A Lesser Pakistani
Have you wondered what it’s like being a non-Islamic person living in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan?
There’s no street in this country you can walk in without having Islam rubbed into your face. Muslims barely notice that any more, but non-Muslims do. Ironically, many Pakistani Islamists would still argue that the problem with this country is too little adherence to Islamic values.
In the news, you read about all kinds of madness, like people getting arrested for eating publicly during the month of Ramadan. You hear about governors and ministers getting shot for the crime of standing up for our rights…for their dauntless efforts to protect us from the sword that is the blasphemy law, constantly hanging above our necks. And what’s more disheartening is the sight of our fellow Pakistanis pouring out into the streets in support of these murderers.
We’ve endured the dismissive attitude of the majority, yes majority, of our countrymen towards minority rights. We ask for an end to the discrimination of state subjects on the basis of their religious beliefs, only to be slapped in our faces with the fiery riposte, “Majority is authority!”
Muslims, of all people, should know better than to say that. In our struggle for independence, did Jinnah ever cease fighting for the rights of the Muslims in a Hindu-majority subcontinent saying, “Majority is authority! Let the Hindus do whatever they want”. Or did Jinnah, in his great wisdom, actually recognize the line between democracy and brute majoritarianism?
All around us are unsubtle reminders that we are, and always will be, the second-class subjects of Pakistan. We’re the accidental citizens of a country that was made for the Muslims, by the Muslims.
Several months ago I took a trip to the Wahgah border. Like every other Pakistani there, I was pumped up and ready to cheer for my beloved homeland. To my chagrin, I noticed that we were chanting less “Pakistan zindabad” and more “Allah-o-Akbar”, as well as all other kinds of Islamic slogans. Above the entrance of the mini-stadium, hung the portrait of the great father of our nation with the words, “Pakistan ka matlab kia” (What is the meaning of Pakistan?) on its right, and the kalma (“There is no God but Allah) on the left.
On top of each pillar flanking the border gate, rested a large metal sculpture with the word “Allah” carved into them, in contrast to the pillars on the Indian side that had a small three-headed lion on each.
Is it unreasonable for non-Muslim Pakistanis like myself to request that the slogans and symbols of our state be representative of all its citizens, and not just the Muslim community? As the shouting of Islamic naras continued throughout the ceremony, I began to wonder if I were sitting on the wrong side of the border. Because what I was seeing and hearing all around me did not represent me at all!
If the meaning of Pakistan is Islam and Islam alone, then what does that make me? I happen to be an Atheist, so what precisely is my nationality?