TRIBUNE EDITORIAL : NO PEACE FOR THE DEAD
What should one say about the forcible disinterment of an Ahmadi corpse from a Muslim graveyard in Bhalwal, Punjab, on Sunday, except that it is a conundrum born out of our religious narrow-mindedness? The police asked the Ahmadi family to dig up the body themselves, or face public protest and possible violence. When they did not do so, the police, led by the local DSP, exhumed the body and handed it over to the family.
If you read Ahmadi literature listing what Pakistan is doing to them, you will think this is a small incident that can be ignored. The police look the other way when terrorists descend on their beats but will catch helpless citizens like transvestites and Ahmadis to win cheap acclaim. The official version is that some powerful Muslim clerics of Sargodha had warned that if the Ahmadi corpse was not taken out they would cause great disturbance.
The police had the law on their side: Ahmadis are not Muslims under the Second Amendment to the Constitution: they can’t say the kalima, they can’t call their places of worship mosques and they are to be treated as a non-Muslim minority not qualified for zakat. The question is, how can non-Muslims be buried in Muslim graveyards? Are Christians ever buried along with Muslims? The common man will not care to examine this kind of argument carefully but a conscientious man can.
The argument cuts two ways. Christians and Muslims don’t bury their dead in each other’s graveyards because they want to retain their religious identity. If a Christian seeks out his “gora” (non-pejorative) cemetery he does not accept the Muslim ritual on the pain of being buried as a Muslim. Similarly, a Muslim avoids the Christian cemetery for fear of losing his Muslim identity.
The Bhalwal Ahmadi family has protested that the police have violated a tradition that the local community had accepted. Dozens of Ahmadis lie buried in the Muslim graveyard from the days when Ahmadis were considered Muslims. The police have not exhumed any of these bodies. But this is where one can indict the wisdom of the law that declared Ahmadis non-Muslim followed by other absurd disabilities like not reciting the kalima.
What should be done about marriages that took place between Ahmadis and non-Ahmadis before the Ahmadis were apostatised? Should they be declared null and void; and if so, what about the legitimacy of their offspring? What about cross-sect marriages that still take place? And what about Muslim women who are not allowed to wed non-Muslims? Ahmadis are not considered ‘Ahle Kitab’ (people of the book). In that case, not even Muslim males are allowed to wed an Ahmadi even though they can marry Christians and Jews. Can we put thousands of couples to death for living in sin brought about by a constitutional amendment?
A graveyard defines the man who lies buried therein. A humane interpretation, had it suggested itself to the DSP in question, would be that an Ahmadi who accepts to be buried in a Muslim graveyard automatically converts back to his Muslim identity. After all, the majority principle should matter in graveyards too. Moreover, laws that regulate human rights are supposed to be universal. Yet the Ahmadis living in India and elsewhere in the world are considered Muslims and treated as such. In many cases, local communities share their graveyards if Ahmadis are isolated from their own community, as happened in Bhalwal. It is strange that the moment an Ahmadi crosses over to India he becomes a Muslim. And the Shia community, whom many Sunni clerics declare non-Muslim on the basis that their kalima, namaz and burial rituals are different, have not been apostatised by our parliament. The Bahais, apostatised by Iran, are still Muslims in Pakistan.
The Ahmadis have been dealt with unjustly and inhumanely. The unthinking law we have enacted to persecute them portrays us as an evil state to the world.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 4th, 2010.