— Understanding 9/21
The state of Pakistan has not been able to convince the have-nots that they
no longer confront an alien power
The state of Pakistan has not been able to convince the have-nots that they
no longer confront an alien power
Core of national discourse
specifically focused on Friday, September 21, 2012 in our Special Report
today. There was undefined rage on the streets, and then there was rage on
the expression of this rage. At the end of the day, the protests on the
blasphemous film Innocence of Muslims were deadlier in Pakistan than
elsewhere in the Muslim world.
What did we achieve with
this collective expression of rage? What image did we send abroad and to our
own people? Who were these people that killed and burnt their own in the
name of the Prophet (pbuh)? What has been the role of the media and what
must the international community do? Finally, what is the way forward? These
were the questions that we wanted to address in this Special Report.
Friday 9/21 was declared a
day off by the government as Yom-e-Ishqe-Rasul. Whether this was a retreat
on the part of the political government has been a subject of great debate
(it continues to be so with the benefit of hindsight). Dr Mohammad Waseem
thinks this move was uncalled for. The political forces, he says, must
understand they can “never take the lead on religious issues. Therefore,
you should not try”.
But everything has a
political, social and historical context. Tahir Kamran traces the historical
roots of the Namoos-e-Rasul precept that go long before partition. Its
proponents wanting “to secure a foothold in Pakistan’s political
mainstream” brought it in the political realm with a vengeance. It was
manifested in the anti-Ahmadiyya riots of 1953 and 1974.
The retreat of the
political class was sealed after that.
Add to this, the patronage
of the religious class by the dominant elements of the state like the
military and the bureaucracy, a bigoted education system, a
religiously-inclined trading class, a biased media, and what happened in
Pakistan on Friday, the 29th of September starts making sense. This is what
the Special Report today is all about.
The News on
Sunday: Historically, it appears as if the failure of mainstream secular
progressive politics in Pakistan has been simultaneous with the rise of
political Islam. Do you see a connection there and whether one has led to
Dr Mohammad Waseem: I
don’t think so. I think Islamism came in three or four major stages. First
was independence itself; partition was carried out in the name of Islam. So
the state was obliged to look for legitimacy in religion all the time;
otherwise it felt there was no justification for creating a separate
country. So religion came on top of all other political elements.
post-partition India, there was an emphasis on language as the instrument of
addressing the question of identity and thus unifying the nation by creating
new provinces. So, a whole new project of reorganisation of provinces took
place on the basis of language. In India, they discounted religion as a
political entity. In Pakistan, it was the other way round; language was out
and religion was in. That has been our basic dilemma.
TNS: Was this despite the
secular posturing of Jinnah?
MW: Let’s not use the
word ‘secular’ because Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan never claimed to be
secular. It is only now, when we look back fifty years, that some have
started calling them secular because of the stark contrast they present now
vis-à-vis the clerics of today. In fact, the Indian Congress claimed to
follow secularism and called the Muslim League leadership religious. The
latter never denied that or said that it was pursuing secularism. However,
by today’s standard, the makers of Pakistan were very liberal and
progressive and practised separation between religion and politics. Thus,
while the independence generation kept religion and politics separate after
partition, the later generations mixed and blurred the two.
TNS: The protests against
the blasphemous film have been deadlier in Pakistan than elsewhere in the
Muslim world. What makes Pakistan so peculiar when it comes to response to a
religious cause? What do we have or lack that makes us so fiery compared to
other Muslim countries?
MW: The government in
Pakistan is much weaker than, say, the government of Saudi Arabia. The
government in Saudi Arabia has the initiative in its own hands. In Pakistan,
the PPP government does not have the monopoly over political initiative,
because a)the religious elements have grown totally out of the
government’s control; b)the opposition wants to make an issue out of it;
and c) the army is understood to be playing an undefined role vis-a-vis
Islamists. The army sponsored the Taliban in the 1990s; it is still pursuing
a policy in Afghanistan that favours the Taliban.
So, to say that the
government failed in implementing law and order is simplistic. We have to
understand the framework in which the government operates. There are
formidable powers operating from outside the political framework.
TNS: Was it a correct
decision to declare Friday a holiday for demonstrations?
MW: No, it was a wrong
decision. There was an all out competition among the party leaders and
demonstrators for being louder than others in condemnation of the film.
Obviously, the religious parties became the loudest. They appropriate the
issue more than anyone else. You have to understand that you can never take
the lead on religious issues. Therefore, you should not try.
In the Middle East, the
religious elements operate within a very constrained space. In Pakistan,
there is a lot of political space available because of democracy. Therefore,
the religious elements incited people to violence claiming to transform
fatalities into immortalities. Commitment to shedding blood of one’s own
or of others has taken the place of the cold black-letter law. That is
something we lack. There is very little or no legal socialisation. Children
are not internalising the law. So, if there is a heinous crime (like this
film), the punishment is the duty of the state, and not the society.
TNS: How do you look at
the growing influence of these religious groups and how have they affected
Pakistan’s chances of democracy and pluralism?
MW: Adversely. They have
an adverse impact on democracy. Democracy is defined in terms of its source
of legitimacy which is the mass mandate. The religious elements thrive on a
divine source of legitimacy. The two forces clash straightaway. The
religious people are trying to put divine legitimacy on top of the mass
mandate that is the constitutional source of legitimacy, and they are almost
winning. The government’s fear of alienating the religious elements and
getting the backlash has tarnished the image of every public force from the
police to the state itself.
In the 1953 anti-Ahmadiyya
riots, the government was toppled in Punjab, that led to the toppling of the
federal government in Karachi. From that time onwards, the political
leadership has learnt one lesson rightly or wrongly: If there is a religious
agitation out there, you lose. Do not let the cleric take to the street. If
he does, just back out. So, when there were anti-Ahmediyya riots twenty
years later, ZAB backed out.
TNS: You have also looked
at the role of bazaar/traders in the rise of political Islam in Pakistan.
How do you see it affecting the Hurmat-e-Rasool and other such causes in
MW: The role of the Big
Business (BB) emerged in 1977 when there was a protest against Bhutto —
conceived as a socialist leader who had nationalised much of the industry.
Ninety per cent of the businessmen are anti-PPP, from the top industrialists
to small shopkeepers. PPP has no constituency in the trading community.
In the 1977 movement, the
ulema would give prayer calls (azaan) against Bhutto at midnight. They said
Bhutto was the greatest infidel on earth. That led to the joining of hands
between BB and madrassa. So, when thousands of religious activists filled
the jails, their families were supported by industrialists/traders. They
supported the movement in the name of religion.
TNS: What if there was no
PPP? How about taking the PPP out of the equation? How would the traders
react to religious causes in that scenario?
MW: I think the traders
started their political career through anti-Bhuttoism. That is how Nawaz
Sharif emerged because his industry was also nationalised. Thereafter, the
moneyed right moved towards the religious right and they embraced the moral
right (the Imran Khan type). All three rights together have the initiative
now in their own hands and the PPP is out of all these three rights. But
this has caused one major problem — the property. The moneyed right has a
property to safeguard. That property, public or private, the belief in
property, the individual property that is the essence of bourgeois-liberal
democracy, the legally-defined property can be under attack from the
religiously defined agenda.
In the long run, the
business class is going to suffer. It wants security more than anything
else. The historical West passed through this stage where the bourgeoisie
smashed religion. It was the other way round. From French Revolution
onwards, the commercial elements destroyed the clergy, the dynasty and the
aristocracy. Here there is a jumble in Pakistan. The middle class-based
state apparatuses — the army and the bureaucracy — are hands in glove
with the trading community and, together, they have been promoting the
religious community/causes either directly or indirectly. They are trying to
prove history wrong.
TNS: Have you analysed the
composition of the protestors and the dominating youth elements. Who are
these people, and what is your analysis?
MW: There were three kinds
of protestors. First, there were those straight from the Islamic groups.
This formed a huge chunk. Second, there was the usual cannon-fodder,
including those who are not propertied, the unemployed, city-based boys who
hail from villages thrown to urban insecurities, moving from shrine-based
Islam to assertive Deobandi or Salafi Islam. The third element is critical.
This is an element that was not there on the streets but that provided all
the legitimacy — the educated middle class. Many from this class are
bigoted. The education system of Pakistan has created a generation that is
somewhat caught into schizophrenia. The exterior is modern and the substance
is extremely traditional. The reason why their education has transformed
them into potential instigators of the protest is that they believe in a
dichotomous world — Islam and the West. They understand the world in terms
of a contradiction, an adversarial framework of thought. It is ‘us’
versus them’. As opposed to this, the independence generation looked at
the world in an open-ended way, not in a bounded dichotomous way. The
educated middle class of today is constantly interacting with a perceived
‘devil’. This class provides the intellectual strength to this kind of
street action even as they condemn the burning and looting of property as
TNS: Every few years, we
see some such provocative attempt originating in the West that sets the
Muslim world ablaze. What, in your opinion, is the solution? Is an
international law against blasphemy the solution?
MW: The issue is that
blasphemy doesn’t sell in the West. There, people find it to be an
antiquated doctrine, because they daily ridicule their own prophets and
gods. For them, religious symbols and icons have lost their innate
significance. Now they are confronted with a world outside the West, in a
framework of global village. They find that there is a Muslim world that is
reacting to something which they do not care about with reference to their
own sacred figures. So there is a crisis of trans-cultural understanding.
This is the real issue. We cannot accept this because we are believers, the
way they were till the eighteenth century and many still are. So there is
not just a clash of civilisations perceived by us. It is a clash between
those who uphold religion and those who do not.
TNS: So what is the way
MW: I think there are a
few factors which may not turn the tide but can at least contain the
situation. One is a longer term perspective — education. The discourse
which we are spreading is based on hatred against the believers of other
religions. There is need for study of comparative religions.
socialisation or even civics is absent from our curriculum. We must prepare
our youth along the legal patterns of behaviour and thought. That will bring
the whole thing down to a matter of crime and punishment. We should
discourage the society from taking adjudication into its own hands. Third,
we should prepare our citizens as members of the larger society and owning
the wealth of the nation as a whole. The target in all such cases is the
public property. This is because ‘publicness’ is not there. Nobody owns
the public property. It is something out there to smash.
Fourth, the media in
Pakistan is the villain of peace. While it was covering the violence on
September 21, there were such aggressive couplets being shown from poets
that seemed to justify violence. This was very unfortunate. The electronic
media showed selective bias in their coverage. Besides, the talk shows have
ulema every day on prime time TV. In this way, the media over-represents the
relatively unrepresentative elements of the society, giving them power and a
larger than life profile. If the media decides that the authentic voices of
the public have the prior right to speak for the public, then the current
imbalance in favour of the unelected as makers and shapers of public opinion
could be set right.
September 21 was
another dark day for Pakistan. Death and destruction ruled the streets of
Pakistani cities as Islamist and jihadist parties protested the allegedly
blasphemous film Innocence of Muslims.
The protests and riots
seem to have been meticulously planned in advance. Nothing was left to
chance. Unlike in the past, when the Friday protests started after the
day’s main prayers in the afternoon, the protests started in the morning.
The protesters knew their targets well. Those who were to rob ATMs were well
equipped with the right tools. Those who were to set buildings on fire had
enough petrol and lighting material. The batons the rioters carried seemed
to have been prepared particularly for this occasion. The same type of wood
seemed to have been used for them. The batons were of the same size.
The protests and riots on
September 21 changed the sectarian scene in the country, which is,
interestingly, apparent from that fact that the riotous protesters were
carrying the flags of the parties they belonged to. If we go by the number
of flags, the majority of the rioters belonged to the Sipah-e-Sahaba
Pakistan (SSP) and its armed wing, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). The
Jama’at-e-Islami (JI) appears to be trailing behind the SSP/LeJ. The role
of the JuD seems to be minimal, if any. The TV footage makes it abundantly
clear that the both SSP/LeJ and JI wanted their presence recorded and felt.
SSP chief Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi had been appearing on TV shows to incite
the public and his workers prior to September 21 riots.
The Deobandi parties and
JeI lost the state patronage in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks in the
United States. Both the Deobandi parties and JI took aggressive positions
against the Musharraf regime’s decision to support the US-led coalition.
Some of the Deobandi groups crossed all limits as they carried out multiple
attempts to assassinate General Pervez Musharraf. Resultantly, the Pakistani
state withdrew most of its support from them. The JI and those Deobandi
groups which played good Taliban including the SSP/LeJ remained suspicious
in the eyes of the Musharraf regime. Consequently, the JuD became the
favourite of the state. In the second half of the 2000s, the JuD was the
leading Islamist politico-religious party.
The JuD won the state
patronage by not vehemently opposing the military regime and the popular
support by sheer hard work. In December 2001, the Markaz Dawat wal Irshad
renamed itself as the JuD. They claimed that the JuD had become a
politico-religious party on the lines of the JI while the Lashkar-e-Taiba
had separated from them to work exclusively in Kashmir. The JuD has worked
hard to become a popular politico-religious party in the last decade or so.
It has run several sustained populist Islamist campaigns. It has used all
populist Islamist issues to garner popular support. In 2003, it ran the
anti-Iraq war campaign. In 2005, it took initiatives and gathered a number
of Islamist parties and groups under its umbrella to run Hurmat-e-Quran and
Hurmat-e-Rasul campaigns up to this day. In between, it used several other
issues to garner popular support. In mid-2000s, it opposed the Musharraf
regime’s decision to involve the Aga Khan University-Examination Board to
hold high school examinations. It again took the lead to run an anti-US
campaign when a CIA operative, Raymond Davis, killed two men who were
apparently his detail. Throughout this period, the JuD played the lead role.
However, it seems to have
lost the lead role with the formation of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC).
In spite of being a numerically stronger party, the JuD is not in the
driving seat of the DPC. Instead the SSP/LeJ seems to have replaced the JuD
in the decision-making of DPC structure.
In recent months, the SSP/LeJ
has become more active in politics. That SSP/LeJ has become the more
favoured one of the Pakistani state was apparent the way LeJ founder Malik
Ishaq was released from jail and let resume political activities. Malik
Ishaq who has become the number two in the SSP is poised to play a big role
not only in Pakistan but also in Afghanistan in the post-2014 period. In
Pakistan, Malik Ishaq will help the SSP/LeJ win votes in the next elections.
However, he will have a bigger role in Afghanistan where he would try to win
back the disillusioned Afghan Taliban.
It is premature to
speculate whether the JuD would take it lying down. The safest bet is it
would not resort to violence at least to regain its lead role in the
Islamist politics. However, the SSP/LeJ may not play role the Pakistani
state wants it to play, neither in Pakistan not in Afghanistan. On the
contrary, the SSP/LeJ will play its own game. The SSP/LeJ is likely to
further muddy the sectarian scene in Pakistan. This is more than evident
from the big increase in the sectarian violence in Pakistan since the
release of Malik Ishaq.
The writer is a US-based
journalist and author of ‘Shadow War — The Untold Story of Jihad in
Shock. Shame. All of these expressions can be appropriate to sum up a
responsible citizen’s reaction to the nationwide indulgence in insane use
of violence on a day supposedly reserved for showing reverence for the
Prophet of peace (PBUH).
But anyone who was
surprised only betrayed his naiveté, for whatever happened had its roots in
the colonial-period history of state-subject relations, in the rise of the
new theories of religious militancy, in the ongoing tussle between the state
of Pakistan and organised pseudo-religious extremists, and in the incapacity
of the law-enforcing personnel and the media to deal with emotionally
charged, riotous crowds.
It may be noted at the
outset that demonstrations organised to advance political demands are
generally peaceful unless the objective is a government’s ouster. Remember
the upheavals of 1977? Huge processions were taken out to prove the
organisers’ popularity among the people and they were largely peaceful.
Even after the March 1977 election, rallies were peaceful and women
protesters (they had no sticks) chose to quietly squat on the Mall, Lahore,
and there was no violence until it was considered necessary to compel the
government to resort to force and thus open the door to military
On the other hand,
belief-related demonstrations, even peaceful processions taken out as part
of a religious ritual, are now increasingly been subjected to violence. Why
is it so?
To understand the violent
turn political protests take, one must recall the history of resistance to
the alien rule. The public response to the British occupation of India took
two forms. One, adopted by ulema-led Muslim nobility, was to stay away from
the new rulers, their culture and their educational institutions. The other,
adopted by the non-Muslims led by the merchant and service classes, involved
collaboration with the rulers and acquisition of the means to compete with
them. After some time a third form of political activity took shape — a
challenge to the alien rulers through violence (called terrorism by the Raj).
This method had a dramatic impact on the mind of a population that still
The popular theory was
that violence helped prove that the alien masters were vulnerable and also
gave the natives the confidence that they could take on the occupiers of
their land. The target of violence could be both government personnel and
state property. The significant milestones in the development of this theory
were the disturbances of 1919 in Punjab, the Chaura Chauri incident a decade
later, the Quit India Movement of 1942, and the Kolkata riots of 1946. When
violent mobs went on the rampage during these events they thought they were
causing losses to an alien authority and thus weakening it.
Unfortunately, the state
of Pakistan has not been able to convince the have-nots that they no longer
confront an alien power. As the state’s benevolent functions decline and
its reliance on coercion increases, its distance from the under-privileged
will increase. To the mob the state is ‘the other’ and it cannot accept
as national property anything over which the poor have no ownership rights.
So long as the ordinary citizen is not given a stake in the national
collective the threat of mob violence under any pretext will persist and
even grow further.
The anti-state sentiment
becomes much stronger when religious militants join the mob. They have
stronger reasons than the secular poor to disown the present state. Apart
from their doctrinal objections to the system of governance they are out to
punish the state for its perceived subservience to the western powers. Thus
whenever these elements will get an opportunity to join a protest
demonstration they will try to use violence to improve their standing with
What happened on September
21 furnishes a good example of the extremists’ strategy. Their challenge
to the state is no secret. Therefore, they could not let the state win
credit for demonstrating love for the Prophet (PBUH). They had to establish
their superior credentials. They did so by bringing out their banners, by
capturing the mike wherever they could and by showing that the state was
protecting the infidel culprits while they were ready to risk their lives
for a holy cause. A justification for acts of arson and destruction of
public property can be sought by denouncing the owners as collaborators or
beneficiaries of the state, as enemies of the faithful.
A look at the new
definition of holy causes also is necessary. There was a time when no Muslim
could think of attacking a Moharram procession or an Eid-e-Milad function.
Both have repeatedly been targets of violence over the past few years. This
is due to the rise of a theory that a Muslim has a duty to prevent by force
any deviation from his interpretation of the faith. All such differences
amount to distortion of the true faith and propagation of falsified
doctrines. The new militant thus has two targets – the state and the rival
sect (whose claim to be Muslim itself can be contested.) Nobody should have
been surprised to see in action on Sept 21 people who consider Eid-i-Milad
festivities a reprehensible bid’at.
The mob violence seen in
Lahore during protests against scurrilous cartoons and film also reveals the
effect of indoctrination on young people. They have been led to believe that
a faithful person is never the first to resort to violence, his violence is
always in self-defence. Those who loot banks and shops are either
non-believers or state agents. Those fighting for Allah’s goodwill have
nothing to do with the wretches shown by TV while running away with
plundered goods. A young student would tell you with a straight face that no
militant has ever destroyed a girls’ school. This is done by state agents
to malign the pious soldiers.
Those who exploit the
people’s religious sentiments for political ends also profit a great deal
from the law enforcing agencies’ lack of expertise in crowd management.
They have certainly learnt to be less harsh to crowds flying religious
standards than they usually are with political agitators or labour. They are
only told to stop crowds from reaching their destination; they have no
training in negotiating peace with demonstrators. There is thus always a
danger that while confronting a violent mob the police will either yield
ground or cause more casualties than is absolutely unavoidable.
Finally, the media lacks
skills in dealing with mob violence without glorifying or justifying it. The
refrain on the TV on Sept 21 was that the mob became violent only in
response to police excesses, a claim not backed by evidence. Why did
demonstrators come armed with sticks and, at some places, with guns? When
the police intervened to repel a bid to set a cinema on fire in Peshawar the
story given out was that the police opened fire to protect a cinema house
belonging to a person the militants disliked. The reference to him had the
effect of justifying the arsonists and denouncing the police more than it
deserved to be attacked.
To sum up, maintenance of
peace in situations of mob-state confrontation has become more difficult
than ever. The alienated youth considers the state as an adversary and not
as a patron and the militant playing politics under a religious garb now
rationalises even the most brutal acts of violence, the law and order
machinery is riveted in the colonial past and the media has little respect
for its social responsibility. The state and society both find themselves on
the horns of a dilemma. The most unenviable is the lot of those who can
neither condone violence under any pretext nor allow the state to suppress
basic freedoms by force.
The gloomy outlook will
change if all the actors involved could be helped to grow out of their
irrational habits but that does not appear to be likely — at least not in
the short run.
The state of Pakistan has
not been able to convince the have-nots that they no longer confront an
By I. A. Rehman
The setting was
grand. The world was a stage, at the 67th UN General Assembly session last
week where President Asif Ali Zardari condemned the blasphemous video and
urged the international community to not remain silent to such provocations.
“Before I take up my
speech, I want to express the strongest condemnation for the acts of
incitement of hate against the faith of billions of Muslims of the world and
our beloved Prophet, Muhammad (PBUH),” the president said.
He added, “Although we
can never condone violence, the international community must not become
silent observers and should criminalise such acts that destroy the peace of
the world and endanger world security by misusing freedom of expression.”
The speech that was meant
to send a tough message to the world leaders, was overshadowed by US
President Obama’s defence of Americans’ belief in free speech. He spoke
eloquently about the First Amendment rights that protect even hateful
writings, films and speech. “We do so because in a diverse society,
efforts to restrict speech can quickly become a tool to silence critics and
oppress minorities,” the president said.
“The strongest weapon
against hateful speech is not repression; it is more speech — the voices
of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy and lift up the values
of understanding and mutual respect.”
To plead his case further,
he said (and how he relished saying it!) that as president of his country,
and commander in chief of the US military, “I accept that people are going
to call me awful things every day… And, I will defend their right to do
so.” He got applause from the leaders present.
The next day, however, the
presidents of Egypt and Yemen issued clear rebuttals to Obama’s defence of
Western values, stating that cultural limits on freedom of speech have to be
So, President Obama made
it clear that the West will not compromise its own values. Muslims will not
have it their way. In fact, they must learn lessons in pluralism. He was
This was not the first
time a Muslim leader had called for international legal regulations against
attacks on religion. Representing 56 member states of the Organisation of
the Islamic Conference (OIC), Pakistan has for years pushed for an
international ‘defamation of religion’ law at the UN. The UN Commission
on Human Rights passed the resolution every year from 1999 to 2005, at the
succeeding UN Human Rights Council every year from 2006-2010, and it even
got through the UN General Assembly every year from 2005 to 2010. But these
were not binding.
Last December, because the
resolution enjoyed increasingly less support in assembly from Western and
Latin American nations, the UN General Assembly condemned religious
intolerance without urging states to outlaw ‘defamation of religions’.
The resolution approved declared that discrimination on the grounds of
religion or belief constitutes a violation of human rights.
Now, in the aftermath of
widespread violent reactions to the infamous film Innocence of Muslims, the
OIC has taken quick advantage of the situation and demanded an international
blasphemy law yet again.
“In principle,” said
senior analyst Najam Sethi, “it is a fair demand since it aims to be
applied across all religions in a bid to stop incitement to violence and
instability; dilute a developing clash of religious with secular cultures;
and situate blasphemy inside the notion of ‘political correctness’ (as
in the case of women, holocaust, blacks, etc) rather than in opposition to
He added the UN is also a
good forum for talking about it as a first step and trying to incorporate it
in its rights agenda.
In practice, however,
Sethi said, “it needs very strong, sustained and non-violent pressure from
across the nation-state board to persuade Western politicians dependent on
conservative majorities at home in the grip of Islamophobia to consider
suitable legislation against religious provocations.”
Legal expert Babar Sattar
explained that the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights,
adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 16, 1966, and in
force from March 23, 1976, already states that advocacy of religious hatred
that constitutes incitement to violence shall be prohibited by law —
“The problem is that of implementation.”
International law is often
seen as nothing more than international morality. In order to be effective
it has to be enforced through municipal (national) law. So, “another
UN-backed international covenant discouraging blasphemy will not be
useful,” added Sattar.
He said Muslim communities
and societies perhaps need to start a movement to influence the debate in
the West. “It would be useful to articulate the debate in terms of
prohibiting expressions of religious hatred and use of hate speech likely to
incite violence. Within the Western societies and jurisprudence, hate speech
and fighting words are established and acknowledged concepts. Affording
state protection to religion is not,” Sattar said.
there is no absolute right to free speech anywhere in the world. What speech
is to be protected and what outlawed is a matter of taste and preferences
made by each society and reflected through their legal systems.
In such a situation,
“[Muslims] will need to make the moral argument based on universally-recognised
principles of right and wrong that appeals to the vast majority of rational
people in the West, and not use threats of violence to try and goad them
into passing national laws,” he said.
“[Muslims] will need to practise what we preach. While Muslim societies
have the worst record when it comes to protecting the religious liberties
and sensibilities of minority religions, it would seem hypocritical that
they demand for themselves what they don’t afford others,” Sattar added.
Core of national discourse
of the Prophet PBUH) has constituted the very core of our national discourse
for the last many years. The proportion of impregnability that it has
assumed in Pakistan warrants a dispassionate analysis from the prism of
The concept got wider
currency in the wake of the publication of Salman Rushdie’s controversial
book Satanic Verses, in the late 1980s. Incensed mob converged on the
American Embassy in Islamabad rendering state apparatus virtually helpless.
The historical memory of sacrilege to the Prophet of Islam by the West goes
as far back as the crusades but it does not concern us here.
While focusing on the
subject in the particular perspective of Pakistan, one may find the
conceptual underpinnings of Namoos-e-Rasul resting in an organisation called
Majlis-e-Tahaffuz-e-Khatm-e-Nubuwat (MTKN) that came into existence January
12-14, 1949, in Lahore. Ata Ullah Shah Bokhari, a renowned Ahrari leader and
orator par excellence, was its Amir and Muhammad Ali Jallundhri, its
secretary/Nazim-i-Alla. Qazi Ehsan Shujabadi, Lal Hussain Akhter, Muhammad
Hayat and Taj Mehmud were the main leaders of MTKN.
That organisation sprang
up into existence by bisecting Majlis-e-Ahrar, a pro-Congress party known
for its political activism in the 1930s, particularly against Ahmadis, which
was thoroughly discredited because of its outspoken opposition to the
Pakistan demand. Ahrar was averse to any geographical or ethnic solution to
the communal problem that India was confronted with. Their slogan of
Hakumat-e-Ilahiyya (rule by Allah and Prophet PBUH) proved nothing but a
damp squib as Ahrar failed to secure even a single seat in 1945-46
The newly founded Pakistan
came to them as a shock, disillusioned them with regard to their ideology
and finished them as a political party. Thus, the Ahrar were divided into
political and proselytising groups with the latter focused entirely on
Khatm-e-Nubuwat. Its principal aim was to exclude the Ahmadis from the pale
of Islam because they allegedly violated one of the fundamentals of Islam
(faith on the last Prophet) on which the theological edifice of the Islamic
remarkable salience as a theme of religious debate among Muslim sects during
the late 19th century in North India. The controversies entailing the
establishment of Ahmadiyya Jamaat in 1889 brought the issue of
Khatm-e-Nubuwat to the centre stage of religious polemic or munazara as
known in the classical parlance. Tenuous relations continued among Ahmadis
and Sunnis in particular, though the tension remained circumscribed to the
domain of the munazaras only.
However, immediately after
Pakistan’s creation, Khatm-e-Nubuwat squeezed itself out of the epistemic
confines of the ‘theological’ and entered the realm of the
‘political’. That happened because Ahrar, as it is widely believed,
wanted to secure a foothold in Pakistan’s political mainstream, in which
it was successful.
Under the over-arching
banner of MTKN, Ahrar leadership despite its Deobandi orientation managed to
unite almost all the sectarian denominations including Shias, in its bid to
exert pressure on the government to declare Ahmadis as non-Muslims. Sunni
Barelvi, Abul Hasnat Qadri, was made its President.
Forging unity among the
divergent Muslim sects was no mean feat. Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan, the first
foreign Minister of Pakistan, an Ahmadi by faith, was the central focus of
MTKN diatribe. Besides, Ahmadis were branded as “Khud-Kashta Pauda” of
the British (a plant implanted purposely by them) to undermine Muslims. The
government of Khawaja Nazimuddin showed extraordinary resilience to
withstand the pressure. It was despite the support Punjab Chief Minister
Mian Mumtaz Daultana was lending to MTKN to destabilise the Nazimuddin
government at the Centre. One is led to agree with Feroze Khan Noon who, in
his autobiography, contends that Daultana wanted to get into power in the
The state of affairs in
Lahore and Karachi became so grim that eventually Martial Law was declared
in Lahore to quell the insurgency. With the intervention of the Army, order
was restored. Nevertheless, the Nazimuddin government was dismissed.
The usual conclusion drawn
from the 1953 movement based largely on the findings of the Munir Report is
that it revealed a weakening of the power of the Ulema. This undermined
opposition to the adoption of a constitution which was liberal if not
completely secular. As Leonard Binder says, the ministers sympathetic to
Khatm-e-Nubuwat, Abdur Rab Nishter and Fazlur Rehman, were removed and
Zafarullah Khan was retained in the newly constituted cabinet. However, a
careful perusal of the post 1953 events of Khatm-e-Nubuwat does not fully
support the argument.
The controversy around the
contested status of Ahmadis remained alive until 1974. MTKN (Naqsh-i-Sani,
second birth) bounced back with renewed vigour on September 13, 1954, in
Multan, as a regular political party. Besides, a new breed of Ulema
bequeathed the legacy of political Islam by the 1960s. Apart from Abu Ala
Maududi and Mufti Mehmood, people like Abdus Sattar Niazi, Yusuf Banori,
Ahmad Shah Noorani and Manzur Chinoti were well equipped to carry on the
struggle. Not only did they see to it that Ahmadis were excluded from the
fold of Islam, but subsequent to it the legitimacy of sects like Zikris,
Shias and Ismailis was also suspected as they too did not fit the narrow
confines of faith as these Ulema interpreted it.
One can posit that the
very act of enforcing the infamous blasphemy law in 1982 and, later, the
inclusion of the clause of XX in 1986 by Ziaul Haq were conceptually
underpinned by the exclusionary streak embedded in that very concept. Not
only the religious minorities but the followers of the Shia sect have also
been subjected to the exclusion, the proponents of whom are the exponents of
Khatm-e-Nubuwat. Militant outfits like Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and its
offshoot Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-i-Muhammad and Harkatul Mujahideen were
the subsequent versions of MTKN.
I have shown in my
research on sectarianism how much influence Ahrar and Ata Ullah Shah Bokhari
had over leaders like Haq Nawaz Jhangvi. Bokhari indeed deserves far more
scholarly attention which he has, so far, not received.
To conclude this
narrative, all these militant groups have virtually held the state of
Pakistan hostage; extricating it from their clutches does not seem likely
unless liberal sections assert themselves with all valiance at their
The author is a noted
historian, currently the Iqbal Fellow at the University of Cambridge