Archive for August, 2009

Pakistan’s Insensitivity to Non-Muslims

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pakistan is not only a multilingual, multicultural and multiethnic society but it is also a multi-religion society. The latest census data indicates that around 4% of the total population is Non-Muslim; little over 6,000,000. Though 6 million may look smaller number when compared to the total population of 170 million but it is still more than the total population of Denmark, Finland or UAE.

It is very reasonable to expect Pakistan to provide equal status to all of its citizens irrespective of their religion, faith, caste or creed.  Although many aspects of daily life suggest that non-Muslims get opportunities same/similar as Muslims in Pakistan, but there are many evidence that also bring to mind that Pakistan is (intentionally or unintentionally) insensitive to Non-Muslims.

First sign of this insensitivity we observe in the education system, where curriculums and textbooks are designed to create a monolithic image of Pakistan as Islamic state and of Pakistanis as Muslims only; this clearly teaches young non-Muslims that they are being excluded from the society. Curriculums of compulsory subjects like Urdu, English, Social Studies and Pakistan Studies are designed based on the Orthodox Muslims’ philosophy that “source of entire knowledge is what is revealed by Allah and that worldly knowledge is to be the context of revealed knowledge”; hence each of these subjects becomes “Islamiat” . As a result, Non-Muslims are forced to study Islamiat through these compulsory subjects. It is also worth mentioning that although Non-Muslims are not required to take another compulsory subject – Islamiat – but they get additional 25% marks if they do so.

There are many textbooks examples implying Pakistanis as Muslims. For example, class-II Urdu Book reads: “Our country is Pakistan. We live in our country. Pakistan is an Islamic country. Here Muslims live. Muslims believe in the unity of Allah. They do good deeds.” Class-VI book says: “Who am I? I am a Muslim. I am a Pakistani. I love my country and I love my people… You know that you are a Muslim and your religion is Islam. “. These texts clearly equate being a Pakistanis with being a Muslim and the only Muslims are true Pakistanis and clearly alienate the religious minorities.

This insensitivity of Pakistan towards Non-Muslims can also be seen in what they call it today “Supreme” institute – the Parliament. In the parliament, newly elected Non-Muslim parliamentarians are required to read the same oath text that Muslim Parliamentarians do. And this oath text contains Quranic verses and Muslim beliefs under which parliamentarians take oath that crafts a feeling of being a second class citizen, and alienates non-Muslims.

Non-Muslims – by constitution – are not eligible to contest for the office of President and/or Prime Minister of Pakistan – even though they are Pakistani citizens and are as patriotic as any other Pakistani can be.

Another “Act” – Toheen-i-Risalat – that has become controversial in recent years, has also been used as a “tool” to victimize many. Recent events of burning Christian Colony in Gojrah that killed 9, killing of a factory owner in Muredke, harassing a woman in Sanghar (Police saved her from being killed by a mob) are just few examples where “Toheen-i-Risalat” act was misused and people – both Muslims and Non-Muslims – were killed without even being trialed in court. People – even police – have been using this act for years to terrorize others – mostly Non-Muslims – to settle personal scores or to get advantage of them.

Without going into a discussion about this act and arguing upon views of Orthodox Muslims and others – as this would be out of context for this post , let’s assume this act is correct, and it protects both Muslims (and Christians) beliefs without a shadow of a doubt. Let us assume that this act has a precise definition of “Toheen-i-Risalat” and not anyone, according to his own definition, can accuse someone for blasphemy. Let us also assume that victims (of any misuse) of this act are trialed without a bias before decree. It still leaves other minorities – e.g. Hindus, Sikhs – with their beliefs unprotected like Muslims (and Christians to an extent). Pakistan, as a state, is responsible to regard all citizens as same and give them equal protection for their religious beliefs – which it does not.

It may be argued that this insensitivity is a customary effect of majority toward the needs and aspiration of Non-Muslims, as it would happen anywhere else in the world. However, we do not see such trends in linguistic, cultural, ethnic or any other expression – it is only limited to religious expression. Also, we do not experience any of these insensitivities – especially in education – before the start Islamization of Pakistan in early 1980s.

Having said this all, this article does not imply that other nations and societies are not insensitive to minorities but it does entail that we – Muslims – behave hypercritically. A young Hindu forced to study Islam is no different than a young Muslim who was forced to sing “Vande Mataram”. Sometimes victims of “Toheen-i-Risalat” act in Pakistan are as innocent as the victims of a “Terrorist” act in UK. Our protest for not allowing Muslim females to wear “Hijab” – e.g. in France – seems hypocrite when, in Pakistan, we have laws that discriminate Non-Muslims. And it becomes comically hypocrite when the females among the protesters are not wearing “Hijab” themselves.