How we have failed

Published: February 28, 2011
The author is a barrister currently based in the UAE

The author is a barrister currently based in the UAE [email protected]

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.

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Reader Comments (34)

  • ani
    Mar 1, 2011 - 12:14AM

    “I ask readers, what has become of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan today”.strong text It is Islamic, a police-miliary state and very unique in its confused identity.
    “How much do we follow the teachings of the Holy Prophet (pbuh)?”strong text Very much. But not per your interpretation of peace and tolerance of all. It is what the unchallenged mullah thinks.
    “And as citizens of this country, do we act in accordance with Jinnah’s vision?”strong text Yes. Jinnah argued for and got a state that would be for Muslims and protect their special culture, religion and all. His vision of a tolerant and all inclusive state, per his 1948 speech, that you perhaps allude to is not part of the national discourse. strong text“The cold-blooded murder of Salmaan Taseer and the silencing of Sherry Rehman” merely confirms this.Recommend

  • Mar 1, 2011 - 12:48AM

    I ask readers, what has become of the
    Islamic Republic of Pakistan today?

    Was it ever in Jinnah’s mind to create the Islamic Republic of Pakistan – a state whose citizens were judged by some standard of religious purity? Or was his idea to create the Republic of Pakistan – a democratic republic with full minority rights as a land where the subcontinent’s Muslims could grow and develop with assurance of safety?Recommend

  • M M Malik
    Mar 1, 2011 - 1:06AM

    “How much do we follow the teachings of the Holy Prophet (pbuh)?”

    The simple answer to the question is very little.

    We the Muslims who are supposed to protect minorities, first forced the Hindus and Sikhs to migrate, then we made life for Christians very difficult and then we created another minority … the Ahmadis. We then legislated against the Ahmadies and now we ready for another great step?

    By giving in to the mullas, we are like a person who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount.Recommend

  • Malik Nasir
    Mar 1, 2011 - 3:27AM

    Sorry to say but in our society we just only Extremists…
    Mullahs and Liberals ( the way you described) ….we should be in the middle somewhere….Recommend

  • Fact Check
    Mar 1, 2011 - 4:23AM

    ” Man Created Religion, Man and Religion together Created God, Man, Religion and God Together Divided the Land; and Man Religion, God and the Land Made and Armory of Mans Mind”

    Fundamentally, eceryone who believes in God knows that God has absolutely nothing to do with Religion and Religion has absolutely nothing to do with Gos either.

    It is created by men to scare the weak minded, keep the poor and control the minds of all. if you believe God created you, God doesn’t need anything from you, period.Recommend

  • Mar 1, 2011 - 5:42AM

    Your observation is spot on, the “mullah” of this century is misleading the nation, they are power hungry and have no interest in the well being of any other religion, or worst, any other sect.

    Pakistan is divided in 72 Muslim sects, if the country is Islamic, which Islam are we talking about?
    Until religion is separated from politics, Pakistan will continue to go down the ditch.Recommend

  • umar
    Mar 1, 2011 - 8:55AM

    Will we allow engineer to have our medical checkup and prescribe medicine for us
    or we may allow doctor to built and construct a home for us

    please do comment and do not mindRecommend

  • Imme
    Mar 1, 2011 - 9:02AM

    nicely written !!.. logical and very much true Recommend

  • Ankur
    Mar 1, 2011 - 9:33AM

    This article looks like a schoolbook fairy tale, something better told in Movies and books, and also newspaper intiatives, dont ask questions, there is none to answer, no, I should say there is an answer, the answer is greed..material greed, spiritual greed, greed to have the best comforts in the world, greed to be the closest to almighty, and when the two mix..the one who suffers gets up, asks for his “rights” in different ways, till he does not become a part of the greed regime, so there is a vicious circle you see, noone really has the time and patience to read in depth into what you are saying, Patience is seldom taught in any school.Recommend

  • pl/sql
    Mar 1, 2011 - 10:31AM

    Even the so called “liberals” of Pakistan are plagued by this notion that they have somehow deviated from the original intention of creating a state based purely on religion.

    I have got news for Pakistanis: No you have not deviated from the founding principles of your country.

    The only difference is that the founders of Pakistan thought that somehow Pakistan would be a prosperous nation even though it was founded based purely on religion. However we have the end result in front of us which could not have been further away from their aspirations.

    So please stop hallucinating about it! This is it!Recommend

  • Abdullah
    Mar 1, 2011 - 11:33AM

    Lovely article. Finally someone who’s gone between the cliched argument of liberalism vs conservatism. These are just labels, categories. It’s pretty much impossible to point at any given individual and say that he or she is a liberal or a conservative. We are all shades of both and we keep changing. In a given situation I can be liberal, and at another point in time, I feel the need to be conservative. That doesn’t make me a hypocrite, just a realist. However, each time, in each situation, my decision to choose needs to be based on what’s right and not on what’s convenient and easy.

    These classifications should be done away with. We should just stick with right and wrong. Not right and left. Right and wrong. Wrongists and rightists. Recommend

  • Mar 1, 2011 - 1:27PM

    I think the very father of the nation was perceived to be a “liberal” by the so-called Mullah birgade.. which is why they were always suspicious of his objectives.. and hence the objectives resolution in 1949.. which totally went against the speeches made by Mr Jinnah on the creation of PakistanRecommend

  • Jawad Iqbal Jawad
    Mar 1, 2011 - 5:42PM

    The writer has aptly highlighted the actual message of Islam, our religion and the actual basis of our beloved Pakistan. Actually we, as a whole, have gone away from the actual spirit of Islam that is moderation in every field of life. Recommend

  • MilesToGo
    Mar 1, 2011 - 5:56PM

    Where is this elusive ‘true’ Islam? It’s been 1400 years, somebody find it already.Recommend

  • Haider
    Mar 1, 2011 - 10:36PM

    Tolerance of other religions in a place like Pakistan will be very difficult to achieve and i can’t see it happening in another century. A huge reason for intolerance in Pakistan is severe lack of education. Also, humans are tribal by nature, and when they (muslims) think they are right and the everyone else is wrong, and vice-versa, there is bound to be conflict. This is as i said, exacerbated by lack of education, and frustration in general among lower classes in society of Pakistan who face a myriad of problems.Recommend

  • Nadir
    Mar 1, 2011 - 11:18PM

    As far as I understand it, Jinnah’s vision was always to create a land for the Muslim minority (along with other minorities) of India. Somewhere they would be safe from religious persecution and be given a chance to write their own history by having a political voice. Its ironic that a nation that was formed to protect the rights of minorities, the Muslim majority has taken it upon itself to cleanse the country of all other minorities. How quickly we forget the lessons of history.Recommend

  • Nadir
    Mar 1, 2011 - 11:32PM

    Well written article and nice to see some discourse on the topic. I have recently seen many a media personalities and other individuals try to speak on this topic, but I think its not as simple as taking a side, nor is it as easy to show the masses the error of their ways without looking at root causes. Yes, we have veered very far from the true teachings of Islam and Jinnah’s founding vision. Unfortunately, religion and politics are always manipulated by a few to take advantage of the many, and that is what has been going on in Pakistan for the past 63 years. It’s not that the nation was founded as an extremist state, neither is it that somehow the masses and mullah’s have plucked a hatred for the “liberal” ideology out of thin air. When you have a nation without hope, without food or water, without electricity, without a bright future for our children, without education, or health care, people will always turn towards extremist measures, in this case religion, which somehow gives people the temporary salvation that they need to be able to live another day because they feel somehow empowered and its the only way to show how disgruntled they are in a land where they have no voice.

    Our ruling class, elites, and western educated youth have by and far demonstrated to the poor majority that they couldn’t care less about their plight, beyond just giving lip service to them to win an election. In a country with a steadily increasing poverty rate, there is also a steadily increasing rate of BMW’s, prado’s, merc’s, international travel, expensive restaurants, and everything else the poor couldn’t even dream off. With so much exposure now via the media and the internet, its easy to see how an extremist mentality can develop in Pakistan.

    Give the people food, give them hope, give them an education, give them representation, and I guarantee an increase in religious tolerance. When they’re busy being rewarded for their hard work, when they see hope, when they know their childrens future can depend on their hard work, they will hardly have any time to care about who is sunni, who is shia, who is ahmedi and who is christian. Recommend

  • ali raza
    Mar 2, 2011 - 12:29AM

    Well Islam is about balance in everything, even earth do exist because of its balanced nature but sorry to say that we Pakistani’s did not get the right balance between being liberal and extremism neither in the past nor at present. Recommend

  • A R Khan
    Mar 2, 2011 - 12:34AM

    Definitely not the former. I would still take Ayesha Jalal as THE authority regarding Jinnah’s views. But as Nadeem F Paracha puts it: “we might never really know exactly what it was that Jinnah actually stood for.”

  • A R Khan
    Mar 2, 2011 - 12:54AM

    It is time we redefined our national identity. The notion of a Pakistani propagated by the State is actually very racist… that notion is very very dangerous, and it is the reason that we Pakistanis are still very confused about who we are. Large parts of our society have glaring differences… the first step is to RECOGNIZE those differences and then work towards achieving a judicial system, a political system, and government that safeguards the rights of various subcultures and not try to bind by their religion (not everyone is religious) and ignoring their differences.

    Our history is full of examples of how Islam has been instrumentalized to bind everyone under one banner… it has never worked and it will never work. You cannot forcefully bind people from various subcultures under one banner… it only divides them further and the result is conflict. Recommend

  • Nadir
    Mar 2, 2011 - 1:23AM

    @ali raza: Yes it is about balance, but balance comes from somewhere. Nobody decides to be balanced in their views, or to be liberal, or conservative. It’s determined by your environment, and an imbalanced environment leads to imbalanced views and beliefs. Back at the founding of Islam, it was balanced because there was a balance dictated by the religion, and that was demonstrated by fairness of equity between different classes of society, there were laws to dictate the conduct of ALL classes of society, and these laws were implemented at the benefit and disadvantage of ALL classes. In an environment like Pakistan, we started out as a somewhat balanced society, but for example immediately after partition and the bloodshed that followed, we developed a hatred for our neighbour that we could never overcome because it was constantly used by the army and politicians to justify the things they did. Rather than quell the extremism, we nurtured it, and thus you have the kind of society that exists in pakistan today.Recommend

  • pmbm
    Mar 2, 2011 - 9:23AM

    Islam is only based on The Quran and Prophet’s life example, used with reason and understanding. I did not come across terms ‘sunni’,’ shia’ in Quran let alone deobandi. ahmedi etc etc. But jews and christians are mentioned as well as ‘non- believers’, and , of course, tolerance for all.
    And to fight them only if they persecute or suppress you..Recommend

  • Zahid Hussain
    Mar 2, 2011 - 4:19PM

    We write a lot, discuss a lot and debate a lot. It is a healthy sign. What we fail to do is to arrive at a unanimous conclusion. We never reach a destination called consensus on any issue. We mean Mullahs, Liberals and Conservatives (Fundamentalists – Extremists) – All of us!

    What do we need to focus on for arriving at consensus? We must indulge in self-appraisal exercise asking ourselves how we can individually become good person to collectively form a good society. For that we have to ask ourselves are we fair to each other? Do we respect the rights of others and take our responsibilities seriously?

    At the end of the day it is not religion or law that is important. The important thing to remember is person-to-person dealing called “MUAMLAT.” God, with all his might, did not force his will on his creation, if one believes humans. How can Mullahs turn a liberal into a pious maulvi or a liberal can turn a maulvi into a liberal? It is against human nature. If pray five times a day but I can not “force” my children to follow me. A Christian does not force his child to become a Christian. He decides it on his own! One does what he personally believes is right. So what are we supposed to focus on? We must logically analyze our behavior and convince ourselves that whatever we are doing is right in the sense that no one else is hurt by anything that we do. The outcome of the analysis will reflect how liberal or conservative we are. Rest is all an endless debate.Recommend

  • Rana Asghar
    Mar 2, 2011 - 4:21PM

    With a heavy heart, I am sad to say that Pakistan has no future & we are doomed. Nobody has any idea what coming on our way. Blame everything on USA is the name of the game. Our biggest Aid donor & instead of being grateful we are the most ungrateful people on this planet. If USA stops our oxygen support, we will collapse in 12 hours. But who care because ignorance is bliss.Recommend

  • tara
    Mar 3, 2011 - 12:15AM

    We need a KAMAL ATATURK in Pakistan to clean up the mess created by Gen. Ziaul Haq and Usama Bin Laden’s import of Wahabi Islam with its total intolerance. How many minorities live peacefully in Saudi Arabia, how many churches and Mundirs are there? That will tell you why Pakistan is where it is. Also why is Mufti of Mukkah not issuing a fatwa that all this nonsense about Tahaffuz Khatme Nabuwat is a pretense to grab power in that brainwashed country Pakistan?

    Do you think we as educated former Pakistani citizens left it of our own accord? No the intolerance for our beliefs which slightly differed from the so-called Aalims, drove us out. Consequently, 70% of highly educated have left for more peaceful western countries and the so-called Aalims rule the country with their bands of gun-toting thugs who killed Salman Taseer and today, Shabaz Bhatti, the real Shaheeds.Recommend

  • A R Khan
    Mar 3, 2011 - 2:25AM

    Well, the Quran and Sunnah are NOT the only sources of Islam. They are the Primary sources. For example, Islamic Law has other sources which include “Consensus” and “Analogy” among others (and all these sources have a hierarchy of their own). The argument is that the Quran and Sunnah provide the PRINCIPLES of Islamic Law, because one Holy Book cannot possibly contain the Law for every possible problem or crime or sin that humanity could come across forever more. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was the Last Prophet for all of humanity (and in fact all living beings) for all of time, how could one Holy book or his words provide laws to modern problems and systems? So the Quran and Sunnah give us the Principles, and based on these Principles multiple schools of thought emerged in Islamic intellectual history – YES MULTIPLICITY OF THOUGHT AND DISCOURSE (which is not always contradictory – just shows different directions of thought). And that is what we call Modernity (multiplicity of thought and discourse) and it spanned right from the heart of Islam. Modernity is NOT a western concept. Islam brought modernity to the world.

    The BIG irony is that the legal discourses provided by the best Islamic scholars (for example Imam Ghazaali) have had huge impact on the development of many laws in Western societies. Those societies continue to develop while the laws of a modern “Islamic society” such as Pakistan are nothing but an absolute mess.

    And of course you won’t find the terms “sunni”, “shia”, “deobandi”, “ahmedi” etc. in the Quran. These splits appeared for various reasons at various points in Islamic history. The first split was what has now become the “Shia-Sunni” split – and the very original reason for the split for nothing but political dispute, NOT a theological split. There was never a theological split between Sunnis and Shias. Recommend

  • A R Khan
    Mar 3, 2011 - 2:41AM

    Great post, Nadir. Your post also highlights part of the reason why bigotry and racism are common in Pakistan. Until we can banish all the bigotry and racism from our society, we cannot prosper! We will stumble against the same problems and same disputes repeatedly. After more than 60 years, we haven’t learned the lessons from our past. Recommend

  • Musab Kazi
    Mar 3, 2011 - 9:58AM

    we are at the verge of becoming a failed state, the religion bigoty is turning the things way round, being pakistani we have to change thing, to attrubute our norms is a way back thing to look for,….we need to have a strong view point not only favouring our own psyche and shouldnt be related to ‘My World” but should be accelerating toward the term ”The World’. No doubt pakistanis among the worlds most productive nation but what to do if we dont feel free and natural in enjoying it…….we have to take a step to look at our mistake that we still are catering day to day. No matter what it is, and how it have been since Pakistan’s birth.,we still can change the things…………”its not the people whom we need to kill or to take action against………it’s their thinking which is our enemy and we need to change it”.Recommend

  • Jeddy
    Mar 3, 2011 - 11:30AM

    There are thousands others just like this writer who will always say ‘How we have failed’ in one way or another. The darkest, bleakest aspects of Pakistan are always highlighted. Nothing nice is ever said or can never be expected. So many leaders are assassinated in different countries for different reasons – that does not mean the entire country should be condemned. No but it is a religious duty to blast Pakistan all the time for the most insignificant reasons. I called these people the members of the Hate Pakistan Forum (HPF).Recommend

  • Malik Liaquat Hussain
    Mar 3, 2011 - 4:59PM

    Pakistan is facing multple problems today for I blamed only to our political and religious leaders who divided the nation in different groups just gain their personal interest.Recommend

  • Reeba
    Mar 3, 2011 - 11:02PM

    Most religious followers follow their religion as a guideline which helps them to lead a life with morals and values. Islam is the only religion where most of its believers live FOR the religion. Christianity and Judaism also were very similar to Islam centuaries ago where church or religious heads ruled the kings and also dictated daily life of people. But both religions under went a reformation. They broke away from the clutches of religious extremism. It happened through scientific education and open thinking. It made people to think for themselves. The change did not happen overnight, it took centuaries. The religious leaders realized that they had to change to keep the religion going and started making reformations within the church. Bible is no longer interpreted word by word. The context is taken into consideration. For example in the new testament,St Paul has written that women should not speak in public meetings. If you ask any priest or bishop about following that rule, most will say, it was the rule for that centuary when women were illiterate and not productive socially and it is not applicable to current times. Most christians and jews learned to take the essense of the messages in their holy books and keep their religion as a guiding light. They don't live for the religion (At least most of them, there are religious extremists in all religions).

    In Islam, the case is different. Everything in the Quran is taken literally without understanding the context by many muslims. For example restrictions on the women. In the times of prophet Mohammed (PBUH) the society was barbaric, had constant tribal wars and there was no safety or protection for women. Most men died early in battles that left women with no protection or livelihood. They were illiterate. Out of passion, prophet asked women to use hijab and gave strict guidance for life.The essense was to protect and safeguard women. The times have changed and the message is the same, but the problem is implementation. The practice is still followed just like how it was centuaries ago in several muslim communities. In this current times instead of providing security to women by educating them and helping them to get jobs, they still have to hide under burqas, their schools are getting attacked, they have to share their husband with other women (If you ask any woman, one thing in life they will not like to share is a HUSBAND!) and the injustices goes on—.
    So what Islam needs is a reformation. It will not happen imeediately and is a painful process. But you have to start it some time. There are plenty of intellectuals in Pakistan. Get together and help to introduce scientific education. Then people will start thinking out of the box. Educate your women. An educated woman plays a big role in the healthy bringing up of her family. Realize the beautiful essense of Islam and keep it as a guideline which helps you to have a good life. You may not be able to wage a war with religious extremists but you can help in getting the children in your community get a good education by sponsoring them or create a schools for them without relying on the government or religious organizations. (Your government is good for nothing). Practicing religion is very good but too much religion is very bad.Recommend

  • Abdul Muqtadir
    Mar 4, 2011 - 5:07AM

    Pakistan’s creation was based on divide (TWO NATION THEORY). The problem is that the momentum is continuing. After the hindus and Sikhs were forced to emigrate, in the initial years it was taken over by Shia & Sunni divides, then it targetted the Ahmedis, then it became case of Barelvi Vs Deobandi then it was taken over by divide on the color of turbans(pugris) such as green Vs Black and now it is Vs Christians (Blasphamy laws) .

    Oh, I forgot to mention the divide of the West Pakistani Vs East Pakistani (Or Punjabi Vs Bengali) that further divided the country(Actually broke it in to two). In fact Bengladesh was formed by General Ayub Khan in 1958 after he revolted and threw the civil Government. The physical seperation took another 13 years when the same Army of Ayub Khan( Replaced by Yahya Khan) laid down its arms to India and Mukti Bahini.

    The question now is where this hatred will stop or end on OR NOT?Recommend

  • Ahmad Mirza
    Mar 15, 2011 - 12:41PM


    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.Recommend

  • Dr. Tasleem Akhtar
    Apr 27, 2011 - 10:22AM

    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.Recommend

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