|By Ayesha Ijaz Khan
Growing up in the eighties, one could not escape the slogan, "Pakistan ka matlab kya--La ilaha ilallah." If not cried out at public rallies, it was written as graffiti. Though it rhymes and jingles, the motto never made sense to me, not even when I was fourteen. La ilaha ilallah is a Muslim's creed. The idea that there is no god but Allah is an affirmation of monotheism, the Islamic concept of tawheed. How on earth could this be the definition of Pakistan? In fact, wouldn't it be shirk to say that Pakistan, like other countries run by flawed humans, represented the oneness of Allah?
On the other hand, if the idea is to present Pakistan as a state exclusively for Muslims, denying its eclectic plurality, that too runs contrary to the founding vision. Jinnah's Presidential Address on August 14, 1947, could not have been clearer, when he said: "You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed--that has nothing to do with the business of the State."
While it is true that Pakistan was created to safeguard Muslim interests, it is equally vital to understand that as a minority community in pre-Partition India, Muslims were keenly aware of discrimination and tyranny of the majority. Pakistan, thus, was to be a country where minorities would be free of persecution and prejudice. Since Muslims would be in the majority, naturally, Islamic art and architecture, language and literature, would flourish, but not by excluding non-Muslims, who had an equal right to its soil.
Although Jinnah's inaugural speech is clearest in its intent, other manifestations of the founding vision are no less significant. The Pakistani flag, for instance, is symbolic. Green, for Pakistan's Muslims; white, for its non-Muslims, side by side, as equal citizens. The generosity of spirit is reflected in reserving a quarter of the flag for non-Muslims although they numbered much less. This was to be the guiding light, the inclusiveness and respect for diversity on which Pakistan was built. Recent incidents at Gojra, Kasur, Sheikhupura and the like are thus completely at odds with Pakistan's foundation.
According to Suroosh Irfani's essay, "Pakistan: Reclaiming the Founding Movement," written for the Middle East Institute, Pakistan's original national anthem was composed by a Hindu scholar of Indo-Persian culture. Years later, a new national anthem was adopted, the tune for which was composed by a Zoroastrian, and the lyrics later written by Hafeez Jallandhari. Such was the commitment to diversity and equality that not only was the anthem the product of contributions by a Hindu, Parsi and Muslim, respectively, but the chorus was sung to ensure an even number of men and women.
While tawheed is an important aspect of Islam, it has no relevance to running the affairs of a nation-state. Instead, the equally important Islamic concept of meezan, or balance, must set the standard for social and national mores. Meezan shuns extremes and searches the middle path. Equally, it forges a strong commitment to integrity and impartiality, the balance or scales of justice, tawazun, shares the same root. Justice must, by definition, be blind to colour, creed, ethnicity or gender, and take all equally under its fold. Laws that discriminate against women or non-Muslims therefore serve no purpose, but can do much harm and must be repealed.
Instead of focusing on Islamic form, we must concentrate on Islamic substance. We must ensure that decent healthcare and education, chances for upward mobility and freedom from poverty reach our remotest villages. But in order to do this we will need to shift our focus from superfluous matters like appropriate dress codes or whether music is haram or halal to more substantive issues like whether everyone who needs to pay taxes is paying them appropriately and whether funds collected by the state are honestly used for the benefit of its people.
Upon his death, Jinnah bequeathed much of his fortune to educational institutions: one-third to Aligarh; one-third to Islamia College, Peshawar; and one-third to Sind Madrassah, Karachi. His will was drafted in 1939, before Pakistan's boundaries were clear, but Jinnah's allocation across ethnic divides appears deliberate.
Pakistan is undoubtedly a federation and each province has its distinct heritage, language and culture, of which it is proud, but, equally, it is one country and if an individual wishes to relocate from the village to the city, or from one province to another, temporarily or permanently, there should be no impediments. Recent obstacles placed in the way of our friends from Swat were deeply regrettable and we must, in future, encourage and facilitate freedom of movement within Pakistan, enhancing inter-ethnic and inter-religious bonds.
It is our greatest challenge to build a country tolerant and reflective of Islamic principles resulting in societal benefit, and avoiding misuse of religion to advance the political motives of vigilante groups. For this, we do not need to look to the West, and nor do we need to look to the Arabs. We are the children of a rich heritage. Poets and mystic saints like Bulle Shah taught us to soul search, and later, the Pakistan Movement and our great Quaid-e-Azam laid the foundation for an inclusive democracy. Pakistan needs to look no further than its own history to find its much-needed meezan and reclaim not just its founding purpose, but also its true potential.
The writer is a lawyer-turned-political commentator based in London. www. ayeshaijazkhan.com