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Peaceful Co-existence – Possible in Pakistan?

As a die-hard patriot who still harbours hope in the goodness of the Pakistani people, and the resilient strength of this nation, this 23rd March 2012 I found myself thinking. The day commemorates the resolution which became perhaps the most important founding document of this country. Our forefathers believed in why Pakistan was created. My mother’s most important memories as a young girl are of the times when she worked as a political activist in the Women’s National Guard in which women worked to support men in the Pakistan movement. When she and her family were struggling to help out their brothers and sisters who had migrated to the newly founded country called Pakistan. Migrants who had sacrificed homes, lives and more, just for the dream of a country where they could live on their own terms.

And the reason both the muhaajireen (migrants) and the Muslims already living in the areas that today comprise Pakistan did what they did was because they believed in the cause – that Muslims, like any other race or followers of any faith, have the right to live life on their own terms – terms that may be religious, traditional or cultural. At the same time, minorities, it was very clear, in this new state that was to be called Pakistan, would have a right to co-exist in complete peace and security, and will not be punished for believing in a different god.

Some 64 years later, sad things have happened. If we just take the last couple of years as an example, we see examples of the oppression and persecution of minorities like the Ahmadiyyah sect. We see stories of many who are forcefully converted to Islam. The recent most story is of Rinkle Kumari who was forced to become Faryal, while her heart I have no doubt remained that of Rinkle Kumari. Over the last 120 years, claims of caretakers of the Bherchondi shrine in Sindh point in the direction that on an average at least 250 people are coerced into accepting Islam every year.

This is insane. And it saddens me at many levels.

It saddens me because, at the risk of being called an apologist, and a risk I am willing to take, I know that Islam is not about force. Faith, like love, is a matter of the heart.

Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful, says in the Qur’an: “Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth has been made clear from error. Whoever rejects false worship and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks. And Allah hears and knows all things.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 256]

What, then, are we forcing people to convert to? A soulless, dead declaration which will in fact act as a repellent against Islam? If I ever meet Rinkle Kumari, I would want to go hug her, and tell her that my dear sister, please know that what they converted you to is not Islam. It is a product of bigotry and a complete lack of awareness about Islam’s true essence.

Having said that, I will not say to Rinkle Kumari that I have failed her. That WE have failed her. Because the obstinate believer in goodness of my people that I am, I believe that a bigger majority of Muslims in Pakistan would not and will not commit or approve of atrocities and hate crimes against minorities.

This saddens me because many Rinkle Kumaris have been wronged on my homeland….my home land Pakistan,  for which I refuse to use the sarcastic slur word “land of the pure” because I believe that a lot of purity still does exist here.

But on 23rd March, in retrospect, what saddened me even more was that because of these extremist incidents and attitudes, we are borderline apologetic for having believed in wanting to create a homeland where Muslims could peacefully practice their faith. And may I add, without harming or marginalizing the minorities. Ever so often, we hear people say “what was the whole point in getting an independent homeland for Muslims?”. It seems we are being forced to choose sides. If you believe that this country was rightfully created to safeguard rights of Muslims, does that make you someone who is against the rights of minority communities?

Politically correct or incorrect, I still believe it was the right thing to do… want to have a homeland where the sound of azaan resonates through the air five times a day, but where my Christian brothers can peacefully visit the church whenever they want to…..that was the idelogy on which Pakistan was based.

Muslims were not getting their rights back then, so they struggled for them, fought for them, and got them, under Quaid e Azam’s leadership. We may not realize that today, but we are blessed that they did. So here I say it, loud and proud, that I am thankful for the gift of an independent homeland where I can practice my faith. And that does not make me a bigot who is aiming to undermine minorities. There is always a middle ground. Always. Let’s stay there.