THINKING ALOUD: No, Minister! —Razi Azmi
The Taliban are Muslims, just like those who denounce them and those they kill. They are as bona fide Muslims as the rest of the 97 percent of the population of Pakistan
I had decided to resume my Africa travelogue this week but events have interrupted me once again. First it was the ‘laang march’ of Professor Doctor Allama Tahirul Qadri, now it is the person whom this very march had caused much headache, Interior Minister Rehman Malik.
As quoted in this newspaper (January 27, 2013), Mr Malik has called upon “the terrorists” (meaning the Pakistani Taliban) “to lay down arms and give up killing Muslims or declare themselves non-Muslims as Islam had no room for violence.” “Is this Islam? If not, then why do you not declare yourselves as non-Muslims? We will have to end this hypocrisy,” the minister said. He called upon militants to give up violence and ‘become true Muslims’.
Sorry, Minister, I wish I could agree with you and say “Yes, Minister!” but I can’t. The following three statements can logically be deduced from what you have said. All of them are wrong and disrespectful of other religions and their followers.
Firstly, Islam is a religion of peace but other religions sanction or promote violence. Secondly, it is not right for Muslims to kill Muslims but perhaps acceptable for Muslims to kill non-Muslims. And, thirdly, Muslims do not kill Muslims and anyone who kills Muslims is a non-Muslim even if he claims to be a Muslim.
No, Minister, Muslims have killed Muslims in the distant past and in the recent past and they do so now. The Taliban are Muslims, just like you, like those who denounce them and those they kill. They are as bona fide Muslims as the rest of the 97 percent of the population of Pakistan. Their killing sprees are motivated by their religious beliefs, just as is the case with the other murderous outfits, the ones that have been exclusively targeting the Shi’as in Punjab from long before the Taliban movement was born.
Muslims have killed Muslims in insurgencies, sectarian and ethnic conflicts and interstate skirmishes and wars. Below is a rough list:
(a) Insurgencies: Pakistan (Bengalis vs Pakistan army, 1971; Balochistan, ongoing); Afghanistan (1990 to date, various Mujahideen factions vs Taliban vs Northern Alliance); Iran (Kurds, ongoing); Iraq (Kurds, till 1992, Shi’as, till 2003, Sunnis, since 2012); Turkey (Kurds, ongoing); Jordan (Palestinians, 1970-71); Syria (Sunnis, ongoing); Morocco (Saharwis, since 1976); Yemen (south Yemenis, 1994; Zaidis, ongoing); Saudi Arabia (Islamist, 1979); Algeria (Islamist, 1990s); Indonesia (Aceh, 1976-2003), and Sudan (Dharfur, 2003 to date).
(b) Sectarian conflicts: Shi’a-Sunni conflicts, with blood-curdling tales of violence, are now raging in Pakistan, Iraq and Syria; Shias are discriminated against in Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia; Sunnis are marginalised in Iran.
(c) Ethnic conflicts: Bangladesh (1971-1972, Bengali vs Bihari); Pakistan (Mohajir vs Sindhi); Libya (along tribal and regional lines).
(d) Wars and border skirmishes: Iran-Iraq (1980-88, half a million killed); Iraq-Kuwait (1990, Iraq occupied Kuwait); Pakistan-Afghanistan (1960); Indonesia-Malaysia (1962-66); Algeria-Morocco; Egypt-Libya.
The history of Muslims spilling Muslim blood is nearly as old as Islam itself, beginning with the murder of Caliph Usman in 656 AD (AH 35) and the ‘Battle of the Camels’ soon after, if not with the Ridda Wars immediately following the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) death in 632 AD. In the Battle of the Camels, forces personally led by Hazrat Ali and Hazrat Ayesha fought each other, resulting in the death of 10,000 Muslims from both sides, including some veterans of early Islam and companions of the Prophet (PBUH).
And Muslims are no exception to mankind’s propensity for violence, whatever the pretext or cause. It was not too many centuries ago when Christian heretics were tortured and burned alive and riots between Catholics and Protestants occurred in the countries of Europe, including France and Germany. The ‘French Wars of Religion’ (1562-98) and the ‘Thirty Years War’ (1618-1648) convulsed central and western Europe for long periods with hundreds of thousands dead.
During one episode alone, in the course of a few days of rioting in the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572), up to 30,000 French Protestants (Huguenots) were brutally killed in Paris and elsewhere. The principal protagonists of the First and Second World Wars were Christian nations. Those were the bad times and, thankfully, Europeans have learned to live in peace under secular governments where all are equal citizens, Catholic, Protestant, atheist, agnostic, Muslim, Hindu, Jew, Buddhist and all.
But the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has all but designated its non-Muslim citizens as quasi-citizens or third-class citizens. It has even achieved a remarkable feat of religious engineering by officially designating as non-Muslims, through an Act of Parliament, a sect that claims to be Muslim.
Arguments rage about whether the founder of the nation wanted Pakistan to be a secular country or an ‘Islamic’ county. It is certainly true that Mr M A Jinnah was completely secular in his lifestyle and beliefs and it is reasonably certain that he wanted Pakistan to be a secular country. If we are looking for words, then we have his emphatic declaration of August 11, 1947 before the Constituent Assembly, and if we are looking for action, we should recall that he appointed a Hindu, Mr Jogendra Nath Mandal, as Pakistan’s first law minister!
But should Pakistan’s destiny really depend on what the father of the nation may have wanted or said? Does it not suffice that our own experience of over half a century as well as that of other nations shows that a country is well served by a secular constitution and a government whose business is good governance, not the foisting of a religious doctrine on the population? Governments safeguard and promote good citizenship, not characterise or designate its citizens as good Muslims, bad Muslims or non-Muslims, or Hindu, Christian or Ahmadi. Citizens are to be judged on their civic participation and social behaviour, not on their profession of particular religious beliefs. And all must be fully equal before the law. Government leaders, in any case, should be completely blind to the religion of their citizens, except insofar as they are required to protect their religious rights and maintain social harmony.
The writer is a former academic with a doctorate in modern history and can be contacted at www.raziazmi.com or email@example.com