Source: Afzal Majeed Butt
From left to right:
Ajaz Maqbool, Senior Assignment Editor ARY News (Ahl-Hadees)
Father Shahid, Meraj of Cathedral, Church of Resurrection, The Mall, Lahore, Pakistan
Afzal Majeed Butt, IVLP Alumnus, Senior Assignment Editor ARY News (Sunni)
Nazir Ali Bhatti, Senior Reporter ARY News Lahore (Shia)
After our conversation and Afzal´s reports of the events, which he told in his own words, I conducted an interview with him, with the goal of understanding the social, religious, and political developments better.
The interview is preceded by a brief description of political and social events in Pakistan in relation to the interview I conducted, so that individual aspects can be better understood in terms of content. All sources are linked accordingly, as in the entire article.
Explanation – Development and Origin of Pakistan
1. Qazi Hussain Ahmed:
Quazi Hussain Ahmed
was a Pakistani theologist, politician and at the same time, from 1987 to 2009, he was the politic and religious leader of the Islamic community Jamaat-e-Islami
, an islamic-political
movement. During his political career, the politician intensely promoted exchanges between the religions.
2. Bischof Alexander John Malik:
3. Qazi Abdul Qadeer Khamoosh:
Qazi Abdul Qadeer Khamoosh
, born in 1960 in the district of Gujrat in Pakistan, is a Founding Chairman of the Muslim Christian Federation International (MCFI). Oazi Abdul, represented by the organization he founded, draws on the commonalities of Christian and Muslim believers.
4. Islamic Republic of Pakistan:
In 1947, when the British gave British India its freedom, especially because of the peaceful independence movement led by Mohandas Karachmchand Gandhi
, the predominantly Muslim part of the subcontinent split off and the state of Pakistan was formed. A territorial issue between India and Pakistan still is the region Kashmir, which is predominantly inhabited by Muslims and is of strategic importance. In 1971, East Pakistan split off, essentially due to linguistic differences, and established its own state Bangladesh.
With a territory of 796,095 square kilometers, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is the ninth-biggest state in Asia. This is equivalent to a little less than twice the size of Austria
together. The country has about 216 Million inhabitants, many of whom are of very young age. In 2020, the gross national product amounted to 263 billion U.S. dollars. About three quarters of the inhabitants live in a Punjab river
plains region, where the land is exceptionally fertile. The country is struggling with a massive number of refugees from Afghanistan
and has already taken in 1.3 Million Afghans.
More than 50 languages are known in Pakistan. Indo-Aryan Urdu, which is also spoken in Iran
and Afghanistan, is the official national language. Urdu had been kind of a “lingua franca” for Muslims on the Indian subcontinent before its independence. Apart from Urdu, English is widely spread as an educational language. According to the most recent census in 1998, 96,3% of Pakistan’s inhabitants are Muslims, who belong to different Sunni
faiths, which are partly conflicting. Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and other religious groups form a minority in the predominantly Sunni-Muslim country. Among the Sunnis, on the other hand, Sufism is very popular, a mystical and widely interpreted form of Islam, which is based on the Hanafite school
of law. Few Europeans know that the Sufi approach to Islam, which is also very pronounced in Turkey
, for example, has a deeply spiritual basis, which is a clear and conflictual contrast to extremist groups like the so-called “Islamic State.”
The nuclear weapons state has the sixth-biggest army in the world and struggles with instability. Ethnical-religious conflicts, terrorism and corruption make life difficult for Pakistanis. But there are positive things to note. The country has a young population, which is getting more active in the fields of media, design and IT with a focus on software development, and which is growing into a big competitor for India. As a result, a growing middle class is emerging, giving rise to hope.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah
, the founder of the Republic, died in 1948. In March 1956, Pakistan was given a constitution that called for an active and passive right to vote for all adults from the age of 22. In that same year, both men and women received a full right to vote. On October 27, 1958, General Muhammed Ayub Khan
seized power in a coup, causing a turning point in the still relatively young history of the country. Several other military regimes followed and caused the secular thought that Muhammed Ali Jinnah
had once put forth as the founding father of the Republic to fade.
In 1971, president Yahya Khan
resigned, which led to a cautious democratization. Khan’s successor, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto,
enacted a new constitution in 1973. In 1977, the establishment of a democratic government failed. Following this, General Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq
invoked martial law and continued the military dictatorship. During this period, there was stronger Islamization. Among other things, Sharia law
was established as the body of law. Zia-ul-Haq died in 1988, which paved the way for free elections once again and made Benazhir Bhutto
the head of state as the first woman to ever assume this role in an Islamic State. Nawaz Sharif’s
regime followed in 1990, Bhutto returned to power in 1993, and Nawaz Sharif took over again in 1997. 1999-2008 was characterized by a military dictatorship. In 2007, General Perves Musharraf
declared a state of emergency and rendered the constitution inoperative. Elections were to follow. The preparation came to a tragic climax when the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto
died in an assassination on December 27, 2007. The Pakistani Taliban was responsible for the attack. In 2008, Yousaf Raza Gilani
was elected as prime minister by the Pakistani major party. More difficult political circumstances followed. Since August 18, 2018, the former professional cricket player and Chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party
(PTI), Imran Khan
, is the officially elected head of state.
Interview with Afzal Majeed
How religiously diverse is Pakistan?
Pakistan is ethno religious diverse country, as was the sub continent from whose womb Pakistan came into being. The majority of Pakistani are Muslim, with Hindus and Christians as two major minorities. Hindus are mostly concentrated in Sindh, a province of Pakistan, while Christians are distributed throughout Pakistan. Many members of minorities rose to prominence. Pakistan’s first cabinet included a Dalit Jogendra Nath Mandal
(lower caste hindu) while the fourth Chief Justice of Pakistan Alvin Robert Cornelius
was a Christian. But the untimely demise of its fore father Muhammad Ali Jinnah
; known as Quaid E Azam
or great leader; and constant failure of democratic forces unleashed ethno religion intolerance under different Martial Laws. In 1971 a large populous area of Bengali ethnic majority known as East Pakistan separated itself and renamed itself to Bangladesh. Among many differences, language was the main separating force. The majority population of Pakistan concentrated in now Bangladesh was Bengali speaking, but the rest of West Pakistan was made up of different ethnicities. Yet despite being in minority Urdu was awarded the status of national tongue and Bengali never rose to prominence, which caused deep resentment between two wings.
Why is there a distinction in Pakistan between "Sunnis", you are a Sunni yourself, and Wahabis ? It is difficult for Europeans to differentiate here.
’s are two major sects of Islam which are further divided into sub-sects. In Middle East; mostly where Saudi Arabia
is considered leader; Wahabism
is the major sub-sect and hence the term sunni is applied to them as whole. In sub continent another sub-sect Bralvi is in majority and the term sunni is applied to them, and are differentiated by wahabi sub-sect. Though they have much in common, visit to shrines of saints is one of the dividing point.
Islam is the main religion in Pakistan. How does coexistence with other religions such as Christianity, Bahai, Hinduism or Buddhism work?
As I have said earlier that the Founding Father of Pakistan Muahmmad Ali Jinnah
was a great visionary leader. He was known as ambassador of Hindu Muslim unity in his earlier years, but as the events unfolded, he in the end demanded an independent Muslim state. When partition became inevitable he offered Sikhs
of Punjab to join him as most of their religious places were now to become part of Pakistan. He inducted a lower caste Hindu in Pakistan’s first cabinet and was very tolerated to other minorities as he had studied and lived for number of years in abroad. After his untimely death unfortunately Pakistan political and military elite failed its homeland time and again. A short example would suffice that when Z A Bhutto
was overthrown, the unpopular dictator Zia Ul Haq
banned politics for many years, later on held elections on non party basis. These elections were fought not on the basis of ideology but on the basis of ethnicity, sectarian and religious divide, thus further undermining any attempt to bond relationship with other communities. Had Pakistan flourished under the democratic rule situation could have been much better.
When it comes to religious freedom, Europeans have the example of the Catholic Asia Noreen (Bibi) in negative memory. Noreen was the first woman in Pakistan to be sentenced to death for blasphemy by a court in Nankana on 8 November 2010. What leads to such a verdict and how is it to be understood in perspective?
When it comes to religious freedom we in Pakistan are not as tolerant as the western world. That is a fact, and one should not be ashamed to admit what is wrong with one’s house. Accepting a problem is the first step toward treatment. But I would like to point out that less than hundred years ago Europe as well was suffering from religious intolerance. Particularly in Germany
under the Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich
things were pretty horrible and it culminated into worst ethnic cleansing of Jews known as The Holocaust
. I think many developing countries should learn from such experiences of how these democracies grew out of these dark ages and matured into the tolerant societies of the today. I would further like to point out that unlike the Jews of younder years, the Asia Noreen
or commonly known Asia Bibi
is still living, thanks largely to the efforts of international and local communities. It is easy to raise voice in civilized western world without the fear of repercussion, but two member of Pakistan soil Salman Taseer
(a muslim governor) and Shahbaz Bhatti
(Christian Minister) had to lay down their lives for the release of Asia Bibi
. When we see the intolerance of so many, the kind heart efforts of the few should not go unappreciated.
Simultaneously I would like to point out that the presence of law to protect the honour and prestige of the Prophet peace be upon him is much needed. Again I would like to return to European example of banning anti Semitic prejudice with the help of Law. Current minority under threat are Muslims who have been prejudiced under the banner of Islamophobia. Several dailies of Europe had published blasphemous cartoons
of Prophet peace be upon him under the banner of freedom of expression. Would these publications survive the punishment of law if they publish any anti Semitic content? No. Simply No, because a law is there to safeguard the Semitic communities honour. Same is the demand of muslims to have a safeguard in place to deter those who in the name of religious freedom are actually hurting one of the largest religion in the world.
What does religious freedom mean in Pakistan? Religion is a topic of intense debate and controversy in social media in all cultural areas. What impact, negative as well as positive, do such debates have on society?
Religious freedom in any society means the freedom to excercise ones religious expressions without the fear of any reprisal, in this regards we can see that most religious minorities are free to exercise their religious rituals in Pakistan. No one is disallowed from celebrating Christmas or other religious festivals. With the advent of fighting in Afghanistan things had drastically undergone changes. But these problems were more of sectarian in nature than harming inter religious harmony. We see that in Zia’s regime when western world was heavily investing in anti soviet Mujaheddins, an off shoot problem of money and weapons were used against the religious minorities, mostly of sectarian nature. In Karachi
under zia regime worst ethnic clashes also took place one based on the language and place of origin. In those days Karachi the biggest and most commercially advance city of Pakistan witnessed bloodbath between urdu speaking or mohajir community and pathan community. The same period witnessed the shia and sunni clashed intensified through out Pakistan.
What does fakenews or the spreading of false information, verbally charged, lead to in the respective cultures? For example, many in the West remember lynchings in Middle Eastern countries due to false rumours being spread on social media about certain people.
False information, made up news (commonly referred as Fake news) are propaganda tools that are/were used throughout the history. Almost every nation had tasted propaganda medicine in one way or another and the memories may be old or new. The problem has only compounded in modern age when influx of information grew multi folds, and social media while connecting people has made spread of rumour far more easy with a greater circle of penetration. If we couple it with illiteracy and religious fanaticism the medicine is far more potent and dangerous from its previous ancestors. In rural areas of Pakistan such rumours can insight mob violence and from these mobs lives of even muslims are not safe. A recent example of this is the case of Mishal Khan
, a student of Abdul Wali Khan University situated in Mardan, KPK, who was lynched on the false charges of blasphemy.
What made you go to a Christian priest at Christmas, together with other Muslims (Shiites, Wahabis), to talk to him?
To be honest this meeting had many reason coupled with it. But one of the recent event in Sialkot, Pakistan had made it all the more necessary to create a goodwill gesture. I had visited USA during Feb 2019, and I was blessed to have around 9 countries citizens as my International Visitor Leadership Program co-alumni, one of them belonged to Sri Lanka. Rajagopal Yasiharan had greatest of respect for me during our stay and would always call me brother. When the Sri Lankan Manager Priyantha Kumara was lynched in Sialkot he had forwarded a twitter video showing the lynching of Priyantha Kumara and wrote: “I was deeply saddened to hear the news today.” I had no words to reply, with a broken heart and words I wrote: “My apologies to u[you], the family and Nation.” Even after that my heart was not content, this apology was insignificant/insufficient. And in circumstances like these actions; not words; matter.
In consultation with ARY colleagues Nazir Ali Bhatti, Ajaz Maqbool we tried to take a cake a day before Christmas, but because of the busy schedule of Father Shahid Meraj the meeting was delayed. On 29th December when we finally met we commemorated noble hearts who worked diligently for interfaith harmony like Late Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Bishop Alexander John Malik, and Qazi Abdul Qadeer Khamoosh. And we believed that these legends would have done the same to heal wounds and bring people of different faiths together by mingling and greeting with each other in time of celebration and pain.
Contact Afzal Majeed Butt
of January 2022
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