A community demonstrates its secular and pluralistic credentials where it is a majority. As minorities, all communities make claims of tolerance because it’s in their self-interest. On the Indian subcontinent, which they know by the beautiful name Burr-e-Sagheer, Muslims are in a majority in three corners. West (Pakistan), north (Kashmir), east (Bangladesh). They are a minority in two regions. The centre they called Hindustan, from Sirhind, the head of Hind, to the Tapi river. From Surat, on the south bank of the Tapi, begins Dakhin. There is a continuity across the three geographical areas where Muslims are a majority. It is neither secular nor plural.
First let’s see it in Pakistan’s constitution.
Sovereignty in that nation belongs not to Pakistan’s citizens and voters, but “to Allah Almighty alone”. Minorities get “adequate provision” to “freely profess and practise their religions and develop their cultures”. In 1951, the word “freely” was inserted. In 1985, it was removed. In 2010, it was reinserted. This is a commonplace in Muslim states, and I shall explain why later.
Pakistan’s constitution says the “principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice as enunciated by Islam shall be fully observed”. How much democracy, freedom, equality and tolerance?
In Pakistan, no Sikh can become president [Article 41 (2)], no Christian can become prime minister (Article 91-5). The real villain is, of course, the Hindu. This is what Pakistani children are taught in class V: “The Hindu has always been an enemy of Islam” and “Hindus worship in temples, which are very narrow and dark places, where they worship idols”. In class VI: “Hindus live in small, dark houses” and Partition happened because the Congress “demanded that the Muslims should either embrace Hinduism or leave the country” (taken from A.H. Nayyar and Ahmed Salim’s work The Subtle Subversion).
To become a Pakistani legislator one must be “not commonly known as one who violates Islamic injunctions” (Article 62-1d), must have “adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and practises obligatory duties prescribed by Islam” (Article 62-1e). Interior minister Rehman Malik was in September unseated by the Supreme Court, which observed that he was not a good enough Muslim. In Pakistan, you don’t decide what faith you belong to: Islam will determine this. Punjab’s finance minister Rana Asif Mahmood (also fired this year by the Supreme Court) is a Christian, as was his father, Rana Taj Mahmood. A few months ago, someone mistakenly recorded Asif Mahmood’sfaith in the national database as Islam. Mahmood now cannot change this because the punishment for leaving Islam is death. Once a Muslim, even by someone’s mistake, always a Muslim. This is not the saying of some cleric, it is the order of Pakistan’s chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.
“Secular” is an allegation in Pakistani politics. It is a word of abuse. Its meaning is “la-deen” (outside Islam).
The warriors of independence from India are Islam’s warriors, not secularists. No need to look too far to prove this. The two biggest Kashmiri leaders represent Islamic conservatism (Umar Farooq, the head cleric or Mirwaiz of Srinagar) and Islamic radicalism (Ali Shah Geelani of Jamaat-e-Islami). Both men want Shariah.
The freedom fighters are called Muhammad’s soldiers (Jaish-e-Muhammad), Muhammad’s army (Lashkar-e-Taiba) and Muhammad’s helpers (Harkat ul-Ansar, now known as Harket ul-Mujahideen). The freedom fighter is a mujahid, his cause is jihad against Hindus.
Will azadi from India mean Kashmir will be relocated to Arabia? No, it will remain on the Indian subcontinent, north of Jammu, west of Ladakh.
Kashmir’s azadi means freedom from India’s secular constitution. Azadi is the right of Kashmiri Muslims to persecute Kashmiri non-Muslims because that is what Shariah stands for in Pakistan as we have seen.
The high culture of all Bengalis was Hindu because it is Rabindric. The politics of Bangladesh is split on whether this should continue (the position of Sheikh Hasina’s Bangladesh Awami League) or be dismantled and made Islamic (the position of Khaleda Zia’s BNP, or Bangladesh Nationalist Party), which is allied with the Jamaat-e-Islami).
Like in Pakistan, Islam is the religion of the state in Bangladesh. This was the doing of dictators. Hasina promised her Hindu voters she would change that democratically but couldn’t. This is because the majority of Bangladeshi Muslims prefer an Islamic state to a secular one. Bangladesh was a third Hindu at Partition. It, today, is about a 10th Hindu.
Bismillah ir Rahman ir Rahim was inserted into the Bangladesh constitution and removed by the Supreme Court. This has become a major issue in politics.
I spoke earlier about the unease of Pakistan with the word “freely” when offering non-Muslims the right to practise their faith. This is because the Islamic state defines itself through discrimination. In fact, a state becomes Islamic through demotion of non-Muslims. Jizya, the tax for being born Hindu, was applied, then removed, reapplied and then removed by Maratha force during the Mughal period. The same thing, as we have seen, is happening in Pakistan’s constitution.
The second aspect of Muslim majority on the subcontinent is the depopulation of its minorities. Pakistan was 70% Muslim at Partition, today it is 97% Muslim. Having got rid of minorities, Muslims then turn on themselves. Takfiri (declaring one another kafir (non-believer) has been the primary pastime of Muslims through their history.
Since 2000, 10 times more Muslims have died on the subcontinent in religious violence at the hands of fellow Muslims than at the hands of Hindus. There is great discrimination, great oppression of Muslims on the subcontinent, but it is mostly from fellow Muslims.
Hindus are better off under Hindu majority. But the truth is that the Muslim is also better off under Hindu majority because he’s protected from his own mischief under Islam.
There’s a bomb ticking in Pakistan’s constitution. It is Article 227 (1): “All existing laws shall be brought in conformity with the injunctions of Islam” and “no law shall be enacted which is repugnant to such injunctions.”
Implementation of this is all that Taliban and al-Qaeda are demanding. They are on the right side of the law.
To me the Pakistani Muslim is the same as an Indian Muslim. He understands my words of abuse as I do his. Our wives both cook with garam masala. He’s my brother and we share a culture. A political line drawn a few decades ago doesn’t change that.
My problem, looking at Pakistan dispassionately, is that it is not self-correcting. The question is why. Let’s look at an unusual place to find its answer next week.
Aakar Patel is a writer and a columnist.
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Also Read | Aakar’s previous Lounge columns