By Saad Hasan
PakistanÕs leading Muslim scholars stand united on the fact that minorities enjoy equal rights in every aspect of life. Islam makes no distinction between a Muslim and non-Muslim in matters of business, property and honor. Yet, Christians, Hindus and Ahmedis have continuously been attacked and killed in recent years because of their beliefs.
At a time when the country is faced with many problems, the Islamic parties generally tend to play down the issues of the minorities. After all, they say, the government is running short on cash, the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) struggling to keep order within its ranks, militants blowing themselves up in mosques, political rivalries resulting in everyday deaths in Karachi, all this makes the plight of the minorities their last
Maulana Tanveer Ul Haq Thanvi, a well-known authority on matters of religion, said that when it comes to life, Islam gives protection not just to humans. ÒProphet Muhammad (PBUH) was even against the cutting of trees. How can Islam then preach killing?Ó
Minorities in Pakistan suffer at the hands of misguided individuals and not because of any thought-out Muslim movement, he said. ÒSurely, the blame for this lies with government. Authorities want to be seen close to the scholars who side with the extremist interpretation of Islam.Ó
In recent years, the perception about the scholars has also changed with the rise in suicide bombings and the hard stand taken by religious parties against the participation in the war on terror, he said.
ÒWe condemn every act in which the minorities are targeted. I wonÕt agree with the reports that Ulema remained silent when Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti was killed. We actually held a meeting of leading scholars in Karachi to condemn it.Ó
History, he said, was replete with examples of minorities enjoying unprecedented rights under the rule of Muslim leaders. ÒIslam is a religion of peace and practicality. There is no place for wild behavior in it,Ó he said referring to the senseless murder of non-Muslims.
Being a sensitive matter, many Muslim scholars prefer not to discuss the issue of the blasphemy law, which is seen by the minorities and human rights organisations as being misused for the victimisation of many non-Muslims.
The fact that hundreds of people have been killed by US drone attacks has further complicated the situation. It has provided room for extremists to exploit the feelings of the people to their advantage.
Minorities, especially the Hindus, have been complaining for some time about the growing number of forced conversions to Islam. ÒThis is unacceptable in light of the teachings of Islam. Muslims cannot even offer any privileges to lure a non-Muslim into the folds of Islam,Ó Maulana Thanvi said.
Some scholars lay all the blame for rising extremism and intolerance on the governmentÕs policy of cooperating with the US in the war in Afghanistan.
Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman said that government has also willingly allowed the more extremists of the scholars to have a larger say in matters of religion. ÒThe groups, which have AK-47s, easily enforce their ideals on the state.Ó
However, he said that Pakistan gives far more rights to minorities than a lot of other countries. ÒI donÕt think there are many countries where minorities have reserved seats in parliament.Ó
About the attacks on the minorities, he said that these had been scattered incidences. ÒThese are nothing like what we witness in India where Muslims and Sikhs have been targeted under a proper plan.Ó