Dec 24, 2016

Why Minority Muslim Sects Are At Most Risk In Pakistan

Raza Habib Raja Freelance writer, PhD Student
Huffington Post
December 23, 2016

My country Pakistan unfortunately has witnessed prosecution of religious minorities. In the past, Christian colonies have been attacked whenever a member of their faith was accused of blasphemy. Likewise, there have been forcible conversions in Sindh of some Hindus.

Yes, there is no doubt that religious  minorities suffer a lot in Pakistan but there is a category (which has various sub-categories) which has suffered even more in Pakistan. This category is not a fixed category as the basis for inclusion in this category varies a lot. This is the category of Muslims who are assumed by some or majority to be Non-Muslims. In fact, literally everyone is potentially a member of this category in the eyes of some.

The biggest “crime” in Pakistan is to be what I call, “Non-Muslim” Muslims. Often such people are called “heretics”. So if you are an Ahmedi, Shiite, and even a believer in some Sufi Saint you will invariably be called Non-Muslim or “heretic” by some. However, this is not just a harmless thing as it has dire legal and more importantly even life threatening consequences.

After all, Pakistan is a country where Shiites have been massacred and Ahmedis are under constant threat despite the fact that the latter have already been declared as Non-Muslims. It seems that those who are considered as Non-Muslims have no right to call themselves as Muslims.

In one of my articles I had criticized the Second Amendment which declared Ahmedis as Non-Muslim. I got a lot of feedback, mostly from those who disagree with me. Their premise was that Ahmedis are not Muslims because they have different view about the finality of Prophet hood.

In my opinion, this business of trying to define or categorize is dangerous and has caused a lot of bloodshed in Pakistan and for that matter in other Muslim countries.

The most dangerous question to have been asked in the public sphere is: Who is a Muslim? Asking this question is dangerous and trying to define a Muslim is futile and would invariably lead to exclusion of many who do not belong to the sect of the person who is asking the question.

And yet this question is raised again and again. To some extent this has its roots in the very genesis of Pakistan. When you create a country for “Muslims” and moreover try to form a constitution in the light of Sharia, with clauses that actually prevent Non-Muslim to be the Head of the State, then perhaps defining a Muslim becomes inevitable.

Pakistan was not built around the concept of civic nationalism but of ethnic nationalism where religious identity served the function of ethnicity.

The focal point of civic nationalism is the nation-state promoting the belief in a society united by the concept and importance of territoriality, citizenship, civic rights and legal codes transmitted to all members of the group.

On the other hand the focal point of ethnic nationality is not voluntary but by birth and native culture, considered an inherent characteristic defined by descent as opposed to choice. By making a country for Muslims, Pakistan opted for ethnic nationalism, where ethnicity was defined in terms of religion of birth.
These two concepts can actually become blurred in real life as a modern nation state grows in complexity. In Pakistan’s case its independence movement was based on ethnic nationalism defined in terms of Muslim identity.

Here the complication is that whereas ethnic nationalism defined in terms of language and racial ethnicity is relatively less complicated ( though still enough complicated), nationalism defined in terms of religion is even more complicated particularly when the followers are divided into sharply conflicting sects.

The question, “Who is a Muslim” assumes importance because exclusion is going to be based on the definition. And since inclusion/exclusion is highly linked with state sanctioned benefits or lack thereof, this no longer remains a merely legal or constitutional question but has definite material effects. To declare some sect as Non-Muslim is one of the “best” ways to impact material harm. And when the question as who is a Muslim becomes important in the public domain then rival sects vie to get each other declared as Non-Muslim.

And such efforts can manifest themselves in violence. As I pointed out in my one of my  articles that the main rationale behind anti-Ahmediya riots of 1953 and 1974 was the demand that they be declared as Non-Muslims. The widespread rioting stopped only when government of ZAB buckled under pressure and the constitution of Pakistan was amended to exclude Ahmedis from the definition of Muslims.

However, the misery of Ahmedis did not stop there. Once excluded from the “definition” of Muslims, they were subject to state sanctioned discrimination through draconian laws and ordinances. Moreover the declaration further solidified their image as heretics in the collective public imagination. It also emboldened all the hard core sectarian elements in the society that through violence they can force a government to concede.

Ahmedis were a small minority and due to the relative nascence of their sect, were not strong enough in the society. It is a far different case as far as Shiites are concerned. Though a minority, they are still sizeable in Pakistan and moreover are intertwined with Sunnis through intermarriages. My own family from the maternal side is a mixture of Shiites and Sunnis. In fact in some cases, husband is a Shiite and wife is a Sunni. It won’t be easy to pressurize the government into doing that.

Yet, the question- who is a Muslim- continues to cast its deadly shadow. There are militant Sunni organizations whose objective is to get the Shiites declared as non-Muslim and today the bloodbath unleashed by them is a tool to put pressure on the state. The message is clear: if you don’t declare them as apostle then we will inflict our verdict which is of death to the infidels.

As mentioned earlier that due to the very nature of Pakistan movement and its dynamics, the question is perhaps inevitable. It is the answer which is now being contested.

Should state define a Muslim? Here lies the biggest problem. The Justice Munir report which investigated the anti Ahmedi riots of 1953 noted:

“Keeping in view the several definitions given by the Ulema (clergy), need we make any comment except that no two learned divines are agreed on this fundamental. If we attempt our own definition as each learned divine has done and that definition differs from that given by all others, we unanimously go out of the fold of Islam. And if we adopt the definition given by any one of the Ulema, we remain Muslims according to the view of that alim but kafirs according to the definition of everyone else.”

And yet there will always be a pressure to define a Muslim. Perhaps the state and society should get it into their heads that it is futile to define a Muslim except in the following way: A Muslim is anyone who calls himself a Muslim.

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