Religious intolerance and an insecure Pakistan

Published: May 16, 2015
The writer is a London-based lawyer who tweets 

The writer is a London-based lawyer who tweets @ayeshaijazkhan

A wise man once said, “I am not sure if Pakistan was created in the name of religion but it sure is being destroyed in the name of religion.” The bus attack in Karachi claiming at least 45 innocent Ismaili lives is just one in a series of such heinous religiously-motivated atrocities that Pakistanis continue to face on a regular basis. Whether the victims are the Hazaras of Quetta, Christians of Youhanabad in Lahore, Bohras offering Friday prayers in Karachi, or the children targeted in the Army Public School attack in Peshawar, the root cause is the same. It is the belief that one has a right to judge others based on their faith and if they are determined religiously deviant (as in the case of other sects or religions) or religiously wanting (as in the case of the majority sect), then they are fair game.

One would think that with Pakistan having to pay such a high price for the misuse of religion, the country would come to one conclusion swiftly. That our current path is not leading us to be better Muslims or better people but instead, is creating divisions within society that are resulting in an insecure Pakistan for all. It is thus completely bewildering to find that the fixation on religiosity hasn’t dwindled in the least. Whether one watches the March 23 parade, switches on the television with its myriad of evangelists, enters drawing room discussions, or listens to politicians, the discourse is infused with religiosity, almost as a cover-up to the lack of civic responsibility that permeates society.

Oftentimes I have noticed, for instance, that the bigger the lie a talk-show guest is about to peddle on national television, the more emphatic the use of religion by the guest in his/her discussion, prefacing that prevarication. Students and young professionals on social media describe themselves as “Proud to be Muslim” in their Twitter profiles and yet will not think twice about using abusive language on a public forum. The list goes on.

So one would think that at some point the populace would see through what’s going on. Or at least that those in a leadership position would take some bold stands but no such luck. It was horrifying to watch, for example, the PTI’s Fayyaz Chohan declare on a television show that as Pervez Rashid of the PML-N belonged to a particular sect, he was therefore an infidel and thus was a liar. In case Mr Chohan hasn’t noticed, you don’t need to be an infidel to lie. Many Muslims do it routinely. It would have been fair game for Mr Chohan to go after Mr Rashid for his attacks on the PTI or Imran Khan, but to point fingers at his faith as the problem is not only against the dictates of the recent National Action Plan promulgated to fight extremism but also precisely the type of behaviour that results in creating the divisive mindsets that have triggered tragic fatalities in Pakistan.

Here’s the really sad part. Not only did Mr Chohan spew his venom on television uninterrupted, but he was not reprimanded for this serious offence either by the state or by his party leadership, which promises incidentally to build the foundations of a “Naya Pakistan”. Adding injury to insult, nobody from Mr Rashid’s own party, the PML-N, chose to stand with him or make any statement regarding the fact that one can belong to any religion and still be an honourable Pakistani. No way. For these are the type of things that shouldn’t be touched with a 12-foot pole if one is to ensure popularity in Pakistan today.

Not too long ago, when Imran Khan was still on the container, in the midst of his dharna, always eager to point out the success of Pakistani expats, he proudly mentioned Professor Atif Mian as one of the acclaimed economists in the world today. Stressing that the PTI wasn’t the type of party that believed in nepotism but instead wanted to make appointments on merit, Mr Khan hinted that he would look into appointing the likes of internationally-recognised Professor Mian to an important post. Shortly thereafter, while still on the container, he was interviewed by a gentleman for Message TV, who demanded how come Mr Khan is considering an Ahmadi for an important post in Pakistan. I couldn’t help but think that had I been asked this, I would have immediately countered with, “Didn’t Jinnah, the very founder of our nation, appoint Zafarullah Khan, an Ahmadi, to the important post of foreign minister? And doesn’t merit transcend race, religion, ethnicity and gender?”

Imran Khan, however, backtracked. First, he said he had no idea that Professor Mian was an Ahmadi, hinting that had he known this he wouldn’t have suggested what he did in the first place. Then he proceeded to give a long lecture on how clear he was about who is a Muslim and who isn’t.

The point is dear readers — and I know that this is not going to make me popular in Pakistan, but the truth must be told — no country, from the US to China, has progressed by making religion a central facet of statecraft. Countries that have embroiled themselves in such matters have ended up creating more divisions and cannot uphold merit, as merit doesn’t discriminate. The Pakistani populace should be free to be as religious as it likes in their personal lives but when religion starts to interfere in the matters of the state, there is little to gain and much to lose.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2015.

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Reader Comments (44)

  • Hassan Ali
    May 16, 2015 - 12:52AM

    Totally disgree, she just blame #PTI ImranKhan for everything , I think writer is on pay roll of PMLN,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, I respect Ahmadis lots of Ahmadis still support PTI.Recommend14

  • Hassan Ali
    May 16, 2015 - 12:53AM

    Ahmadis support PTI ………. Writer is PMLN supporter…….Recommend10

  • Mubarik
    May 16, 2015 - 12:53AM

    Very sane adivce but I doubt there will be any takers in Land of Pure.Recommend77

  • Woz Ahmed
    May 16, 2015 - 1:06AM

    Very well made point., respect you sir.

    Can PTI supporters defend ?Recommend13

  • James
    May 16, 2015 - 1:41AM

    Who cares…..we still blame RAW and Hindus, Americans, and Jews for doing this……Recommend102

  • Asad
    May 16, 2015 - 2:03AM

    Read the writer’s name and knew there must be something about Imran Khan specifically in her article…..aaaaannnnddd I was right.Recommend8

  • SAAD
    May 16, 2015 - 2:03AM

    Read the writer’s name and knew there must be something about Imran Khan specifically in her article…..aaaaannnnddd I was right.Recommend4

  • Fazal Dad
    May 16, 2015 - 2:05AM

    “I am not sure if Pakistan was created in the name of religion but it sure is being destroyed in the name of religion.”
    Yes! it was and we got so much entangled that it is hard to come out of this narrow minded self righteous arrogance and widespread ignorance. It is that proverbial “blanket” that is not leaving us.
    It happens every time religion is used to achieve short term legitimacy. I am not sure if it is prudent but it sure is convenient.
    Having said this my heart goes to all those communities that have been the victim of this narrow mindedness (Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, Shias of different denominations, Sikhs and all others).Yes! I am Sunni(at least by birth) and I am ashamed of my misdeeds.
    By the way, was it not Sir Agha Khan who lead the Muslim delegation to win a few concessions from the colonial rulers and set the tone for a separate homeland for Muslims? We are just bunch of thankless hooligans. Recommend56

  • Parvez
    May 16, 2015 - 2:17AM

    Nice article ……. agree with what you said.
    Keeping in mind that Pakistan is a nuclear state the reasoning goes that it is not possible to attack it from the outside, so use its weaknesses against itself. It’s biggest weakness is it’s illogical behavior towards religious debate and so, religion is ‘ in your face ‘ in every aspect of the county’s life……this strategy obviously is working because as you said right in the beginning……Pakistan is a country being destroyed in the name of religion.Recommend34

  • ajeet
    May 16, 2015 - 3:06AM

    So its not RAW, but Pakistan’s founding idealogy that’s the reason for extremism?Recommend91

  • May 16, 2015 - 4:10AM

    Pakistan is created on the basis of religion .So religion will occupy the central place in the
    political and social arena. Hate has become the central theme currently and this will divide the society or may cause to reach at the extreme to eliminate which is being hated.Recommend21

  • Pushtun Voice
    May 16, 2015 - 4:24AM

    Bravo! Excellent article!Recommend39

  • Prakash
    May 16, 2015 - 4:44AM

    I am a religious person. I live by my religion. I do not live for it. I will not die for it. And I will not, under any circumstance, kill for it.Recommend83

  • wiserneighbour
    May 16, 2015 - 7:45AM

    So it is not RAW after all,causing trouble in Pakistan! !!!Recommend56

  • JSM
    May 16, 2015 - 8:22AM

    Blame it on RAW (Rio).Recommend31

  • May 16, 2015 - 9:07AM

    That is why Jinnah, on his deathbed, told Liyaquat Ali Khan that creating Pakistan was the biggest blunder of his life.Recommend76

  • Milind
    May 16, 2015 - 10:33AM

    A wise man once said, “I am not sure if Pakistan was created in the name of religion but it sure is being destroyed in the name of religion.”

    How can the man be wise if he’s not sure if Pakistan was created in the name of religion?Recommend25

  • MSS
    May 16, 2015 - 11:03AM

    Very sensible and rational. Great sense of reality.Recommend18

  • rama
    May 16, 2015 - 11:12AM

    Pakistan society has only 2 choice, either move back towards the tolerant like sub-continent and progress or move the towards the nomadic barbaric like KSA. Recommend31

  • May 16, 2015 - 11:12AM

    If religion is not to interfere in the matters of state then can you people explain me the position of Iran in current time ……..Recommend4

  • Toticalling
    May 16, 2015 - 11:52AM

    Interesting article and so true. But surely we know all that. I live in Europe and know that early anybody living in these non Muslim lands have got any contact with Ahmadis or Pakistani Christians living here. Most of the Christians have friends with Indians. This obsession that no other religion has anything good is the main reason for this one track mind. Yet we see thousands of Muslims coming with boats to Europe from north Africa where they are protected and fed. And when Burmese Muslims try to land in Malaysia or Indonesia, their boats are turned back. The problem is that such views are not tolerated by most of Muslims. They call you an infidel and anti Islam. Even liberal papers like Tríbune do not print any views and you have to phrase your views carefully to get the chance. Recommend34

  • Arifq
    May 16, 2015 - 12:41PM

    Good one dear writer, much needed advise!Recommend5

  • Lalsinh
    May 16, 2015 - 12:59PM

    All Pakistani who made comments here miss out main point made by Ms.Ayesha Ijaz Khan is that “Pakistan should be secular enough to all Pakistanis to practice any sect of Islam,
    or any other religion without fear or discrimination in private or public life.Remember that 97% of Pakistanis are Muslims and almost 80% Muslims are Sunnis.Adopting this principle
    suggested by Ms.Ayesha Ijaz Khan does make Pakistan a non-islamic country or a non-sunny country. There was no need of ethnic cleansing of Pakistan to drive away Hindus
    from Pakistan in 1947 nor is there is any need to suspect usefulness or loyalty of Professor Atif Mia for Pakistan. Many Pakistanis will see ulterior motive in this comment but my family has been Pakistanis from 14th August 1947 till 28th January 1948.But let us forget about the past Today I am an Indian.In India many Indian Muslims have done a great service to India including Maulana Azad, Zakir Hussain, Fakruddin Ali Ahemed, Abdul Kalam and of course Sania Mirza . Today Pakistan can start with a clean slate and follow Ms.Ayesha Ijaz Khan’s
    advice believe me there is tremendous pragmatism in it.Recommend13

    May 16, 2015 - 2:47PM

    It is fashionable now to tow the line given by some agent and start your column writing career. Who says this is an intolerant society. It is NOT. This is exactly what our enemies want to portray us. A bright young Muslim girl a student of Aligarh University was found dead in.her apartment yet our such columnist are prepared to call it a sad incident. Hypocricy is something which comes naturally to columnists. Get real and don’t become a tool of terrorists.Recommend3

    May 16, 2015 - 2:49PM

    You have any doubts?Recommend2

    May 16, 2015 - 2:55PM

    Don’t try and change your cheaqured past.One of the most intolerant culture ever existed called Bharat.Recommend7

    May 16, 2015 - 4:21PM

    I entirely agree.
    All human being are from the earth made of the earth and goes back to earth. What remains is his actions, good and bad. God has given the mind to discern, we call intellect which differentiates human beings from animal. Irrespective of religious affiliation, one has to see other, as oneself, be tolerant, respect every other human being, his/her physique and properties, the mental views, intellectual capacity,the right to be energetic in contribution his duties in the society and be one in unison with the Ultimate Cosmic Source of Energy and Will. Recommend6

  • Xman
    May 16, 2015 - 4:46PM

    Isn’t it intellectually quite lazy to generalise Islam as the root cause of problems in PK (and the rest of the world). Islam, like any other religion has its sweet and bitter realities. There are many peaceful Islamic communities who just mind their own business. The violence we see today has been perpetuated by a specific interpretation of this religion, thoroughly funded by deep pockets due to new found wealth in a certain part of the world over the last 70 years, using PK and other muslim countries as a proxy to promote a specific political agenda. We saw how this region was desperate in the past few months to pull PK into another politically motivated, but religiously adorned quagmire. The rest of the world, including PK needs to realise this and isolate the cancer, because its spread is impacting everyone. The founding fathers wanted PK to be a place, where all religions, “especially” muslims were free to peacefully practise their faith without retribution.Recommend6

  • Hassan
    May 16, 2015 - 5:48PM

    People are misinterpreting this article on this forum to point out one must be against PTI. Leave PMLN and PTI aside and see the points she raised about our society deteriorating because of people misusing religion to their own advantage. We all irrespective of party affiliation are responsible for having a flawed mindset against minorities. What more will you then expect from who kills them. she is merely raising a valid point that any country cannot be successful based on caste, creed and religiin identities.Recommend8

  • Ranjha
    May 17, 2015 - 12:06AM

    Another BBCD sitting in London spewing balderdash and piffle! Imran Khan has devoted his life to chamging Pakistan for better. What has this egghead done?Recommend3

  • Shopaholic
    May 17, 2015 - 12:20AM

    One of the most biased person on Earth, this lady suffers from IK phobia. Recommend6

  • Roxane
    May 17, 2015 - 2:16AM

    It would be great if religious fanatics would stop engaging in the killing of people with different beliefs and no belief. Recommend2

  • Pushtun Voice
    May 17, 2015 - 4:37AM

    @Ranjha @Shopaholic — did you two idiots see the Chohan incident on TV where he says Parvez Rashid is wajibulqatal?Recommend10

  • observer
    May 17, 2015 - 7:08AM


    “The Pakistani populace should be free to be as religious as it likes in their personal lives but when religion starts to interfere in the matters of the state, there is little to gain and much to lose.”

    I don’t think that is ever going to happen in Pakistan. Pakistan was created as an abode of Islam and its constitution has made it iron-clad that Pakistan will remain and Islamic state. The only way this will ever can change is when a vast majority of Pakistanis become atheists or convert to other religions. You can’t get off the tiger once you decide to ride it, or you will get devoured alive.Recommend4

  • Atheist
    May 17, 2015 - 8:29AM

    There will be trouble if religion becomes the basis for a common identity. Few nations based on religious identity have survived and thrived.Recommend2

  • Meshuga
    May 17, 2015 - 8:41AM

    @Hassan Ali: Wow and double wow! Did you even bother to read her opinion without the usual partisan blinders on?Recommend2

  • A Citizen
    May 17, 2015 - 8:47AM

    Excellent article. Read it twice and agree with every word of it. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.Recommend2

  • jeff
    May 17, 2015 - 8:58PM

    A nice article, totally agree.
    “no country, from the US to China, has progressed by making
    religion a central facet of statecraft—- there is little to give and
    much to lose.
    Thank you madam for such eye opening article.Recommend2

  • shopaholic
    May 17, 2015 - 11:21PM

    @Pushtun voice no I am not as Idiot as you are.. first read my comment and then reply. Can you read IK is written different than Faiz chohan?? Take out your blindfolds before reading commentsRecommend2

  • N A Tariq
    May 17, 2015 - 11:42PM

    It’s an article is about religious tollerence but the point is totally lost to some. it has turned into who is and who is not an Ahmadi and which party the writer belongs to without deciding on merit that what she says is right.. That’s our tragedy Recommend3

  • Rex Minor
    May 18, 2015 - 12:10AM

    ET moderator,
    If you do not publish my comments this lady lawyer will keep on writing her anger with the religion despite the fact that she knows that there is a civil war going on in Pakistan and not religion related kabala!

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Bewildered
    May 18, 2015 - 12:36AM

    Fully endorse the author views, but the author seems to ignore the fact that the enemies of Pakistan — India with her strategic partner are at the forefront — have a large part in creating the existing situation in Pakistan. Where was this religious intolerance 2 decades ago? Why in my whole life I saw people of different sects (Ahmedis an exception, courtesy KSA) living and working together in harmony and never came across a person willing to kill just because of religious differences despite having reservations or even resentment? To achieve their political objectives, the enemies are using every means possible including deep under-cover agents for brain washing religiously inclined simpletons, blackmailing the vulnerable by exploiting their weaknesses using information gathered through NSA’s Prism program, exploiting the greedy by paying $$$, and using media and social networks for bad mouthing and creating bad perception of Pakistan and Muslims. Why do you see bad things happening only in the areas currently under their focus and not in other parts of the Muslim world? Why all this has intensified only recently despite the existence of differences for centuries?Recommend3

  • Komal S
    May 18, 2015 - 8:55AM


    What has this discussion got to do with a muslim women murdered at Aligarh Muslim University. India has 200 million strong muslims, who know how to take of their interest. As long as people like you are there, the best strategy your enemy can do is to wait and watch you go down the downward spiral. The fact is you are an extremely religious society, people of the majority sect believe in superiority of their sect, you cannot even openly say the founder of your nation is an Ismaili. You cannot openly acknowledge the contributions of Ahmadis in your country. This has nothing to do with your enemy, it just requires some introspection. Recommend2

  • Freeman
    May 19, 2015 - 12:22AM

    Very nice! All brave and sane opinion writers must live abroad.Recommend

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