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.