Minorities And Extremism In Pakistan: A Critical And Historical Review – OpEd


A state functioning as a religion automatically persecutes those not of the official religion or sect of a religion.

Bhupendra Kumar Dutta, a Hindu politician from East Bengal pointed out, “Politics came within the sphere of Reason, while Religion fell within the sphere of faith. Intermingling religion and politics runs the risk of subjecting religion to the type of criticism common to politics, which would be presented as sacrilegious. Tying Islam and politics would weaken reason and curb criticism as far as state policies are concerned.”

In the 1980s General Zia-ul Haq inserted Clauses 295-B and 295-C into the Pakistan Penal Code that was written in 1860 by the British. Clause 295-B convicts anyone who defiles, damages or desecrates the Quran with life imprisonment. Clause 295-C criminalizes derogatory remarks against the Prophet and will be punishable by death, life imprisonment and fine. The Blasphemy Laws while protecting “Islam” provided the privileged citizens with means through which they could falsely accuse anyone of Blasphemy over personal feud and interests manipulating the legal system. The PPP government and Musharraf regime tried to make the implementation of these laws stringent by introducing thorough investigation but were threatened and silenced by hard-core extremists.

Suhrawardy, The Islamic State And The Words Of Zaman

Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, who served as Pakistan’s Prime Minister from 1956 to 1957, said he felt that the Pakistan government’s tendency was in the direction of a communal state and the rhetoric of an Islamic state was responsible for causing insecurity among non Muslims. He said Pakistan no longer needed the rhetoric that had been deployed to mobilize Muslims for the creation of Pakistan. Suhrawardy claimed, now you are raising the cry of Pakistan in danger for the purpose of arousing Muslim sentiments and binding them together to maintain you in power. He said you’re not only destroying your own people but also minorities. And there will be no commerce, business or trade in a religious based divided and insecure state.

India was represented in cartoons of the era as a conservatively clad Hindu of the trading class, reinforcing the view in Pakistani minds that their conflict was not with India, but with Hindus. And obviously, the Hindus who lived in Pakistan as well also became the target of their brainwashing.

The presence of the Ahmadi community in Israel, dating back to the period of the British mandate in Palestine, was cited to advance claims about an Ahmadi-Israeli alliance. A martial law regulation was passed that pronounced a penalty of 7 years for any person who published, or was in possession of any book, pamphlet, etc which was offensive to the religion of Islam. This is how the reading culture diminished and Pakistan’s availability of books started to decline fostering ignorance and lack of critical thinking.

Pakistani historian Waheed-uz-Zaman said, “If we let go of the ideology of Islam, we cannot hold together as a nation by any other means.” He also voiced the dilemma that faced Pakistanis in defining their nationalism … If the Arabs, the Turks, the Iranians, God forbid give up Islam, the Arabs yet remain Arabs, the Turks remain Turks, the Iranians remain Iranians, but what do we remain if we give up Islam?” That is where the identity crisis erupted.

When Pakistan was born in 1947, the call to prayer was issued 5 times each day on loudspeakers by Shias, Sunnis and Ahmadis in Karachi. The country that came into being in the name of solidarity of Muslims due to Islam showed fissures within the very first day. The country that purported to keep its minorities secure demolished the Karachi synagogue in July 1988.

Pakistan’s name is an acronym, derived from the first letters of its component Provinces and regions (Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh and Balochistan). The name of the country was based on geographical representation yet the country represented a religion. A dichotomy. At the time of partition there were 23% non Muslims living in Pakistan, which has been reduced to 3% today. Where did they go? Murdered, executed, removed from census or migrated.

As Pakistan increasingly defined itself as an Islamic state, the hardliners viewed that non Muslims could not be faithful to an Islamic state. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, credited for founding Pakistan, chose Jogendar Nath Mandal, a Hindu, as the first Law and Labor Minister to affirm secular lawyers and legal system. Alas, the legal system itself would be the nemesis of the minorities. Mandal left for India after a while when he observed the discriminatory treatment.

Jinnah complained to the viceroy against the reluctance of the Punjab government to register the votes of Ahmadis in the headquarters at Qadian on the Muslim voters register for the 1947 elections. He then made Sir Zafarullah Khan Sahib, the first foreign minister of Pakistan, calling him a Muslim of excellent devotion. While addressing public gatherings, religious leaders described Foreign Minister Khan as an apostate and a traitor and justified the killing of Ahmadis. Jinnah was skeptical of Liaquat Ali Khan, the nation’s first Prime Minister, and rightly so. Liaquat perpetuated the sense of Islamic Victimhood to garner the support of citizens.

The Delhi Pact/Liaquat-Nehru Pact sought to ensure the protection of their respective minorities and paved the way for religious refugees to return to dispose of their properties if they chose citizenship of the other dominion.

Bhutto, 1971 And Zia’s Creations

Former President and Prime Minster Zulfikar Ali Bhutto once asked his audience at a public rally, “How can Islam be in danger in a country where the Muslims are in majority? … Do you feel any danger to Islam in Pakistan?” He asked rhetorically, wondering aloud if anyone had advised the Islamists “against offering prayers or reciting the Holy Quran or to give up their religion?” In 1971, the Pakistani Army painted big yellow “H’s” on the Hindu shops to identify the property of the minority population to target them. In April of the same year, Hindus were beheaded in a central square in Faridpur and their bodies were soaked in kerosene and burned. When some Hindus, trying to save their lives, begged to convert to Islam, they were shot as unworthy non-believers.

Zia’s quest began with a 1981 University Grants Commission (UGC) directive to prospective textbook authors. The directive told authors to demonstrate through their writings, “that the basis of Pakistan is not to be founded in racial, linguistic, or geographical factors but rather in the shared experience of a common religion.” Thus, consolidating the Islamic Ideology and excluding civic nationalism, leaving no space for non Muslims as citizens. He supported the formation of an anti-Shia group in 1983, Sipah e Sahaba, that insisted on describing Yazid ibn Mu’awiya ibn Abi Sufyan, the second ruler of the 7th century Umayyad Dynasty, as an Islamic hero. Though Shias and most Sunnis blame Yazid for the brutal killing of Husayn ibn Ali at Karbala, which is historically true, Zia did this out of his intrinsic hatred for Shias.

Case Of Sherry Rehman And Shahbaz Bhatti

PPP appointed Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, Minister of Religious Minorities. Days after politician Salman Taseer’s assassination, Bhatti was killed in 2011 for speaking against his murder. Fliers were present at the site of assassination that said, “A Christian infidel, cursed on, Shahbaz Bhatti.”

Sherry Rehman, a member of PPP introduced a private bill in parliament in 2010 to amend the Blasphemy Laws to prevent the wrongful use and remove the death penalty, especially marking that only explicit words of derogation be taken as blasphemy and the cases should be referred to the High Court level. Sherry Rehman was called an apostate by the clerics and was under virtual house arrest at her home in Karachi for months because of threats to her life.

PTI, KPK And Madrasa Curriculum

The KPK, the PTI and Jamaat coalition removed mentions of important non Muslim figures, pictures of girls without their heads covered. It had added Quranic verses to science textbooks and had reintroduced mentions of Jihad in 2015. No wonder intellectuals were worried about SNC.

The Jamaat-e-Islami’s 2002 syllabus includes four books that refute the beliefs of Ahmadis alone, instead of teaching them their own faith. The books teach that the treatment for apostates is to be killed on spot. IK attended various seminars of Sami-ul-Haq, called the “father of the Taliban”. His madrassas at Akora Khattak are notorious for terrorist training and Mullah Omar is one of its alumns.

Examples Of Extremism

Into The Education Class: Case Of Saad Aziz

 Saad Aziz, a graduate of Karachi’s prestigious Institute of Business Administration (IBA) killed the Liberal activist Sabeen Mahmud in April 2015, and was implicated in an attack that killed 45 members of the minority  community in a bus in Karachi that May. It shows that no matter how educated one is in science, one must be a critical thinker in order to escape the indoctrination of such malicious ideas.

Case Of Asia Bibi

With regard to the Asia Bibi blasphemy’ affair, many observers pointed out that this initial accusation was not primarily about religion, but rather about caste. While working in the fields of the rural district of Sheikhupura, the Christian low-caste laborer Asia Bibi was rebuked by other women for drinking from the same cup as them. Only later did an accusation that was originally centered on ritual pollution turn into a blasphemy case.

The case took place in Nankana in Sheikhupura District. Asia Bibi took offense to their derogatory behavior and retorted, “Are we not humans?”, which led to Qari Salim, the local cleric accuse her of blasphemy. Salman Taseer, the former governor of Punjab and her lawyer was killed in January 2011 by his own bodyguard, Qadri, who was a follower of “Dawat-e-Islam”. In the court premises, he was showered with flower petals and kisses by the lawyers hailing him a hero. A mosque named after Qadri was built in Rawalpindi and a large shrine has been built where he is buried near Islamabad.

The Statistics

In its 2013 annual report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) described Pakistan’s failure in protecting its minorities as having reached ‘crisis proportions’.

The number of Radical Madrassas — that take harsh views of unbelievers and apostates — had risen from 6,761 in 2000 to 11,221 in 2005.

Between April 1984 and 2008, 756 ahmadis were charged with illegally displaying the kalima, 37 with offering the call to prayer, 44 with posing as Muslims, 161 with using Islamic words, 679 for preaching and 900 for violating section 298-B, 298-C and 258 cases under 295-C, 24 for distributing pamphlets criticizing the laws against them.

Between 2001 and 2008, at least 713 Shias were killed and 1,343 wounded in 86 incidents of terrorism against them.

Incidents Of Terrorism Against Minority Groups

1. Militants attacked St. Dominic’s Roman Catholic Church in Bahawalpur. 18 people were killed and their minister in 2001. Kashmir Jihadi group, Jaish e Muhammad, took the responsibility. The attack was assumed to be a protest against US airstrikes over Afghanistan, even though poor Pakistani Christians in a Punjab town clearly had nothing to do with US policy.

2. A mentally ill man was stoned to death in a village near Chak Jhumra in 2002 at the urging of the local imam under blasphemy laws.

3. In 2006, a prisoner charged with blasphemy was stabbed to death in police custody at the district and sessions court of Muzaffargarh. 5 attackers continued to stab the prisoner until they were certain of his death.

4. In 2006, police charged Tariq with blasphemy because he had allegedly removed anti-Ahmadi stickers inside a bus. In another case, Ahmadis were charged for watching television programmes in a private garage that had its door open due to summer heat.

5. On 26 April 2002, 12 women and children were killed and dozens injured due to an explosion in a Shia mosque in Bhakkar, Punjab.

 6. In 2009, a suicide attack killed 28 Shias and wounded more than 60 leaving shoes and torn clothing littering a bloodstained street in the northwest of country. Some of the dead and injured were taken to hospital in wooden handcarts.

7. In 2010, 2 suicide bombers killed 42 people at the Data Darbar, a 900 year old shrine in Lahore to Data Gunj Bakhsh Ali Hajveri. The media accused US and Ahmadis for the attack (who are themselves victims)

8. In 2011, 26 Shia pilgrims on their way to Iran were lined up in front of their bus and shot dead.

9. In 2010, during Friday prayers militants attacked 2 worship places of Ahmadis killing 98 and wounding 110 people.

10. Five Christian boys were arrested in 2001 aged 10 to 15. They were treating a donkey and the medicine they used on its wounds streamed in different shapes. A group of islamists declared that the boys had written Holy names on the donkey. The boys and the donkey were detained.

11. In Gojra, on blasphemy allegations, Sipah e Sahaba gathered a crowd of 1,000 and burned the Christians alive and razed their houses to the ground.

Kalpana Devi – A Hindu Lawyer (Zubaan Series)

Kalpana says, force really comes into play in areas such as Thar and Mitthi with the girls and women of the mazarin. These people are oppressed, uneducated and know the only way they will get two meals a day is by pleasing their vaderas (feudals). They are essentially slaves and there if any feudal Lords or his son gets interested in a girl, he kidnaps and rapes her and keeps her for 10 to 15 days. Then all of a sudden she comes back and because they fear people’s reaction, you find that she has a certificate from a madrassa saying that she is no longer a Hindu but a Muslim, an instance of forced conversion.

The recent example we see is in the words of Nabeel Gabol, a member of PPP, who said we pick up any girl we like. His words reflect the mindset of an average Sindhi Feudal. As this is a current event, we see what Kalpana Devi meant.

Faryal Talpur and Kalpana Devi

Kalpana Devi met Faryal Talpur (sister of Zardari) and told her it was vital that the legal age of maturity be fixed and applied in all cases of runaway marriages that then turn into forced conversions. If 18 is the age when we are eligible to vote, then why not fix the age of marriage at 18? Puberty should not be equated with readiness for marriage or for decision making regarding marriage. A girl may reach puberty at the age of 11 or 14, but she is certainly not mature enough to take major decisions about her life.

The very next day, the issue was raised in the Sindh Assembly. Sharmila Farooqi had forwarded the request on increasing the minimum age of marriage. The matter was discussed and the bill was passed fixing the age of marriage at 18. Since then a major girl should stay in a shelter home where she can rethink her decision and find time to decide whether she wants to go back or to the man she has decided on so that in the heat of the moment and confusion, the girl won’t be trapped into the cases of FCM straightaway. But still the problem will arise when she comes of age at 18 years and wants to return to her family. There should be laws flexible enough not to make her liable for the death penalty for apostasy.

But why are there such laws in the first place, as Pakistan has signed some international treaties? Parents can file charges under 365 B of the PPC if the girl marries on her own accord calling it an abduction as it becomes a matter of honor. But the government doesn’t do anything about that. Let’s look into the laws that Pakistan was meant to give protection to children regarding religion and when they come of age of wilful marriages, but failed to execute. Under their shadow, 295 of the Penal Code should not even exist, as religious adoption must be a free choice.

In the end, to envision the Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah wanted, we cite an excerpt from his speech:

“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, caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”


Purifying the Land of the Pure by Farhanaz Ispahani.

Disputed Legacies (The Pakistan Papers; Zubaan Series)

Pakistan Under Siege by Madiha Afzal 

Maria-Magdalena Fuchs & Simon Wolfgang Fuchs (2020)

Religious Minorities in Pakistan: Identities, Citizenship and Social Belonging , South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 43:1, 52-67 

Dr. Hiba Imran

Dr. Hiba Imran studied Medicine and is interested in Social Sciences. She has written for The Youth Diplomacy Forum Pakistan.

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