Religion column controversy

One of the more morbidly fascinating fights the past few months was the religion column in our passports. In line with international norms, the govt. had removed the religion column from Pakistani passports. This caused a big uproar. The ‘MMA’: was against this, giving a number of highly illogical reasons and a few blatant lies. The main ones:

* People would forget they were muslims if there wasn’t a piece of official paper stating so.

* Pakistani’s abroad would indulge in sin, specifically drinking and fornication, as the foreigners wouldn’t know they were muslims and would heap the non-religion-column passport holders with drinks.

* The Americans are running the country. _while that might be true to some extent, depending on which conspiracy theorist one talks to, it really has nothing to do with a religion column_

* We will lose Kashmir without the religion column.

* By removing the religion column, Musharraf is threatening the very existence of the state. He is not only mocking Islam, but also undermining Pakistan’s ideology.

* Without a religion column, non muslims will be able to pose as Muslims. Specifically ‘Ahmadis’: will be able to go to Saudia Arabia. _Next the MMA will be wanting to put them in concentration camps. For those not up to speed with Pakistani politics, the Ahmadi’s are a offshoot of Islam which the MMA really hates and hence wants to make their life miserable._

* Also, now that Ahmadi’s can pose as muslims with a religion-column-less passport, they can get high postings in govt. and destabilise the country. Not only that, it was the Ahmadi’s who got the religion column removed and hence ‘action’ should be taken against them. _hang on a minute.. just a while back it was the Jews, then the American’s who got the column removed._

Most of the above points were made by MMA leader Qazi Hussain Ahmed. From the blatant falsification department:

* Pakistan was created an Islamic state and our beloved founder is churning over in his grave. *Wrong:* Pakistan was created a secular state. Jinnah on the subject:

bq. … If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, … is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make. …we must learn a lesson from this [our past experience]. You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. *You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state* … we are starting in the days when there is no discrimination between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste, or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State…. I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state

p. A reporter’s question to Jinnah on 17 July 1947:

bq.. Question: “Will Pakistan be a secular or theocratic state?”

Mr. M.A. Jinnah: *”You are asking me a question that is absurd. I do not know what a theocratic state means.”*

p. Jinnah in Feb 1948:

bq. …Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State — to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non- Muslims — Hindus, Christians, and Parsis — but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan

p. Emphasis mine. The MMA’s argument is that Jinnah was off his rocker when he said the above, and he actually meant to say Islamic state. If the state has no business with the religion of its citizens, then it’s pointless to argue about whether a state is Islamic or secular.

The above points were all made by MMA leaders. I don’t watch much TV, but from what I’ve heard from people there were a lot more gems said on national tv.

In most countries, people stating reasons like the above would in the running for advanced placement in the local loooney bin. This being Pakistan, they get special ‘religious’ dispensation for being stupid. The sad part is that some people actually listen to reasons like the above.

Fun and games aside, the real reason for the fight was for the MMA to show who’s boss. The entire Pakistan govt. had gone blue in the face saying over and over again that their decision was final, and the column would not be restored, and well, here we are now.

bq.. The cabinet of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has caved in to mullah pressure and agreed to insert the religion column in the new machine readable passports. It has done so after much prevarication and vacillation in the last six months. …We are reminded of the time in 1974 when ZA Bhutto apostatised the Ahmedis to appease the mullahs. Having got an inch, they then demanded a yard in 1976. So he banned alcohol and made Friday the weekly holiday. But, of course, that still didn’t save him from their wrath.

… The mullahs will not rest until they have seen the back of General Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz and the likes of them in and out of government. The day before yesterday it was the blasphemy law. Yesterday it was honour-killings. Today it’s the religion column. Tomorrow it will be peace with India. The day after it will be allegations of secularism. And the day after the day after it will be allegations of selling out on the bomb. And so on, ad nauseum. One would have imagined that by now this would have been clear to General Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz. But it seems not.

>> ‘DailyTimes Editorial: A small retreat for Shaukat or a great leap for Qazi?’:

p. The govt. has not yet revealed it’s reasons for caving in to the MMA. Considering they went blue in the face explaining over and over again their reasons for removing the column, they really should state their reasons for reinstating it. From the ‘Daily Times’:

bq.. “The mention of religion in the passport is an extremely retrogressive step, negating everything that has been said about enlightened moderation.”

Leading political analyst Dr Jaffer Ahmed said: General Musharraf has raised the slogan of enlightened moderation; but it has not gone beyond slogan mongering. It cannot be described as a well worked out theory or a doctrine explaining an exclusive worldview.

p. Next the MMA will also want to list the sect in the passport, after all just saying ‘Muslim’ is meaningless to them – there are many sects which the MMA really dislikes and would love to persecute. Here the MMA would disagree, saying that many of these so called sects are actually heretics in disguise.

3 thoughts on “Religion column controversy”

  1. It is unfortunate to see how these extremists wants to use any means possible to redefine Pakistan as a nation. How they want to mould Pakistan to “Pakistan ka matlab kya, la ila ha ilallah”. When it is very very obvious from every piece and scrap of history that we were meant to a Secular state by our leaders of independence.

    Another thing that does crop up is that pieve of proof that His Excellency General Zia wanted to show us about Jinnah Sahab wanting as Islamic state. We never got the truth did we?

    Oh, and yes, the MMA has called a strike today as well.

  2. I do not have a passport. Does that mean that I therefore can not claim to be a member of any religion? I think having a religion field in the passport is an academic matter at best. Simply having a religion column does not discriminate against Muslims, non-Muslims or any other religion. If that were true the women-rights groups would then perhaps would want to remove the gender column so that women were not discriminated? The discrimination comes from what the people choose to do with the information. Simply hiding your religion does not eliminate religous discrimination nor does it protect you.

    However, so far I have not been convinced that the religion field is a necessity in the passport. Certainly it distinguishes between people from different religions, but as a Muslim, my only concern should be whether I’m dealing with a Muslim or a non-Muslim. The Quran clearly defines the rights that non-Muslims have over Muslims and they are different from those that Muslims have over their brothers. But I can easily differentiate between Muslims and non-Muslims by just looking at their name, face, attire and behaviour.

    The only advantage I can see of having a legal document that states your religion is to allow the non-Muslims the items that Muslims are not allowed. At the moment there aren’t too many places I can obtain alcoholic beverages… and I certainly can’t obtain some easily. Even if I could, anyone inquiring about my religious affiliations would be easy if there was a legal document that explicitly stated my religion. That would settle the matter there and then, if I’m a drunk Muslim then I am to be punished however I can be a drunk athiest and there’s nothing the government can do about it. This is not religious discrimination against anyone or for anyone. This is just treating people according to their own religion. If everyone was treated equally then Muslims would be allowed to drink like the Christians and the Hindus or else the Christians and the Hindus would be prohibited from drinking as well. Either case is unfair and unacceptable.

    There isn’t much of an argument for not having the religion field either. Except for the fact that it would indicate that Pakistan is a secular state. But simply removing the field wouldn’t make this nation secular. Besides, what is it that makes people think that secular nations are better? Religious discrimination is more rife in nations that proudly call themselves secular than in Pakistan.

    So I think that it would be better to retain the religion field in the passport, but it should not be mandatory to fill it. Anyone with a passport that does not specify their religion will then no longer be allowed to enjoy the liberties of their own religion that are not allowed to the religious majority of the nation.

    P.S. Also I sometimes think that the MMA is using religion simply for political reasons. But then there are times that I feel otherwise. Their leaders don’t really exhibit the qualities that I expect a leader of Muslims to have; and I think they have some qualities that no Muslim should have. I don’t want to elaborate much on that though… it’s a headache.

  3. _is to allow the non-Muslims the items that Muslims are not allowed._

    The concept of Islam is not to establish a nanny state which controls what it’s members (i.e muslims) can do or not do.

    Oh, and in this country, you *are* discriminated against on the basis of your religion – which is why this issue is more important than just another datapoint in a official document.

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