By Maham Ferwa
Published on December 15, 2016
The scar on my nose is a reminder of the Pakistan I knew when I was young. That Pakistan had a rocking chair in which my mother and two siblings slept. The chair broke one day and a flitting shard of wood cut deep into my skin, leaving a permanent mark. That Pakistan was where we had hens in the backyard who would chase me in defence of their eggs. The four-year-old me would reign victorious against the hens when my grandmother and our German Shepherd came to my rescue. That Pakistan was the one where our house had no roof, which was useful for playing in the rain with no clothes on. That was the Pakistan where my grandfather and I would, hand in hand, go to the bazaar to buy baby chicks to care for. When a stray cat got through the window one day to devour them, we stopped purchasing them.
That Pakistan was the one where my uncle would take me for rides on his motorcycle so that I could see the bustling city of Daska. On our rides, I would always look out for police cars so that I could declare my simultaneous admiration and aspiration to join the ranks of those who would protect the people who needed protection. That Pakistan was the one I had to leave shortly after our neighbours stoned our dog to death to show malice towards my family. It was where I watched my grandmother weep in the bathroom while holding my clothes the night a taxi cab came to take me, my siblings, and our mother to the airport.
After a few years of living in Canada, I became acquainted with a Pakistan that came in the form of a picture. The photograph was of my grandfather in jail. My parents told me that he was serving a few years in prison because he had publicly recited verses from the Holy Quran. At the time this did not make sense to me because I had completed the Quran multiple times and had even won awards for its public recitation and never had I been punished for it.
It was not until recently that I learned that the Pakistan of my grandfather’s photograph is the same Pakistan where my mother’s face was scarred at the age of six when an older man threw a brick at her. That incident occurred a few days after my mother’s house was broken into by a group of men. They vandalized and burned her family’s possessions. When the cops that I had admired for many years arrived at the scene, they arrested two of my mother’s injured brothers on baseless charges. That was the same Pakistan where my father’s abdomen was scarred in college when a few students got together to stab him, leaving him fearful with no choice but to drop out and transfer elsewhere.
My family’s scars, unlike my own, are the result of the 1974 enactment of the Second Amendment of the Constitution of Pakistan that declares all Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. In addition, anti-blasphemy laws specifically target Ahmadis in restricting their freedom of religion and expression. Ahmadis to this day are prohibited from claiming their faith as Islam, preaching their faith, or partaking in anything that might insult the religious feelings of the Sunni Muslim majority. They cannot greet their fellow Muslims in the customary Islamic manner, declare their faith publicly, build places of worship, make call to prayer, recite the Quran, or even offer funeral prayers. All of these are essential markers of the faith.
In Pakistan, the term blasphemy involves “the expression of an opinion that others find outrageous, shocking or offensive because it treats disrespectful what others regard as sacred.” There are inconsistencies with the Pakistani government’s criminalization of blasphemy. The government denied aid to Ahmadis and other minorities during the 2010 floods, and it has encouraged murder and social boycotts that have damaged the livelihoods of innocent people. Blasphemy has been used to justify vague laws that demean, threaten, and exterminate life in Pakistan. Given that human life, and the basic human rights that come with that life, are considered sacred, how is it that these laws are not considered blasphemous themselves?
Blasphemy allegations in Pakistan are often false, and they encourage violence towards Ahmadis, Christians, and Hindus. These laws require no evidence nor are there penalties for false allegations. Criminalizing blasphemy does not only oppress but it also erases. It legitimizes one set of beliefs above others and denounces all other ways of life.
While this legal marginalization is meant to coerce Ahmadis to leave their faith for safety, they remain steadfast. My family is no exception as we chose to leave Pakistan for safety rather than Ahmadiiyat. The night I left my grandmother weeping in the bathroom, with the scar on my nose, was the last time I saw that Pakistan. That Pakistan died with our dog, with the all of the murdered Ahmadis and the ones who do not have the resources to find solace. That Pakistan has left my parents with scars that they will wear forever.
I still hold on to another Pakistan, however, one that is not only the scars of oppression or blasphemy. In the 1947 Presidential Address to the Constituent Assembly, Pakistan’s founder Muhammed Ali Jinnah declared: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship… We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another.” Pakistan had once promoted the universal right of each person to profess, practice, and propagate religion, and because of that I hold Pakistan as its potential to be, once again, a place of tolerance.
- Malik, Atif. 2011. Denial of flood aid to members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Pakistan. Health and Human Rights, 13(1), 70–77.
- Mohammed, Rizwan, and Karin Brulliard. “Militants Attack Two Ahmadi Mosques in Pakistan; 80 Killed.” The Washington Post, May 29, 2010.
- Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s First Presidential Address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan (August 11, 1947). South Asia Study Resources, a personal website by Frances W. Pritchett.
- Ten, C. L. 1978. Blasphemy and Obscenity. British Journal of Law and Society, 5(1), 89–96.
Maham Ferwa once read that Aristotle wrote, “educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” She understood the importance of this quote early on in her university career which is why she decided to double major in Human Geography and Women’s and Gender Studies. This subject combination successfully catered to her desire for an intersectional understanding of the world. She hopes to attend graduate school to increase knowledge and cultivate compassion so that they may be utilized to benefit women, men, and children who are survivors and victims of violence.