By Ishtiaq Ahmed
September 13, 2018
In the light of the clumsy and awkward
decision of the Imran Khan Government first to include Dr Atif Mian in the
Economic Advisory Council and then exclude him the next day under pressure from
the Ulema and others has been the subject of unprecedented attention from the
world press and social media. One thing is certain, the government is still not
a coherent and well-knit entity which knows how to conduct its affairs in a
predictable manner. The three-month grace period Imran Khan has requested is a
valid one, however.
People have wondered how an economist
enjoying the respect of his peers worldwide could be denied inclusion simply
because of his faith in Ahmadiyyat. Those who argue that it is consistent with
the constitution and laws of Pakistan which describes them as non-Muslims
assert that they should not claim to be Muslims. If they accept their status as
non-Muslims, they can enjoy all those rights and protections which other
minorities are entitled to according to the Pakistan constitution.
Others argue that nobody should have the
right to define or categorise who is a Muslim and who is not. The debates and
controversies which have emerged are familiar ones and by no means something
One argument I have made innumerable times
is that since Pakistan is signatory to the UN Charter and accepts the moral
status of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), it is under
legal-ethical obligation to remove all provisions in the Pakistan constitution
which contradict such a commitment.
For example, Article 20 on Freedom to
profess religion and to manage religious institutions. — Subject to law, public
order and morality, states further:
citizen shall have the right to profess, practise and propagate his religion;
religious denomination and every sect thereof shall have the right to
establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions.
Other provisions restrict the freedom of
religion, however. In 1974 the Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims. Later, severe
restrictions were imposed on them including forbidding them to call themselves
Muslims or use Islamic nomenclature for their places of worship and so on.
Quite simply, the Pakistan constitution is not a coherent document.
It is worthwhile to note that in the
seventeenth century, John Locke could talk about liberalism and government by
consent, and yet argue that only Anglican Christians should have the right to
vote and hold public office in England, while Catholics could at most enjoy
their faith privately. This principle was also extended to Jews and Muslims
(some thousands were in England at the time). He disqualified atheists from
enjoying any rights because he thought that since they do not believe in God —
from whom rights derive — they should not be entitled to those rights. All that
has changed in the UK and the rest of the West.
Modern human rights theory derives from
Immanuel Kant’s notion of the Categorical Imperative. It says that one should
act only on those rules of action that one wants to be made universal laws.
According to him, a rule of conduct that implies that one person may do
something but another, in similar circumstances, may not, is immoral. In other
words, the Categorical Imperative demands consistency.
The Categorical Imperative also states that
one should treat humanity as rational beings who are an end in themselves and
never as a means to an end only. Human beings are uniquely capable of reasoning
about their choices and therefore are inherently valuable and worthy of respect
for this reason. For human beings to realise their inner worth it is important
that they enjoy meaningful autonomy vis-à-vis state and society. Autonomy makes
possible for us to make rationally and morally correct choices.
Critics of the universalism of Kant are
many, but it will suffice to present two main counterpoint positions. The
Communitarians assert that rights are culture or community specific and, more
importantly, the ontology of the rational individual is flawed because people
are shaped by the communities in which they are born and raised and therefore
rights can derive legitimately only from the values and beliefs of the
Others argue against rationality alone
being made the basis for claiming and enjoying rights. There are human beings
who are not able to reason in accordance with a conventional understanding of
rationality. These include children and those suffering from impairment of
their reasoning abilities. Also, not very long-ago women, working people, and
some ethnic and racial groups were also considered incapable of acting like
rational human beings. The emphasis on rationality is therefore not the true
basis of rights. It can confine the right to enjoy rights arbitrarily to some
groups or class of people. Therefore, the true basis of rights must be human
sympathy and solidarity, or in other words, the human conscience.
Proceeding along such lines, let me pose
the question: would those who insist that Ahmadis should not hold public office
because they hold a belief subversive of Khatam-e-Nabuwwat, be willing to
accept that if belief in the Christian dogma that Jesus is the Son of God was
made the basis for the 15-20 million Muslims in Europe and North America a
pre-condition to accept for living in Europe as equal citizens or alternatively
accepting secondary status and the discrimination which follows from such a
Let me propose another hypothetical
situation: imagine a society in which Ahmadis are in majority while Shias and
Sunnis are in a minority. Would it be right for such a state to disqualify them
from holding public office because they do not subscribe to Ahmadi beliefs?
The Bahais of Iran declared that theirs was
a separate religion from Islam. That did not prevent persecution when Ayatollah
Khomeini and his clergy captured power. In fact, terrible massacres of Bahais
took place. However, the Bahais have closed the discussion on this problem by
declaring themselves a non-Muslim minority. Thus far, the Ahmadi leadership is
not willing to accept that Ahmadiyyat is a separate religion.
It is not for me to prescribe what to
believe or not to believe, but I wonder if belief and dogma should serve as the
basis of institutionalised discrimination.
Concrete policy needs to be developed which
provides substantive relief to Ahmadis. Most toil like other Pakistanis and
their aspirations are not very different from them. Securing the welfare of
their families and a bright future for them is what occupies most of their
attention. They should be allowed to join the mainstream in the economic sphere
while in the private sphere they should be entitled to religious freedom.
Ishtiaq Ahmed is Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm
University; Visiting Professor Government College University; and, Honorary
Senior Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of
Singapore. He has written a number of books and won many awards, he can be
reached on firstname.lastname@example.org
Very well questioned:“
belief in the Christian dogma that Jesus is the Son of God was made
the basis for the 15-20 million Muslims in Europe and North
Muslims should 'think' deeply on the above.
it should be asked of the Naya Pakistan government if the Advisory
Council is a “Religious” Council or one constituted of
acknowledged expert Economists to solve the nation's economic woes?
It is understood
that the council has lost two more experts in protest.
Religious brigade 3--Naya Pakistan 0!