Muslims in the US and across the globe are condemning, in the strongest possible words, the US President-Elect Trump, for his anti-Islam rhetoric during the election campaign. And now that the British and American people have made the seemingly impossible possible, in the form of Brexit and Trump’s victory respectively, Muslims have every reason to be worried about a substantial increase in Islamophobia in the West.
But while the concern for our Muslim brethren living abroad is completely legitimate, let us introspect and have an objective, impartial discussion about Pakistan’s own covert affair with bigotry.
One of the reasons Pakistan was founded was for the Muslims to show the Hindus of India how they were supposed to treat the minority communities. In Pakistan, the Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and other marginalised groups would live side by side with the Muslims as equals. How we have failed in that pledge!
A cursory glance at the treatment of our fellow countrymen, who have beliefs different from us, would suffice to demonstrate the layers of discrimination that unfortunately exist in the land of the pure. What is more shocking is that this unconscious prejudice has provincial and sectarian dimensions to it as well, meaning that even Muslim Pakistanis are not immune from such intolerant tendencies.
Let us begin with the brand of racism that non-Muslims face in the Islamic Republic. If we see the status of Christians, we know very well that derogatory term used when referring to a Christian. They have been relegated to cleaning duties, working as sweepers in our homes, offices, and on the streets. Though our government has allotted a quota for the Christian community in educational institutions and for jobs, it has clearly not been enough. Just ask yourself, when was the last time you met a well-to-do Christian doctor, engineer or bureaucrat in Pakistan? The picture of the young boy, probably a university student, getting his celebratory picture taken at the scene of a mob attack, which was vandalised homes in Youhanabad, a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore, is indicative of the xenophobic mind-set some people have in our nation.
Now let’s talk about the Hindus. Jinnah went out of his way to have a constituent assembly that represented the diversity of the country. That is why Jogendra Nath Mandal, a Hindu who chose to stay in Pakistan, was elected as the first Chairman of the Assembly. It is saddening to note that, disillusioned by the theological course Pakistani politics was taking, Mandal decided to leave Pakistan and relocate to India.
The same practice was repeated in recent years, when scores of Sindhi Hindus, living in Pakistan for generations, left for India, because our state failed to protect them against the scourge of forced conversions. Muslims hardly ever interact with Hindus in Pakistan, let alone befriend them. As the majority, it was our collective responsibility to make them feel safe and secure. Instead, we maintained silence whenever such incidents occur, thereby validating our inner dislike for them.
As pointed out, even Muslims face prejudice in Pakistan, unless of course you are a Sunni – the Pakistani equivalents of Caucasians in America. Take, for example, the plight of the Shia community. On social media, in books, in educational institutions, and even in mosques, our Shia brethren are ridiculed, denounced as ‘kafirs’ and verbally abused. What right does anyone have to label another kafir? We lie, cheat, womanise and accept bribes, but the moment it comes to calling Shias or Ismailis kafirs, suddenly we ‘find our faith’ and transform into the most zealous devotees of Islam. Allah is the Creator of everything in this universe; surely we can entrust Him to determine better who is or isn’t a Muslim.
Having discussed our peoples’ racist attitudes from a religious context, let’s turn our attention to the provincial aspect of this intolerance. Ask the average Pakhtun, Sindhi, or Baloch what he thinks about Punjabis, and most likely you will receive an answer loaded with curses and utter loathing. Agreed, the Punjabi establishment – military, politicians and the bureaucracy – has wrongly maintained unchecked control over national resources at the expense of other provinces, but does that in turn justify such hatred against the entire population of Punjab? This is the very definition of racism.
A somewhat similar situation exists in relation to the status of Muhajirs in Sindh. Muhajirs have been treated with contempt and disdain by the indigenous Sindhis, who think the Muhajirs – who left everything to come to Pakistan – are destroying their culture.
All this, taken as whole, shows that rather than calling foul at the west for its discriminatory attitude towards Muslims, it is high time that we in Pakistan realise and stop our own bigoted failings, by treating our minorities equally, with the respect that they worthy of as our fellow Pakistanis.