No parliament has the right, no matter how sovereign, to determine the faith of an individual citizen. This is not the job of a parliament. It is God’s job
Events in India, the Dadri lynching, cow politics and now Shiv Sena’s offer of Indian Rs 100,000 to anyone who slaps Indian Muslim actor Aamir Khan have laid bare the shocking intolerance and discrimination that is rife in the world’s largest secular democracy. No doubt, it vindicates our decision to have Pakistan in the first place but while Pakistanis might be delighted in this belated exposure of Indian intolerance to the world, the fact remains that India is constitutionally a secular democracy.
All things considered equal, a secular democracy will and should still be considered better than a theocracy, which we Pakistanis must accept is what the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has been since 1974. It does not matter how many times our Prime Minister (PM) attends Diwali with the Hindus and their PM refuses to issue an Eid message to India’s large Muslim community. It does not matter that our PM, Mian Nawaz Sharif, in his second avatar is an enlightened moderate and the PM of India, Mr Modi, is a Hindu fanatic. The bottom line is that India does not discriminate constitutionally and legally on the basis of faith, at least not like Pakistan does. India could be an intolerant and bigoted society but as a state it does not legalise persecution. That places India in a category of civilised states and our legal persecution of minorities places us in the category of a medieval state.
It is a damn shame that Pakistan discriminates on the basis of religion, when its founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was the foremost advocate of civil liberties and religious freedom in his long and illustrious career as a legislator and a politician in undivided India. His entire being was an antithesis of the theocrat and I am not sure if he were alive today he would want to be associated with the sobriquet “founder of Pakistan”. He certainly would not endorse a state of affairs where the offices of president and PM in the state are reserved for just one community. His entire legislative career was dedicated to speaking for the rights of minorities and marginalised groups, not just Muslims but the untouchables and Christians as well. Being a double minority himself, born an Ismaili Shia Muslim, Jinnah’s concern had always been to get a fair share for the minorities, religious, sectarian, caste or otherwise. He balked at the idea of majoritarian fascism and yet the state that calls him its founding father is precisely that.
Pakistan legalises persecution in a way no modern democracy does. I am not comparing Pakistan to Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran, which cannot be described as modern states let alone democracies. Saudi Arabia cannot and should not ever be an example for Pakistan. Similarly, Iran privileges a group of mullahs to ride over the legitimate will of the people. In contrast, Pakistan claims to be a democracy run by a constitution and governed by the rule of law. Yet, within this Constitution and this democracy, there are fundamental flaws. I have already mentioned the fact that a non-Muslim cannot be the president or the PM of Pakistan. Another grave flaw, a folly of the highest order, is Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s original sin, the morally untenable, utterly inexcusable Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan. No parliament has the right, no matter how sovereign, to determine the faith of an individual citizen. This is not the job of a parliament. It is God’s job. The Second Amendment militates against that natural law. It is a crime that needs to be undone immediately.
Last week, it was an unearthed that an American professor, very rightly, refused to assess the academic credentials of an applicant, presumably a professor from UET because he had signed off on a statement abusing Ahmedis in the job application form at the university. Need I remind the reader that we sign the same statement every time we get our passport? What if tomorrow the world began to refuse us entry because of this statement of intolerance we sign so flippantly? The state has bartered reason and sanity to appease a small section of our society that is incapable of understanding the very concept of religious freedom and difference of opinion. All of this is rooted in the Second Amendment and the Second Amendment is rooted in the fact that our Constitution privileges Muslims over non-Muslims.
The solution to Pakistan’s ills lies in harking back to Jinnah’s Pakistan. When asked to declare Ahmedis as non-Muslim, Jinnah famously said that he was nobody to declare someone who calls himself a Muslim a non-Muslim. Jinnah’s Pakistan was expressly based on the principle that no citizen would be discriminated against on the basis of religion, caste or creed. This Pakistan would not be a “theocratic state to be run by priests with a divine mission”. Jinnah detested the religious clergy and priests who wanted to impose their will on the people and they detested him equally. Today, however, some of those priests want to claim him as their own but no one can whitewash historical facts, try as they may. Pakistan would only honour itself by following the vision of the man it calls its founding father. The first step would be expunge from the Constitution all discriminatory provisions that distinguish between Pakistanis.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Mr Jinnah: Myth and Reality. He can be contacted via twitter @therealylh and through his email address firstname.lastname@example.org