Pakistan Ulema Council Conference Exposes Root of Our Problem

Tahir Ashrafi

Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) recently convened its conference in Lahore where the top issues were discussed. A report by Raza Rumi notes the unprecedented support for minorities given by PUC chief Allama Tahir Ashrafi, and a resolution was passed saying, “government had the responsibility to protect the lives, wealth, honor, dignity and places of worship of all its citizens regardless of their faith.”

This message of tolerance and inclusion is welcome, but it is a paragraph late in the report that exposes the root of our problem.

In his speech Allama Tahir Ashrafi said madrassas were guarantors of peace in the country. Maulana Muhammad Ali Sherazi said an education system given by Christians was a conspiracy against Islam, which had become a victim of the west. “True education is spread through religious seminaries, which are the fort of Islam,” he added.

Is there any better representation of what ails us? In one moment, Ulema calls on government to protect minorities. In the next moment, they accuse non-Muslims of using education as part of a ‘conspiracy against Islam’.

Which is it? Are We are told note to be suspicious and hateful, and then we are given reason to be suspicious and hateful. If government has a responsibility to protect minorities, doesn’t that responsibility include doing something about the lessons in intolerance being taught at certain madrassas?

Ridding ourselves of the curse of religious extremism, the root cause of terrorism in our country, will require us to move beyond mere words of tolerance. We must shed our victim mentality and stop pretending that the threat is coming from outside and not inside our own house.

Purification by fire

No Country For Minorities

Arsonists burned down a Hindu temple in Tando Mohammad Khan district last week. SSP Tando Mohammad Khan, Naseem Aara Panwhar responded to the incident with the type of compassion that we have come to expect from authorities.

“We had asked them not to keep these things in this manner and at least raise proper boundary walls. But they did not care,” she said.

You see, it was the fault of these stupid Hindus for keeping their holy artifacts in a manner that they could be seen instead of hidden away where they belong.

Perhaps Shama and Shehzad would have been better to have kept themselves hidden away, too. Their very existence as non-Muslims was so offensive that they were burnt alive, purifying our country of their Christian-ness.

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Who will check this terror?

As I’m sure all avid readers are aware, in the past week there have been multiple attacks on Shias, Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus. It seems no one is spared. Just today a christian charity worker was shot dead. In this past month, more than 80 shias alone have been killed, a Hindu temple was destroyed and over hundred Ahmadi graves were desecrated among other incidences of violence. According to a report by Rob Crilly in the Telegraph, human rights campaigners are urging the government to do more in keeping safe the country’s minority Shia population. According to the same report, there have been more than 320 killings in a wave of attacks against the Shias. The same report also mentions that in 2012 more than 100 members of the Shia Hazara community being killed in Baluchistan region as well.

The response to these ongoing attacks against the nation’s minorities has been the almost deafening silence on the part of our elder leaders. It is a handful of young people who are proving to be the real courageous souls. Malala Yousafzai comes to mind, and so does the young 24-year-old Bilawal. In a public response to the recent attacks, Bilawal noted that “our forefathers did not give their lives for an intolerant‚ extremist‚ sectarian and authoritarian Pakistan. I appeal you to rise up to defend Jinnah’s Pakistan and my party will stand by you‚ shoulder to shoulder.”

Compare this to the actions of those who term themselves as self-appointed ‘defenders of Pakistan’. Qazi Hussain Ahmed quickly changed his tune against Taliban violence when he feared for his own safety.

The sad truth is different. We all know that Qazi was threatened by radicals after an interview in which he had criticised the violent policies of the Pakistani Taliban. The Taliban had later issued their rebuttal with a warning of a forthcoming attack on the former Ameer. In that situation, rather than taking the bull by the horns and realising it was time to show courage and resolve, Qazi, a former Senator, has regrettably tried hard to mend his ties with the extremists. Using the anti-American public sentiment and deliberately obfuscating the issue, he has consistently condemned the US for everything that has gone wrong in Pakistan, but has not mustered up the courage to go after the real perpetrators of the attempted assassination of both Malala Yousafzai and himself. In that way, he has stuck to the core ideology of his party where perhaps personal safety is the top priority even when the safety of the nation is compromised. What a shame.

The giants of Pakistani history have never been appeasers. Qaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah could easily have bowed down under pressure against the formation of Pakistan, but he persisted because he knew that the promise that “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State” was a promise that India could not guarantee but must be kept at all costs. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made the promise that we would not bow down under pressure of an Indian bomb but would defend ourselves at all costs. Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto spent years in prison and exiled from her homeland but refused to accept her country in the chains of dictatorship.

Who are today’s giants of Pakistan? Surprisingly they are being found in a 13-year-old school girl and a 24-year-old young man. As we sit quietly while our brothers and sisters are attacked and killed, we must ask whether we deserve these young giants.