Home Opinion The ‘Muslim-first’ Obsession

The ‘Muslim-first’ Obsession

by Khaled Ahmed


How to destroy the nation-state of Pakistan.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he firebrand interior minister of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, made a typically nonintellectual gaffe in the National Assembly last week; but he will not be properly reprimanded for it. Khan stated in the course of his familiarly unbuttoned harangue condemning Bangladesh for having hanged a rapist leader of Jamaat-e-Islami: “I am a Muslim first and a patriotic Pakistani later.”

Islamabad, Dec. 20. Farooq Naeem—AFP

Islamabad, Dec. 20. Farooq Naeem—AFP

No one in brainwashed Pakistan will realize how Khan has delegitimized the state of Pakistan he serves as its interior minister. By proclaiming his supra-state identity, he was in fact trying to place himself in a “moral position” to violate the sovereignty of Bangladesh which he could not do as a “patriotic Pakistani.” The pan-Islamic Muslim label is routinely claimed by religious parties who want the Constitution of Pakistan changed to reflect faithfully the edicts of the true Shariah. Terrorists also claim the right to “correct” the “errant Pakistani state” on the basis of their superior Muslim identity.

Unfortunately, those, like Najam Sethi writing in The Friday Times, who have dared to criticize Khan for making himself supra-state, will be excoriated and subjected to the ignominy of being called American agents, thus laying them open to terrorist attacks—which may actually be carried out by another “Muslim-first”-believing policeman!

The Muslim-first slogan, of course, comes from the community of clerics who began in the early 20th century to reject the nation-state and nationalism. In fact, their jurisprudence rejects international frontiers and makes states who offend Islam fair game for their cross-border warriors. But the nation-state in which they live ensures equal rights to all Pakistanis, not to all Muslims. That’s why if you ask a Pakistani Christian or Hindu about his identity he will forcefully assert his Pakistani identity. His embedded message is: “Please treat me at par with Muslims.”

Last year, Zakir Naik, a “renowned” Islamic orator of India, was on a TV channel talking to British Pakistanis about their identity. (His entry into the U.K. was thereafter banned.) He said why get embarrassed when the Brits ask you: “Are you a Muslim first or British first?” His solution to the dilemma concealed in this question was: ask a counter question, “Are you a human being first or a Briton first?” No one saw through the falsehood of this formulation: being human precedes even the Muslim identity and, therefore, bars Muslim Brits from claiming to be Muslims first.

Naik said: “Turn the tables, let the Brit be embarrassed. When asked this question, he will have to say he is a human being first. The situation created by this confusion will spare the Pakistani Brit the dilemma of a clash between his religious identity and his national one.” But what Naik said pertained to an issue that raises its head in Pakistan too. And none other than Pakistan’s interior minister has highlighted it.

I once conducted a TV debate in 2006 with an audience. Those who said they were Muslim first won by a 90 percent count. Pakistan is an Islamic state and all of us are Muslims; therefore, it is easy to say that we are Muslims first and then Pakistani. The Pakistan Movement should also support this thesis because we claim that Muslims had become a nation before they demanded a state.

But the nation-state poses a problem. Why do the non-Muslims insist on being Pakistanis first? The answer is that they want to be treated equally with other Pakistanis. If they emphasize their Christian or Hindu identity and put it before their Pakistani one, they might be treated unequally. The nation-state in Europe favors multiple identities and demands that all identities be treated equally. And for that, all those who live in the U.K. must call themselves British first.

The question arises: Why do only the Muslims as a minority insist that they are Muslims first? It is clear that unlike the Christian minority in Pakistan, they, as a minority group in non-Muslim countries, want to stand apart. What is hidden behind this gesture is a refusal to integrate and a nation-state is bound to clash if its various communities don’t integrate. And the trick is that expat Pakistanis in the U.K. know that the U.K. will treat them equally under law even if they don’t integrate.

Not so in Pakistan. The nation-state has wanted to gloss over secondary or tertiary identities to create unity. In Pakistan, the first problem that arose was linked to regional identities: Sindhi, Punjabi, Bengali, Baloch, Pakhtun, etc. The state wanted them to be only Pakistanis and said so. When it did not work, it abolished the provinces. Now as far as religious identities are concerned, Pakistan is overwhelmingly Muslim, and most of us don’t care if non-Muslims are treated unequally. If we were like the Brits, we would have said we are Pakistanis first.

But when in Pakistan you say “Muslim-first,” you in a way destroy the nation-state of Pakistan and place yourself in a position to violate the sovereignty of other Muslim states. That is what interior minister Khan did this past week. The nation-state is no utopia, but it is better than any other kind of state.

In Pakistan, the non-Muslim instinctively wants to integrate as a Pakistani; in the U.K. the Muslim minority wants to stand apart. There, the majority wants to be British first on the principle of equality; here the minority non-Muslim is appealing for equality as a Pakistani. The conclusion is simple: the majority community in Pakistan doesn’t much care if the non-Muslims are treated unequally.

Pakistan follows the rest of the Muslim world in thinking about the modern state. There was a time when it was normal for a Pakistani to say that he was a Pakistani first; now he says he is a Muslim first, little realizing that he is negating the modern state. Most of the states in the Muslim world began as modern states, but are now on the brink of choosing a pre-modern order that is a stranger to democracy.

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Ahmed Shajee Aijazi December 21, 2013 - 6:37 pm

What other basis is there for the creation of Pakistan other than the Islamic identity? The Sindhis, Balochs, Punjabis and Pathans are different nations and are entitled to different nation states by the argument you present. They have no reason to be part of the same country.

Anatha Pindika December 22, 2013 - 3:16 am

Can’t understand why Pakistanis have to, almost always, put a ranking on all things in life no matter how unrelated. It is akin to confronting a child with the question, “Whom do you love more – your mom, or your dad?”

Dear Ahmed Shajee Aijazi,

If there is nothing else to keep the Pakistanis together, then the idea of Pakistan as a nation in itself is flawed. No, I am not saying anything on the line of two nation theory.

All I am saying is, if Islam is the only binding force for the nation of Pakistan, then what to do with the minorities there? This definition of Pakistan makes them traitors by default.

Once the minority problem is done away with, what to do of the ‘lesser Muslims’? The lesser Muslims are those who claim to be Muslims but are not considered so by the majority. The Ahmedis are not considered Muslims, may be for valid reasons – they too are traitors now, and they too can be taken care of – very much under the moral and constitutional guidelines of the country.

Next come Shia, who are not considered Muslims by a majority of Sunnis. Since one has to be Muslim first, before one’s being a Pakistani, the Shias too can be taken care of.

Okay, done! What now?

Well, those who favor the Talibs say that a lot of Pakistanis are not “true Muslims”. Since there is no such thing are true or false Muslim, this definition is again reduced to “not Muslim”. Going with that definition, and your contention that Pakistan’s sole cohesive force is Islam – because these non-Talibs do not have Islam with them, their loyalty for Pakistan becomes questionable. Attack them!

You know Ahmed, what I wrote here is not a hypothetical scenario, rather, it is the history of Pakistan. Seeing the pattern, and taking a note of the prevalent thought process that you are the most average specimen of, I am sure we can safely figure out what lies in the future of Pakistan.

Nassr December 24, 2013 - 7:20 pm

@Anatha Pindika,

Why am I not surprised to read your comments, because as an Indian you are hiding behind a pseudo-secularist constitution which at the core of it does not guarantee constitutional and social equality to its people. Constitutional equality is denied to many minorities in India to serve the purpose of constitutional majority. The fact that Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains are not given a separate religious status through application of Indian constitutional clause enacted through Article 25 of Indian Constitution presents ample proof in this regard.

Constitutionally, India’s Prime Minister is a Hindu and not a Sikh as Sikhs by law are considered as part of Hinduism. Not only that, even Buddhists and Jains are considered as off-shoot of Hinduism and are not accepted as followers of separate religions.

Article 25 in The Constitution Of India 1949, clearly states that, “Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly.” Even India’s Supreme Court in its decisions clearly have stated that Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists are part of as sub-sects of Hinduism.

Muslims and Christians are considered non-dharmic and therefore outsiders and are always doubted about being true Indians. BJP’s prime-ministerial candidate Mr. Modi publicly identifies Muslims as dogs in a popular TV interview, speaks volumes about the treatment meted out to its minorities. Minorities like Sikhs, Muslims and Christians are regularly meted out community punishment with connivance of its ruling Hindu elite which results in killings of thousands of people. Killing of over 3000 Sikhs in Delhi alone in the aftermath of Indira’s murder, Gujarat Muslim massacre and burning of Christian pastures and churches are some of the recent examples of punishment of a community through such massacres.

And lastly, let me please correct your perspective about the idea of Pakistan. The landmass comprising Pakistan existed as a separate sovereign political entity for over 8000 years out of 9000 years of its known history. The only time it was united as one political entity with present day India was during Mauryan, Muslim and British rules. When the British left, history repeated itself and its people separated again renaming this landmass as Pakistan from what was known as Meluhha during the Indus Valley Civilization around 3000 BC, when there was no India.

May I please request you to clean your own dirty backyard first before accusing others of doing the same. And also, please look for your identity elsewhere as Indus Valley Civilization is Pakistani heritage and has never been Indian.

Nishnat Biswas May 11, 2018 - 12:30 pm

A simply stupid brain washed loser.
I am not here to give u history lessons but still, …… The prophets of Buddhism , Jainism and Sikhism never said they were creating separate religions and were proud Hindus. They never asked their followers to stop following Hinduism. You are a converted Muslim who left his real religion (Hinduism) for a foreign religion. Someone who leaves his religion is an animal. You are animal…worse than animal.
Pakistan was created as a muslim state and every non muslim history of pakistan belons to India. Indus Valley is India’s Heritage as the people of that place were Hindus.
What a fool. A sick fool. A fool without a brain.
Just compare the way Hindus are treated in Pakistan with the way Muslims are treated in India. You will get the answer as to who is better person.

Those who leave their religion are cowards. Pakistanis are converts from Hinduism. No wonder the Arab world considers you inferior. Your condition is like a dhobi ka kutta, na ghar ka na ghat ka. You are not Hindus. You are not Muslims. You are shit.
Losers who ran away from their religion. We Indians kept our religion. You lost. You became slave to Arabs. Thats why you are so obsessed with your religion.

Ton Ami December 22, 2013 - 10:26 pm

I believe that Pakistan is not following Muslim states rather it is Pakistani concept of modern state that is being progressively or regressively adopted by may Muslim states.

Karan December 28, 2013 - 3:26 am

That was a great reply. But the only thing you did was point fingers instead of looking at the point raised by the article or Anatha. Firstly, she hasn’t identified herself as Indian. She could be nepalese or Sri lankan or anybody else for that matter. Doesn’t mean she cannot have an opinion on the matter.

The treatment of minorities in Pakistan is absymal to say the least. Whether its the treatment metted to Hindus or Christians or Ahamadis. That is the point the author was trying to make;Pakistan is suffering from an identity crisis.

It has grappled onto religion too hard and that has forced the minorities( Hindu/christian/ Ahamadis/Shias/Sufis) into an uncomfortable place.

Blasphemy laws, abductions, forced marriages etc. Doesn’t this make the average pakistani feel any sympathy for their own fellow citizens. Where are the mass protests, marches,outcries?

Your absolutely right when you say that India could treat its minorities better. However, I dont see thousands of muslims walking upto wagah/attari begging to be given refuge in pakistan. Unlike the thousands of Hindu Sindhis that have migrated to India out of fear for their safety.

The muslim minority of India and other minorities have grown in number unlike that of pakistan. That should be clear enough to indicate where the problem lies.

Lastly, The Indus valley civilsation stretched from Gujarat to Punjab. A simple wikipedia search will help you educate yourself.

All that lovely water that passes through the plains of Pakistan arises from India. So technically, there would never have been an indus valley civilisation if it wasnt for “India”.

Dont be bigoted. Dont be a hater. And treat your neighbours better.

Nassr January 3, 2014 - 2:16 pm

Whereas I agree with you that the treatment meted out to minorities in Pakistan needs definite improvement, it would be appropriate if such a comment comes from a person whose own country is free from hateful community punishments and cruelties meted out to their own minorities at a much larger scale and ironically supported by their own top level political leadership.
Let me also correct your incorrect statistical outlay – it is not Pakistani Hindus who migrated from Sindh in thousands as the number is much less and these migrations were economic migrations, not related to any ill-treatment meted out to them. And when you state that you don’t see Indian Muslims crossing Wahga border into Pakistan, let me remind you that it has been the Muslims, Sikhs and Christians who migrated from India in hundreds of thousands to Canada and UK and many other countries to escape the atrocities meted out to them in India by majority Hindu community with direct, indirect and tacit support of the ruling elite. Hashimpura massacre of Muslims, Gujarat massacre of Muslims, Sikh massacres in Delhi and rest of India, destruction of Babri mosque, destruction of the holiest Sikh shrine and burning of Christian churches, Colonel Purohit from Indian Army Military Intelligence involved in murdering numerous people in Pakistan bound Samjhota Express are but a few examples in this regard.
Atrocitis against non-Hindus in India has also been part of ancient Indian history and has continued in the present times as well. After all how was the majority Buddhist India converted to majority Hindu India, to an extent that there hardly are any Buddhists left in present day India.
Let me quote the UN estimates of the pre 1947 percentages of Hindu and Sikh population in areas of Pakistan.
W. Punjab: 9% Hindu, 11% Sikh
Sindh: 10% Hindu, 5% Sikh
NWFP: 2.5% Hindu, 2.5% Sikh
Baluchistan: 3% Hindu
Over 50% of these figures migrated to India around the time of partition.
And the River Indus does not arise from India as you state. A simple Wikipedia search will also tell you that it emanates from China and merely passes through a short traverse in Ladakh in Indian Occupied Kashmir which is not part of India as being a disputed territory; and does it make Indus Valley Civilization Chinese – it does not. Whereas the whole of Pakistan is engulfed by the landmass of Indus Valley Civilization, India houses only 2-3 percent of its landmass due to the border drawn by the British with an identical spill over into Iran and Afghanistan. Therefore, it is Pakistan which is the true heir of Indus Valley Civilization and not India. Please search for your identity within the boundaries of India instead of stealing some one else’ identity; which makes me wonder, what is your identity Mr. Karan.
And may I also state that before you go on an accusational spree against others, due to the Indian Hindus inbred hatred against its minorities, clean your own backyard first and learn to treat your neighbours better. Thank you.

George March 16, 2020 - 3:03 am

Muslims never integrate wherever they are. Most Muslims in UK live on government handouts and they commit more crimes than any other community.


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