…….. AN ISLAMIC TRADITION
By Brig Samason S Sharaf
Recently, in a seminar organized by the National Christian Movement on ‘Revival and Unity: Our Mutual Responsibilities’ it was noticeable that the awareness of responsibilities to the state was being eclipsed by survival instincts. The phenomena created by polarized environments of the past had triggered a defensive mechanism detrimental to a Pakistani Construct; understandable but detestable. As a keynote speaker, I spoke on the contributions of religious minorities in Pakistan Movement and why as equal citizens of the country, cocooning ourselves into seclusion was not a solution. The message; it was imperative to participate vigorously in the mainstream to reclaim our position ceded to the forces of ignorance and intolerance. Tragically, it appeared that the syndrome typical to excluded and marginalized communities in an exclusive environment was taking its toll and driving communities into a seclusion that breeds negative social indicators; a challenging though not an impossible trend to reverse.
But this is neither an isolated incident nor a recent trend. Rather, it indicates a larger problem perpetuated by a neglectful state. A survey of unplanned urbanization, shanty housings and slums circumventing cities indicates a divide and marginalization at large. This growing divide and correspondingly rise in crime around posh centers is a tale most Pakistanis would not like to believe. Failure of the civic services, government dominated education system, policing and absence of result oriented civic bodies have all added to this negative and destructive trend that provides breeding grounds for crime and militancy. Political corruption, rising inflation, lack of job opportunities, corrupt lower judiciaries and bureaucratization of government officials have driven a sizable majority of Pakistanis towards disenchantment and lack of trust in the system. In unsettling environments, when the entire state fails its people; the rule of law makes no sense and deprivation breeds sub-nationalism. Indeed a sorry state of affairs for a country created with the singular objective of protecting the group interests of minorities including Muslims of the undivided India.
Without doubt, evolution of Pakistan’s political culture and constitutionalism has violated Qaid E Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s speech to Pakistan’s first constituent Assembly and remains a volte face on the ethics of Pakistan movement built around minority rights. Most, it is an aspersion on the spirit of the Holy Prophet’s covenant with the Christians of the Monastery of Saint Catherine in Sinai in 628AD.
What we actually have in place is a virtual national narrative dominated by the ultra right denying space to religious and sectarian minority group; a group of old and nouveaux elites engrossed in their bubbles; and a system fused to its colonial Achilles Heels. Hate literature in our educational curriculum, misuse of the pulpit, social taboos against low income minority groups, misuse of blasphemy laws in the backdrop of growing intolerance and violence have all contributed to this marginalization. Minority communities in particular have to tread very carefully in what they say or what they do, living in perpetual fear and hence withdrawing to their ghetto.
While cosmetic efforts have been made in the constitution to ensure representation of minorities, the final choice to select the representatives is left at the hands of the political parties. The lack of democratic and transparent procedure usurps the rights of minorities to elect credible representatives. The present procedure is in violation of Article 226 of the Constitution and cedes space for manipulation. It also deprives the electorate from choosing its own candidate under Article 51 of the Constitution.
The voice of minority and human rights activists remains suppressed due to the callous attitude and vested interests of the ruling and opportunist leaders. The higher judiciary has no time for taking up these important issues. What political parties pay in lip service is not transformed into a truly democratic tradition. Rather the choice is to augment numbers in parliament through ineffective yes-men. The system deprives minority groups the opportunities to participate in broad based national politics and relegates them to a lowly non productive role. The devolution of the Minority Affairs to the provinces speaks volumes of this mindset and why a cohesive and constructive policy on integrating minorities in the mainstream politics of Pakistan will remain elusive.
St. Catherine's is the world's oldest monastery located at the foot of Mount Sinai in Egypt and in terms of Christian manuscripts, second only to the Vatican. In 628 AD, a delegation from St. Catherine's Monastery came to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and requested his protection. He responded by granting them a charter of rights. In AD 1517, Ottoman Sultan Selim I took the original letter of protection for safekeeping to the royal treasury in Constantinople. At the same time, he gave the monastery certified copies of this document, each depicting the hand print of Mohammed in token of his having stamped the original.
Consequently, this treasure house of Christian history has remained safe for 1,400 years under Muslim protection. Its spirit has always dominated an inclusive Christian-Muslim culture in countries like Egypt, Jordon, Syria, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia and Palestine and withstood the turmoil of crusades and wars. Though the Arab and other Muslim Scholars quote frequently from this treaty, Pakistani scholars, religious leaders and universities have ignored this important document ‘valid till eternity’ in discussions. Logically, it should become the basis of relationship between the Christians and Muslims of Pakistan. Below are the excerpts from the Treaty:
"This is a message from Muhammad Ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them.
No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims' houses.
Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God's covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.
No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.
No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world)."
It is time that Pakistani Scholars, religious leaders and Parliament evaluate this document and restore that balance in inter faith harmony as decreed by the Holy Prophet.