Two people overlapping communities

Two different peoples will celebrate lives and works of two distinct individuals in history: Quaid, Christ

Irum Maqbool December 25, 2017
The writer is a psychologist with an interest in international relations

Today, 25th of December, two different peoples will celebrate the lives and works of two distinct individuals in history: the birth of the Quaid and the birth of Christ. By millions around the globe the latter will be celebrated merrily. By our fellow countrymen and women and historians the former will be celebrated and remembered dearly. Yet by some of our compatriots both will be celebrated equally. Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a man loved and shared by all alike irrespective of religion. Today however his legacy is bracketed by a select few.

Newspapers have frequently reported acts of violence against religious communities of different shades, sad occurrences that are regretted by everyone. But a general ‘social-othering’ sets in from an early age, one that affects all members of the community, even if they are physically safe. In one incident, a 13-year-old school girl I counselled was in psychological distress. She had no friends in class and nobody shared their pens or lunch with her because she was a Christian. More upsetting was the fact that she believed she deserved it and should not complain to any authorities because her parents advised her to be cautious since she was the ‘minority’. An opinion the parents frequently found reinforced. Such cases are not isolated. Another acquaintance who in daily conversations over tea tells me about how things are has often commented on Church activities. From her I know how they celebrate Independence Day at Church and Jinnah’s birthday, and also how they have held vigil for schoolchildren ever since they were martyred in 2014. Despite the social-othering they face, this is their beloved country as much as it is someone else’s.

Jinnah had a special place for people of other faiths in his political decisions and idea of nation. The phenomenal 11th August speech to the Constituent Assembly clearly addressed the ideal place for religious minorities in a country predominantly Islamic. The alienation being inherited generation after generation is making them the ‘other’ in their own country. Rights are not limited to home, source of earning and public places. The fact that there exists a quota in jobs based on faith or that there are universities that grant special seats to them is not a compensation for the estrangement they suffer.

For any individual a sense of belonging is as important as food and water. This is not limited to being a community but being able to be part of the society around them. The whole is greater than its parts, a fact acknowledged by Jinnah. Pakistan is a country of many faiths. But are the followers living together or are they bracketed into like communities sharing space with others they do not identify or communicate with?

Compartmentalisation is a result of conflating, accepting someone’s religious ideology with accepting them as people and as citizens. Interfaith harmony and religious tolerance are issues at the fore around the globe, the lack of which is giving rise to insecurity of minorities as it has throughout history. While religion may distinguish between two peoples it does not have to drive a wedge between them. In other regions of the world, Muslims are facing the same alienation and persecution. The civil war in former Yugoslavia, the massacre in Gujarat and the suspicion that targets women who wear hijabs or of mosques are examples of problems on different ends of the same spectrum.

Jinnah counselled his followers to always have insight and be leaders that represented all. Our shared gratitude and love for Jinnah is a fact that can bridge differences and can lead to making space for every community in this homeland. They belong here and equally bear the grief and celebrate the happiness the nation faces. The foundation of social inclusion is laid by those who need to include those they have previously excluded from their discourse.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 25th, 2017.

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