A matter of faith

Basil Nabi Malik May 02, 2010

It is common knowledge that we are duty bound to follow and respect the Constitution of Pakistan and each and every one of its articles. However, the same becomes a tad bit difficult when certain unpalatable clauses are added which really have no business being in the constitution.

For example, if I were to ask anyone as to the definition of a ‘Muslim’, I am guessing the last place they’d look would be in the Constitution of Pakistan. However, lo and behold Article 260 of our constitution actually defines the term. Ironically, all this happened during the time of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, though he was, of course, pressured to do this by certain religious quarters.

Although it was clearly a political move, the method was unique. Rather than to go into the intricacies and complications of trying to forge a unanimously agreed-upon definition, which many thought was next to impossible and perhaps even unnecessary, he thought it fit to zero in on an exclusionary clause which ‘enlightened’ us on what a Muslim could not be.

However, clearly, this was the kind of medieval quackery that only ‘scheming politicians’ could think of. It took the likes of General Zia in 1985 to give us an affirmative definition of a Muslim, sans the discussions and attempts at consensus building, which in all likelihood, he probably found irrelevant. He did this in the form of the President’s Order No. 24 of 1985, whereby Article 260(3) was substituted with what can best be described as intriguing definitions of the terms ‘Muslim’ and ‘non-Muslim’.

The word ‘Muslim’ entailed: “a person who believes in the unity and oneness of Almighty Allah, in the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad (pbuh), the last of the Prophets and does not believe in, or recognise as a prophet or religious reformer, any person who claimed or claims to be a prophet, in any sense of the word or of any description whatsoever, after Muhammad (pbuh)”. General Zia, however, didn’t leave it at that.

For some odd reason, he didn’t feel that the people of the country would actually be able to understand the term ‘Muslim’ and so the definition of ‘non-Muslim’ was also inserted. The term ‘non-Muslim’ was defined as: “a person who is not a Muslim and includes a person belonging to the Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist or Parsi community, a person of the Qadiani Group or the Lahori Group who call themselves ‘Ahmadis’ or by any other name or a Bahai and a person belonging to any of the Scheduled Castes”.

Effectively, in one stroke, General Zia did what Justice Munir in the Munir Report of 1954 dreaded and forewarned against: the adoption of certain religious worldviews at the expense of others, thereby inducing divisions in society. To be more exact, after asking a variety of the ulema as to what the definition of a Muslim would entail and receiving varying responses, Justice Munir said in the report that: “keeping in view the several definitions given by the ulema [defining the term Muslim], need we make any comment except that no two learned divines are agreed on this fundamental.”

The point is that what business is it of the state to get into this whole matter of defining who is a Muslim and who isn’t. One would have thought that this is a matter best left to individuals themselves and is something to be assessed by their conduct and actions — and in any case it is a private matter for each individual. It’s a pity that the 18th amendment chose to ignore this in the present constitution.


Usman | 14 years ago | Reply Very good approach to the main issue of today's pakistan. Mr zia and Mr bhutto divided pakistani people into race religion and colour. Which is not the way the countries should be run. As far as i know looking at the sayings of Holy Prophet Pbuh, a person who read Kalima is muslim. I am sorry to say but both Mr. Bhutto and Mr.Zia went a step further.. a step that was not taken by the Holy prophet of Islam. Thus something that was not done by the Holy Prophet (pbuh) means that it has nothing to do with the religion.
Marium | 14 years ago | Reply An insightful article! Hopefully people would understand that Pakistan will progress only if there is unity amongst people and if each Pakistani is given his/her right.keep up the amazing work!
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