No, Minister!

The history of Muslims spilling Muslim blood is nearly as old as Islam itself. Mankind’s propensity for violence afflicts not just Muslims. It was not too many centuries ago that Christians were tortured and burned alive by their own after being accused of heresy.

 (Daily Times, 30 January 2013) 

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 “laang 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 the 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% 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 the 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), Sudan (Dharfur, 2003 to date), and Mali and Niger (Tuareg, ongoing).

(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 marginalized 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 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.

Mankind’s propensity for violence afflicts not just Muslims. It was not too many centuries ago that Christians were tortured and burned alive by their own after being accused of heresy 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, Jews, 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, through an Act of Parliament, designating as non-Muslim a sect which 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 show that a country is well served by a secular constitution and a government whose business is good governance, not the foisting of a particular religious doctrine on the population?

Governments safeguard and promote good citizenship, not characterize or designate citizens as good Muslims, bad Muslims or non-Muslims, Hindu, Christian or Ahmadi.  Government leaders, in any case, should be totally blind to the religion of their citizens, except insofar as they are required to protect their religious rights and maintain social harmony.  And all must be fully equal before the law.

By Razi Azmi

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8 Responses to No, Minister!

  1. Pradeep Kalra says:

    Great work. I learned a lot about Muslims and non Muslims version of the said Minister.It would be worth his while if he goes through your article.You have provided your readers with excellent statistics and I personally find it very interesting.

  2. Javed Agha says:

    Interesting statistics. Fine article. Must read for Rehman Malik.

  3. Naheed says:

    an excellent article but what else can we expect from such a widely read and well articulate writer like you.

  4. PK says:

    Hi Razi:
    Anyone who had the curiosity to know and made an effort to read the history of religions, societies or humanity etc. would agree with your observations, for these facts are easily available in history books in any public library. However, it is nice of you to restate them again and again.

    Mr. Rahman Malik is a typical hick and an ignoramus. I wonder if he ever visited a decent library! So why should anyone , expect gems of wisdom from him?

    Now to a second point. Granted that M. A. Jinnah was a sincere secularist on a personal level to the end, But, it was a great tragedy that he did not go among Musalmans or Hindus, (also Sikhs, Jains, Christians or Buddhists, minorities ) of India expressing such a view in his liftime. His one well quoted speech of August 11, 1947 in the Constituent Assembly was not enough. True, as an ardent Indian nationalist himself, he even defended in 1916, the great nationalist leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak who was known for his patriotic war cry,” Swaraj is my birth right and I shall have it”. Such passions of his client must have rubbed on Jinnah too. In my view, he did express somewhat similar arguments “Pakistan is Muslims’ right and we shall have it”? See, he did not hesitate to use Two Nation Theory and finally the religious card to achieve such an aim. He was responsible for providing such intellectual fodder. Now his followers like Malik and the rest draw inspirations from precedents set by the Pakistan’s leader Jinnah Sahib.

    Now it is too late. It appears the epic battles between proponents of modernity, secularism, religious tolerance, reason etc and those who espouse religious fanatism is in full swing. Perhaps one has to wait for the political history to run its course in Pakistan. We should sit back and say, “it all Kismet”

  5. Nazar Naqvi says:

    I enjoyed the reading of article which is well researched and thought provoking. Great work. I don’t know when we will start thinking logically to realize and analyze in a positive way.

  6. Sharfuddin, Dhaka says:

    Azmi Bhai,
    Reading your articles gives me more and more knowledge particularly about historical facts and eventually philosophy of our people. Looking back and summing up it appears we have never learned from mistakes committed in the past no matter how much history we read. Seems like our major driving force is our natural behavour which we were born with. However to have people like you recalling us to ‘think’ time and again through the ages will someday have its effects just like the Europeans finally found the solution to living in harmony.
    Sharfuddin, Dhaka

  7. Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur says:

    Razi Sahib, Thank you for the very insightful and informative piece. Many of us suffer from selective amnesia and refuse to see the reality. Hopefully your piece will wake up some.

  8. Nadeem says:

    Azmi saheb, you have rebooted my history lesson.

    The ruthless killings of innocent Sunnis and Shias in different part of the Islamic world even condonned by the Ulema of the respective sects. Does it mean that muslims are free to kill each other in the name of their version of Islam? I thought Islam forbid killings of innocent people? It seems muslims have reached a stage in which they have been completely dehumanised whereas other nations have been scaling new heights in human behaviour and human rights.

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