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State Must Tackle Religious Intolerance With An Iron Fist

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The widespread ruckus by the international community over the Turkish court’s decision to convert Hagia Sophia church back into a mosque has not been able to dissuade the Turkish President. He announced that the first formal prayers would be offered on 24th July at the erstwhile church built some 1,500 years ago, but which was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul, then known as Constantinople, in 1453, before being given the status of a museum in 1934 by the modern Turkey’s founding father Mustafa Kamal. Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish President, has brushed aside all the criticism by claiming that his country has exercised its sovereign right.

Meanwhile in Pakistan, despite rejoicing over the watershed event of conversion of Hagia Sophia back into a mosque, there has been an enormous hue and cry over the planned construction of a temple in the capital city of Islamabad, apart from the brouhaha over the demolition by the government of an illegally-built mosque in Islamabad. 

All these incidents, apart from highlighting our double standards, perpetuate the general air of malaise afflicting our country, whereby we not only hurriedly pronounce our judgments but also depict our proclivity to execute them with much fanfare and without any feelings of remorse whatsoever. So much for the writ of the government!

If anyone has the gumption to oppose the commonly-held beliefs about Islam, he would be an unwilling victim of the criticism by the social media brigade in particular and the society in general. Logical arguments and any sort of intellectual debate, in any case, are not encouraged in this milieu of ignorance coupled with self-righteousness. If anyone insists on his interpretation of Islamic teachings, backed by solid arguments, he would be brandished a non-believer, or the one who is a ‘stooge’ of non-Muslims.

Historically speaking, the subject of mosque demolished in Islamabad does not stand on different footings if indeed built on illegally acquired land because there is a similar example in Islamic history. Masjid-e-Zarrar, was demolished on the direction of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) as it had become a source of conspiracies against Islam. Rather than resorting to whole-sale criticism, the apt response, in this regard, would have been to seek the related evidence, and then challenge the act of demolition of the mosque in a court of law, if deemed appropriate.

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In the same vein, the planned construction of a temple would be perfectly justified on the touchstone of our Constitution, as has been, thankfully acknowledged by Pakistan Ulema Council. Articles 2A, and 20 to 22 of the Constitution guarantee the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion upon ‘every citizen’, irrespective of his religion, race or caste, including the freedom to establish, maintain and manage his religious institutions.

Similarly, Article 77, read with 78, of the Constitution envisages payment of tax by all the citizens in a common pool and it is from this pool that the monetary grants are given by the government; so any discrimination in government grants on the grounds of religion, sect, race or creed would be in violation of the concept of ‘Equality before law’ in Article 25. This is further buttressed by Article 164, which permits the Government to give monetary grants for ‘any purpose’, irrespective of any distinction made on any ground. Another argument is that if, based on the provisions of religious freedoms, government can build a Gurdawara for our Sikh brothers, why not a temple for our Hindu community?

Also religiously speaking, one of the ‘masruf’ of zakat mentioned in Quran is ‘Taleef-i-Qulb’ — those whose hearts are to be reconciled, including friends of the Muslim community. Now, these non-Muslims living in Pakistan are indeed our friends, and do not belong to a conquered land. So it can be said that Islam encourages you to spend on non-Muslims, including for the establishment of their religious institutions.

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In any way, constitution in a modern nation state is like a contract between the citizens and the state; and any breach of constitutional provisions, including breach by the state of provisions guaranteeing religious freedom to all its citizens, would be actionable. This should be the case only from the point of view of the modern codified laws, but also from the perspective of Islam, which abhors breach of promises.

Here, it must be understood that Islamic injunctions are not implemented directly in our country; but through provisions envisaged in the constitution, which states that no law can be promulgated which is against the injunctions of Islam, as declared in Quran and Sunnah (Article 227-231). In order to ensure that all laws in Pakistan are indeed Islamic, our constitution provides for two forums, i.e., Council of Islamic Ideology and Federal Shariat Court. The former can merely pass recommendations while the latter’s decision are of binding nature. Therefore, whosoever disagrees with the constitutional provisions guaranteeing religious freedoms to all the citizens must have recourse to these constitutional forums.

The current atmosphere of religious intolerance and intellectual suffocation, and the penchant to take the law in own hands, must be discouraged. For this, the silent majority, which indeed believes in national integration and cohesion, must retire from its self-imposed indifference and come forward to make the voice of the majority heard. The government, on its part, must also strictly impose its writ against the miscreants who exploit the religious sentiments of the innocent citizen and thus create an overall image of an intolerant and extremist Pakistan to the outside world.

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1 Comment

  1. Ahmed July 20, 2020

    How can anyone be ok with the Government supporting one religion and not the others. The temple was being built with the tax payers money. Will the government make mosques also?

    How can anyone be ok with the Government spending PKR 100 million on a worship place during such a difficult time for Pakistan?

    Go read a little bit on Hagia Sophia. It was bought by the Sultan from the Christians. The only thing wrong that happened was what Kamal did to it.

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