75 years of Pakistan: The White in Our Flag



“You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”


Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah


It’s been 75 years since Pakistan emerged as an independent country and her people obtained the right to self-determination. Now, 75 years later, the question is whether every citizen of this country is able to exercise this right. Mr. Jinnah uttered the above-quoted words on August 11th, 1947, as a promise to everyone living within the boundaries of Pakistan, that they would not have to face the very iniquity that led to the formation of Pakistan – religious oppression. Pakistan was promised to be a free land where people could hold onto their beliefs and be allowed to practice their faith without fear. It’s 2022, and can we say that Pakistan is, in fact, what was promised?


We live in the age of information. Therefore, I can confidently say that there is no bubble of misconceptions when it comes to the realities of this country. Even if there used to be any such bubble, it has long burst. It is true that there are many who make a conscious decision to choose ignorance, but that doesn’t give them a pass from being unaware of the realities. A reason for this is that even the people who choose to reside in a ‘liberal’ Pakistan, have to constantly cross through the realities of the country to make their way to the part they deem ‘progressive’. In their passing, they are forced to see a Pakistan that was perhaps unsought. A Pakistan that’s a nest of religious intolerance.


وہ انتظار تھا جس کا یہ وہ سحر تو نہیں ۔۔۔۔


The fact is that people in a country are not truly free if not every one of them is free to practice what they believe in. A country where people can force a man to remove his Sabeel because his conduct was a part of ‘shia rasumaat’, is not truly free. An Ahmedi man was recently repeatedly stabbed to death for refusing to raise Islamic slogans. There have been incidents of bomb blasts in churches and in Shia processions during the holy month of Muharram. People often accuse individuals of ‘blasphemy’ and then decide to be the judge, jury, and executioners themselves. So many lives have been lost over this fact alone – for instance, Mashal Khan in 2017. When Asia Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy allegations by the courts in 2018, she had to leave the country because it was too unsafe for her to continue to reside in Pakistan. It is important to remember that Minorities Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti and Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer were both assassinated in 2011 for advocating on Asia Bibi’s behalf and their stance against blasphemy laws. There are countless other incidents that I fail to mention here.


Pakistan was made on the basis of religious and cultural differences. The two-nation theory. What this fact explains is that different nations cannot coexist unless there is tolerance amongst them. A new country cannot be declared every time people with varying beliefs live in one place. There are only two possible outcomes. One, that people learn to respect each other’s differences, or two, they can continue to live in an unsafe land where no one is safe from the sickness of religious intolerance and extremism. And they can continue to argue about the ill fate of minorities seven more decades later.


Another sickness that ails this country is hypocrisy. As a Muslim-majority country, it hurts us deeply when other countries declare laws that oppress Muslim beliefs, or when foreigners speak of our Prophet PBUH with disrespect. And rightfully so. However, doesn’t this sentiment need to go both ways? Our anger and grief as Muslims are only justified if we can demonstrate that we are capable of the religious tolerance we are demanding of others. Demanding tolerance and freedom to practice Islam for Muslims while various religious minorities are marginalized and persecuted in our own country. Isn’t it pure hypocrisy?


Pakistan was meant to be a secular state, some would argue. And it actually was a secular state until it was declared the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 1956. Which of these was better, doesn’t matter at this point in time. I believe we should focus on working with what we currently are. Regardless of what it was supposed to be, the fact is that Pakistan is an Islamic republic with Islam being the state religion. This reality should not cause any hindrances in what I have been arguing in favour of –religious tolerance and riddance from extremism. After all, Islam is supposed to be a religion of peace. According to the teachings of Islam, people who do not believe in Allah or his Prophet PBUH, do deserve to live their lives freely. They deserve to live freely, safely, and happily with autonomy over their lives and property. This is what Islam says.


Holding on to what was, or what should’ve been is choosing to linger in what is no more. The only way forward, the way to true progress and advancement is for us as a country to embark on a mission to pursue true freedom. The reality of our country is that today many are not even permitted to go to their mosques, let alone their temples. Therefore, we must endeavor to emancipate ourselves from the shackles of hate and intolerance so we can one day claim, with no qualms, that the minorities in our country stand alongside the majority, not several steps behind.


The day we start teaching our kids the importance of respecting the white in our flag is the day Pakistan will truly set on the path to becoming Jinnah’s Pakistan.


 

Laraib Laiq is an in-house writer and editor at Perspective.


Cover credits: Rihab Nadeem (Instagram: @arthentic.rsn)


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