The right wing Tea Party, an extremist child of the Republican Party is fixated on spreading imaginary fears to gather votes for themselves. One of their favorite myths is that Muslims are working furiously to establish Sharia Law in the US. When New Jersey Republican Governor, Chris Christie recently nominated a Muslim judge, Sohail Mohammed, to the Superior Court, Tea Partiers complained that Mohammed was not fit to be a judge. Due to his Islamic faith, he would use the position to impose Sharia Law. Governor Christie, a favourite of the Tea Party, stood firm on his choice and said that “Ignorance is behind the criticism of Mohammed,” and he’s tired of dealing with the “crazies”. Instead he argued that Mohammed was an American and an exceptional lawyer who worked hard to establish ties between the Muslim American community and law enforcement agencies following 9/11. He defended Muslim Americans who were wrongly arrested after 9/11.
As of 2009 the officially recorded Muslim population in the US is 2.5 million, which is 0.8% of the total population. However, sometimes greater numbers are also mentioned for example in his speech to Egypt Obama stated figures as high as 6-7 million. In Pakistan, the Christian population is 2.8 million, approximately 1.6% of the population. The minority religion populations in both countries are tiny in comparison to those who belong to the popular faith. What is it that allows a Tea Party candidate like Christie to support a Muslim judge in the US when a non-Muslim in Pakistan does not have the same privilege? Religious beliefs other than Islam must be tolerated in order for Pakistan to move beyond this era of violence; after all, the original constitution stated the freedom to profess, practice and propagate any religion. If other religious views are such a threat to an individual’s beliefs then he or she needs to have more faith instead of burning or killing the “non-believers”. The truly disturbing part is how eager large groups of followers are to avenge their god by murdering the “infidels” whenever acts of retribution are incited by a mullah under the blasphemy laws.
Quaid-i-Azam envisioned a democratic Pakistan with rights for all. In his radio broadcast to the people of the US on February, 1948 he said “in any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims – Hindus, Christians, and Parsis – but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.” Yes Pakistan was created for Muslims but citizens were free to go to their mosques, churches and temples. Our own flag has a symbolic section in white dedicated to the religious minorities within the country. It was not until nearly 10 years after its birth that the 1956 constitution deemed Pakistan an Islamic Republic; it also declared Islam as the official religion of the country. The 1973 constitution took it a step further and declared Islam as the state religion. This led to empowerment of Islamist groups and Zia-ul-Haq’s fanaticism which put Pakistan’s destiny on a treacherous path. Zia managed to indoctrinate religion into the society, media, armed forces and universities. Politicians have relied on religion since that point to garner votes and allow extremism to seep even deeper into the societal fabric of Pakistan.
Using religion as an extension of politics often leads to discrimination and imposition of a majority’s beliefs on a minority. Add illiteracy and ignorance to the combination of religion and politics and we arrive at the current toxic situation in Pakistan. The use of contraception is deemed un-Islamic by local clerics and 4 million babies are being born into extreme poverty every year. Some of these impoverished children are the same we see on frequent news reports with suicide vests and righteous hopes of fulfilling their godly duty. Freedom of speech and women’s rights are suppressed in the name of religion. Let’s not forget Quaid-i-Azam’s words “no nation can ever be worthy of its existence that cannot take its women along with the men”. Instead of attempting to define who is a Muslim or not, Pakistan’s government should focus on granting equal rights to all men and women whether they are devout Muslims, non-Muslims, non-practicing Muslims or atheists.
At this turbulent time, Pakistanis need to reevaluate the role of religion within the government. A true democratic state cannot play a game of religious favorites, particularly not the radicalized version which is being preached by illiterate clerics to the poor. It is time to realize that faith is unique to individuals and it should be kept that way. No one person has the right to impose their system of belief upon others. Overcoming years of Islamization will be a challenge in this time of a crippling economy, conflict, and drone strikes. But, these trials should also provide an equally strong motive to right our path. The Quaid envisioned Pakistan to be a modern, progressive and democratic state. Sixty four years after independence that dream still has not materialized. Let’s use this moment of reflection to come together in peace and prove that the dreams of our founder didn’t pass away with him.