ISLAMABAD: The proceedings of the National Assembly were preceded by a ruckus over the question of religiosity, with parliamentarians reduced to questioning each other over matters of faith, on Thursday.

The architect of the uproar was PML-N MNA from Mansehra, retired Captain Mohammad Safdar, who is also the son-in-law of Prime Minister Mohammad Nawaz Sharif.

It all started when, at the outset of the session, proceedings opened with verses from the Holy Quran and the recitation of a naat. This has been a routine after the rules of procedure and conduct of business were amended last month. PkMAP chief Mehmood Achakzai was the first to speak after the recitation and, obviously unaware of the change in the rules, asked when the change had been made.

Then, all hell broke loose as members from both sides of the aisle – led by MNAs from the ruling PML-N and the MQM – descended upon the PkMAP leader and asked him to apologise for questioning the recitation and his ignorance of the rules.

Captain Safdar launches tirade on Mr Achakzai’s query regarding recitation of naat

MQM’s Rashid Godil and Saman Jafri, along with women lawmakers from the PML-N, hit out at Mr Achakzai, who looked aghast in the face of such militant criticism from his seat in the right-most corner of the house.

However, it was PPP’s Shazia Marri who picked up the courage and spoke in defence of the stunned PkMAP leader. “What’s wrong if Achakzai Sb asked a question? It will be unsavoury on our part to curb the right of a lawmaker to ask a simple question,” she said.

She also said that lawmakers shouldn’t squeeze the space for minority members present in the house by getting into such unnecessary discussions. But things came to a head when Captain Safdar entered the fray.

He took both Mr Achakzai and Ms Marri to task and launched into a tirade loaded with references to various religious texts. In so many words, a charged Captain Safdar argued that it was the religious duty of every true Muslim to respectfully listen to naat, instead of questioning its recitation. “In the future, if anyone questions the amended rules, I will quit this house,” he declared.

Not to be outdone, Ms Marri took the fight to the treasury benches, saying, “I need not boast about my credentials as a good Muslim in front of everybody because this is between me and my Almighty God.”

Referring to the national flag, Ms Marri reminded Captain Safdar that alongside the green of Muslims, there was also the white part of the flag, that represented minorities in the state and it was the duty of every upholder of the constitution to fight for their protection. By getting into such arguments in the house, she asked, “what sort of message are were giving them?”

Criticizing the right-wing tendencies of the PML-N, Ms Marri said, “I will appreciate it if some day, instead of a bearded man, a woman is allowed to recite from the Holy Quran at the beginning of National Assembly proceedings. I know you will not because you don’t accept that women can be at par with men.”

While most of the women lawmakers sitting near Captain Safdar kept cheering him on during his speech, Shaista Malik – a PML-N lawmaker from Lahore – could be seen pleading with her colleagues to end this discussion.

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2016



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