Perhaps Jordan can teach Pakistan how to treat its minorities

Published: March 26, 2015
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The report also called 2013 "one of the darkest years" for Christians in Pakistan, with the deadliest ever attack on the community mounted in Peshawar in September. PHOTO: AFP

The deadly attack on Pakistan’s Christian minority in Youhanabad left 16 people dead and was followed by communal clashes in Lahore. Soon after the incident, the Bohra community was targeted in Karachi last Friday.

These attacks are not new to religious minorities in Pakistan, who have been living under fear of their lives for the past few years; their residential colonies, work places and places of worship are turning into slaughter houses in their own homeland.

However, in case of other Muslim-majority countries, minority groups continue to live in peace and enjoy the rights and privileges prescribed to them by law. One such example is that of Jordan. My encounter with a Jordanian Christian woman, Dana Kakeesh, enlightened me how minorities can and should live in a Muslim-majority country.

“I don’t like to refer to Christians as a minor group in a Muslim majority country as I have never felt that I’ve been treated on that basis. My country represents a unique model for real and peaceful co-existence of religions. As long as we hold prominent positions in the public and private sectors and enjoy religious freedom, we cannot be described as a minority,” says Dana.

This sounds unbelievable, as one can only dream to hear such words in Pakistan, yet it is true. Yes, Dana is a Christian academic at the School of Management, University of Jordan, and is currently pursuing her PhD in England with the help of the Jordanian government’s funding. Her overwhelming love for her country reflects how, as a minority, she enjoys her life in a Muslim majority country. My encounter with her intensified my feelings of shame, particularly when she expressed her satisfaction with her country’s system which protects her in every aspect.

Minority groups of any country are its cultural heritage and represent its diversity thereby conveying a message of cultural tolerance and co-existence. The flag of Pakistan was specifically designed for this purpose, where the colour white represented the 15% minority in 1947. Unfortunately, the wave of extremism since 2008 and the recent incidents of violence against minority groups have not only left people shameful before the national flag but have also left minor groups heart-broken as their population has squeezed to just three per cent.

Today, religious minorities in Pakistan live in mortal fear for their lives.

Attacks on them are increasingly on the rise, portraying Pakistan’s negative image internationally. Incidents such as Badami Bagh, the church blast in PeshawarKot Radha Kishan incident and the persecution of Ahmadis have hurt Pakistan’s reputation around the world.

Other Muslim countries, however, are making good progress on this front by not only accommodating their minority groups but also providing them with religious and social freedom, which allows all groups to accept each other in order to identify themselves as a nation – rather than bicker about their ethnic or religious backgrounds.

Dana continued,

“I carry out my religious duties openly and confidently. As the Jordanian constitution guarantees freedom of religion, you can hear church bells ring every day and see many people wearing the symbol of the cross, hanging a plaque or rosary, or putting a statue of Jesus or Mary in their offices and many more acts that are obvious evidence of freedom of religion. Relating to this, it is not uncommon to see Muslims going to church to join their Christian neighbours and friends on religious occasions such as baptism, first communion, confirmation, marriage or funeral services.”

In contrast, the plight of minorities in Pakistan is worse than any other Muslim country.

Non-Muslim Pakistanis have been vulnerable in terms of security and freedom; sectarian killings have become more frequent, and have resulted in the deaths of more than 2000 people. Every year, approximately 5000 Hindus migrate to other countries from Pakistan. This migration has accelerated due to religious intolerance in particular, because of the forced conversion of Hindu and Christian girls.

The conducive environment maintained by the state and the law makes Jordan, a Muslim country, worth living in for minorities. The fact that while Sunday is a working day in Jordan, yet Jordanian civil law offers Christians the right to two hours’ leave on Sunday mornings to make their way to morning mass at church, goes to show how well the country treats its citizens.

Also, Sunday mass is broadcasted on a local radio channel. Jordan has also recognised Christmas as an official religious holiday for all Jordanians, while the second day of Christmas, Boxing Day, is a holiday only for the Christian community.

Apart from providing religious freedom, the Jordanian law provides sufficient safety to its minority groups as well. There are a number of articles in the constitution and other legal materials that regulate and organise many religious issues; for example, under the Press and Publication Law, anyone breaking the rules and insulting or humiliating any sacred symbol or making or spreading any offensive or provocative speech via any kind of publication or media channel will be sentenced to jail and/or fined, as this it is completely forbidden.

These reforms have encouraged the minorities to stay in the Muslim country and live peacefully. Academics like Dana also want to return to her homeland, as soon as she finishes her studies.

Countries like Jordan represent an excellent example of religious tolerance and are role model for those whose minority groups suffer discrimination. In a positive move, the Sindh government announced a public holiday to celebrate Diwali, so much so that the chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) also celebrated this event with Hindus. Distribution of sweets in the Sindh Assembly on the occasion of Holi is also an encouraging step.

Such steps are required all across Pakistan. A country has to be deemed liveable for all; minority groups are the cultural heritage of a country, together they maintain a diverse culture as well as nourish tolerance for each other. We need to embrace our minorities and work for their equal status, and in doing so, we must never forget how we expect to be treated if we immigrate to other countries and become a minority there.

Nadia Agha

Nadia Agha

Nadia Agha is an academic from Shah Abdul Latif University (SALU) Khairpur and currently pursuing her PhD in Women's Studies from The University of York. England. She tweets @AghaNadia

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

  • Sh

    Agreed!! Minorities are being persecuted in Pakistan. Its time to make Pakistan a secular country. We don’t want an Islamic republic full of terrorists. We want a secular state where everyone lives in peaceRecommend

  • Ray

    Winston Chruchill said that if self rule was given to Indian subcontinent in 1940s, goons will take over. He was not trying to insult anyone. He was stating a fact.

    Pakistan and India both are living proofs that Mr. Churchill was spot on.

    Look at the history of this land. Today, the muslims of these countries are the lower caste Hindus who wanted to escape persecution. It is a pipe dream when some Muslims think they are related to Arabs or Turks.

    The only way to solve these issues is by bringing in a dictator with a vision who rules for 30 years and destroys mullahs and any religious party.

    Recommend

  • L.

    I support a secular pakistan, but it being an islamic republic is NOT the reason for terrorism.Recommend

  • abu

    Since 2011, hundreds of thousands of muslims died in attack on mosques, Funerals etc when the terorist attacked church all self appointed spoks petsons of cristian have started porktraying lt as a crusade against minorities. They are basically just doing it for a few dollars more
    Recommend

  • vinsin

    Example of Jordan is wrong. The situation of Christians are as bad in Jordan as that of Hindus in Pakistan. Christians are wiped out from jordan and are down from 30% to 5%, similarly Hindus are down from 22% to 1%. I have no idea why Pakistan flag still has 20% of its colour as white, should be 2% now?
    Last year India gave 100000 citizenship to Pakistani non-muslims (majority Hindus).Recommend

  • KahnaKacha

    Title should have been, how Jordan treats its “Religious” minorities. Ethnic minorities do not do very well in Jordan. Monarchy is supported by Bedouin tribes and they get special privileges.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    treating minorities with respect is just a small insignificant step in the grand scheme of things. What we require above all else, is to amend the constitution and throw out the extremist clauses. Not much use if even ninety nine out of hundred people treat a christian with respect but one extremist registers a blasphemy case against him and gets him imprisoned.Recommend

  • islooboy

    What happened to hindus in Pakistan was a reaction to what happened in east punjab,jammu and kashmirRecommend

  • islooboy

    Hindu population in west Pakistan in 1951 was 2% its still 2%Recommend

  • islooboy

    like terrorist will change their thinking by declaring Pakistan a secular stateRecommend

  • islooboy

    Tell me what happened to muslims in jalhandar,amritsar and ludhiana?Recommend

  • نائلہ

    It’s not only the terrorists which the inhabitants of Pakistan need to be afraid of. The ZERO freedom of religion in this country is the reason for the deaths of countless Ahmadis, Shias, Christians and Hindus. Dont allow the state to be involved in any dealings of faith or announce who is a Muslim or not (i.e. playing God); maybe then Allah will have mercy on this land.Recommend

  • islooboy

    Oh bibi what sort of FREEDOM are you talking bout?Recommend

  • L.

    Freedom of choosing to call themselves MUSLIM or non muslim, freedom of calling their mosques, mosques and freedom of stepping foot outside their homes without the thought of being murdered in cold blood. Recommend

  • Amani Al-Serhan

    This is a very interesting article especially nowadays when we witness great amount of violence targeting religious minorities. As a Jordanian, I can safely say that christians in our country enjoy a great amount of freedom and respect. They are politically represented, and can practice their religious rituals openly. Moreover, they form an integral part of Jordanian society and identify and are thus not marginalised or perceived as a ‘the other’; on the contrary. For those who say that Jordan opreses its religious minority, I would advise you to do your own research. While we may be inclined to be pessimists especially in the current political turmoil in the region, Jordan could perhaps instill hope that yes religious tolerance is indeed attainable. This to further clarify, applies not only to the 6% Christians residing in Jordan; it also applies to circassions, chechnians and other ethnic minorities.Recommend

  • Adpran

    Change the country ideology without change the people mentality is futile. What Pakistanis should do is teach religious tolerance to their children. So the children will not be easy to radicalized, and in the future Pakistan will have new generation of mullah who are tolerant.Recommend

  • Grace

    You really have no idea how minorities in most Arab nations and most Muslim countries have it far worse than in Pakistan when you say, “In contrast, the plight of minorities in Pakistan is worse than any other Muslim country.” The last people that Pakistanis should look for lessons in tolerance is from the Arabs. Take a look at Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen or anywhere else in the Arab world. Why do think Christian Arabs are running away from their homes? Yes some extremists in Pakistan have made life miserable for everyone, muslims included but they are being defeated and hopefully we will see more tolerance across the board.Recommend

  • Zee

    I think author and others bloggers alike should do a proper research and ET should revisit its policies as allowing such a blogs deeply reflect the intellect level of ET Mods.

    There is a war going on in Pakistan since 10 years and majority of this country has suffered more as compared to minority but alas, proper research is required to reflect the true picture.Recommend

  • woody

    I disagree with the author about her assertion that most Muslim countries treat their minorities properly – many/most don’t and those that do tend to be situations where the “minorities” are significant in number and control critical portions of the economy.Recommend

  • Prashant

    There was almost a complete migration of population on religious lines in Punjab at the time of the partition itself. In Indian Punjab, if you leave Maler Kotla, there is no other place where Muslims are found in majority and no Hindu/Sikh majority places on the other side of the Punjab.Recommend

  • islooboy

    Migration or genocide by sikh jhatas and rss goons?Recommend

  • islooboy

    Nope marzais are kafirsRecommend

  • Prashant

    How do you explain the absence of Sikhs and Hindus in Pakistani Punjab? You obviously need lessons in history from neutral sources.Recommend

  • L.

    Do you ever think about the opinion of God or are you implying that you know more than him? Recommend

  • Dr. Misbah

    I am sorry to read this Westernize propaganda, planted in young generation of Pakistani’s living, studying and working in West. Some time people living in West thinks that the West is so democratic and so very developed that all the problems are in East and specifically to my own country, this is not broadening of one’s mind but congestion or vice versa. Ms. Nadia this is really shameful to see that you only can see one part of coin, the other part you really don’t want to understand.
    I studied in St. Paul English High School and we got such an education there that we never thought about a Muslim or non Muslim factors. Even some of my best friends and buddies were Christians and Hindus. Now you can interfere me and can say that perhaps you got education in missionary school that’s why I (me) nullify the minorities issues of Pakistan, but this is not true. As a Muslim I learned tolerance, equality , respect and give security to my fellow being. I think perhaps you are not a good practising Muslim by-your self or else you would not raise such a sensitive issue.
    Ms. you should not compare other countries with Pakistan as Pakistan is a unique example of equality and religious harmony. See West claims India as the largest democracy, some times I think perhaps they doubting on their own democracy by calling India as the largest democracy. But what is recently happening there, burning down of churches, conversions of muslims and even rape of 72 years old nun. You pointed out migration of our Hindus last year or may be 2013 to India but they were not in thousands my dear, you cannot befool your readers , this is absolutely non-sense. They were just a few in number at most hundred people. They went to India, leave in camps for some days and because of the harsh treatment of Hindiyan Hindus themselves to a Pakistani Hindus they made it back to their own Country. And we accept them back with open arms and heart.
    Attacks on churches are done by whom? Pakistan is under war and you know that due to the proxy war many bad games are playing around. You cannot point out any Muslim Pakistani in particular to be responsible of Hindus conversion or Churches bomb attacks. TTP have done it and they accepted it. So your writing is just your perception and it is far behind the reality.
    And you mentioned my dear, Kot Radha incident as a Muslim I am also hurt of such a devlish incident, but all responsible mob are going through hard laws these days and around 50 are arrested and trials going on. And we demand the State to hang them for such a deed. But what happened at Younhanabad why you forget to mention that the police-mans got killed there and the mob also burn two young beard man alive in revenge. If you want to write, write the truth.
    And you quoting one political party PPP as they go and celebrate Dewali, right, Madam this is politics to gain votes. Why you forget to mention JuD head Hafiz Muhammad Saeed who him self went to thar , distribute water and food among Hindus and also helped them to make temples. This is a joke for you , right?. But good work don’t need publicity. Who is the one who helped to rescue Hindus of India from Somalian pirates, he was Ansar Barni. Kindly think and be positive for your country. As in worst condition also patriot never blame game on own’s country.Recommend

  • islooboy

    reaction to the train full of dead bodies sent by your co religionistsRecommend

  • Dana Kakeesh

    As a Jordanian Christian, I think it was really a smart choice by the writer to pick up Jordan as a clear cut example of a small Muslim country situated in an extremely unstable region and dominated by wars and conflicts flamed by the extremists of the religion divisions in the Middle East yet this small country isn’t only treating Muslims and Christians alike but also has welcomed the expelled Syrian and Iraqi
    Christians by ISIS to its land and that’s why the way in which Jordan deals with its ethnic groups and minorities should be consider as guidelines for any other countries that are suffering from any religious beliefs conflict.
    As proof of the Jordanian polices in this regard, Jordan has started many recognized and widely-used international faith initiatives, led by King Abdullah II; such as Amman Message and Amman Interfaith and another not less important initiative is Common Word from Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad which seeks common ground between Christian and Islamic religious traditions all over the world.
    Finally, for those who claimed that Jordan has wiped out Christians, I think either they mixed up with our neighbors or they know nothing about the history of Jordan and the
    rich cultural heritage there.Recommend

  • Prashant

    As I said, you follow a particular version of history which is a product of seeing things in isolation.Recommend