“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
In today’s Pakistan, I see less people who seem comfortable in their own beliefs than when I was growing up. No doubt there is an increased display of outward religiosity, coupled with a growing intolerance for other people’s beliefs. The more need a person has to prove his religiosity to others, the less he is comfortable with his own self.
In our country there are several branches of Islam, some more and some less tolerant of each other, including Sunni, Barelvi, Deobandi, Shia, Agha Khani, Bohra, Wahabi, Salafi, and Ahmadi whom the second amendment of our constitution forbids from even calling Muslim. The Ahmadis have been persecuted in Pakistan for the last 40 years. Even a Nobel Laureate such as Dr Abdus Salam, internationally recognised as one of the greatest scientists of the 20th Century, was forced to flee Pakistan for being an Ahmadi. Today Shia doctors, scholars, intellectuals and professionals – especially those of the Persian speaking Hazara community are being targeted and massacred every day.
Because of a lack of communication between the different cultures and races of Pakistan there is a growing mistrust of each other in society, and whole communities are misjudged and condemned based on the wrong actions of a few: and hate-mongers and war-profiteers, who stoke the flames of prejudice and violence, often appear in the form of clerics.
“Under the guise of their apparent faith, they repel the people from the path of God. Miserable indeed is what they do.”
Al Quran 63:2 – Sura Al-Munafiqoon (The Hypocrites)
There also seems to be general amnesia about selected historical facts, such as that Pakistan was not created for Muslims (or certain sects of Muslims) only. In fact the Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah very much envisioned this country as being secular – which does not mean religion-less, but a state that treats all its citizens as equal and allows everybody to practice his/her own respective religion.
“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, caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”
Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s first Presidential Address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan – August 11, 1947
It is worth noting that the audio record of this historic speech, by the founder of this country, who’s portrait still hangs behind the seats of all senior government executives, was confiscated from the archives of Radio Pakistan and either hidden or destroyed, during General Zia’s regime.
But intolerance manifests itself in Pakistan not only against other Islamic sects and communities, but also against marginalised religious minority groups.
Of these the most ancient are the Pakistani Hindus, whose earliest scriptures have been around for at least 4000 years. Though over the last several years a growing number of Hindus are migrating out of Pakistan, Pakistani Hindus still constitute between 1.5 and 2 per cent of our total population.
Christianity has its roots in the Subcontinent way longer than in Europe, from the time when Saint Thomas, the apostle of Jesus Christ travelled here to spread the Gospel. Today, Christian Pakistanis constitute 2 per cent of our total population.
Punjab was the cradle of the Sikh religion, with several important sites in Pakistan, such as Nankana Sahab, the birthplace of Guru Nanak ji, the founder of Sikhism; as well as structures and temples from the empire of the greatest ruler of the Punjab – Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Today, there are at least 20,000 Sikh Pakistanis that continue to live here.
Besides this there are more than 4000 Parsi or Zoroastrian Pakistanis, whose religion has been around for at least 2500 years, when this land was part of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia; About 3000 Pakistani Kalashi animists, whom the rest of Pakistan refers to as ‘Kafir’, non-believers; and even a handful of Pakistani Buddhists. There are also several thousands that profess to the Bahai faith but choose to stay beneath the radar because of fear of persecution. The few thousand Pakistani Jews that used to live mostly in Karachi have probably all migrated abroad. Atheists are not recognised in Pakistan so there are no clear numbers available.
The curriculum of our government schools – instead of teaching us about each other’s beliefs, languages, histories, music, poetry and myths – has been systematically inculcated with a warped one-sided version of history since the late 1970-s, thus promoting religious intolerance and biased mindsets.
The history that is taught of our land omits the Indus Valley Civilization, the Vedic period, Persian, Scythian and Greek conquests, the Maurya, Kushan and Gupta dynasties, and starts with Muhammad Bin Qasim’s invasion of Sindh in the early 8th Century. Then another 3 or 4 hundred years are omitted and we come straight to the Turkish and Afghan invasions that formed the Delhi Sultanate. This is dwelt on lightly until we come to Babur’s invasion and the founding of the Mughal Empire. Of the Mughals, the role of Aurangzeb is eulogised while that of Akbar is criticised. Then we come to the British colonisation and the Partition of India and Pakistan.
I am not saying that we are the only country in the world to teach history selectively, or that things are better across the border – in fact few States around the world promote a completely objective understanding of history, which is usually rewritten by people in power to suit their own political agendas. But since I am primarily concerned for the wellbeing of my own country Pakistan, I am focusing my critical analyses for now as to how history is taught in this country.
The following excerpts from the Social Studies textbooks of the Punjab Textbook Board illustrates the values we are imparting to our children:
“The Muslims of India provided all the facilities to the Hindus and Sikhs who left for India. But the Hindus and Sikhs looted the Muslims in India with both hands and they attacked their caravans, busses and railway trains. Therefore about 1 million Muslims were martyred on their way to Pakistan.”
“The foundation of Hindu set up was based on injustice and cruelty.”
“India is our traditional enemy and we should always keep ourselves ready to defend our beloved country from Indian aggression.”
To make my point clear, I am not saying that crimes were not committed by the Sikhs and Hindus during Partition. My own mother bears witness to how her neighborhood in Delhi was sacked and torched and her family was forced to flee to find safety in Pakistan. But I am saying that excesses happened from all sides and only self-criticism and self-appraisal by all sides can set us on the path to peace.
England and France have fought countless wars in their bloody history; yet today are the best of friends. Germany, which invaded half of Europe 75 years ago, is today the leading partner of the European Union together with its former enemies. Why cannot then India and Pakistan forge a mutually beneficial alliance, instead of allowing the spiritually devoid, religiously intolerant sections of our societies to dictate their agenda?
Intolerance goes against the tenets of humanity and all religions. Those who would seek to find the origin of intolerance in religion or seek to justify their own prejudices on the basis of religion would do well to note the following quotes.
The Prophet (PBUH) said: Beware! Whosoever oppresses a Muahid (a non-Muslim living in Muslim land with agreement) or snatches (any of) his rights or causes him pain that he cannot bear, or takes anything from him without his permission, then “I will fight against such (a Muslim) on the Day of Judgement”
Sunnan Abu Dawood, Volume No. 3, Hadith No. 3052
O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you into nations and tribes, that you may recognise one another. The best among you in the sight of God is the most righteous. God is omniscient and cognizant.
Al Quran 49:13 – Al Hujurat (The Walls)
Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from evil: whoever rejects evil and believes in God hath grasped the most trustworthy handhold, that never breaks. And God hears and knows all things.
Al Quran 2:256 – Al Baqarah (The Heifer)
Arieb Azhar is a singer songwriter based in Islamabad. He studied Philosophy and Indology from the University of Zagreb in Croatia, where he also used to lead an Irish Celtic World Music band.
Learn more about him here.
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