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Today we wear our religion on our sleeves and shout it from the housetops. – by Ayaz Amir

The misery on our faces

Times may be hard but why add to the sum of national misery? Some of our afflictions, like the economic downturn and the war raging along the Afghan frontier, may be beyond anyone’s control. But some are entirely self-created.

We are not a police state in the political sense of the term. This is not a country behind any kind of iron curtain and, the notoriety of our intelligence services notwithstanding, we do not have anything like the East German Stasi prying into every aspect of national life. We have one of the freest media in the Islamic world. Our kind of talk shows would not be permitted in most Muslim countries.

While we should count our blessings we should not forget that in the social sense this is a very repressed society.

The pity of it is that it wasn’t always like this. Once upon a time mosque and tavern stood side by side (in a metaphorical sense of course) and even as they did, no one said Islam was in danger. How distant that time seems.

We were Muslims in 1947; we are Muslims now. There is a difference, however. Today we wear our religion on our sleeves and shout it from the housetops.

Protesting too much about anything betrays a sense of insecurity. An honest man, not given to self-righteousness, feels no necessity to proclaim his honesty. An honest woman, normally, does not protest her virtue — unless there be the memory of a past sitting uneasily on her conscience.

Just as Italy will always be Catholic, and just as there will always be a Pope in the Vatican, we will be Muslims until the end of time. This is our destiny, something that we were born into. So what is there to be so worked up about? Hinduism stood in danger at the hands of Islam. Islam in the sub-continent was never threatened by Hinduism.

But if someone were to read our Constitution, with its repetitive references to Islam, or if someone were to read our court judgments wherein our learned judges are hard put not to deliver extended lectures on Islam, or if someone were to hear political speeches being delivered at public meeting where references to the faith are virtually endless, he/she would come away convinced that here was a people in perpetual fear of something dreadful happening to their faith.

The problems we were called upon to solve at our birth were political and economic in nature: temporal problems, secular problems, not problems of the hereafter. We solved some, failed to solve others. But every time we ran into difficulties, we retreated into the bosom of extraneous issues, seeking comfort under the banner of Islam. This has been an extreme form of national escapism.

Soon after independence we should have been able to frame a constitution. But our attempts at constitution-making were sidetracked by a never-ending debate about the role of Islam in our collective life. It was amidst the cacophony of this debate that Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan moved the Objectives Resolution in the Constituent Assembly.

What is this Resolution? Read it and it is hard to escape the impression that it is a tribute to needless rhetoric. Many years later, Gen Ziaul Haq, not famous as a respecter of constitutions, made the Resolution a substantive part of the 1973 Constitution, his move another Islamisation gimmick at which he was so good. Since Zia, many parliaments have come and gone. None thought it fit to do away with his constitutional innovations.

The people of East Pakistan were as good or bad Muslims as we in the West. They had issues with us regarding language, the sharing of political power, the distribution of national resources. Not being able to address those issues we discovered to our cost in 1970-71 that religion alone was not enough of a force to keep the country together. Just as we are discovering today that religion alone is irrelevant to the grievances of Balochistan.

Today we present the picture not of a house divided — which would be too harsh an indictment — but of a fractured society. The share of other faiths in our population is miniscule. We are an overwhelmingly Muslim country. But if we are still a fractured society, this should give us pause to think whether our problems are related to religion or other things.

If our cities are unclean we need better municipal services. Islamabad is dotted with mosques, large and small, which is a very good thing because at least it shows that while we may not be serious about other things, eternity figures high in the list of our preoccupations. But how does it help to have a capital which even after 50 years of its founding does not have an adequate system of solid waste disposal?

Islamabad should have been a model city in more senses than one. The city should have meandered around the many clear water springs flowing down from the Margalla Hills. Today there is not one which is not a monument to pollution. There are schools in this capital city for the rich and poor. At least here we could have experimented with a uniform education system. One can go on and on about Islamabad but that’s not the point of this journey.

The problems of Pakistan will not be fixed overnight. My generation can now write its epitaph. It has failed this country by not providing the leadership and direction needed. We could not set out on the golden road to Samarkand. We lacked the imagination for it and no doubt the vigour of action.

But we are not unique on the planet. Every place has its problems, in many cases worse than ours. We stand alone in making our problems worse by shackling ourselves in fetters we could have done without.

We don’t look a happy people. Other things may abound in the Islamic Republic but not the spirit of joy. There are people who celebrate life. There are people who carry a cross all the time and mourn about life. We fall in the second category. Partly through choice, partly through the sheer force of circumstances, we have elected to become a killjoy society.

This is not what we deserve. People laugh and cry. Tragedy triggers sorrow. But that is not the whole truth. When the shadows of tragedy depart people still have a yearning for some fun. This is part of our inheritance as human beings, an inalienable aspect of the human condition. But since the Islamic Republic, and what we have made of it, frowns upon the outward expression of joy, things to do with joy and happiness have been driven indoors.

The veil in Pakistan is not just an item of female clothing. It is also the cover behind which lurks social hypocrisy: outward piety masking inward licence. But inward licence only for the rich. Since the many dimensions of happiness are forbidden fruit in the broad spaces of the Republic, small wonder if the price of sin has become prohibitive.

Hypocrisy as a national characteristic, an all-pervading phenomenon, is not a good thing. It makes a people sick and stunted. It makes them less free. Isn’t it time the veil was rent asunder?

That parliament could cleanse the Constitution and return it to the form in which it existed on the eve of Zia’s coup is hoping for too much. There is nothing in parliament to indicate the audacity required for such a leap. But appealing to the god of lesser things, why can’t we do away with the Hadood Ordinance, one of Zia’s most poisonous gifts at the altar of hypocrisy. Many of our social shackles derive their strength from this iniquitous legislation. What allows the police to smell breaths and ask for marriage papers is this ordinance. Scrapping it would allow the people of Pakistan to breathe more freely. The frontiers of the social police state would contract.

Forget about universal solutions. Forget about appeals to revolutionary arms. This won’t happen. In the season of our discontent if only two small miracles can happen — getting rid of the plastic shopping bag, more of a long-term threat than the Taliban, and the Hadood Ordinance — Pakistan will look a cleaner and healthier place. Along with the social police state, the frontiers of morbidity will also contract.


Source: The News

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  • We are so consumed with a matter of private faith that we will accept all ills in a head of state but not the fact that s/he is a non-Muslim. What right do we have to say that there is equality before the law in Pakistan when one of our laws bars a Pakistani from a position on the basis of his/her religion?

    We are consumed by religion. The Muslims amongst us are consumed by Islam whereas the non-Muslim Pakistanis are consumed by their own religions. The reasons are different but the results are the same. The Pakistani Muslims, through state-sponsored educational, social, cultural and media influences and propaganda since the 80s have been encouraged to wear Islam on their sleeves. Thus, it is no wonder when once in Gujranwala, during a communication skills training with young students, a young 20-something man passionately spoke about an Islamic shoe and how all of us should wear Islamic shoes. When asked as to what, pray, is that, we were told it is a shoe that covers your foot. Clearly, sandals were not Islamic. According to him, sandals worn with socks are acceptable.

    Non-Muslim Pakistanis have been compelled to first think of their religious identity and then think of themselves as Pakistanis because of the excessive brandishing of Islam as the “majority religion” and the officially sanctioned identity of Pakistan. The result is that our religious and ethnic identities are well developed; our national identity not as much.

    Whether this is a positive development or not is a different discussion. However, the effect of our overdeveloped religious identities on our politics is adverse. A few years back, we had this controversy over the religion column in our passports. At an estimated loss of Rs 80 million, the religion column was inserted into the new machine-readable passports that were to be issued. A Nazi style stamp stating, “The stated religion of the passport carrier is Islam” was stamped on the machine-readable passports that were already issued.

    Declaring a sect Muslim or non-Muslim is another result of our obsession with our religious identity. Another consequence of our religious obsession is the law that no non-Muslim can ever become the president. Thus, we are so consumed with a matter of private faith that we will accept all ills in a head of state but not the fact that s/he is a non-Muslim. What right do we have to say that there is equality before the law in Pakistan when one of our laws bars a Pakistani from a position on the basis of his/her religion?

    This obsession of ours with religion affects our political priorities. In our assemblies, we have no time to discuss the energy crisis that we are confronted with. There is a dearth of time to discuss the law and order situation or the challenge of extremism and terrorism that stares us in the face. Yet, we have time to discuss the personal habits of our citizens and how we can control their personal behaviour. Last week, the Punjab Assembly spent 52 minutes discussing alcohol consumption patterns and prohibition. A non-Muslim Member of the Provincial Assembly, Pervaiz Rafiq, sought support on a resolution that would prohibit the sale and use of alcohol in Punjab. The sale and use of alcohol is prohibited to Muslims courtesy Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Bhutto, himself a consumer of alcohol, understood the political soul of Pakistanis and banned the sale and use of alcohol, declared Ahmedis non-Muslims and declared Friday to be a public holiday to take the punch out of the political sloganeering of the conservative right. Thus, he also played the religion card for short term gains but suffered a long term loss. Mr Pervaiz Rafiq wants to improve on the policy initiated by Bhutto by including non-Muslims into the ambit as well. Mr Rafiq is of the opinion that since Christianity also prohibits the use of alcohol, Christian Pakistanis should also be legally prohibited to consume alcohol. If this resolution is approved by the Punjab Assembly, then effectively Punjab will go dry — at least on paper.

    These 52 minutes of debate and speeches supporting the resolution could certainly have been spent better. Taxpaying Pakistanis on whose expense the Assembly runs are well aware of the merits and demerits of alcohol consumption. Debate on whether Christianity or Islam allows or disallows alcohol should be done in churches and mosques instead of Assemblies. The Punjab Assembly, that day, did not have time to discuss the water problem between Punjab and Sindh but had time to discuss alcohol consumption.

    Whether alcohol should be consumed or not is a private issue. The jury is still out on whether Christianity allows or disallows alcohol. Hindus or Sikhs residing in Punjab can very well challenge the law as discriminatory for the proposed law would restrict their access to alcohol and they are not barred by their religions from consuming it.

    Excessive legislation and regulation always has the danger of creating and facilitating a black market. In spite of prohibition for Muslims, alcohol is available through bootleggers. According to statistics quoted in various sections of the media, out of 1,560 alcohol-related cases reported at just one hospital of Lahore, more than 90 percent were Muslims and only seven percent were non-Muslims.

    Thus the issue is not that of religion or of law. It is a personal matter and the state should not regulate personal matters, especially that of faith. When religiosity becomes a barometer of good citizenship, as has been the case in Pakistan for decades, we see the rise of intolerant and extremist attitudes.

    The slain Taliban leader, Muslim Khan, ordering the lashing of a burqa-clad woman who “dared to speak to a male shopkeeper”, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal’s (MMA’s) proposed Hasba Bill, the religion column in passport ruckus, the gender insensitive attitudes and remarks towards women, the banning of alcohol for all and sundry through legislation are different sides of the same coin: the coin of extremism and curbing diversity in views, interpretations, religions and behaviour. For to legislate on a matter is to create a uniform law for everyone; personal beliefs and actions cannot be uniform. To expect that must be, is to be intolerant.

    As Pakistan struggles to fight the war against terrorism and extremism, it must remember that extremist and intolerant attitudes have to be rooted out not just from the tribal areas but from other aspects of our lives too.

    The writer is an Islamabad-based development consultant. She can be reached at

    Going dry —Gulmina Bilal Ahmad\02\26\story_26-2-2010_pg3_3

  • We have to look at all the broader proportions that are causing militancy.
    At the policy level we need to develop a comprehensive counter strategy based on an understanding of beliefs, mentality, background, common aspirations, ideology, motives and organizational structures of extremists.

    The government needs to chalk out an official framework for dealing with the problem of extremism. Such a framework should focus on deterrence, then dialogue and lastly but most importantly development.

  • He is there to add credibility to the PML-N working in a democratic system, though PML leadership don’t believe in commitment as they prefer to use “faithfulness.”
    As SS and NS believe in the “Saltanat” word of our anthem
    “Qaum, Mulk” Saltanat”