Ayesha Jalal, a prominent sociologist and historian, explains the social and political effects of creating religious restrictions on citizens supported by a government, in light of the recent Ahmedi massacre in Lahore. Jalal , a Mary Richardson Professor of History at Tufts University in the US, is best known for her publications on the history of the subcontinent, the most recent being “Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia,” and “The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan.”

In reading the Constitution’s preamble, Pakistan allows freedom of religion to all citizens. If that is the case, then does that technically nullify the 1974 Ordinance defining what a Muslim is? Does it contradict the restrictions placed on Ahmedis in 1984? Why or why not?

Declaring Ahmedis a minority undermined the principle of equal and inclusive rights of citizenship that is the basis of all modern nation-states. So in principle yes, the 1974 Ordinance and the restrictions on them after 1984 are unconstitutional. But you are talking about a country that has excelled in making what is unconstitutional, constitutional.

Without the political will and popular support, the glaring contradiction between an inclusive conception of citizenship and the appalling treatment of Ahmedis in Pakistan cannot be addressed, far less redressed.

Historically, what role has Sharia law played in the lives of minorities in Pakistan?

The issue of the enforcement of the Sharia has remained a contentious one even among different Muslim sects and been made worse for the minorities by the blasphemy laws and restrictions on the freedom of religion.

In and of itself however, the Sharia has not been the primary cause of the problems faced by minorities insofar as it has never been enforced to cover all aspects of life in Pakistan. It is the rhetoric surrounding the enforcement of the Sharia that has had detrimental effects on how the more bigoted sections of the Muslim community view the rights of religious minorities.

Regardless of the Sharia, discrimination against religious minorities, Ahmedis in particular, was legalised the moment the state caved in to political pressure parading as religious zeal and defined a ‘Muslim’ - something the Munir Report of 1953 had warned against in explicit terms.

Given: If all Ahmedis completely adhere to the current laws of Pakistan, then what should be the government’s responsibility towards them?

As citizens of Pakistan, Ahmedis are entitled to the protection of their lives and property. Indeed, they are entitled to all the protections a state normally offers its citizens. But then the Pakistani state has come to take pride in its exceptionalism!

After the Lahore massacre, there were small groups that protested against the attacks. But when Israel attacked the flotilla in Gaza - the world, and most of Pakistan shouted their condemnations. What are the ramifications of this social behavior? What can be predicted?

The prognosis is not at all hopeful for the Ahmedis given the seriously misconceived notions of Islam many Pakistanis have come to imbibe through state sanctioned ideological indoctrination over the past 36 years. The concerned citizens of Pakistan need to mobilise support against the legal and political culture of discrimination that hangs like a sword of Damocles’ over all Pakistanis, and not just Ahmedis alone.

Will Pakistan ever be able to stop discrimination among themselves, religious and ethnocentric prejudice? If so, how?

They will have to if they wish to remain part of the international community of nations - not to do so is to court even greater disasters than those already threatening Pakistan and will prove fatal for the survival of the country.

A firm 'no' to all forms of bigotry and discrimination - religious, ideological, regional and sectarian - is an imperative. What Pakistanis need most to alter their present course to outright disaster is a change of mind. A thorough overhaul of the educational system is a prerequisite for Pakistan to return to the fold of moderate nations.

It is up to Pakistanis to stand up and strongly oppose the culture of intolerance that has been allowed to flourish in their country, ostensibly in the name of religion but in actuality, for petty worldly advantage.

Sadef A. Kully is an  Reporter/Associate Producer for Dawn.com.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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