COMMENT: Someone with faith —Gulmina Bilal Ahmad - Friday, March 04, 2011

Source :\03\04\story_4-3-2011_pg3_2

Shahbaz Bhatti was a man of faith; he had faith in this country, faith in the people who pride themselves in being Pakistanis, faith in the electoral and democratic process, faith in the institutions and faith in the triumph of good over evil

Another gruesome act of terror, another innocent killed, along with lots of lives and communities devastated. This is the assassination of a man who believed in Pakistan, while the rest have fled the onslaught of terror. He was a person who had faith that Pakistan could be pulled out of the clutches of extremism and violence, while many judged him by and denounced him for his religious faith. He fought day and night for the rights of those Pakistanis who have been alienated in a land where they have lived for centuries. Shahbaz Bhatti was this person and he was brutally assassinated by gunmen, in Islamabad, while he was on his way to work. As Shahbaz Bhatti was also the federal Minister for Minorities, this is the second such high profile assassination since the murder of Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer. He was also murdered in Islamabad, by his own security guard. Both Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti being vocal advocates of revising the blasphemy law became targets of extremism, which is eating away at the foundations of this country.

One is not sure what response will this murder generate in our society. Will this murder pull the sensible sections of our society out of their deep trance, making them realise the gravity of the situation? Will his sacrifice generate more than just candlelight vigils? Will people finally come out and stand up to these mullahs, denouncing their ideology? These questions will be answered in the days ahead, but one thing is already evident: both Shahbaz Bhatti and Salmaan Taseer are martyrs. They sacrificed their lives in the line of duty to their country. They were the most prominent and probably the lone voices of sanity. They tried to warn the people and avert the menace engulfing Pakistan. They could have left like others did, frustrated and tired, leaving the country and the nation on their own. But these were truly the heroes who did not give up no matter what. While they were being reviled from a tea-stall to a TV programme, these two maintained their stance. They understood and foresaw the growing danger engulfing Pakistan and preferred to embrace martyrdom, rather than leaving the field open for the extremists.

The recent spree of events in Pakistan has increasingly alienated the minorities in Pakistan. Minority faiths have extensively been on the target list of the terrorists. The situation has reached a point that a large number of people belonging to various faiths are emigrating to other countries. The extremists and the mullahs have symbolised Pakistan with Islam. We have to realise that the white area on our national flag signifies the importance given to the minorities; otherwise it would have been all green. The father of our nation, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, pointed out openly: “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state.” Anyone having any doubts should look at this statement of Quaid-e-Azam, given in the first session of the Constituent Assembly. Islam, being a religion of peace, has always advocated coexistence and harmony among various faiths. It is written in the Quran: “There is no compulsion in religion” and “The path of guidance stands out clear from error” (2:256) and (60:8). Shahbaz Bhatti belonged to the Catholic Christian faith, but his identity as a Pakistani and his national pride was never tarnished due to his faith. He was the first Christian parliamentarian who took oath as Federal Minister for Minorities. He was also the founding member of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) and took initiatives, introduced legislation and launched campaigns to address the issues faced by the minorities in Pakistan. He was the foremost supporter of interfaith harmony and had also proposed to ban hate speech literature and to introduce comparative religion courses in the curriculum.

Shahbaz Bhatti did all this for Pakistan while adopting peaceful means to attain these objectives. He never used or instigated violence, nor did he ever resort to hate speech, but the extremists in our society found it easier to silence him this way. Unfortunately, the menace of extremism has developed intolerance in our society; people seem to judge each other on the basis of faith. A good Pakistani citizen is also gauged on the basis of his/her faith. Communities affiliated with different faith are being extensively alienated and targeted, while stereotypes are being created. This time the progressive elements in Pakistani society will have to come out and openly challenge the activities of these religious extremists. The response and condemnation should not be muted and with mincing words, as has happened before, but at this juncture it should be shown to these radicals that the Pakistani nation will no longer stand this innocent bloodshed. The Pakistani minorities are part of this nation and will not be left alone in this hour of need. Islam is a religion of peace and coexistence and this hijacking of religion by such extremist elements will no longer be tolerated.

Shahbaz Bhatti was a man of faith; he had faith in this country, faith in the people who pride themselves in being Pakistanis, faith in the electoral and democratic process, faith in the institutions and faith in the triumph of good over evil. He believed that the intolerant elements, who have shackled and held our society hostage, can be identified and removed through a peaceful campaign of interfaith harmony. This belief led him down a path that was dangerous but a necessary one if the monster had to be tackled. Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti may have belonged to different religious beliefs but they both stood up for the rights of humanity, as preached by all religions. It is important now that the sacrifices of both these martyrs should not be lost on our future generations. With all the talk of revolution, perhaps it is now time that there is a revolution in Pakistan also. A revolution that takes this filth of extremism out of our lives.

The writer is an Islamabad-based development consultant. She can be reached at

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