By Haris Raja
Growing up as a kid in Pakistan, I still remember how much joy 14 August brought to our lives. The Independence Day used to be the main attraction of the summer vacations for many of us. I recall my brother and I staying up late night decorating our house with candles, flashy lights and buntings. We would wear badges of “Dil Dil Pakistan” and “Jashn-e-Azadi” with the Pakistani flag on them. This was a time when the Quaid’s message of unity was most palpable, as the entire nation – all faiths and ethnicities – came together to celebrate their common homeland.
Years went by, and as I grew older, another reality struck me when I was in college. My close friends, who I had known for years, ganged up on me one day and decided to boycott me. They wouldn’t hang out with me anymore. Shocked by this sudden change, I asked why? Their response was chilling and struck me like an iron rod. “You are a Qadiani (pejorative for Ahmadi),” they said.
It was not only my friends who disowned me.
My country had already disowned me in 1974 through a constitutional amendment that declared the Ahmadis non-Muslim. The anti-Ahmadi Ordinance XX by General Zia further castigated the Ahmadiyya community in 1984, and made it virtually impossible for Ahmadis to practice their faith in Pakistan.
When the Quaid-e-Azam stood up to address the newly formed nation in 1947, he clearly stated, “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.” Pakistan was made – equally – for all those who resided in it. Then why marginalization of a patriotic Pakistani community? Why discriminate based on faith?
The Quaid did not ask Sir Muhammad Zafrullah Khan’s faith when appointing him Pakistan’s representative in front of the Boundary Commission. Many Pakistanis do not even know that Mr. Khan, who also served as Pakistan’s first Foreign Minister, was an Ahmadi. He also represented Pakistan at the United Nations Security Council where he led the diplomatic battle for the liberation of occupied Kashmir, Palestine and many Arab lands.
Dr. Abdus Salam, also an Ahmadi, wore a traditional Pakistani dress when he went to receive his Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979. It was an occasion of pride for the entire Pakistani nation. The most prestigious body in the world had recognized the extraordinary work of a Pakistani genius. A Pakistani scientist had won the Nobel Prize for the first time. And when Dr. Salam had the opportunity to present himself in front of the world, he chose to represent his country in traditional Pakistani style.
Major General Iftikhar Janjua, who was also from an Ahmadi family, sacrificed his life in the war of 1971. He holds the record for the highest-ranking military official to have lost his life in the line of duty. He fought for the country he loved. There were so many other Ahmadis who served in various capacities in the Armed Forces of Pakistan. They fought bravely to defend their country. They all loved Pakistan.
The faith of all these heroes was their personal matter. It never came in between them and service to their country. I wondered why then, they were being cast aside as lesser citizens? Even today, despite the injustices meted out, Pakistan’s Ahmadis proudly represent it worldwide.
I still wonder why Dr. Atif Mian – a renowned economist at Princeton University named by the IMF among the top 25 economists under the age of 45 – cares about Pakistan’s economy so much. He is an Ahmadi who wants his country to flourish and prosper. I wonder why Ali Akbar, father of Sitara Brooj Akbar, a young Ahmadi girl who holds the world record for the youngest girl to pass the O’ Levels and the IELTS examinations, took pride in calling his daughter, “the daughter of Pakistan.”
Friends, on this Independence Day, let us remind ourselves to build a nation not on the basis of prejudices but on the basis of unity. In the words of the Quaid: “Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”
This year, when I wear my “Dil Dil Pakistan” badge, do not ask what faith I belong to. Just accept my hug!