When Pakistan was created, its founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, famously declared, "You are free, 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 or caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the
Fifty-six years later, I wonder what Jinnah would tell my family and countless others who lost loved ones
because of rising religious intolerance in Pakistan. On April 2, 2000, my uncle, Sibtain Dossa, a doctor, was
gunned down at his medical clinic by Islamic radicals seeking to cleanse Pakistan of its minority Shiite
Over the past few years, extremist Islamic groups in Pakistan have mounted a unilateral terror campaign.
But Americans and Christians have not been the only victims. Women, secular advocates and even Muslims --
Ahmadis, dissenting Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims -- have also come under attack.
Recently two gunmen on motorcycles opened fire on a truck full of policemen, killing 11 and wounding nine
in the Pakistani town of Quetta, near the Afghan border. Nearly all the victims belonged to the minority sect
of Shia Islam. The attack on Shiites was the third in Quetta in less than two weeks. Speaking of the attack,
Rahmat Ullah, a Pakistani senior police official, accurately noted, "It was sectarian terrorism."
The gruesome cycle of violence against Pakistan's minority citizens could not have occurred without the
complicity of the Pakistani government. Consider the example of Azam Tariq, a religious cleric and former
leader of the radical, Saudi Arabia-inspired Sipah-i-Sahaba. In an interview with the BBC in 1995, Tariq
openly praised the Taliban and endorsed attacks on Shiites in Pakistan. Instead being brought to justice,
Tariq was rewarded. Today he is a member of Pakistan's National Assembly.
There is a tendency to view the Muslim population as a monolith, with a uniform agenda and little dissent.
This outlook on Islam has prompted a slew of articles with titles like "Why Do They Hate Us."
But in Pakistan, many Islamic radicals hold equal (and sometimes more) animosity toward dissenting Muslims
(particularly Shiites) than toward westerners. The Sipah-i-Sahaba have even killed many of their own Sunni
clerics, because the clerics rejected their divisive agenda. Often, implementing a skewed understanding of
Islamic sharia (religious law) -- and not hatred of the West -- is their prime motivation.
If the United States wishes to gain credibility in South Asia, it should pressure Pakistan and India to
treat all of its residents with respect and not just isolate Pakistan for its abuse against Christians
and westerners. The more the US ignores India's state abuses against Muslims in India, the more fuel US will
be adding to popular notions in Pakistan that its South Asia policy is unequitable and unjust.
As Muslims lobby the United States to treat its religious minorities with respect, Muslims themselves have
averted their gaze while minority groups -- particularly Ahmadi and Shiite Muslims -- are butchered by their
"fellow" Muslims. Indeed, much of the Muslim world looked away when Saddam Husssein was executing
Shiites in Iraq and ignored the Taliban's mass beheading of Shiites in Afghanistan.
This does not absolve Shiite Muslims of guilt. Many Shiite clerics have irresponsibly inflamed sectarian
tension by denouncing beloved Sunni icons or, worse, endorsing retaliation. But a Muslim group that condemns
violence when Islamic radicals kill Christians, then remains silent when Islamic radicals kill Shiite Muslims,
is not a human rights group but a PR firm.
My last memory of my uncle was sitting with him in the sprawling garden next to the tomb of Jinnah in
Karachi. I asked if Pakistanis -- particularly Pakistani Shiites -- still respected Jinnah.
"We do," he told me. "Because at least Jinnah tried to create an open Islamic country where
all could flourish."
That seems to summarize the history of Pakistan: It has always tried but never achieved Jinnah's goal.
Zahir Janmohamed is writing a book about the rise of religious violence in South Asia.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
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