The establishment of Pakistan can be primarily attributed to the apprehensions of minority subjugation of Muslims within the context of a predominantly majority Hindu populace in the Indian subcontinent. Consequently, it becomes imperative for Pakistan to undertake measures aimed at safeguarding the rights and well-being of its minority populations, ensuring their immunity against potential threats, feelings of insecurity, and instances of discrimination. Pakistan was created as an Islamic Republic having demography comprising of both Majority Muslims (96.2%) and Minorities, which include Christians (1.59%), Sikhs, Hindus (1.6%), Ahmadis (0.22%), and others (0.07%). Minorities or others account for almost 3.8 % of the total population as per the 2017 Census.
Celebrating the 76th year of independence, it is essential to analyze the independence of minorities in terms of religious freedom, equal opportunities, and constitutional rights in Pakistan. The father of the Nation had set the ground for the future trajectory of Pakistan in the very beginning when in his address to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, he reiterated “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places 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”. The constitution of Pakistan also grants equal rights to minorities .
The Article 20 allows all citizens to practice religion and manage their religious institutions. Article 25 states that all citizens of Pakistan are equal before the law. The Article 36 of the Constitution has obliged the state with a responsibility to protect the interests and legitimate rights of minorities in Pakistan including their fair representation in federal and provincial services. Hence, measures should be taken to implement these laws and create a conducive, non-discriminatory environment for all citizens.
Growing In-tolerance Against Minorities
Despite the Quaid’s direction, the existence of laws, and various governments’ initiatives to create inter-faith harmony, the incidents of targeting minorities have been on rise. A very sad incident took place this month when all Pakistanis were celebrating independence day, an extremist mob targeted the Christian community by vandalizing their churches, and burning houses on issues of Blasphemy in Jaranwala, a small town in the industrial district of Faisalabad. In December 2021, Srilankan’s manager was killed and burned by his fellow workers.
Another incident at police station in Nankanan Sahib, a mob forcefully took a person and killed and dragged his body. In August 2021, when a local court in Rahim Yar Khan District granted bail to an eight-year-old Hindu boy accused of Blasphemy, a mob of extremist people vandalized a Hindu temple. There are many incidents where minorities have been facing targeted persecution, marginalization, and forced conversions. Misuse of blasphemy laws has led to severe consequences, with people not hesitating to resort to violence, including killing individuals and setting fire to places of worship.
However, the laws in Pakistan grants equal rights to all citizens and those individuals who take law and order in their hands are dealt with iron first. The recent Jawarnal incident was not only condemned by all sections of Pakistani society, it was also asserted by caretaker PM that “stern action” will be taken against perpetrators. He said, “All law enforcement has been asked to apprehend culprits and bring them to justice. Rest assured that the government of Pakistan stands with our citizenry on an equal basis.” The police arrested dozens of individuals who were involved in the attack. Pakistan as a state treats all citizens equally yet there is a need to devise policies that prevent such incidents from happening.
Structural Transformation is needed: Rethinking Independence of Minorities?
The growing religious based incidents highlight the lack of inter-faith harmony among various sections of society in Pakistan. Although, The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony is committed to preparing a national interfaith harmony policy in consultation with provinces and establish a minorities welfare fund for the maintenance of religious places belonging to minorities yet more needs to be done at the grass root level.
Peace education should be made an essential part of curriculum at school, college, university and Madrassah level and that too should focus more on inter-faith harmony. Peace education facilitates the acquisition of knowledge, proficiency in skills, and development of attitudes that enable individuals to proactively avert the emergence of conflicts, efficaciously manage and resolve disputes through nonviolent means, and foster an environment conducive to the sustenance of peace.
The majority of incidents against minorities occur when religious clercics spread hate speech against other religions in Madrassahs. Introducing Madrassah reforms is imperative to ameliorate the situation. The government should establish a regulatory body overseeing all Madrassahs. The recruitment of madrassah clerics should be conducted by state entities through meticulous screening tests and psychological assessments. The religious clerics at the duty of spreading religion should be educated and trained to hold such crucial responsibility. They must preach love and kindness for others. When our Madrassahs advocate kindness and inter-faith harmony, they will contribute to enhancing the social fabric of minorities in society.
Moreover, the common teachings of various religions regarding inter-faith harmony must be taught at all levels to preach love of humans. Allah clearly mentions in Quranic Surah Al Maidah that “whoever takes a life — unless as a punishment for murder or mischief in the land — it will be as if they killed all of humanity; and whoever saves a life, it will be as if they saved all of humanity” (5:32).
The Quran clearly states in Surah Baqara that “There is no compulsion in religion. The Right Way stands clearly distinguished from the wrong. Hence he who rejects the evil ones and believes in Allah has indeed taken hold of the firm, unbreakable handle. And Allah (Whom he has held for support) is All-Hearing, All-Knowing” (2; 256). It is further ordained in Surah Al-Baqara that “there be no compulsion in religion”. The Bible says, “ Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”(12:16-18)
The Holy Prophet (PBUH) practiced and preached religious tolerance towards non-Muslims. To hate, fight and kill people because of their faith and beliefs and that too when they’re in minority and are innocent, is inhumane and against the basic principles of humanity. It is ironic that some so called Muslims kill people in the name of saviour of humanity (SAW), they spread hatred in the name of love of icon of mercy (SAW) and they’re the ones who hardly know Muhammad (SAW), His (SAW) life, His (SAW) character or even the meaning of His (SAW) name.
Being an Islamic Republic, it is expected of Pakistan to assert true spirit of Islam and guarantee religious rights to non-Muslims and create equal and fair opportunities for them. And that is only possible when society will up-bring minds that have tolerance, love and kindness for others. Peace and Interfaith harmony will prevail when change will take place from grass root level.
There is a need to understand that those who are violating laws and are involved in Blasphemy should be dealt by state and not people. Moreover, reforms in Blasphemy laws should also be considered by relevant stakeholders to identify gaps that people exploit. It is the responsibility of the state to punish those who violate Blasphemy laws. Comprehensive training and awareness programs should be conducted across public, private, and Madrassah sectors. These initiatives aim to empower individuals to respond effectively to incidents of blasphemy by promptly reporting them to local police stations. This approach encourages non-reactive measures, discouraging any inclination towards attacking or causing harm to others. Those who have been involved in such extremist practices should be dealt with iron hands and examples must be set to avoid future incidents.
The government has taken initiatives to allocate special Quota for minorities and more needs to be done especially against forced conversions, discrimination at work places and creating education and job opportunities. The Minorities should have representation in policy making so that they devise and suggest policies that protect them from discrimination at all levels.
There is a need to transform the structure to create harmony in society. There is a need to teach tolerance and inter-faith harmony in society through peace education, awareness campaigns, workshops, Media campaign, and religious clerics. It’s a known fact that all religions of the world preach love, tolerance, kindness, affection, empathy, sympathy and peace for fellow human’s .And therefore, commonality of religions should be highlighted through various platforms and differences should be sidelined.
In a nutshell, Rethinking the ways in which we can increase the role of religious minorities will help Pakistan craft a positive image and set example for other states. The minorities in Pakistan account for almost 3.8% and they must be treated as equal citizens of Pakistan. It’s the real time that all-stakeholders should sit together and pay undivided attention to the issues of minority rights. It’s not only our civic and moral duty but also legal obligation to put maximum efforts to eradicate the growing intolerance and religious extremism in society.
Pakistan as a nation can only progress if it will treat all minorities as equal citizens of Pakistan and there is a need to re-think and reflect upon our actions. Being Muslims of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, are we really following the true teachings of Islam and foot-prints laid upon by our great leader Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah? The growing intolerance can only be cured if society and state will work together. Along with that, as long as the state of Pakistan doesn’t do all in its power to stop incidents against minorities, they’ll keep happening and to say worse, the country will have a weakening stance on Islamophobia as incidents like these, make people fear Muslims as well as Islam as a religion. We can’t expect to harvest love, when what we sow is hatred.
“Tayyaba Khurshid is Associate Research Officer at Centre for
International Strategic Studies AJK and pursuing her MPhil in
International Relations from Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad.”