Pakistan is not ‘only for Muslims’

Published: September 3, 2012
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There is a reason why minorities are being persecuted, why sectarian groups are operating and why people are killing in the name of religion. PHOTO: AFP

In my freshman year of college I wanted to set up a Pakistani students association to network and interact with other Pakistani students in the area and also to promote and share our rich culture with the diverse student body in the United States.

As I finished writing the constitution and prepared to launch the organisation, I was approached by another Pakistani student who was thinking of relaunching the Muslim Students Association. She met with me and suggested that we merge our organisations and simply call it the ‘Muslim Students Association’. I asked her why and how that made any sense. Very puzzled, she looked at me and said,

“What would be the difference between the name ‘Pakistani’ or ‘Muslim’?”

Three years ago, at that time, I flared up about this and argued for weeks over it. I eventually did start an independent Pakistani Students Association, but of late, her question has been haunting me.

If Pakistan was a ‘Pakistani Students Association’, then slowly it is turning into a ‘Muslim Students Association’. Our country is being separated from any ideology that is even remotely of minority, and is losing any philosophical or religious diversity that may still exist.

But why? Why is it happening?

I think there are two reasons for this.

The first is the student I met with.

In other words it is the utter inability of educated Pakistanis to distinguish between ‘Muslims’ and ‘Pakistanis’.

‘Your club is going to be about Muslims from one country only?’

‘Shouldn’t you combine all the Muslims from all over the world?’

Why should I? Pakistan is country with its own history and its own culture. We’re not Arabs, neither is our food, our attire, our music or our style of living. Pakistanis are people of the subcontinent; our culture is that of India which was one and the same as Pakistan 65 years ago.

Pakistanis and Indians are Muslims, Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Christians and more, with different majorities splitting differently. The subcontinent was a place of different religions with its own different cultures blending together. I recently visited the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore which was constructed in 1673 and learned in order to preserve religious harmony the mosque included elements of various faiths.

The domes of the mosque were made to resemble the domes of Sikh gurdwaras; the arches inside were inspired by Cathedrals; there are drawings of the lotus flower which represents Buddhism and there are Hinduism-related elements too all present in a mosque. There is not a single crescent on any of the minarets of the mosque as per usual for Muslim places of worship. My tour guide said that was also done intentionally to make the mosque seem like a landmark for people of all faiths.

The second reason is apathy.

For those of us blessed with a sound enough mind to tolerate different ideas, and desire a multicultural Pakistan with people of a variety of faiths, especially public office holders and political leaders, watching all this transpire is a crime. The problem is not a mystery. The mystery is our reluctance to do something about it. There can be no denying the polarisation of thought in Pakistan, nor can there be denying the tendency for extremist ideas in people.

Education standards are miserable, especially for the poor. The rise of sectarian groups has been documented and studied and the violent things taught in some religious madrassas have been well reported. Despite all this, no meaningful action seems to have been taken to tackle these issues by government officials, law enforcement, or civilians.

If we let things progress the way they are, then we should fear the worst. The portion of society affected most by lack of and substandard education, lawlessness and deprivation of justice is the lower class and those in poverty. Unfortunately this makes up the vast majority of Pakistan and these are the people we are poisoning. The bad thing about poison is that it spreads. If someone from this segment of society actually manages to afford solid quality education for their child, there is still a good chance that his or her parents have brought him up with an intolerant or narrow mindset. An example is the student I was referring to earlier who didn’t just think, but actually believed that all Pakistanis were Muslims.

This poison then goes into our media from where it spreads like wildfire, and then one fine day a governor is shot 22 times in broad daylight for protecting a Christian woman and his murderer becomes a national hero.

In this situation, the ideology prevalent in the majority will work to slowly wipe off all others. Our population is one that heavily dictates their life through religion, and religion thrown upon an ill-informed, substandard schooled mind can do things to it that begs the imagination to shut down. From a country for the minorities of India, Pakistan could slowly become a country strictly for Muslims, then strictly for Sunni Muslims and then strictly for Sunni Muslim men and who knows what else after.

One thing must be understood though, that it is not too late. The problems are clear, the solutions are not simple, but are still obtainable.

I do not want to live in a country that forces Hindu families to migrate away. I do not want to live in a country that has police raiding restaurants for serving lunch indoors in Ramazan. I do not want to live in a country that forces religious conversions and even televises them, and I do not want to live in a country that decides for itself who is, or isn’t a Muslim.

To fix Pakistan, we must fix the society. The mindset must be changed. We need to control our school syllabus, we need to eliminate sectarian groups, we need to monitor religious scholars and we need to monitor who is allowed to appear on the media.

There is a reason why people like Aamir Liaqat continue to appear on television and get great ratings. There is a reason why Zaid Hamid has a growing fan base. There is a reason why minorities are being prosecuted, why sectarian groups are operating and why people are killing in the name of religion.

It is because most people actually approve of the aforementioned things , and the rest of them, if put simply in three words, let it happen.

Do you think that Pakistanis have a tendency to believe that Pakistan is only for Muslims?

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Abu Bakr Agha

Abu Bakr Agha

A software engineer, musician, writer and activist from Islamabad, currently based in Chicago. He tweets @AB_Agha (twitter.com/AB_Agha)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.