Category Archives: Minorities

Was Jinnah Wrong?

By Zubeida Mustafa

MANY who listened to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s maiden speech on Aug 19 would not have failed to note the striking similarities in his address and the Quaid-i-Azam’s oft-quoted speech of Aug 11, 1947. That’s not really surprising, given that Khan described Jinnah as his role model, one who practised politics with a mission. Both speeches expressed deep concern at the prevalence of corruption and the absence of justice for the poor. They also spoke of the need to address the welfare of the common man.

But on one vital issue they differed: the status of religious minorities. Imran Khan touched on this in passing, in the context of the rule of law and everyone, including the minorities, being equal before it.

The Quaid, on the other hand, was more emphatic regarding the role of religious minorities and dwelt on the subject in a substantial way. He categorically declared, “You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship … You may belong to any religion … that has nothing to do with the business of the state”. He hoped that ultimately this equality would lead to “Hindus [ceasing] to be Hindus” and “Muslims [ceasing] to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state”.

Seventy-one years have passed since these words were uttered and we have still to reach that goal. It is unlikely that we ever will, because at one stage — under Gen Zia — we changed direction. Only if naya Pakistan had held out hope for these eight million citizens, they would have been reassured of a better future. This reminder came on Aug 11, which has been observed as the National Minorities Day since 2009. A convention held in Lahore demanded that the oft-quoted speech of the Quaid be incorporated in the Constitution. Weren’t the minorities supposed to be, in equal measure, a pillar of the political structure of Jinnah’s Pakistan?

Minorities are being gradually marginalised.

We started on the right track as was Quaid-i-Azam’s vision and mission. Chaudhri Muhammad Zafrullah Khan, an Ahmadi — a community later ostracised because of its faith — was the foreign minister. No one questioned his beliefs. Justice Cornelius, a Christian, was a highly celebrated chief justice. There were numerous other non-Muslims who held important positions in the judiciary, administration and even the armed forces. They were all trusted and have left their footprint in their respective fields.

But suddenly the tide turned.

It is strange that the attempt at ‘Islamisation’ should have brought with it discrimination. It should not have been so, as Islam exhorts us to treat non-Muslims on an equal footing.

Yet the religious minorities are gradually being marginalised. Take the present set-up. In the first cabinet named by Prime Minister Imran Khan, not a single non-Muslim has been given a slot. This may be an oversight, but it sends a negative message to the people.

Peter Jacob, executive director of the Centre for Social Justice, recalls how the minorities have suffered over the years. He tells me that since 1997, the religious minorities have been subject to over 100 attacks. These include acts of violence against 45 churches and 11 residential settlements. Then there is the suffering inflicted on them on account of often baseless blasphemy allegations.

Shantinagar and All Saints Church in Peshawar are names that have been carved in blood on the collective memories of all those who stand for social justice.

I wish the government would take a firm stand supporting religious diversity and condemn intolerance vis-à-vis the minorities. Many practices are so ingrained in our system that they are not even questioned. The most widely affected is the education sector which in turn makes an impact on the minorities’ prospects in professional life. Take, for instance, the practice of giving extra marks to those memorising the Quran. Non-Muslim students find themselves in a dilemma as no alternative option has been announced for them.

The state’s indifference has encouraged extremists to take matters into their own hands. A number of young Hindu and Christian girls are reportedly abducted and forced to convert to Islam. One can understand how many among the minorities live in fear and trepidation for their daughters’ security. It is shocking that at times even the courts have failed to provide redress on one ground or another.

Hence one can understand the demand by the convention held two weeks ago to rectify the numerous contradictions in the Constitution which go against the principles of equality spelt out in the chapter on fundamental rights. In this context one would strongly support the demand for a law defining grounds for prosecution and punishment for acts of religious discrimination.

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Assimilation or alienation?

newslineBy Zubeida Mustafa

So Donald Trump has won the American presidency. The predominant fear expressed by Muslims in the US and even the world over is that Islamophobia will now receive a shot in the arm. This thought is not really far-fetched, given the strong anti-Muslim statements made by the Republican candidate in his campaign speeches. Hate crime is reported to have increased in the week following the US Presidential Elections on November 8. One just hopes that the compulsions of high office in the White House will have a moderating impact and Trump the president will be more discreet than Trump the Republican candidate. Continue reading Assimilation or alienation?

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Enough is enough

gun-logo

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE turnout at the walk organised last Sunday by Citizens against Weapons (CAW) was heartening. Started in 2014 by some concerned citizens, the campaign is catching on. I had joined them at a rally on an intersection of a busy area in Karachi two years ago. There were then barely 50 protesters. On Sunday, there were 400 or so.

One of them, activist Naeem Sadiq, whose motto is ‘say no to guns’, has been working on this goal for a decade. He and his colleagues want to rid the whole country of guns and the message is gaining adherents as a larger number of people — that does not include our rulers — begin to understand the significance of deweaponisation in ending violence. Continue reading Enough is enough

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Cultural Diversity: Life in Karachi

 By Rumana Husain

geust-contPlease note: This paper was presented at the Second Silk Road International Cultural Forum in Moscow, Russia on September 15, 2015, in the session on Cultural diversity contributes to innovation, and later with slight modifications as The Tangible and Intangible Aspects of Cultural Diversity at a Roundtable Discussion in the Rumi Forum where the overriding theme was Respect Difference and Diversity to Foster Peace and Harmony, on October 14, 2015.

Cultural diversity, tangible and intangible, affects and influences our lives, wherever we may be living. We imbibe diversity, consciously or unconsciously. The result is perhaps more significant in cultures which are still predominantly traditional, within today’s modern urban condition.

Continue reading Cultural Diversity: Life in Karachi

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Learning from CLF

By Zubeida Mustafa

Poster designed by Fauzia Minallah
Poster designed by Fauzia Minallah

ALL of a sudden, Pakistan’s official circles seem to be awakening to the importance of education for the development of the country. But their newfound enthusiasm can be quite daunting especially when there is no change in the establishment’s views on ‘ideologising’ the entire spectrum of learning.

Hence it was news to me when I learnt that five years after devolution under the 18th Amendment, it has been realised that the New Education Policy of 2009 is no longer implementable. Another policy will now be framed collectively by all the provinces. In order to respect the autonomy of the federating units, the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers Conference has been inducted into the process. Since last year, six meetings have been held. One cannot vouch for the full participation of all the provinces in the policymaking process, especially Sindh given its irregular attendance in IPEMC meetings. Officials are optimistic that the policy will be framed by the end of this year and implemented in 2016. Continue reading Learning from CLF

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14 August: A Day for Sombre Reflection

By Adil Zareef
guest-contributorAugust 14, is traditionally a day for rejoicing, much fanfare, military parades, display of firepower and nukes. Symbolically, the patriotic chest thumping and feet stomping at the Wagah border between the erstwhile “traditional enemies” touch a feverish pitch as hysterical crowds on either side cheer their highly charged and battle ready soldiers, hoisting their national flags amid fierce expressions in a crescendo of sloganeering at sunset – the climax of the existential confrontation refuses to ease or ebb with time, despite the epoch making history that has transformed the greater part of our world.

Perhaps we are condemned by history or by geopolitics, or both, keeping us embroiled in a state of perpetual confrontation as other regions have prospered and progressed and long buried the hatchet of hate. Meanwhile, both India and Pakistan are competing in exclusion and exploitation of their respective population, as their state policy inch towards nihilism.

Continue reading 14 August: A Day for Sombre Reflection

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Teacher in exile

By Zubeida Mustafa

bernadette
Bernadette Dean

CAN we hope to hear news from Pakistan that brings some light to the end of the tunnel? It is a red-letter day when we do and one such day came recently when I read about a group of creative artists who have shown the courage to counter Pakistan’s biggest existential challenge — the indoctrination of youth by religious extremists and militants.

These artists have ventured to produce rational literature which they are disseminating among young readers to inspire some soul-searching within them. The graphic novel titled Pasban is designed to encourage the readers to ask questions on basic issues of the day and help them seek sensible answers.

This no doubt will be an uphill task considering the government’s own failure to counter the extremist threat. All it was required to do was to introduce liberal values through curricula reforms. The primary need is to teach children tolerance and Continue reading Teacher in exile

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Mind-Boggling Conundrums in the Middle East

By Zubeida Mustafa

The Obama administration has decided to go slow on its troop withdrawal program in Afghanistan. A substantial American military presence is expected to remain in this strife-stricken country until the end of 2015. President Obama said that this was necessary to make Afghanistan more secure.

However, geopolitics in this region is more complex than the American media make it out to be. Now is the time to set the record straight before a new conflict erupts in the Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak) area and ill-conceived explanations are offered to confuse public perceptions. To begin with, Americans should know that many of the wars in Asia have their roots in American geostrategic shenanigans. Continue reading Mind-Boggling Conundrums in the Middle East

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Worth of a life

By Zubeida Mustafa

HOW much is a human life worth in Pakistan? Not more than peanuts, given the impunity with which people are being killed in this benighted country of ours. The state’s failure — or lack of will — to protect the life of its citizens is at the root of this tragedy.

In this context, I am reminded of two women — one dead, the other on death row. One was a dear friend. The other is a stranger whose community has been my benefactor. I owe my education to Christian missionaries who gave me knowledge and taught me, by example, to respect and be tolerant of all faiths.

Perween Rahman and Asiya Bibi have nothing in common except that they are symbols of our quest for justice and sanctity of life in a society that thrives on hate and violence. Continue reading Worth of a life

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The veil face-off

By Zubeida Mustafa

TO veil or not to veil, that is the question. And that continues to be asked in Europe where France, Belgium, Spain and Italy have imposed a ban on the niqab in public places. The niqab shrouds the entire face and leaves small slits for the eyes. The ban does not apply to the more ubiquitous hijab, a head scarf that leaves the face fully exposed. No country has so far restricted the hijab.

The latest to pronounce a verdict on this controversial item of the female apparel is the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg where a French woman SAS (identity not disclosed) of Pakistani origin filed a case against the French law forbidding the use of the full-face veil in public places. SAS claimed that the law violated her “freedom of religion and expression”. Continue reading The veil face-off

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