Nawaz Sharif gave a commendable speech today in Chakwal, saying that his government is dedicated to improving the lot and lives of religious minorities and promoting the mindset of ‘for you is your religion and for me is mine’. He told the audience that he is prime minister of all Pakistanis and “not just Muslim Pakistanis”. The Prime Minister should be applauded for giving this important message. Unfortunately, he has a problem.
No, it’s not his past flirtation with becoming ‘Ameer ul Momineen‘. The past can be forgiven if the present proves different. In this case, there is a question mark because while Nawaz is saying the right thing, he is keeping in his government powerful ministers who are saying the opposite. Day before PM Nawaz gave his impressive speech, his own Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar told a completely different story, declaring that sectarian militants cannot be considered terrorists. Nisar’s remarks sparked a walkout by opposition Senators.
How can anyone take seriously the PM’s words about ending religious intolerance and sectarianism when his own Interior Minister is seen serving tea to the heads of proscribed hate groups and giving his own speeches defending sectarian militants? Nawaz Sharif has a choice. He can keep Chaudhry Nisar and continue to give empty speeches and have no one believe him, or he can sack Chaudhry Nisar and go down in history as a PM who actually put his words into action to improve the country. He can’t do both.
In a report on the shining example of of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)’s life, Nikhat Sattar gives the following conclusion: “The personal legacy of the Prophet — selflessness, simplicity and love of fellow beings — has been forgotten amidst hypocrisy in the race for power and wealth.” Her warning could not have come at a more perfect time than the day after a mob over 1,000 people strong attacked an Ahmadi mosque in Chakwal.
Making matters even worse, the attack came on Eid Milad-un-Nabi. Is this any celebration of our Prophet (PBUH) to attack and burn a minority place of worship? Answer this honestly: Is it Sunnah to attack religious minorities or to protect them? No answer which are we doing? Even though you and I did not take part in the attack, we still share some responsibility because we have sowed the seeds for it.
Look at the way media covers the attack and refuses to use the term ‘Ahmadi mosque’. No, it is always ‘Ahmadi place of worship’. You and I can agree or disagree about the theology of their faith, but what is the point of this insult expect to insult them? Some will say that it protects innocent people from accidentally wandering into an Ahmadi mosque for prayers, but is this really the case? When has a Shia or a Sunni wandered into each other’s mosque on accident and magically changed sect? No, this is only an excuse for our bigotry.
Whatever you personally think of Ahmadis faith, it is their faith and as religious minorities in an Islamic society they deserve our protection, not our hatred. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) spread Islam through his shining example of kindness and mercy, not hatred and bigotry. If we want to follow his example we must do the same, even for those we do not agree with.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s move to rename Quaid-i-Azam University’s (QAU) physics department to the Professor Abdus Salam Center for Physics and create a new programme named the Professor Abdus Salam Fellowship must be appreciated as an important step in reversing the historical trend of religious bigotry and intolerance. Even The New York Times has noted the landmark decision. However we must not allow such moves to giving the incorrect impression that the situation for religious minorities is improving, especially the beleaguered Ahmadi community.
This was made clear when the day after PM’s declaration, masked gunmen from Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) violently raided Ahmadiyya headquarters in Rabwa. The CTD officers forced their way in while beating up a guard before manhandling and arresting several innocent people accused of ‘terrorism’ for printing magazines intended for Ahamdis. The officers seized materials from the offices as well as abusing the individuals there. It should also be noted that despite incorrect claims from religious extremists, no weapons or hate material are mentioned in the FIR.
PM’s action is appreciated, but the raid shows just how difficult will be the process of countering powerful extremists like Tahafuz Khatam-e-Nabuwat who are claiming responsibility for causing the raid. When will raids be taken against them?
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has dealt an important blow to the forces of obscurantism and extremism today by renaming of Quaid-i-Azam University’s (QAU) physics department to the Professor Abdus Salam Center for Physics and creating a new programme named the Professor Abdus Salam Fellowship to grant five annual fellowships for Pakistani PhD students in the field of Physics.
Dr Muhammad Abdus Salam is a national hero, though he has been treated very badly and nearly forgotten only because of his religious sect. By openly recognising Dr Abdus Salam in such a public and lasting way, PM Nawaz has dealt an important blow to extremism in the country. It is a first step only, but it is a crucial one to undoing the normalisation of hate and sectarianism that has taken root in so much of our society.
“Is NAP napping?” It is a common phrase heard from political opposition and liberals. However if the National Action Plan appears to be napping while militant groups like Jamaatud Dawah and ASWJ continue acting without any concern of being approached, the government is taking action against others.
National Action Plan is being used to discriminate against Ahamdis in Punjab, where their books and literature have been banned by authorities who accuse them of ‘promoting feelings of enmity and hatred between different classes of citizens’. ASWJ is allowed to promote an ideology of hate against an entire class of citizens, but Ahmadis are being accused of ‘promoting feelings of enmity and hatred’ simply by existing.
It is not only Ahmadis who are being targeted. Human rights NGOs are also in the government’s sights. The latest victim is Christian human rights worker Rubina Feroze Bhatti who has received multiple international awards for her services to society’s downtrodden including the UN’s prestigious N-Peace Award.
To repay her services, the government has sent teams of police to harass her and a few days ago her NGO Taangh Wasaib Organization (TWO) was shut down by police and 8 of her staff were detained. According to officials, her work promoting communal interfaith harmony has ‘defamed the country’.
Militant groups like Jamaatud Dawah and ASWJ roam free in the streets spreading their violent ideologies and the government sits quietly as if nothing is happening. Is its silence a quite approval? Some say that there is nothing that can be done because these groups are not breaking the laws, but then what laws are religious minorities breaking by merely existing? By ignoring extremist hate groups and targeting minorities, the government is sending a clear message about what the real national action plan is.