Jinnah would be a stranger in this Pakistan

Jinnah would be a stranger in this Pakistan

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Looking at what happened a few days ago to the Christian community in Jaranwala town in Punjab, if the founders of Pakistan were to come back to life, they would find themselves strangers in their own land. 

After 76 years of independence and in the third decade of the 21st century when most, if not all post-colonial Muslim countries have established rule of law, achieved stability, social order and prosperity, Pakistan is living in existential dread. The reason is that successive civilian and military regimes alternating in power have turned their backs on the ideals of the founders of the state.

 When we see corruption rife in society, hate and religious extremism on the rise, frequent target killings and mob attacks on their places of worship, one thinks of the hope, idealism and modernist orientation of the state in its first few years. The first address of the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, three days before its formal establishment, is testament to the spirit of those days. 

Nothing can be more an authentic idea of enlightenment and political modernity than Jinnah’s famed remarks: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques.”

- Rasul Bakhsh Rais

The time, the place and the occasion were all extraordinary for spelling out what kind of new Muslim state was to emerge on the map of the world. In his brief but concize speech, about two and a half pages, he inspired hope about the destiny of Pakistan as a great nation. As a seasoned lawyer and well-grounded, experienced statesman, he was familiar with the biggest ‘curses’ of then India. 

Given the background of those days of communal bloodshed, Jinnah talked about living with religious differences and how sectarian divide among Christians— the Catholics and Protestants— had caused wars in Europe. Referring to that history, he said, “What exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen, ---and they are all members of the nation.” 

 “Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in the course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.”

Nothing can be more an authentic idea of enlightenment and political modernity than his famed remarks that, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed— that has nothing to do with the business of the state.” 

This speech should have been the preamble of the Constitution of Pakistan, but sadly it was another resolution, influenced and drafted by religious scholars within and outside the Constituent Assembly, that became the preamble about two years later. Quite opposite to state neutrality in religious matters, the authors of the resolution emphasized that the state couldn’t be neutral when it came to enforcing Islamic law. That is what changed the character of the Pakistani state; the ideal of a liberal, democratic, constitutional state was killed in its formative phases.

A few years, after the passage of the resolution, the places of worship of the Ahmadi religious community were attacked, their homes burnt, they were killed and it was demanded that Pakistan declare them non-Muslim. Two decades later, the Pakistan Parliament amended the Constitution and declared them so.

The plight of Christians, who remain the most downtrodden, poor and socially marginalized in Pakistani society, is the worst among Pakistan’s religious minorities. So many times, and at so many places, their churches have been burnt and their entire settlements wiped out with impunity.

Laws in the name of religion coupled with the syndrome of a weak state dominated by corrupt elites, make minorities suffer violence, prejudice and injustice. Consider that 100 have lost their lives in extra-judicial killings, facing allegations of blasphemy-- while hundreds are languishing behind bars, and millions are living with fear. There is no will to prevent the misuse of the blasphemy law, and much less to bringing the murderers and perpetrators of faith-motivated violence to justice. This is the past and present. Sadly, the future looks to be no different. 

- Rasul Bakhsh Rais is Professor of Political Science in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, LUMS, Lahore. His latest book is “Islam, Ethnicity and Power Politics: Constructing Pakistan’s National Identity” (Oxford University Press, 2017). Twitter: @RasulRais 

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