Pakistan: When freedom of religion remains as a mere « peau de chagrin »

When freedom of religion remains as a mere « peau de chagrin ».

Let us begin with this “delightful” expression, so beautifully chosen by Balzac, whose book enables us to understand what “peau de chagrin” can represent. Freedom of religion is a right that occupies an essential place, not to say a fundamental one, in every democratic society; it is a freedom cherished by every human rights defenders.

However, we cannot but notice that in some countries, especially in Pakistan, this freedom is strictly limited. Yet, many analysts allow themselves to think that Pakistan is witnessing a positive “democratic transition”. But are religious minorities a part of this positive transition?

That is the question.

Jinnah’s shattered dream

If we take a look at the Constitution of Pakistan, freedom of religion occupies an essential place as it is at the base of the country’s foundation. This freedom was in fact for its noble founder the condition sine qua none for the independence of Pakistan. The man with a powerful charisma, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, mentioned in his eloquent and memorable speech on the 11th august 1947, in front of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan:

You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another.

We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.

The people of England in course of time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country and they went through that fire step by step. Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the Nation.

Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease 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.

Unfortunately, soon after this speech, Zia-Ul-Haq coup d’état will become a tool for “religious” extremists – that actually have nothing to do with any religion whatsoever – to oppress religious minorities. Corruption will gradually attack the root of Pakistan’s society and the decline of the country, plagued by injustice, will begin. This vision of Pakistan, far from the dream land its founder thought of will also propose an amendment known as the clause B of the article 260 of the Constitution. The amendment stipulates:

(b) “non-Muslim” means a person who is not a Muslim and includes a person belonging to the Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist or Parsi community, a person of the Qadiani Group or the Lahori Group who call themselves ‘Ahmadis’ or by any other name or a Bahai, and a person belonging to any of the Scheduled Castes.”

Thus spoke Zarathustra! Along the global constitutional stigmatization that religious minorities have to face, one community will specifically be mentioned and targeted by the discriminations; the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community or shall I write the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community to perfectly respect the noble and democratic Constitution of Pakistan. On the 26th April 1984, Zia-Ul-Haq will de facto pass an anti Ahmadiyya xx ordinance that will introduce many restrictions, sanctions, punished by proper penal dispositions. Pakistan’s penal code will thus be modified by the insertions of two more articles 295-B and 295-C that forbids and severely punishes Ahmadis to claim any assimilation to the Muslim identity.

Any right(s) for Ahmadis in Pakistan?

Talking about rights for Ahmadis in Pakistan is similar to an oxymoron. Ahmadis cannot pronounce the Islamic greeting – “Assalamo Aleikum Warahmatulah-e-Wabarakatu-hu” which means “May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon you” – nor can they pronounce their profession of faith or anything as mentioned in the ordinance has any link to the Muslim identity. Beyond their religious belief, they are also withdrawn from their Muslim identity.

The persecutions of Ahmadis are also taking various forms. They are no longer confined to limited local actions. Now, alongside the open murders on streets, the degradation of graveyards, access to education is also hindered and some students are forced not to indicate their affiliation to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community on their role number out of fear to get eventually expelled.

They could expect things to change if a voting right was given to them; forced to vote under the “non Muslim” section, they are compelled to leave their religious identity in the polls to vote. Hence, for the sake of freedom of conscience and religion, Ahmadis boycott every election.

Places of worship have also become the daily target of religious fundamentalists. This year, when Muslim around the globe celebrated only a few days ago the beautiful festival of Eid-ul-Fitr, Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan were bound to stay at home and haven’t been able to visit their mosques in order to observe prayer. This hasn’t happen for the first time; last year, in several localities, such obstacles have also been reported. When Ahmadis use the article 20 of the Pakistani Constitution which guarantees everyone the right to visit their place of worship to condemn this injustice, they voice remains unheard. Even the Constitution has no longer any legal value when it comes to Ahmadis.

These injustices are constantly relayed by major international Human Rights organizations such as the UNHCR, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, but this oppression of conscience continues taking unimaginable forms without any concrete international action.

With all these elements in mind, is it still decent to say Pakistan is in a positive “democratic transition”?

By – Asif Arif | Translation – Mahrukh Arif

Asif Arif is an Advocate, a Lecturer in Paris Dauphine University, and also the Head of Section “International Persecution” of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association of France. Asif is also active in the promotion of education and is the Director and the Coordinator of Cultures & Beliefs – a french website (cultures-et-croyances.com) launched  by ahmadis waqfeen.

Directeur et Coordinateur Principal de Cultures & Croyances
Email: asif.arif@cultures-et-croyances.com
Twitter: @CultureCroyance | Facebook: Cultures & Croyances

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