“I, the above mentioned candidate solemnly swear that, (i) I believe in the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad (Peace be upon him), the last of the prophets and that I am not the follower of any one who claims to be a Prophet in any sense of the word or of any description whatsoever after Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), and that I do not recognise such a claimant to be Prophet or a religious reformer, nor do I belong to the Qadiani group or the Lahori group or call myself an Ahmadi.”
This is the controversial text of the Elections Bill 2017 whose slight alteration has become the cause of a raging, country-wide debate, and in so doing, has managed to overshadow everything else within it that was of more importance. The recently passed bill had the words “solemnly swear” exchanged with “I believe” – intentionally or unintentionally – turning the given text into “I, the above mentioned candidate believe that I believe in the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophet of Muhammad (Peace be upon him)…”
Although a seemingly harmless alteration – one can safely deduct from the repetition of the phrase “I believe” that the given modification was a clerical mistake – this change in terminology initiated a whirlwind of much unneeded, vile, rhetoric, whose epitome was achieved, ironically, by a notable member of the government.
Captain (retd.) Safdar Awan, husband of Maryam Nawaz Sharif, used the confusion caused by the given issue to launch into a lengthy speech in the National Assembly Tuesday last week, which was centred on the importance of the belief in Khatm-e-Nabuwwat, and a completely unrestrained and unwarranted denigration of the Ahmadi sect.
Highlights – or, shall we say, “lowlights” – of the speech included his demand that people belonging to the Ahmadi sect – being a “threat to this country, its Constitution, and ideology” – should be barred from joining the armed forces of Pakistan since they “cannot be trusted” and the insistence that the renaming of Quaid-i-Azam University’s centre for physics after Dr. Abdus Salam – the Pakistani Ahmadi Nobel Prize winner – by his father-in-law, was a wrong move. Captain Safdar then went on to insist that he considered Zulfikar Ali Bhutto a martyr because of the steps he took against the Ahmadiyya community.
One can hardly fathom what truly was the purpose of Captain Safdar’s rant. Was he trying to reiterate the conservativeness of PML-N, that has, of late, taken “left-leaning” measures to promote religious tolerance in the country (much like his uncle-in-law did earlier)? Was he trying to appease Pakistan’s extremist, radicalised, public after finding himself smack in the middle of the Panamagate scandal, embroiled in corruption charges? Or was he trying to distract lawmakers from other, more important issues in the amendment, such as the proposal that “No MNA can be disqualified for more than 5 years”, or Clause 203, which allows every citizen of the country who is not in governmental service, to hold office within a political party?
The fact that the continued discussion over the Khatm-e-Nabuwat clause is mostly led by members of the government, themselves – even if their comments are made to denounce the insulting claims made by Captain Safdar against the Ahmadiyya community – signals to the tirade being masterminded by the ruling party, itself. After all, once Ayaz Sadiq made the assurance that the “clerical mistake” in the Elections Bill, now law, would be reversed to the original, no members of the opposition, except for the ever-audacious Sheikh Rasheed, have continued to make a huge deal out of the issue. PTI did jump at the opportunity to criticise the government, however, they did not seem to be as emotionally charged over it as did Rasheed. On the other hand, representatives of the government like Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Prime Minister of the country, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and president of the ruling party, Nawaz Sharif, have all kept the development – which, undoubtedly is shameful for them – in the news by issuing condemnations of Captain Safdar’s inappropriate views, discourse, and behaviour.
While it is appreciable to see important members of a conservative party openly condemning what must be termed as their fellow party member’s hate speech against a minority, reiterating PML-N’s now-progressive manifesto which declares all religious minorities of the country as “equal citizens”, yet this positive development should not succeed in obscuring the ruling party’s attempts to alter the constitution in order to accommodate an ousted, criminal, former Prime Minister. It is undeniably important that all minorities in the country must be protected and none be publicly insulted if we live in a democracy, however, letting the government get away with audacious amendments that normalise criminal behaviour, simply because they have displayed a progressive stance on a key subject, is also a massive failure on behalf of our democratic system – something that must be protested at all costs.
It is, and should, not be a case of one or the other – it should be and is a case of both.