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What should minorities do

by M B Naqvi, 24 November 2003

print version of this article print version, 24 November 2003

For minorities, including smaller sects of Islam, should not organise themselves communally. Instead of being protected, they may only help set up a cycle of revenge violence. Their best chance lies in the liberals in the given majority being mobilised for promoting tolerance and peaceful conditions. Counter violence, in the name of either defence (deterrence) or revenge is to step on a slippery slope, which is sure to promote even greater counter mobilisation by the majority. When a minority organizes a militia, it does so at its own peril. For, the majority is sure to ask: they are organizing (uniting) against whom? Its extremists are sure to magnify the danger from the minority and intensify their mobilization, making it more effective or murderous.

This is an unfamiliar and unsought advice and is not likely to please. The dynamism that results from acting on common notions is generally ignored. Doesn’t every schoolboy know that unity is strength or smaller numbers can be offset by greater commitment? And yet, what is the evidence? No communal mobilisation by a minority can prevent attacks on its members in the fastnesses of the country. They can only be brought into action for taking revenge. That sets up a tit for tat cycle of violence. Once that takes hold, no minority can win; it is bound to lose more often. No minority can mobilise as many men and material as a majority can.

The experience of late 1980s and 1990s sectarian violence is before us. In order to take on Sipah-i-Sahaba, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi etc., the Shias had formed their Sipah-i-Mohammad. After a decade it is necessary to count who had more people killed? There is no doubt more Shias have died in sectarian violence than Sunnis. Supposing the Shias had not had any organisation for avenging their losses, what would be the situation. True, Shias would still have suffered, losses, in the dead and maimed but the total on both sides, would have been less. By the same token, panic and losses among Shias would have been smaller.

In order to illustrate the point, suppose there was also a Muslim militia in Gujarat last year. Would that have meant fewer losses for the Muslim minority or more? Resistance in kind would surely have meant much greater and even more efficient mobilisation by the majority. Total losses of the Muslims would surely have been far greater, even if many Hindus might also have suffered. In Pakistan, this temptation for defensive communal mobilisation is pointless for religious minorities like Hindus and Christians; they are too few to register on the majority’s radar. Sectarian minorities have occupied the place of religious minorities. Majority community takes out its accumulated spleen on the sectarian communities.

Historically too, it is about time to assess what the Muslim community lost and gained from the partition of the Sub-continent, the result of excessive communal frenzy on both sides, involving world’s largest ethnic cleansing to date. The Muslims thinking they would never get a fair deal from the Hindu majority forced the issue. As is peculiar to all communalisms, the Muslim League had taken the vast body of Hindus as one undifferentiated unit that would, for all time to come, take just one (hostile and unfair) view and oppress the Muslims. Like any majority Hindus comprised many schools and had their full share of communalists (who took the Muslims as an undifferentiated mass of united people who will always make trouble). More schools of thought will come into being with time. Isn’t this true of the Pakistani majority? Aren’t there many opinions among Sunni majority about treating the minority sects among Muslims?

The question persists: Was the Muslim League’s victory in 1947, with the help of the British, the best solution of Muslim community’s backwardness and poverty? If a separatist and inimical approach had not been brought to bear on the situation in 1940s to worsen it, Muslims would now be 400 million or more in India that could scarcely be oppressed or seriously discriminated against. Undivided India would have offered more opportunities for development. Despite the short sightedness of Congress leadership and its hatred for Quaid-i-Azam, there were many schools of thought, among them, i.e. leftists of various hues who were genuinely non-communalists who were keen to eradicate the poverty of all Indians, Hindus, and Muslims alike. Moreover, there were many Hindus who shared a lot of cultural traits with Punjabi and Urdu speaking Muslims, as was the case in Bengal and Bihar.

Opportunities for Muslims would have been incomparably greater in an undivided India; without their substantial support no government could run in Delhi. The very Hindus, who frightened the Muslim League so much had to be politically divided, and thus would have needed their votes. How long could the communalist politicians deny benefits to the voter? Only thing that would have made for fair play and justice for all was democracy. And there could be no chance for a non-democratic government in India then and now.

These are however might have beens of history. They have no direct relevance. India was partitioned, hopefully finally for the benefit of all its parts. Let us try and make Pakistan a success in terms of human freedoms and popular welfare. But Pakistan inherited the blight of a hollow militaristic mind that is moved by a shallow, indeed bogus, pan-Islamic sentiment. The result is the curse of military rule; power balance among political groups is heavily tilted in favour of the military. So it pre-empts democracy and thus subordinates human rights and popular welfare to its own needs and preferences.

One fact is obvious: sectarianism is a part of the larger phenomenon of intolerance, especially over religious matters. It won’t go away until people learn to be tolerant of differing views and faiths of other communities, groups or parties. Rationalist attitude of tolerance of the other viewpoint and resolving differences through reasonable argumentation is needed. Religious intolerance against Hindus, Christians, Parsis and others is a kin of sectarianism and all such phenomena stand or fall together. So, if sectarianism is to be exterminated, people will need a society and state that tolerate all faiths, views and groups. In other words, State should promote a tolerant and democratic society.

There are prerequisites of social peace and harmony: a pluralist society cannot be achieved unless it is embedded in human rights that are truly respected – of all men and women, Muslims or non-Muslims. Only in such a society can Shias, Sunnis, Ahle Haddis, Daudi Bohras, Aga Khanis, Zikris, and Ahmedis can happily co-exist and make progress together. Such a society, to repeat, has to recognize the supremacy of and respect for, human beings, qua human beings, over every other value. Guarantees for freedom, primarily of faith and opinions are implicit in humanistic value. In other words, it presupposes a democracy that does not discriminate in favour of any particular faith or opinion or against any religion or sect or parties. For ensuring social peace and solidarity for all Pakistanis, the basic requirement is to make Pakistan strong through unity of all truly secular approach is vitally needed.

Unnecessary confusion has resulted from demands of an Islamic State. A 95 percent Muslim country like Pakistan, any democratic government would be Islamic. Since the ulema’s 22 demands before Khwaja Nazimuddin in early 1950s, these have grown. Each time a constitution was made in 1954, 1956, 1962, 1973, or even in the case of abortive one of 19th December 1971 by General Yahya Khan – major ulema had expressed satisfaction over its Islamic provisions adequately. Even in 1971 case, Yahya Khan shared the details of his constitution to the then JI chief, who termed it was adequately Islamic. The same was true in the case of 1973 Constitution. Maulanas Mufti Mahmud, Shah Ahmed Noorani and JI’s Professor Ghafoor Ahmad signed it. Even so, they agreed with Zia that scope for more Islamisation exists.

An Islamic dispensation obviously presupposes two things: All Muslims must have no differences over what is Islam or on its rights and obligations for different Muslims and of course non-Muslims. Well, there happens to be no homogenized, simple Musalman; what is to be found, and thanks to ulema as a class, a Sunni Musalman, a Shia Musalman, an Ahmadi or Zikri Musalman. Iqbal, Jinnah or Sir Syed could ignore sectarian distinctions. But can the JUI, JUP, JI or other MMA members do the same? Mufti Mahmud’s idea of Islamic State was the enforcement of Shariah as defined by his Hanafi school of thought. For JUP enforcement of 500 fatwas, the Fatwa-i-Alamgiri, plus the acceptance of actual rites and practices of Indian Islam constituted the implementation of Nizam-i-Mustafa.

Who can escape defining a Muslim accurately to know what Islam demands from Muslims and non-Muslims. Jinnah wanted all Pakistanis to be treated equally; he asked JN Mandal to preside over the first session of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. How can now a Hindu or Parsi be discriminated against? In the Meesaq-i-Madina, the Prophet of Islam included Jews into his Ummat-i-Waheda. Like Jinnah he too wanted a secular dispensation for the Madina’s incipient state and there is nothing on record that any discrimination was ever shown towards non-Muslims in Islam other than paying a tax in lieu of compulsory Jihad.

Moreover, further efforts to Islamise Pakistan will stoke the fires of sectarianism among Muslims even, if non-Muslims get ignored. The ulema have achieved one thing: the undifferentiated Musalman of Sir Syed, Iqbal and Jinnah has been killed. For them a Musalman is either a Deobandi kind of Sunni or a Barelwi type of Sunni or sympathizer of JI or a Shia or Ahmadi or Bohra or Agha Khani or Zikri or Ahle Hadis. This sectarianism is a natural product of the efforts to capture power by orthodox leaders.

It is dangerous. Muslims are divided in over a hundred sects. Each sect believes it is the true and the only Islam there is. In matters of faith no compromise is possible. Think of the consequences of religious leaders making politics the means of acquiring more support, influence, money and eventuallypower. If sectarianism spreads, Pakistan as a state would collapse. What will then happen is not foreign invasion or intervention. Jealousies among great and neighbouring powers will prevent that. But once sectarian passions flare up, the next stops will be Somalia or Bosnia. Do we want that?