Stories about discrimination

‘How could you serve breakfast to a Hindu?’

Early one morning, a few days ago, I left my hometown Umerkot for Mirpurkhas with some friends. On the way we stopped for breakfast at a roadside cafe. What followed was an incident that left me shaken, although it involved no violence. While we were eating, a man with a long beard approached the café owner. We could clearly hear the conversation. He was telling the owner off for having served breakfast to us: “Tum Hinduon ko bhi nashta karwate ho?” (So, you serve breakfast to Hindus too?) The owner responded: “Kisi ke maathay pe likha hua nahi hota ki koi Hindu hai ya ...

Read Full Post

A question of religion

A furore was recently raised in the United Kingdom (UK) over the voluntary religion question in the 2011 census. Humanists and secularists attacked it for being ‘fatally flawed’ because the information, according to them, can be used to influence public policy and services. For anyone living in Pakistan the outcry might seem a smidgen over the top, given the country’s strident penchant for religiously determined identity systems. Here almost every conceivable form or questionnaire comes replete with a doctrinal question. For example, anyone wanting a passport has to first declare their faith of preference. Need an ID card? Then identify yourself ...

Read Full Post

Gojra slaughter: Keeping the faith

While the reopening of the Bhutto case has the courts frothing and fulminating and the newspaper headlines screaming, perhaps one should give thought to another case, in which, little progress has been made in bringing justice. I speak of the Gojra case of 2009, in which hundreds of people were initially charged with murder and violence in a Christian neighbourhood in the town situated in Toba Tek Singh district. Eight Christians, including four women and a child, were burnt alive when attackers set 40 houses and a church ablaze following allegations that members of a local Christian family had desecrated ...

Read Full Post

Passport woes: Does the world need to know we are Muslim?

Whenever I travel overseas I feel uncomfortable when the immigration officer opens my passport and looks through my personal details. It’s not because the colour of my passport is green; what annoys me is the fact that he knows my religion. Why should I tell the official that I am a Muslim? Is my nationality i.e. Pakistani, not enough? Does it matter if we are Muslims or non-Muslims? We are Pakistanis. Is that not enough for an identity? I, for one, do not understand the reason for having a religion category on one’s passport, especially seeing all the problems our country has faced because of ...

Read Full Post

What happened to Elizabeth’s daughter?

I know a 40-year-old woman named Elizabeth who has experienced first hand the reality of life as a minority in Pakistan. Every morning , Elizabeth and her 14-year-old daughter used to walk through the narrow streets of their colony to reach their workplace, a double storey kothi located in a posh area of the city. This was the routine of many women from the little Christian colony located near the ganda nala (dirty stream) in Islamabad. During these morning walks, two 40 years old men started following them in a car. They threatened to kill Elizabeth and her daughter if they didn’t ...

Read Full Post

Ahmadi in America: Why Shahbaz Bhatti’s death gives me hope

My life in America has been a breeze compared to the life I would have had in a Pakistani village had we stayed there after I was born. But try telling that to a misfit outsider transplanted to Texas. I happen to be an Ahmadi by birth and by practice. It is common knowledge that in Pakistan, where I still have family, anti-Ahmadi conferences take place regularly. During these conferences, audiences are taught that they have a religious duty to kill Ahmadis. As a result, some uneducated Muslims who are unable to read the Holy Quran for themselves, are misled to believe ...

Read Full Post

What Muslims in the West can learn from Jews

“Muslims in America have to start taking the route of our Jewish brothers and sisters, and they need the help of the latter to make it happen.” This suggestion comes from acclaimed American Muslim author, academic and Harvard Divinity School graduate Reza Aslan. He was speaking at Columbia University. Last November, two of Columbia’s largest student organisations, Hillel and the Muslim Students Association, came together to jointly host the event “Re-evaluating Park 51: Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism”. The event was held in recognition of the negative and oft-times bordering malicious (read Fox News) coverage of the Muslim YMCA-like community center ‘Park-51’, a few blocks ...

Read Full Post

The racist within us

It’s sad how we don’t want to be called racist and how callously we use the word for others, even though there lies an evident mindset that we as a nation harbour a feeling of division deep in our hearts — not only amongst ourselves on regional lines but even at a global level. It’s obviously offensive for Pakistanis to be called “brown” or to be more precise, “Pakis”. Nothing could be more offensive to us. But I could never measure it, in the true sense of the word, until the time I called an American friend of mine “Gora sahib”. ...

Read Full Post

Lessons from Britain: Where Pakistan’s ‘right’ goes wrong

Over a year ago, I was part of one the most exhilarating experiences ever – one of those transformational experiences that you keep learning from and growing through, well after they are over. If any of you have visited England recently you must be familiar with the rising surge of the anti-Muslim sentiment and the popularity of right wing parties there. Though the swing to the right is a global phenomenon, the resurgence of blatantly racist parties like the British National Party (BNP) in a country like Britain, with a heavy immigrant population, is particularly disturbing. In the current climate of ...

Read Full Post

We are racist, like our parents were

Growing up I was often told by my parents to stay out of the sun. Like most middle class Pakistanis, they were worried that the complexion of my skin will become dark if I spent too much time outside. My aunts flung concerned glances at me and my cousins during summers, especially when we were returning home after playing cricket, and made taunting comments about our tanned skin. Thus, from a very early age I learned that having dark skin was something to be embarrassed of. My classmates were also familiar with this racial demarcation, so making fun of kids ...

Read Full Post