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Bigotry By Clergy Has Always Led To Mob Violence Against Minorities

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Heterodox beliefs in Pakistani society are not restricted to any one religious group. Pakistan is a religiously diverse society and enforcement of religious orthodoxy as law in more cases would play havoc with the social fabric and religious harmony of the society, writes Umer Farooq.

On June 3rd 1974, the then Prime Minister Zulifikar Ali Bhutto again addressed the National Assembly, amidst rising wave of violence in urban Punjab, “Are we to allow cannibalism among the citizens of the country”, he asked. The law and order situation was getting out of hand of the government as it disallowed newspapers—the only source of independent information in those days—from publishing anything related to mob violence in the cities of the country.

So one finds only minor clues on the newspapers pages on what kind of situation the Ahmadiya community was facing across northern and central Punjab and adjacent towns of NWFP, where the mob violence was most intense.

On May 22, a group of 160 students from Multan boarded a train to Peshawar on a study tour. As the train stopped at Rabwah, predominantly an Ahmadi town that housed the community’s spiritual and organisational headquarters, the students came out and shouted slurs and offensive slogans.

Upon their return from Peshawar on May 29, they stopped at Rabwah again. This time the Ahmadis were ready. Hundreds of them, armed with knives and sticks, fell upon the students and injured more than 30.

Several members of the religious parties brought the issue of violence at Rabwah Railway Station to the notice of the ongoing sessions of Punjab Assembly and the National Assembly. And with it, the campaign to exclude the Ahmadis from national mainstream was set in motion.

The religious clergy went on a rampage. The news spread like a wild fire. Mob violence gripped Pakistan in the summer of 1974. The violence was led by religious groups, Jamat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and Tehreek-e- Khatm-e-Nabawat and an obscure organisation Majlis-e-Amal, which was campaigning against Ahmadi community.

On May 31 1974, then Prime Minister Bhutto appealed to the Pakistani people to cooperate with the government in the maintenance of law and order situation. In a statement, he said that the government would not allow anyone to create civil strife in the country. He said that central and provincial governments would do everything possible to protect the life and property of every citizen.

Riots and protests erupted in most of the major urban centers of Pakistan. Nawa-e-Waqt reported that there were protests in Peshawar, Gujjar Khan, Jhelum, Chakwal and Lyallpur. Jamat-e-Islami was providing the organisational base for the protest.  Protestors clashed with the police and in Peshawar and Lyullpur (Faisalabad) police resorted to baton charge to disperse the crowd.

All this disruption in civil life was caused within less than two weeks and in the absence of modern means of communication—like mobile phones, Whatsapp, social media, private news channels and motorways that connect the urban towns of central Punjab, where divisive religious rhetoric is still prevalent and plays a crucial role in public life.

How many lost their lives, how many was displaced and how many were injured in the mob violence that erupted in Punjab and adjacent towns of NWFP following the Rabwa incident – we would never know.

As Pakistani newspaper pages were completely silent about what was happening in the urban areas of Pakistan in the period between May 22—when the violence started—and September 7 when the national parliament declared the Ahmadi community non-Muslims.

Although now the Ahmadi community particularly and religious minorities in general are much less conspicuous in Pakistani public life, the religious clergy doesn’t waste any opportunity to direct their rhetoric against them in their public speeches. The leader of Islamabad protestors, Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman clearly used the opportunity of this gathering to target the Ahmadi community once again at a time when the Ahmadi presence in Pakistan’s public life is much less conspicuous.

He used his rhetoric to prove that the Ahmadi community was part of some international conspiracy against Pakistan—an age-old tactic of Pakistani religious clergy to target the religious minorities.

The past one year has seen religious clergy again using the power of modern communications to spread the message of religious hatred in the society with religious minorities being the specific targets of their rhetoric.

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There seems to be a race among religious leaders of different groups to surpass each other in hatred against religious minorities and to label these minorities as tools of foreign conspiracy.

In November 2017, the Faizabad sit-in, led by Maulvi Khadim Hussain Rizvi was a worrying example of the state and government being held hostage by a religious group largely obscure until now. Thousands of green-turbaned religious foot soldiers of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) managed to paralyse Islamabad and Rawalpindi for almost two months by blocking the main link between the twin cities inter-provincial traffic.

They are led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, a religious leader whose entry in the federal capital was banned by the government by the then government of PML-N.

The most worrying aspect of this situation is that the mainstream political parties are extending support to these religious groups, whose rhetoric against religious minorities is reaching feverish pitch. In November 2017, PTI chief Imran Khan, who was an opposition leader then, vowed to join the protesters at Faizabad, when the leaders of the protesters were threatening violence against religious minorities especially the Ahmadi community.

And now when Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman is using threatening language against religious minorities we see leaders of the main political parties like Bilawal Bhutto and Shahbaz Sharif standing besides him on the stage.

In 1974—with absolutely no modern means of communications available to them, the religious clergy had succeeded in mobilizing the urban masses again religious minorities. Now with the revolution in modern means of communications the danger of religious clergy spreading their word of hatred with ease is much more a possibility than it was in 1974.

However, under a growing international pressure and secularizing trends in society and media (especially) the leaders of Pakistani state machinery are now much less willing partner in any possibility of a religious pogrom religious minorities. It is not that Pakistani state machinery is any less on the path of Sunni orthodoxy—it is not, rather it behaves as an extremist orthodox sunnified entity under any type of pressure from Sunni religious clergy. But at the same time it tries to stay clear of any involvement in any type of violence against religious minorities under the pressure of international community—which act as Pakistani state’s donor—and an increasingly powerful and much secularized media.

There was a time in Pakistan’s history when all the three organs of the state including judiciary, executive and legislative acted in bias against Ahmadi community. On September 7, 1974 Pakistani parliament passed the 2nd amendment to the constitution declaring Pakistan’s Ahmadi community non-Muslim. The amendment defined the followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, generally known as ‘the Ahmadis’, as non‑Muslims.

This was not the first instance of excluding a religious community from full political membership of the society on the basis of religious beliefs. Previously, other religious communities including Hindu, Christian and other minorities have been denied full membership of the political community. The religious clergy on whose instigation this amendment to the constitution was passed was not at all content with non-penal principle laid down in the constitutional amendment.

They wanted to criminalize the very beliefs of the victim community. They asked Prime Minister Zulifikar Ali Bhutto to take all necessary administrative and legislative measures to implement the 2nd amendment in “letter and spirit”.

In this way, one of the organs of Pakistani state-legislature-became a party in the conflict between heterodox religious sect and Sunni orthodox Ulema, who had been campaigning against the group since its very inception.

Pakistan was a parliamentary democracy then and ruling Pakistan People’s Party was controlling both the legislative branch—through its parliamentary majority– as well the executive branch of the state. Despite initial attempts by the ruling party in the initial days of the Ahmadi crisis to maintain a secular outlook, many of its central leaders came down heavily in support of orthodox Ulema’s position.

Thus making executive branch of the state no less a party in the conflict.

The second Amendment of the Pakistani constitution altered Article 106 clause 3, which lists religious minority communities to include persons of Qadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves Ahmedi.

The Ahmadis were the only religious minority who were listed in the constitution not by the name they use but by the pejoratives applied to them by their detractors.

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Moreover, a new clause that attempted to define Muslim was added to Article 260 of the Constitution, “transforming purely religious question into a matter of law, “A person who does not believe in the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH), the last of the Prophets, it reads, “or claims to be a prophet, in any sense of the word or of any description whatsoever, after Muhammad (PBUH), or recognize such a claimant as prophet or religious reformer, is not a Muslim for the purposes of the Constitution or law”.

This amounted to not only making religious orthodoxy or right beliefs a matter of law and constitution but also inserted this orthodoxy into country’s body-polity, and in fact started the process of narrowing the base of country’s political system.

Excluding the Ahmadi community from national mainstream was politically an easy task with minor negative implications for the Bhutto government at that time, but the politics of exclusion, which took roots at the time, morphed into different manifestations of excluding other minority groups from the national mainstream in the decades that followed.

In the 20 years period between 1974 and 1994, one or the other organ of Pakistani state was actively chasing the Ahmadi community and was participating in its persecution. In September 1974, both legislature and executive were active to get Ahmadis declared as non-Muslims.

In the 1980s and 1990s till 1994, the superior judiciary gave out verdicts, one after the other, providing support and suggestions for further persecution of the Ahmadi community.

And in 1984, the executive branch under the control of the military dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq enacted the notorious Anti-Qadiyaniat Ordinance 1984, which criminalised the practices and beliefs of the Ahmadi religious community.

Persecution was, however, started by the secular-minded and left of center government of Prime Minister Zulifikar Ali Bhutto.

The 2nd amendment provided the legal and constitutional basis for further persecution of Ahmadi community. Bhutto government was not new in the field of politics of exclusion. It was systematically and deliberately engaged in excluding Baloch political elite from participating in national life.

Excluding much smaller and much less politically relevant Ahmadi community from national mainstream was not much of a problem for Prime Minister Bhutto, at the moral and political level.

In the early years of Pakistan’s creations, the state and the political system was dominated by what has been described by Muhammad Qasim Zaman (in his book, Islam in Pakistan, A History) as modernist elite, which, although, was using religious idiom in its political discourse, remained committed to the liberal social and political values that they imbibed during British rule in United India.

This modernist class was dominating bureaucracy, judiciary, army and political offices as well. They had a major say in the formulation of public policy, which, in Pakistan’s early years, was in line with the liberal ethos this modernist class inherited from their education under British system. For instance, when they used the term, ‘sharia’ in the political discourse what they meant by this term was “what the British in India had meant by it Vis, the Muslim laws of personal status governing matters such as marriage divorce and inheritance”.

What they “seems not to have meant was that state should commit itself to Islamic law in fullness, as Mawdudi and the Ulema had it”.

But the clergy’s effort to construct orthodoxy had been underway since the inception of Pakistan. The process of construction of orthodoxy in Pakistan’s political and legal system is an interesting process, which passes through many political crises, riots, superior courts judgments, law making and constitutional amendments.

This is a story of how religious clergy was making efforts to define the correct belief in an attempt to exclude all those groups, which they saw as their rivals in religious and political terms.

Heterodox beliefs in Pakistani society are not restricted to any one religious group. Pakistan is a religiously diverse society and enforcement of religious orthodoxy as law in more cases would play havoc with the social fabric and religious harmony of the society.


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