay heed to what you have said before it is too late!