The case of an elderly doctor who was arrested for reading the Quran in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan reminded me of an ancient religious tradition of this equally ancient land — the law of Manu, in particular the law stated in Chapter IV, Verse 81 of the law of Manu: “For he who explains the sacred law (to a Sudra) or dictates to him a penance, will sink together with that (man) into the hell (called) Asamvrita.”
I doubt that Hindus today take this ancient religious law seriously but it seems Pakistani Muslims, or at least those who are officially sanctioned to call themselves Muslims, seem to follow a selective version of it. Let us suspend disbelief and hypothetically accept that our National Assembly had the right to define who is not a Muslim in 1974. Let us even accept — for the sake of argument though it is extremely hard for any reasonable and sane person to do so — that the Ordinance XX of 1984 is not a bad law and that Ahmedis should not be allowed to call themselves Muslims and their places of worship mosques. However, stopping them from reading the Quran? Forget that it is part of their religious belief and forget that their modes of worship like any citizen of Pakistan are protected acts under the constitution of Pakistan. Are we saying that the Holy Quran, which calls its author, i.e. God, the ‘Rab-al-Alameen’ or Lord of all the worlds, is limited to Muslims? Who are non-Muslims to decide whether they want to join the fold of Islam or not without reading the Holy Quran?
This would of course not make any sense given that some of the finest scholars of Islam and Islamic law have been non-Muslims. The first authentic text on Islamic personal law I read was by one D F Mulla who, despite his last name, was a Parsi. Thanks to the prodding of Pakistan’s greatest online archivist, Mr Aamir Mughal, I have downloaded the text Hindu Mufakareen ki Qurani Khidmat (The Quranic Services of Hindu Thinkers). This copy carries a stamp of Maktaba Rahmania and is published by Darul-Nawadar, the publisher of religious books in Lahore. It contains an introduction to over 100 different translations and exegeses of the holy Quran by Hindu linguists and theologians. It also quotes Syed Sulaiman Nadwi approvingly on several of these.
Under even the most orthodox interpretations of Islamic law, not only are non-Muslims allowed to read the Quran but, unlike Muslims, there is no requirement of ritual ablution when they do so. For more on this, read Ahkam al-Dhimmi in al-Ashbah wa’l-Naza’ir and Radd al-Muhtar 5:248. In any event, this consistent social division on the simplest of issues has created a massive confusion in the minds of Pakistanis. We persecute minorities, including forced minorities, at home and we applaud war criminals abroad.
While a law-abiding Pakistani citizen, who is also elderly, languishes in jail today for the ‘crime’ of reading the Holy Quran, our National Assembly is passing resolutions lionising Abdul Quader Molla as a great patriot and supporter of United Pakistan. I do not have enough information to declare whether the proceedings of the war crimes tribunal in Bangladesh were fair or unfair. What I do know is that Pakistani nationalism was not the main motivation behind Molla’s actions in 1971. The motivation for Maududi and his followers was Pan-Islamism and never any love for Pakistan. It was a remarkably consistent ideological position for the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). They had opposed the creation of Pakistan because it would — in their opinion — divide the Muslims who otherwise would be able to convert all of India to Islam. Molla and his co-conspirators from the JI, including Abu-al-Kalam Azad, named after the great Indian leader who opposed Pakistan, opposed Bangladesh’s separation from Pakistan for the same reason. I am not passing a judgment on their position but to suggest that their motivation has been at any time love for or regard for Pakistan is to delude one’s self.
The correct Pakistani nationalist position in 1971 would have been to transfer power to Mujibur Rehman. His six points were in no way a contravention of the Lahore Resolution of 1940. A Pakistan reorganised along the six points would have emerged as a progressive democracy. Both Mujib and Bhutto would have been spared their lives. Between them they may well have managed to keep the military at bay (both Pakistan and Bangladesh faced military dictatorships soon afterwards). There would have been no repressive, regressive legislation. Pakistan would not have been forced to take deeper refuge in Islam and consequently the discriminatory laws we see against Ahmedis and other religious groups today would never have come about. The old Ahmedi doctor would never have to go to jail in such a Pakistan. Molla would never have become a war criminal.
What ifs are fantasies about what could have been. We must however contend with the hand fate has dealt us. Let us play this hand the best we can.
In the 67 years of Pakistan’s existence there has hardly been a period where the vast ...