How we have failed

Pakistan is still divided and confused over matters which collectively form its national identity.

Alizeh Haider February 28, 2011

The aftermath of Salmaan Taseer’s murder reveals how, at the age of 63, Pakistan is still divided and confused over matters which collectively form its national identity. We are still questioning ourselves over what we stand for and what Pakistan was meant to be. Are we left? Are we right? Where is the centre? Is there a centre?

The globally accepted dictionary meaning of the word ‘liberal’ is someone who is ‘willing to tolerate behaviour, opinions, etc different to one’s own’ and ‘…policies that promote freedom of choice for individuals’. However, in Pakistan, the word ‘liberal’ takes a unique meaning and comes heavily laden with negative connotations and conjectures.

In Pakistan, a liberal is someone who is westernised in style and appearance, has been brainwashed with fancy western principles usually picked up during his/her years at western universities, emulates western society, is unpatriotic, immoral and detached from Islam. Hence, a call for protection of religious minorities or a demand to end victimisation, violence and injustice in the name of Islam is enough to send the most demure and soft-spoken mullah into a frothing fit as he sees such demands as the unholy work of a liberal mind and, hence, blasphemous and anti-Islam.

Tragically, over the years, so-called caretakers of Islam, through their actions, and our political leadership through its inactions, have created the misconception that (a) liberal values are western and (b) liberal values and Islam are two value systems which cannot mutually coexist.

I propose that before we decide where we stand we must go back to the Holy Quran and our Holy Prophet (pbuh) to understand what our religion intended for its followers, and reach out to Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah for a deeper understanding of his ideals for our nation. In this, it is worthwhile to quote from a communication the Holy Prophet (pbuh) sent in 628 CE to the monks of St Catherine’s Monastery in Mount Sinai. In it, they were told that Christians would be treated as citizens of the new Islamic state and that they would be protected like other citizens. The communication further said: “No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses... If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval.”

Next, I would like to quote from Jinnah’s presidential address at the All India Muslim League session in Delhi in April 1943: “We have passed a resolution that the minorities must be protected and safeguarded to the fullest extent. So far as we are concerned, our own history and our Prophet (pbuh) have given the clearest proof that non-Muslims have been treated not only justly and fairly but generously.” Also, his address to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947: “We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens of one state. The people of England in course of time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country, and they went through life step by step. Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the nation.”

Also, his broadcast to the people of Australia on February 19, 1948: “Pakistan is not a theocracy or anything like it. Islam demands from us the tolerance of other creeds and we welcome in closest association with us all those who, of whatever creed, are themselves willing and ready to play their part as true and loyal citizens of Pakistan.”

I ask readers, what has become of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan today? How much do we follow the teachings of the Holy Prophet (pbuh)? And as citizens of this country, do we act in accordance with Jinnah’s vision? The cold-blooded murder of Salmaan Taseer and the silencing of Sherry Rehman suggests otherwise.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2011.


Dr. Tasleem Akhtar | 10 years ago | Reply Most of the posts highlight the problems. Well enough but we need to go further and identify the root cause(s). Reeba very rightly points out the cause-lack of education. How is it that the followers of a religion whose first divine message started with the word 'read' are tolerating mass illiteracy. If Quran is sincerely accepted by Muslims as their guide for both spiritual and worldly matters, then how is it that the majority cannot read and understand it? What good is a guide if it cannot be understood? Would there be such mass illiteracy if all Muslims were able to read and translate the Quran? Would there be dependence on the Mullah for interpretation of the Quranic verses? Some would say that the Arabic speaking Muslims can read and understand it. Understanding is more than literal translation. It includes analysis and interpretation. For this educated minds are needed. Scientific education (borrowing the term from Reeba) develops educated minds- minds which have critical analytical capacity. Education systems in Islamic countries before the 15th century appear to have been imparting scientific education since in that period scholars like Farabi, Abu Ali Sina, Ibn Rushd, Ghazali and many more were produced. We need to compare our present educational curricula with the past ones to understand the deficiencies in our current educational content. The only solution to our problems is the overhauling of the educational system with the objective of producing educated minds.
Ahmad Mirza | 10 years ago | Reply @Reeba: It is not Islam which has to go through reformation; it is the people. You do not need a tailored Islam which justifies your needs. What you have written is true; we do need to get more and more women educated because if Mothers can think rationally so can their kids; which will make the next generation more sensitive to issues regarding humanity, society and Religion. I will recommend that all of us should study Quran as it says clearly that Allah (SWT) laws are the best laws. Concluding this i know that there are problems with interpretation of law but not with the law. Man made laws can be changed but not the Heavenly ones.
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