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MINORITIES: Forced Conversions and Targetted Killings

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By Ishtiaq Ahmed *

I wonder what would happen if the millions of Muslim immigrants are told that they have to convert to Christianity or face terrorism.

Forced conversions and recurring bloody attacks on the Hazara Shia minority of Balochistan are currently in focus in the international media. It is now extensively documented in the annual reports of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) that forced conversions take place when locally the police and administration connive at it or remain indifferent. The Pakistan Supreme Court has recently taken notice of it, but most cases do not reach the higher echelons of the judiciary and the aggrieved parties, usually Hindus and Christians, are intimidated to acquiesce in the abduction of their young women.

It is of course possible that some Hindu and Christian females do accept Islam voluntarily and in that case, conversion is their human right. The problem of course is that voluntary conversion to another faith is a one-way traffic under Islamic law and Pakistani law. Any Muslim attracted to another faith has no right to change religion. Therefore, it too is a form of forced conversion. Such ex-Muslims take recourse to an established technique of survival that the Shias in particular but also Sunnis have applied in the past and now Ahmedis do to escape detection and persecution at the hands of hostile majorities: taqiyya (pious dissimulation of faith). They outwardly pretend to belong to the majority faith.

With regard to the attacks on the Hazaras, it is to be noted that it is part of the sectarian terrorism that emerged in the late 1980s but most forcefully in the 1990s. Unlike the Christians, Hindus and Ahmedis, the Shias hit back and for a long time, it comprised of horrendous reprisal attacks on one another. However, of late the attacks have concentrated on the Hazaras of Balochistan who reside mainly in and around Quetta. One reason is that the Taliban are strongly entrenched in that province now. It has resulted in the Hazaras fleeing to other countries and as far as Australia.

The problem now is, where will all this lead? There is no doubt that Ahmedi beliefs are not reconcilable with Sunni and Shia beliefs, but then Shia and Sunni beliefs are not reconcilable either. The Munir Report made this abundantly clear. Only very recently, I heard a leading follower of the Agha Khan declare on television that he believed that nothing happened in this world without the approval of his Imam! For the Christians, Jesus Christ is the Saviour and for Hindus their gods are the powers to whom supplications are made and wishes granted. We are in no position to sit in judgement on beliefs whose veracity cannot be verified through observation and testing. There are, of course, people who think that religions are no more than infantile fairy tales.

Consequently, there is no moral or legal basis for forcefully converting people to Islam or for that matter to any other religion or sect. It is ironic that in the early 8th century, Muhammad bin Qasim obtained a fatwa from Islamic scholars at Damascus, the capital of the Ummayads who, by applying the rules of analogy to the notion of the ‘People of the Book’, declared even Hindus as believers in the same God. Muhammad bin Qasim was told that since the Hindus had agreed to pay the jizya, they were free to follow their religion. Religious minorities became part of Pakistan without any conquest taking place, and the Ahmedis and Shias supported the Pakistan demand, though both were worried about a Sunni-majority state coming into being.

Forced conversions are a form of ethnic cleansing. Ethnic cleansing by a religious state seeks to empty its territory of unwanted minorities so that a pure nation based on true belief is established. This can be achieved by driving unwanted people out of such territory as happened to the Hindus and Sikhs in 1947, but also by forcing them to assimilate in the state-approved belief system, if conversions are permitted by that belief system. The situation of Hindus, Christians and Ahmedis who remain in Pakistan is of the latter type of ethnic cleansing. Terrorism aiming at the physical liquidation of unwanted minorities is the penalty that is imposed when forced conversions are not producing the desired results.

A day can come when the mega-slogan of Pakistan ka naara kya? La Illaha Illilah in 1947 (see Chapter Five of my book, The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed, Oxford University Press, 2012) and in its slightly revised version of Pakistan ka matlab kya? La Illaha Illilah in the 1970s and thereafter, would have completed the process of establishing the first ‘pure ethnic state’ in the aftermath of World War II. Whether the founders of Pakistan wanted it or not is irrelevant. Throughout history, it has been demonstrated that ideas that once gain a life of their own become uncontrollable...for both good and bad.

I am convinced that if Pakistan had an Ahmedi or Shia majority, the results would be similar. It is in the nature of the beast, so to say — states based on ethno-nationalism are almost invariably prone to ethnic exclusion and ethnic cleansing and in the worst-case scenario to genocide. Having said that, I must point out that nothing is fixed in time or space and the most abysmal situations can also be remedied if elite consensus emerges and leads the people away from the burden of history.

Before World War II, most West European states were ethnic states based on state-churches. Now, the same region is the most pluralist besides North America. I wonder what would happen if the millions of Muslim immigrants are told that they have to convert to Christianity or face terrorism. Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian mass killer, considers himself a vanguard of the struggle to empty the west of all Muslims.

* The writer has a PhD from Stockholm University. He is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University. He is also Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. The article first appeared in the Daily Times.This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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