By Yasser Latif Hamdani (writing in Daily Times)
Malaysia is often quoted as a model by some members of our urban middle class, which is impressed with the glitter of that country but are completely ignorant of its constitution and laws. In my view, in so far as constitutions go, the Malaysian constitution is the worst and the least free amongst all the states that emerged from a British colonial system. It is also the most oppressive legal system when it comes to the rights of Muslims. To start with, only the Shafi brand of Sunni Islam is recognised as Islam in Malaysia. Minority sects, especially the Shia Muslims, are persecuted and driven underground. Shia Islam is banned by law and only recently a group of Shia mourners were rounded up by the police for practising their faith. Malaysia is as theocratic as a theocracy can be. However, to Malaysia’s credit, the Indian and Chinese ethnic populations as well as the apostates who decide to leave Islam are allowed to live their lives freely (though Malays who choose to convert out of the faith lose their constitutional privileges).
In contrast, Pakistan’s constitution promises religious freedom and equality of citizenship. Each sect of Islam, barring the Ahmedis who have been excommunicated by the notorious Second Amendment, can practise Islam in their own way. In principle, under Pakistani law, the Ahmediyya sect has not been banned, unlike Malaysia, but given the status of a separate faith with freedom of religion accorded to its members like any other citizen of Pakistan, though our Kharijites — being the hypocrites they are — have enacted blatantly unconstitutional laws that infringe on the Ahmedis’ right to worship freely. Pakistan, with the second largest Shia population in the world, cannot logically ban the Shia sect, though many groups have asked for precisely that.
Of course the fact that Pakistan’s founding father, whose birthday thankfully falls on Christmas Day thereby allowing our Christian minority to get a day off as well, was a Khoja Shia Mohammaden according to an affidavit signed by Fatima Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan and Pakistan’s current president is a Shia Muslim are additional reasons for Pakistan not to ban Shias altogether. Incidentally, Jinnah had in May 1944 in Srinagar declared in no uncertain terms that anyone who professes to be a Muslim is a Muslim and no one had the right to say otherwise. Quite ironically, Jinnah was responding to a question posed by some religious fanatic regarding the Ahmedis. There will, however, come a time when no one will dare to mention these facts about the founding father of Pakistan. The right-wing judiciary of Pakistan has already laid the foundation of the Sunnification of Mr Jinnah by declaring in the 1980s that he was a mainstream Muslim. If Shia ulema do not take a stance alongside the liberals and progressives of Pakistan on issues such as blasphemy and other laws, they might be next in line after the Ahmedis and soon-to-be-kafir Ismailis. It is no surprise that Jamaat-e-Islami and other right-wing forces love to quote Mahatir Muhammad and Malaysia as an example to follow. Malaysia has all the elements that a fascist with a Maududist bent of mind would want in a country.
Even though the 1973 Constitution was a poorly thought out document that had strong theocratic moorings mixed with outright plagiarism of the British Government of India Act 1935 and the Indian constitution of 1950, Pakistan was not a theocratic state till the military dictator General Ziaul Haq decided to institute a Federal Shariat Court with the arbitrary and irrational power of determining what was Islamic or what was not, thereby limiting the power of the people’s representatives to legislate constitutionally. Before 1980, the question of what was repugnant to Islam and what was not was left to parliament, with the Council of Islamic Ideology advising them and guiding them but not binding them. After 1980, this power was vested in a court — formulated and filled with nominees of a crazed Islamist dictator, supported by the US and Jamaat-e-Islami in the jihad against godless Soviet Union — and who since then have managed to maintain the hegemony of the literalist Kharijite mullahs and Maududists in the said court. The same court recently de-criminalised rape in Pakistan for all practical purposes amidst applause from every mullah in the country. Shame really on the mullahs. They uphold the laws of Islamist dictator General Zia because it allows women to be raped without recourse but denounce laws by the relatively secular dictator General Ayub because those laws ban the age old practice of hallala, which mullahs have long misused for the legal gratification of their own unholy sexual desires.
The Malaysian theocracy cannot be compared to our theocracy because Malaysian theocracy, fascist and bigoted as it is, has a method to its madness. Our theocracy is run at the whim and desire of the mullah who misleads a semi-literate brainwashed population. In Malaysia, non-Muslims at least live somewhat freely and an element of choice exists. In Pakistan, despite being constitutionally more liberal in terms of fundamental rights, there is no choice and no escape largely because Pakistan’s secular elite is too cowardly and too self-absorbed to take on the mullah for the greater good of the country. Unless Mr Zardari, Mr Gilani and the Pakistani establishment realise just how damaging the effects of our double speak and hypocrisy are to Pakistani society, there is no choice. The more likely scenario is that Mr Zardari will go down the route of his illustrious father-in-law, making all the compromises with the mullahs. If only the PPP and its leadership were capable of learning from history. With the likes of Babar Awan — that self professed eagle who has vowed never to allow amendments to the blasphemy laws — to misguide the party, the whole situation is hopeless and beyond redemption.
The writer is a lawyer. He also blogs at http://pakteahouse.net and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org