Language Sites
  • UCAN China
  • UCAN India
  • UCAN Indonesia
  • UCAN Vietnam

Equal citizenship in Pakistan is a right, not a grant from state

Constitution says equal rights to religions but contradicts itself when it gives Islam prominence

Equal citizenship in Pakistan is a right, not a grant from state

A file image of Pakistani Christians attending Mass during Easter celebrations in Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore. According to Pakistan's Constitution, a non-Muslim cannot hold the country's highest political positions. (Photo by Arif Ali/AFP)

Shamim Masih, Islamabad
Pakistan

April 18, 2017

Mail This Article
(For more than one recipient, type addresses separated by commas)


Religious minorities in Pakistan and elsewhere have always raised concerns about discriminatory attitudes and unequal citizenship.

In modern democratic states, the civil rights of every citizen are recognized as they enable people to live decent and honorable lives. As democracy ensures the provision of public good and equality, civil rights ensure a good life for individuals and provides equal opportunities; they are quite rightly treated as fundamental in modern constitutions.

The primary function of a national constitution is to guarantee universal rights and to ensure all citizens of the state are dealt with equally. The guarantees are supposed to be unambiguous but Pakistan's Constitution is a document as ambiguous as it gets. It does not grant religious minorities equal rights either.

For example, a non-Muslim Pakistani cannot hold the highest offices and a non-Muslim member of parliament has to swear to protect an undefined Islamic ideology.

Article 25 of the Constitution in its Part (II) titled "Fundamental Rights and Principles of Policy" guarantees equal citizenship while Article 20 guarantees the freedom to profess and practice any religion. Article 17 guarantees the freedom of association and article 26 promises non-discrimination.

And yet in the Constitution's Part I, titled "Preamble," Article 2 declares only one faith, Islam, to be the state religion while Article 42 and 91(3) mandate that only Muslims can become president and prime minister.

This despite Article 8 that guarantees that laws inconsistent with or in derogation of fundamental rights to be void. This is disorder, a non-Muslim cannot even hold the office of the Speaker of the National Assembly nor can they be elected as the Chairman of the Senate because these offices are routes to the presidency.

Another example is the allotment of 20 extra marks to Hafiz e Quran students (a person who has memorized the Quran by heart) in their exams. Minorities say it is discriminatory as non-Muslim students don't have any such facility.

National education policies are formulated in line with Quranic teachings and minorities are not consulted. Worse still, propaganda against minority religions and civilizations can be found in certain textbooks.

Cecil Shane Chaudhry, executive director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, said the present Constitution is contradictory.

"Article 20 contains the provision to learn one's own religion but Islamic education is a compulsory subject in schools and is being taught in all educational institutions across the country," he said.

Shunila Ruth, a Christian lawmaker belonging to a leading opposition party, said amending the Constitution would be the only way to improve the treatment of minorities.

"There can be no improvement in the treatment of minorities unless the Constitution is reviewed and it can be done only if the state is willing to protect minorities," Ruth said.

Rana Abdul Hameed, a senior Supreme Court advocate, also deplored the contradictory document.

"There are various contradictions in the Constitution of Pakistan regarding the basic and fundamental rights of religious minorities," said Hameed.

"The oaths for the offices of president, speaker of the national assembly, chairman of the senate and ministers are totally Islamic. It harms the rights of people from other minorities who have to take those oaths to be sworn in," he said.

The very first article of the Constitution states that Islam is the official state religion of Pakistan. This is in direct contrast to the address of Pakistan's founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947.

"You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or 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," Jinnah said in the address.

If Pakistan wants to flourish as a democratic country it must do away with religious discrimination and keep religion out of politics.

Shamim Masih is an Islamabad-based journalist, columnist and Christian rights activist.

UCAN needs your support to continue our independent journalism
Access to UCAN stories is completely free of charge - however it costs a significant amount of money to provide our unique content. UCAN relies almost entirely on donations from our readers and donor organizations that support our mission. If you are a regular reader and are able to support us financially, please consider making a donation. Click here to donate now.
La Civiltà Cattolica
 

LATEST

Support Our Journalism

Access to UCAN stories is completely free of charge - however it costs a significant amount of money to provide our unique content. UCAN relies almost entirely on donations from our readers and donor organizations that support our mission. If you are a regular reader and are able to support us financially, please consider making a donation.

Quick Donate

Or choose your own donation amount