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

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