How deep-rooted is religious intolerance in Pakistan?

Published: September 8, 2014

Ahmed Shehzad is not condoning violence against religious minorities, he is not sympathising with terrorist organisations; he is just a young cricketer enjoying a booming career.

Statistics have labelled Pakistan one of the world’s premier terrorism affected nations. However the one silver lining in the cloud of an extremist attack is a unified chant of ‘yeh hum naheen’ (this is not who we are). But when a beloved young athlete displays religious bias, can we really comfort ourselves with the same philosophy?

Footage showing Pakistani opener, Ahmed Shehzad, making religious comments to Sri Lanka’s player, Tillakaratne Dilshan, has caused a media frenzy and propelled an official Pakistan Cricket Board’s (PCB) probe into the matter. In the video Shehzad is heard saying,

“If you are a non-Muslim and you turn Muslim, no matter whatever you do in your life, straight to heaven.”

After Dilshan’s reply (which is almost inaudible) Shehzad goes on to say,

“Then be ready for the fire.”

The video was a godsend for any international media outlet looking to fuel the inferno labelling Pakistan as a nation of religious bigots. But when a young Pakistani makes a statement of such blatant prejudice, it necessitates soul searching at home.

Ahmed Shehzad is not condoning violence against religious minorities, he is not sympathising with terrorist organisations; he is just a young cricketer enjoying a booming career. But, it is his identity that is a greater cause for concern, because it unravels a prejudice which runs deep into Pakistani society. It exposes intolerance towards religious diversity.

I first encountered this as a thirsty, and broke, 11-year-old. On a regular school day in Hyderabad, a friend of mine offered me a sip of her drink, noticing that I didn’t have money to buy one, and I eagerly accepted. We continued chatting until a teacher pulled me aside.

“You’re one of the sensible ones,” she said to me, mimicking the tender concern of a mother, “so I know you’ll understand. See, you were sharing your friend’s drink just now, and I’m not sure if you know that she is a Hindu. But you should be careful. It isn’t wrong to sit with them. But it is wrong to sip from the same bottle.”

Now, if she had scolded us for our hygiene practices, or lack thereof, perhaps her comment would have been justifiable. But even as a scatterbrain little girl, I knew there was something wrong with her moral compass. Today I understand just how much such beliefs hurt modern-day Pakistan.

Religious prejudice slashes into the heart of Pakistan because it ignores nuances of its makeup. Can you imagine Pakistani intellectualism without Ardeshir Cowasjee?

Or Pakistani fashion without Deepak Perwani?

Can you imagine the north without the Kalash Valley?

Or Thar without the Hindus?

Can you imagine Lahore without its cathedrals?

Or Karachi without the Parsi community?

The answer to this incredibly rhetorical question is a simple ‘no’. Pakistan cannot be Pakistan if it is painted in a single shade of green.

Of course there has been an attempt to link the discrimination faced by people of differing faiths to Pakistan’s history. Focus has been drawn to its very foundation as a nation and state. And whether the present religious favouritism and discrimination can be traced to the roots of the young country has been debated time and again. But when the man accredited as the father of the nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, announced in his first presidential address to the constituent assembly that all Pakistanis were free, can it not then be argued that blaming history is a means to avoid solving the problem?

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of 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.”

Ahmed Shehzad is not a product of a prejudiced history; he is an amalgamation of a confused present. Where people in authoritative positions are trying to inject arguments where they have no place of existing. He is the product of an ‘us and them’ scenario absent until more recent times; which works to benefit some at the expense of others. It has to do with politics, not religion.

It shouldn’t represent all of Pakistan, but it does.

At 15, I visited the Abdullah Shah Ghazi Mazar (which attracts Muslims predominantly) and the neighbouring Hindu temple with my school. The caretaker told us that the niaz (charity meal), prepared at the temple is shared equally amongst the worshippers at the temple and the Muslims at the Mazar. This is the kind of brotherhood that exists on the streets of Pakistan. And part of me will always believe that it is what most Pakistanis believe in and practice.

But when statements, that completely disregard such sentiments, are made on public platforms, they are used to paint a picture of the entire population. And all we can really do is watch as a beautifully diverse community is reduced to a single, stupidly uttered sentence.


Ushah Kazi

An avid reader, literature buff and co-founder at She tweets as @TheKollectivePK (

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

  • BlackJack

    I think if Jinnah were told that all he would be quoted on was one speech (and that too this one) he may have given up on the idea of Pakistan. Everything else in the blog is perfectly sane (and good job btw), except for this irrational urge to dissociate Jinnah from any blame for the present state of affairs. Whatever floats your boat.Recommend

  • نائلہ

    How deep-rooted is religious intolerance in Pakistan?

    Pretty deep

  • Ajay gupta

    To all the questions u asked: yes Pakistan can be imagined without them, they are so sidelined, they have ceased to matter. Consequently when u come across a few of them, the Thot that comes to mind is: why are they still here? As for quaid’s speech, the less said the better. Creating a land in the name of Islam automatically means the rest Are lesser mortals, a fact eloquently brought out in shehzad’s behAviour.Recommend

  • Disgruntled

    Well said – that one speech has gained the status of an urban legend. Everything else Jinnah said and did run contrary to that speech. I think he would have been proud of Pakistan as it is today.

    Good blog nonetheless – sad that no one in Pakistan is listening. Now, if the madarsas were no longer to be the primary source of education and knowledge in Pakistan, maybe some myths would be dispelled…Recommend

  • raw is war

    sadly it looks like Pakistan will lose its minorities in the not so near future.Recommend

  • I am a Khan

    confused article. what the cricketer did was also his own confused mindset and what he ‘thinks’ about islam. Let me be clear, muslims are not granted a free ticket to Paradise, no matter whatever sins they commit. Islam says that each person is accountable for their deeds. Hence if a muslim does a wrong deed, he/she will be punished and only after that sent to paradise. That is if they died a muslim. According to islam when a person commits a major sin, his/her Iman leaves them at the time of committing the sin. So only if they repent and turn back to Allah, will they be forgiven.
    There is no problem eating/sharing food or drink given by a non muslim provided it is not haram food/drink. Haram drink is intoxicants/alcohol. Haram food is: 1. food in the name of any diety other than Allah (Hence the langar food of mandirs/dargahs is haram). 2. Blood. 3. Dead Meat. 4. Pork.
    Hope Pakistani muslims study and understand Islam.Recommend

  • vaqas

    Well blackjack can stay on with the history for all i care, and the writer may live in a fantasy world where we care about everyone. But the fact remains that talibanization is a menace misconstrued as a group of terrorists. It is a mindset that is widespread and very rampant in this society. It may range from apparently benign to outright evil. From occupying illegal land to contruct mosques, to the bombings of the innocent. To the cropping up of madressahs in every nook of the country, including predominantly non- muslim locals to the shutting down forcefully of marriage ceremony and beauty parlours and intellectual magazines. To the rallies and billboards supporting murderers. Or it may just be the mental inclination of supporting this sort of moral thuggary. But let us accept the fact that the people of this country are bigoted twisted and inclined to do evil while retaining the moral high ground bestowed upon them by our convoluted laws in the name of religion.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    Why are you writing about religion. You see the thing is you started off with the religious aspect and suddenly shifted to the national/secular and personal judgments. How do you know it is ‘not’ wrong to drink from the same bottle without cleaning them? Who has given you the authority to say it’s not wrong?

    Yes we can imagine intellectualism without Cowasjee( him being an intellectual is actually debatable).

    Fashion holds no value in all of this.

    BTW, apart from the respect for religious diversity the fact is this that someone is wrong. Either us or the others. That is a fact. Respect has it’s own place.Recommend

  • 2 cents

    I read a Nadeem F Paracha article and it explained how the Pakistan cricket team has changed in it’s behavior and the reason is that most cricket players nowadays are from working class and rural small town backgrounds, and social class plays a big role in conduct and political/religious beliefs; the old Pakistani players from partition up until the mid 90s were mostly from urban educated bourgeois eg Imran Khan,Fazal Mahmood,Aamer Sohail,Waseem Akram,Rameez Raja etc, so it isn’t that we are more intolerant now then back then, the people from that particular class have always been pretty tolerant but we’re not the majority -we’re the minority, the real face of Pakistan are rural working class who have been moving up the social ladder over the past 2 decades and the cricket team reflects that in Inzy,Afridi,Shahzad etc So Pakistan hasn’t changed but the dynamics are changing, the limelight is shifting from the urbane upper classes to the rural working classes – it can be seen in the diaspora too, it’s not the successful Pakistanis of New York or Silicon valley representing us, it’s the working class of rotherham.Recommend

  • Irony

    I welcome u to embrace buddhism!!Recommend

  • JackBlack

    Jinnah was a progressive man, his lifestyle and vision for this nation reflected that, no matter how much you disagree, no matter how many thumbs ups you get , that fact won’t change.Recommend

  • Critical

    How deep-rooted is religious intolerance in Pakistan?

    If they dig deeper,they might hit oilRecommend

  • Headstrong

    You see, this is where the problem lies. Why do Muslims have to consider other religions ‘Haram’ – so much so that langar food etc is forbidden?


  • vinsin

    You better read about Noahkali riots and mopilla riots. Even in India many Muslims are exactly the same and majority Kashmiri Muslims treats pandits in same disdain.Recommend

  • Ghostrider

    Jinnah ran Pakistan movement and won us a homeland. There is no need to prove Jinnah wrong or point fingers at him because the bottomline is HE WAS RIGHT!!! and btw religious intolerance is present in every country in different manifestations, case in point, Muzzafarnagar Violence in UP.Recommend

  • Ghostrider

    Sir with all due respect, have you studied Islam in detail. By study i mean have you studied the opposing point of views. You see studying books written to prove your ingrained beliefs is not studying its just reinforcing. This is what i see in your commentRecommend

  • siesmann


  • captain pasha

    Can you tell us where is this heaven exactly/actually situated ???Recommend

  • siesmann

    They should also study and understand other faiths. Langar is not in the name of a “deity”,but as a service to pilgrims visiting,and for maskeens.And Allah remains the same called by any other name.Wahdat doesn’t consist in calling God Allah only.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Religious intolerance is an oxymoron.What is religion if it doesn’t make a person more tolerant.Recommend

  • Imran Ahmed

    Religious prejudice and double standards applied to non Muslims are deeply entrenchedRecommend

  • Parvez

    I liked the argument you made……..but the fact is that when you use religion and that too the intolerant version, for meeting political ends, how can you not expect intolerance to proliferate ? Ahmed Shehzad is simply a by product of misguided policy.Recommend

  • Sach Bhol

    Your “deep respect” for Ahmed Shezad, a man with fanatic views in the garb of a cricketer, Obviously, you do not know – or care – that sports and religion do not mix. It would lead to utter chaos and disruption if each of the world’s teams came with biased religious views and tried to impose on players of the rival team in the host country. Ahmed Shezad and his ilk do great disservice not only to cricket but also to other faiths in the world. Tolerance to other religions is the basis of inter-faith harmony. This is also the reason why Religion and politics should be kept out of politics. Recommend

  • Moiz Omar

    I think it really depends on where you are in Pakistan. Like I where I live in Pakistan, people here generally open-minded and tolerant.Recommend

  • Moiz Omar

    He was playing officially for Pakistan so he should not have done that. Especially if he is being hosted by another country,Recommend

  • Anoop

    Aug 11 was a one off speech intended for an international audience. In Karachi next year it was pro sharia and constitution should be based on sharia. Recommend

  • Rakesh Sinha

    We read about amazing self proclaimed “soul searching” all the time.
    Jinnah spent about 10+ years of his prime political life whipping religious hatred. When are you all going to search your souls to find this out?Recommend

  • Virkaul

    Charas is not haramRecommend

  • Virkaul

    This is where you divide the society between THEM & US with your brand of Islam Mr Khan. Why complain of discrimination then?Recommend

  • sohail ansari

    How far will this arrogance take you my friend… you are going to the point of no return. I am pretty sure even the prophet of your religion would have chosen to disassociate with you and your friend Shezad!Recommend

  • doesnt mattter

    How deep-rooted is religious intolerance in Pakistan?

    Umm…wasn’t it the reason why was created?Recommend

  • Observeer

    Would you like it if someone preached Christianity to you?Recommend

  • Saad

    I tried to eat a live cow once. It proved to be rather difficult..Recommend

  • rahulbaba

    Mate you are surely being sarcastic right?? and if you are serious then you are just another example of that religious intolerance.Why are so obsessed with religion?? abhi bhi waqt hai jag jao yar. :(Recommend

  • vap

    Wonderful article. The only country who can decide with the jerk of pen the faith of millions of people. Recommend

  • Zeeshan

    Blackjack, the fact that you are here lecturing about tolerance is what I found to be an irony.Recommend

  • Khan

    Its people who make this country a hell even in this world. Come out from this superiority complex. All humans are equal. Indeed, in the last it will be your deeds which will lead you either hell or heaven not your faith.Recommend

  • Ironic

    Like this buddy!Recommend

  • observer

    How deep rooted is religious intolerance in Pakistan?. Ask those who have lost there near and dear ones, because of this. Many thousands have lost their lives. Some argue that Pakistan was created because of religious intolerance, had there been tolerance, Muslims and Hindus could have lived together, as they have been living together for many centuries. It was the politicians, on both sides who fanned this hatred towards each other. This goes on unabated. Anyone who reads news, watches television, knows, there is no need to ask. We are an intolerant nation, and will keep on suffering because of this terrible indoctrinated mindset that we have.Recommend

  • balam

    Beautiful and accurate comments.Hatred and discrimination will bring Pakistan down one day.Recommend

  • babu

    Dead animals are Islamically slaughtered and sold in Pakistan even dogs and donkeys according to news reports.Is that HALAL meat?Recommend

  • I am a Khan

    Langar food is indeed in the name of a diety (the idol of the temple or the grave of the dargah). Hence langar food is never served until it has been given ‘Bhog’ ie made in the name of the diety. That makes it Haram from an Islamic perspective because all food must be in the name of the real God. Allah is an arabic word which comes from the root words ‘Al’ meaning ‘the’ and ‘iIlah’ meaning ‘God’. Allah translated in English means ‘The God’ or ‘the Real God’. Hence Islamic creed is ‘there is no God apart from the real God’.
    Charas, opium, heroin are all haram as they come under the intoxicants category. some scholars now say that even tobacco smoking is haram, because harming your body knowingly is haram in Islam.Recommend

  • I am a Khan

    by dead meat, I meant meat of an animal that died prior to being slaughtered. When slaughtered, all the blood of the animal drains away and modern health research has shown that blood in the meat of an animal is harmful to human health. Hence Halal meat is only that meat where a healthy halal animal (cow, goat, camel or chicken) has been slaughtered. Animals killed by electric shocks are also not halal.Recommend

  • Rightway14

    Its not deep… it is founded on religious intolerance.Recommend

  • Fakhruddin Ahmad

    What wrong he said. He just gave him dawat of Islam. why so much noiseRecommend

  • Rahul

    I did not know Pakistanis lived on the moonRecommend

  • Rahul

    The word “Pakistan” translated means Land of the pure. With every passing decade, the standard of purity seems to go up.Recommend

  • I am a Khan

    No. thats not halal. The rule is that firstly the animal must be in the halal category of animals that can be eaten like cow, sheep, camel, chicken, turkey, deer, etc. secondly the halal animal must be healthy and alive and then slaughtered in a halal way, in the name of Allah.
    Dr Zakir Naik also proved scientifically in one of his lectures that the islamic halal slaughter method gives least pain to the animal as when the throat of the animal and its jugular vein is slit, the connection between its brain and body breaks and the pain signals do not reach the animal’s brain, and Allah knows best.
    This world is a test for both humans and animals with rewards given by Allah in the hereafter (sometimes rewards are received in this world also, in a few instances but the rewards in the hereafter are better and ever lasting).
    Remember that Islam is not the property of the muslims. Islam belongs to the non muslims as well as the muslims. because Islam is from God and all humans are God’s creation. every human at birth is a muslim, every animal is a muslim and every creation like the oceans, sun, moon, mountains, planets, etc are all muslim. Muslim is one who submits his/her will to the real God and accepts/recognizes the real God as their creator.Recommend

  • J_neuns

    Dear usha, thanks for your article.

    I feel that accepting reality and then teaching people of their past is a better approach to enlightenment rather than portraying an all is well image based or your own earnest beliefs and personal anecdotes.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    I’m ok with it. Infact it has happened to me.Recommend

  • Zaka Khan Gandapur

    Ahmed Shehzad did his best to offered him to become a Muslim. We are all Muslims and we have humongous obligation to preach Islam in the world. We are free and what we do we can do-only peaceful activity-anything in our country. Recommend

  • Ram

    Try answer these questions, why do you think Pakistan will be secular when the name of Pakistan itself is Islamic Republic of pakistan, why did Jinnah demand for state of Pakistan based on religion if he wants to live among other religion, he had a huge bungalow in prime location of Mumbai.

    Why did India remain secular after partition and encouraged poor muslims to stay in India where all the rich and educated muslims who could afford left to Pakistan.

    In India if you take any field Bollywood,science, music,art, politics,technology you will find many Muslims achieving heights in independent India, Successes of these Muslims is slap on face of two nation theory and Pakistan always ignores this and keeps its focus on Gujarat riots.

    You are on wrong side of the border just cross over and you will see Muslims, Hindus,Sikhs,Christians living happily.Recommend

  • Nb

    Jugular veins being slit don’t stop pain from being transmitted to the brain, since the spinal cord is intact.
    All the neck slitting does is to cause an instant fall in blood pressure & sometimes induce epilepsies in the animal.
    It is a traumatic experience for the animal.Recommend

  • Lol

    There’s no beheading ,that accompanies that…hence you’re alive today !Recommend

  • Sounds right !

    Politically incorrect,but very interesting point of view.Recommend

  • Live and let live

    True… But when Dilshan politely put down Shehzad’s offer,Shehzad cursed him -that’s malicious & not in line with living peacefully with all mankind wether they agree with you or not.Recommend

  • Solomon2

    “If you are a non-Muslim and you turn Muslim, no matter whatever you do in your life, straight to heaven.”

    That’s it, isn’t it? It all boils down to this: a Muslim need not have a conscience, whatever he can get away with is good. The rest are either minor matters or outright deceptions.

    Values are what you fight for and this is what Shehzad fought for. His countrymen may condemn him for his boldness on the sporting field but who opposes his sentiments?Recommend

  • Saad

    I wish you wouldn’t use science and religion in the same sentenceRecommend

  • Burjor Rustomji

    Question: How deep rooted is religious intolerance in Pakistan?. Answer: More than any other country in the world. The proof of this answer is that many thousands have been murdered on religious grounds. i.e. simply because he or she belonged to a certain religion, a certain sect, a religious background, a certain affinity to a religion. That is why Pakistan can never progress, its fate is sealed, because of the mind set of the population. Compare Pakistan’s progress to others in the region, and after 67 years others have progressed far far more, Pakistan has in fact digressed. This is the sad truth about the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.Recommend

  • RW911

    What minorities? Do the dead/ missing still count?Recommend

  • anugrah

    Difference being that perpetrators of violent acts or those inciting violence are brought to justice in other countries. Recommend

  • anugrah

    On the contrary I would argue that it is religion which makes a person or society intolerant whilst knowledge brings tolerance.Recommend

  • anugrah

    Lol because food has religion such as Hindu halwa, Christian Cakes, Buddhist bacon and Sikh sushi.Recommend

  • ss22

    While the entire world is progressing in the fields of science,technology,medicine, education arts and sports backwards are concerned with what is haram, halal, is it ok to do this ok to eat that, do one thing Recommend

  • A.Karim Shah

    one gauge of measuring the level of intolerance in our society is by the fact that there is no literature on inter-religious issues written by Pakistanis. In my life I have read only one book which tackles the issue of inter-religious tensions written by a Pakistani (Fire of Love by Adeerus Ghayan).
    The onus falls on the educated and literary class to start tackling this menace. Only then we can expect the brutes in the playing fields to follow. Thumbs up to Usha.Recommend

  • nishantsirohi123

    Granted zakir naik is right, but doing the slaughter out on road, in front of other animals who are lined up for the next.
    Also those doing it once a year, with videos online where animals are seen running around with half slit necks Recommend