Many of the ills that perpetually afflict healthy development of Pakistani society emanate from the country’s biggest province that monopolises the military and the bureaucracy leaving the two with final say in the state management. A Pakistan envisioned as a secular state by the founding fathers was catapulted into sectarian divide and rendered into an ideological misnomer. It was an irony that the main religious party among those that opposed Jinnah’s secular Pakistan—Jamaat –e-Islami led by Maulana Maudoodi after having called Pakistan an infidel state and Jinnah Sahib a heretic, was among the first to run to Lahore to establish its headquarter to spread divisive forces. It was followed by Allama Mashriqi and his Ahrar Party that even had a miscreant who attempted to kill Jinnah sahib.
While the Jamaatis and Ahrars opposed struggle for Pakistan, their targeted Punjabi Quadiyani community provided leadership material in aid of Pakistan to Jinnah sahib such as internationally recognised jurist Sir Zafarullah Khan who made significant contribution in drafting of Lahore Resolution of March 23rd 1940 which later served as blue-print for the Muslim state of Pakistan.
Both the Jamaatis and Ahrars did not reconcile to the secular spirit of Pakistan. They were the first to initiate a movement for ostracising Ahmadi community from the fold of Islam that subsequently led to Ktame-nabuwat riots in Punjab, imposition of first mini martial law under Lt General Azam Khan. Leaders of Jamaat-i-Islami Maulana Maudoodi and Ahrari Abdus Sattar Khan Niazi both were sentenced to death by the military courts. They, however, escaped arrest wearing ‘burqas’ and were finally sentenced.
Throughout initial history of Pakistan country has witnessed sectarian conflict rising to newer heights to the extent that the state of Pakistan surrendered its say to the Jamaati and Ahrari clerics when Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims by the Parliament in opposition to the broader principle that no one had the authority to deny any one their religion except God Almighty with whom rests the divine right to decide about an individual’s faith. Worst of religious inquisition came about under General Ziaul Haq’s blasphemy laws, using allegations, disrespect to Quran and Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) punishable with death.
General Zia abused the blasphemy law to prosecute his political opponents while generally unscrupulous individuals abused it to settle their personal scores by blaming their adversary accusing him of blasphemy. In most of the cases, innocent people have suffered as victims of false charges such as innocent Aasia Bibi—a Christian woman who remained incarcerated for 11 years on a baseless allegation. While she ultimately got free, in the long process Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer who uprightly stood for her innocence was murdered by his fanatic security guard.
One ‘fitna’ (evil) was hardly buried, that some fanatic minded bureaucrat in the Punjab government out of the blue came up with a law to proscribe 100 books that according to him were blasphemous. These books have been ordered to be withdrawn and the next step in the fanatic spirit would be to have a Punjabi bonfire of books to please the fanatic among the rulers. My guru I.A. Rehman calls it ‘creeping religiosity’ in his columns, the process has picked up speed and is now threatening to undermine not only peace among Muslim sects and other groups but the spirit of pristine Islam itself. For instance, the Punjab Textbook Board banned over 100 books that were being used by private schools without offering a satisfactory justification. Some bureaucrat called Rai enthused with authority by Punjab Chief Minister to act as modern Haluku Khan, as high priest of religiosity has come up with a legislation with what I.A. calls –perhaps the most grandiose adventure in Punjab in the form of a bill adopted by the provincial assembly recently under the title the ‘Punjab Tahaffuz-i-Bunyad-i-Islam Act, 2020’. This Abo Jahil has shown unpardonable audacity of replacing the original foundations of Islam, namely iman, namaz, fasting, zakat and Hajj, with what I.A. Rehman calls, a badly drafted law that gives extraordinary and arbitrary powers to a bureaucrat. The bill is ostensibly designed to provide “for prevention of objectionable material in books” sold in Punjab, indigenously produced or imported. As a matter of fact the bill is a most blatant camouflage on the freedom of expression by referring to terrorism, sectarianism or racism, interfaith disorder, threats to the ideology of Pakistan or its sovereignty, integrity or security — all offences that have been covered by the Pakistan Penal Code, so a new Punjab law was not required. A reference is also made to defamation of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) which is covered by Section 295 C of the PPC.
According to experts the definition of objectionable material includes anything in conflict with standards of morality, such as obscenity and vulgarity. Who will be the judge in such cases? The director general of public relations, or DGPR.
It is said that the material for which the whole measure has been conceived, is the use of the name of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) without using ‘Khatim-un-Nabiyeen’ at the beginning and ‘sallallahu alayhi wasallam’ at the end. A long schedule mentions the names of the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) family and descendants, the Khulafa-e-Rashideen, and the companions after whose names the expression ‘Razi Allahu unho’ must be added.
The Shia ulema have taken an exception to the use of prescribed nomenclature for those who they thought didn’t deserve it. The dim-wit authors of the bill have ignited a dangerous conflict between two of the largest branches of Muslims—Indeed this being no service to Islam or Muslims.
Experts are puzzled as to how the bill’s injunctions would be implemented? Will Rai and those in cahoots with him rewrite books of hadiths? How will foreign authors be made to accept Punjab’s order? What about those who will follow the Quranic way of addressing the Holy Prophet (PBUH)?
The bill can at best be described as an attempt to strengthen a ritual loosely attributed to Islam. It is an established convention that any ritual that is not grounded in Islam takes the faithful away from his faith.
According to I.A. Rehman, the bill relies on the coercive power of the state to achieve its dubious objectives. As some one alleged that Rai’s conspiracy was to please PTI boss Imran Khan who has own views on Islam, its history a nd its interpretations. As a matter of fact, the state has no authority to impose Islam. Its religious obligations end with the creation of conditions in which the Muslims of Pakistan can freely practise their faith. Beyond this, the state has no legitimate right to interfere with anyone’s belief, which is strictly each believer’s private matter. The crude form of state interference in religious matters advocated by the bill is firmly hit by one of the most fundamental principles of Islam: ‘La ikraha fid deen’ (there is no compulsion in religion). The bill deserves to be rejected with utmost contempt and Rai Sahib be given a kick in the butt.
Under the provisions of the bill the DGPR can enter any printing press or publisher’s premises and bookstores “and confiscate any book whether before or after printing, including any material thereof”, as well as “inquire into, investigate, assess or ascertain any act or omission”. Can any wider and more wonderfully vague provision be recalled? There is no provision for appeal against the DGPR’s orders, it seems.
Whatever–this is the latest attempt to reduce the writer’s freedom to express themselves on whatever they consider is worthy of comment. It is outrageously unwarranted and an illegitimate attack on the people’s right to freedom of expression.
It is said that the governor is reported to have withheld his assent so far, one can only hope that Punjab Governor Sarwar will be able to persuade the provincial assembly speaker to withdraw the law. But regardless of what will happen to the bill, it has laid bare a cancerous growth in the body politic that could whittle down the country’s capacity to meet the ever-present Taliban challenge to the state of Pakistan. Above all, the bill has been responsible for a storm in the country, it has ignited a debate on a matter that is not of central concern to the state. It is not even a peripheral matter. However, whatever form, it is divisive and subversive.