Pakistan: Tyranny of the religious majority


Rafi Aamer

Justice Shaukat Siddiqui of Islamabad High Court in Pakistan ordered this past Friday that all citizens of Pakistan will be required to disclose their faith upon joining any state institution.

In his essay titled On Liberty, John Stuart Mill argued that if an individual’s right to hold an unpopular view is not protected, a democracy can become a tyranny of the majority. In Pakistan, it is becoming extremely difficult to have a faith that is different from the majority making Pakistan a tyranny of the religious majority.
From the very beginning, Pakistani minorities have been seeing a constantly shrinking space for them. One of the hardest hit minorities in Pakistan is Ahmadiyya community (derogatorily called Qadianis). They have been on the mercy of the Muslim majority of Pakistan since the very early days of Pakistan. Apart from frequent hate attacks against Ahmadi individuals, a large number of Ahmadis were killed in the 1953 and 1974 riots.

In 1974, in quite an unprecedented move in the history of modern parliamentary democracy, Pakistani parliament declared members of Ahmadiyya community to be non-Muslims. To make their lives further difficult, the martial law regime of General Zia ul Haq, in violation of Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, enacted Ordinance XX in 1984 which prohibits Ahmadis, among other things, calling their places of worship masjid, reciting the Kalima and greeting others with saying Assalamo Alaykum. These laws have created a culture of intolerance and hatred towards Ahmadis in Pakistan. Many Pakistanis are found offering justifications for these laws. Through an organized propaganda campaign, Ahmadiyya community has been dubbed as anti-Pakistan despite producing some of the most distinguished individuals both in the civil services and the armed forces of Pakistan. Due to that propaganda campaign, hatred towards Ahmadis and mistrust about them permeates all levels of the society. According to a study conducted by Tariq Rahman in 2009, the teachers and students of elite schools of Pakistan believed that Ahmadis did not deserve much of civil rights.

The verdict referred to at the top of this article by Islamabad High Court was of a case concerning a recent controversial constitutional amendment regarding Khatm-e-Nabuwat; the very issue that was used to declare Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. In a bizarre interpretation of Article 5 of the constitution of Pakistan that demands loyalty of the citizens to the state, the judge decreed that not disclosing one’s faith is being disloyal to the state. He ordered every citizen to disclose their true faith upon joining the civil services, the armed forces and the judiciary. One fails to understand what the faith of a person has to do with performing his/her duties. The judge expressed the fear that by not disclosing one’s faith, “they” can gain access to sensitive posts. There has never been any evidence of Ahmadis or members of any other minority being involved in anti-state activities. It is quite unfortunate that a judge of a high court is as gullible to mere propaganda as a common man in Pakistan. Justice Siddiqui also ordered that the faith of all citizens must be mentioned on all state-issued documents including the birth certificates. The judge did not specify how to ask newborn babies their faith so it can be recorded on the birth certificate.

All of this flies in the face of fundamental human rights. The freedom of expression includes the freedom of non-expression. No one should be forced to reveal personal information that can be used to discriminate against them. In an intolerant culture where minorities are targeted with impunity, where churches are burnt down and Christians are burnt alive by violent mobs, where underage Hindu girls are forcibly converted and married to Muslim men in an institutionalized manner, the verdict of Islamabad High Court is tantamount to exposing the minorities of Pakistan to even more persecution. This reminds one of the Nazi party ordering Jews to wear a distinctive badge on their dresses to identify themselves. What is next? A Pakistani holocaust?




  1. To believe or not to believe is a personal thing. Psychologically speaking religious oppression and control forces people to become hypocrites. Religious people do not realize that their efforts to impose religious indoctrination can backfire. Thank you Rafi for showing us the political mirror. i wonder are we progressing or regressing? While the rest of the world is looking towards the future we are looking towards the past. A sad, very sad state of affairs.

  2. A good article! Equal rights with equal opportunity are the bedrock of a just state let alone a democratic state. Without a presumption of equality under the law, there can be no justice, there can be no freedom in the presence of inequality or injustice.
    To make compulsory disclosure of a person’s private belief can never be justified as a fit subject for the scrutiny of the state.
    A citizen’s faith is simply not the business of the state, forced disclosure of it can have no purpose except to divide and to discriminate against some citizens.

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