Can Pakistan ban alcohol for non-Muslims? Not ethically!

Published: July 23, 2014
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To impose an exception less ban on alcohol would be the equivalent of forbidding non-Muslims from practicing their religion freely.

As the nation slides down the slippery slope of prohibition, progressives entrench their nails into its icy surface, resisting the imposition of Islamic dicta on the state’s non-Muslim subjects.

The National Assembly Standing Committee on Law, Justice and Human Rights stated its opposition to the proposal to impose a complete nationwide ban on alcoholic beverages, revoking the exemption provided to non-Muslims in Pakistan.

It is a restriction Pakistan’s ultra-right political parties have long pushed for. JUI-F MNA, Maulana Shirani, has been particularly vocal in this regard. The proposition implies a constitutional amendment, which has faced a welcome amount of resistance from the moderate quarters.

For consistency’s sake, my opinion on this matter is the same as my opinion on Hinduism-inspired laws is some Indian states restricting cow slaughter for all citizens. I’ve made it a habit of holding my tongue on religious affairs, leaving the discussions to more scholarly men. But on a matter of principle, I find it imperative to speak out when a religious group – any religious group – devices self-centric laws that impinge on the liberties of other groups.

I’ve even expressed my reservations towards the imposition of the law on Muslims. A government entrusted with the authority of making a better Muslim out of you by preventing you from drinking, could potentially enact a law that drags you to court for missing your obligatory Fajr prayer.

I’ve long surrendered to the practical limitations of applying these liberal theories in Pakistan. But to have the prohibition expand, to devour even the non-Muslims, is inconceivable to any rational mind.

For starters, it means outlawing the “blood of Christ” itself; which Catholics believe is obtained through ‘transubstantiation’ of wine which is ceremoniously served to the believers. To impose an exception less ban on alcohol would be the equivalent of forbidding non-Muslims from practicing their religion freely. Luckily, the Prohibition Order of 1979 takes note of such conundrums, and empathically provides an exemption.

Then there’s the matter of non-Muslim visitors to Pakistan. There are few daring foreign officials, businessmen and tourists who aren’t dissuaded from coming to Pakistan by security threats and a plethora of inhospitable laws. Let us put to test their stubbornness in visiting our country, by denying them alcoholic beverages too.

The right-wing sometimes challenges the exemption as a loophole through which bootlegged alcohol reaches Muslims. The fact that the law is sometimes used for nefarious means does not negate the non-Muslims right to not have Islamic rules imposed on them.

Let us no longer pretend that liquor magically jumps off a store shelf, and pours itself down the gullets of devout Muslims. And more urgently, let us stop congratulating ourselves for looking after our minorities whilst finding more ways to force our beliefs on them.

Do you think it is fair to impose an alcohol ban on non-Muslims in Pakistan?

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Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat

A medical doctor and bubble-wrap enthusiast from Rawalpindi, who writes mostly about science and social politics (and bubble-wrap). He tweets @FarazTalat (twitter.com/FarazTalat)

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