A history of prejudice

Posted on June 7, 2010 by

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By I.A. Rehman

The News, Sunday, May 6, 2010

Tracing the roots of how the level of tolerance for the belief of the ‘other’ sharply declined

When the Second Amendment to the constitution was adopted in 1974, the government claimed honour and glory for having settled an 80-year-old problem. Each year since then has made the conscious citizens of Pakistan wonder as to how long will it take to end the problems generated by that amendment.

By the 80-year-old problem was meant the decades of anti-Ahmadiyya agitation, largely in Punjab, carried on spasmodically by Majlis-i-Ahrar, a lower middle class party that sought political support on the strength of a mix of nationalism and a puritanical and austere Islam. Many theories have been advanced on the genesis of the Ahrar-Ahmedi confrontation.

Some said the Ahrar had reacted to the Ahmedis’ renunciation of or reservation on Jihad and the claims of the founder of their movement to be a prophet or the promised Masih or a reformer. Some others attacked the Ahmedis for the favours they were said to be receiving from the British. According to another theory, the Ahrar could not bear Ahmedis’ success in recruiting to their fold the educated Muslim youth. Yet, till the early 1930s, a staunch Islamic revivalist and widely acclaimed lover of the Prophet (PBUH) like Iqbal saw nothing wrong in sitting with the Ahmedi chief in the Kashmir Committee, formed to extend succour to the Kashmiri victims of the Dogra tyranny. The Ahrar leaders eventually walked out of the committee after accusing the Ahmedis of using the Kashmir agitation for their own ends.

As the subcontinent’s struggle for freedom entered its final phase, the parties that put belief above politics among the Muslims and the Hindus both were marginalised. Their rout in the 1945-46 general election embittered them and the Ahrar decided to beat the Muslim League with the latter’s own weapon — the baton of belief, as their leaders put it. Soon after independence, they started defying the laws while agitating against the Ahmedis. They received a boost when the Punjab Muslim League sought their support in the 1951 election. Later on, the Daultana government colluded with them in using anti-Ahmadiyya agitation to harass, and possibly topple, the Nazimuddin ministry at the centre. The result was the anti-Ahmadiyya riots of 1953 and the Pakistani people’s first taste of post-colonial martial law.

The anti-Ahmedi agitation of 1953 could be suppressed because the Daultana government had relied on shady intrigue, the central government had in its ranks influential elements that were strong enough to reject anti-Ahmedi demands, and the troops Gen. Azam sent to clear the Wazir Khan Mosque of the agitators were still following the British scheme of staying out of religious controversy. But it offered some ominous lessons. The religious parties joined hands to jointly capture Ahrar’s platform and realised the huge potential of religion-based politics.

They thought they had a chance to capture power under a religious standard when the Ayub regime collapsed and a key minister in the Yahya government was keen to do the Daultana act by patronising the religious parties in the 1970 election. Their bitterness at losing the polls exceeded Ahrar’s anger at their 1946 defeat. Nobody was surprised when they started planning for a religion-based challenge to the Bhutto government. Suddenly the government obliged them by introducing an amendment to the constitution devised as a first step towards declaring the Ahmedis non-Muslims.

The decision of the Bhutto government to adopt this measure (Second Amendment of 1974) is still a riddle. The incidents of rioting in some parts of Punjab, that were used as a pretext, were too insignificant to warrant a constitutional amendment. The identity of troublemakers was not established; they could have been Ahmedi hotheads (as alleged by officials), they could have been mercenaries hired by state minions, or they could have been provocateurs working for the anti-Ahmedi lobby.

The Second Amendment was a curious piece of drafting. Article 260, which defines the terms and expressions used in the constitution, was used to decide a momentous issue such as an 80-year-old conflict. Clause (3) added at the end of the article said:

“(3) – A person who does not believe in the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad (Peace be upon him), the last of the Prophets, or claims to be a Prophet, in any sense of the word or of any description whatsoever, after Muhammad (Peace be upon him), or recognises such a claimant as a prophet, is not a Muslim for the purposes of the Constitution or law.”

No attempt was made to conceal the purpose of the amendment — to push Ahmedis outside the pale of Islam. Some people thought any Ahmedi could escape attracting action under the new provision by simply affirming faith in the finality of the Prophet (PBUH). The commentary on the constitution bearing Justice Munir’s name says the Second Amendment “simply affirmed and declared (the) position as it existed under Shariat”. But the matter defied an over-simplified interpretation. General Zia saw the opening offered by the Second Amendment and went for the kill. In order to ensure that all Ahmedis were caught in the net of Article 260(3) he replaced the 1974 text with the following:

(3) In the Constitution and all enactments and other legal instruments, unless there is anything repugnant in the subject or context; — (a)’Muslim’ means a person who believes in the unity and oneness of Almighty Allah, in the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad (Peace be upon him), the last of the Prophets, and does not believe in, or recognise as a prophet or religious reformer, any person who claimed or claims to be a prophet, in any sense of the word or of any description whatsoever, after Muhammad (Peace be upon him); and (b)’non-Muslim’ means a person who is not a Muslim and includes a person belonging to the Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist or Parsi community, a person of the Qadiani Group or the Lahori Group (who call themselves ‘Ahmedis’ or by any other name), or a Bahai, and a person belonging to any of the scheduled castes.”

General Zia did not stop at that. Besides presiding over efforts to add 295-C to the PPC, he added Ahmedi-specific provisions to the Penal Code under which an Ahmedi can be punished for calling himself a Muslim or posing as such, or for calling his prayer house a mosque or for possessing a copy of the Holy Quran, or for inscribing Bismillah on his letter/invitation card.

What has added to the miseries of the Ahmadiyya community is the fact that while the liberal Muslims stopped addressing the situation caused by the consolidation of anti-Ahmedi campaigns once the Munir Inquiry Report was published, a number of factors have led to the rise of extremists who lack neither guns nor money and who use force and violence to establish their version of Islam. The level of tolerance for the belief of the ‘other’ has sharply declined. The result of these and related developments is admirably summed up by Hamid Khan in the following words:

“The Second Amendment was the beginning of the process of legal victimisation and persecution of the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan, followed by Draconian laws and adverse judicial pronouncements against religious minorities in general. Members of the community have been pushed against the wall and are a constant target of threats and hyperbole on the part of political and religious bigots. Succeeding governments have failed to stem the tide of victimisation and have, at times, succumbed to the pressure. It is always an easy and convenient path for an incumbent government to gain cheap popularity and to appease the bigots by conceding their unreasonable demands without realising that political blackmail never ends. When the Ahmedis appealed to the courts for protection, they found themselves in the hands of judges who were not only totally unsympathetic to them but gave strong judgments against them, further restricting their freedom and civil rights”. (Constitutional and Political History of Pakistan.)

The biggest tragedy of Pakistan is the failure of the religious majority to realise that the persecution of a minority community will ultimately lead to its own destruction.

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Posted in: History, Religion