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Americans Stood up for the Muslim Community. Why Can’t we Stand up for our own Minorities?

Within hours of President Trump announcing an executive order slapping a ban on refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, there were massive protests all over the United States. The liberals, who Pakistan’s far-right loves to hate, lined up outside airports, state houses and in the streets to condemn the ban as discriminatory and to stand up for their fellow Muslim citizens. Notable politicians, religious leaders and celebrities joined the protests and stood up against the #RefugeeBan as well. Lawyers and civil rights organizations – most notably ACLU – set up temporary offices at airports and cafes to get detainees at airports promptly released. There was also an almost immediate international outcry from all across the world.

As a Muslim American who lives in the Boston area, I was moved by what I saw. Thousands of fellow Bostonians came out with signs and placards that read “We Are All Muslim,” “I Love my Muslim Neighbor” and “No Muslim Ban” etc. Two of my closest friends and work colleagues – one a Jewish and the other a Christian American – also attended the demonstrations. The Mayor of Boston led at least two of the protests and used his social media influence to express his support for American Muslims. Just before running to Boston’s Logan Airport to help secure the release of any detainees (people coming in from the seven countries on Trump’s ban list), he tweeted, “I’m on my way to Logan Airport to join the protest against President Trump’s Muslim ban. .”

As I was immensely touched by this show of integrity, I wondered about my own motherland – Pakistan. Why can’t we Pakistanis show the same support for Pakistan’s own minority faith groups, who suffer far more injustices and humiliation? And for a minute, I went into fantasy-land, imagining a Pakistan where politicians, celebrities and common citizens would react the same way as Americans did, whenever members of a minority community were put to the wall.

I imagined an Imran Khan who had the same integrity as Mayor Marty Walsh.

Sadly, Imran Khan, like other Pakistani politicians, endorses the anti-Ahmadi laws of Pakistan under which Ahmadis are denied the right to self-identity and and face a three year sentence for reading the Quran, saying the Adhan, reciting the Kalima etc. This treatment of Ahmadis is so opprobrious, the cause is commonly represented on social media by the hashtag  #AhmadiApartheid. Khan endorsing #AhmadiApartheid can be likened in some ways to Burmese politicians endorsing anti-Rohingya legislation in Burma. Khan vocally (and rightly) condemns those who justify the latter, while failing to see the irony in his condemnations.

Imran Khan has repeatedly called for Pakistanis to end their silence and speak up against all injustices on principle.  I imagined an Imran Khan who’d take his own advice on this.

I then Imagined a Bilawal Bhutto who, instead of making excuses for his silence on #AhmadiApartheid, would boldly take up a public position on the civil rights of fellow Pakistanis.

I imagined a Shehbaz Sharif, who instead of imprisoning Ahmadis for reading the Quran and printing its verses in their publications (four Ahmadis were arrested just last month for “excessive use of the Quran”), would raise his voice against these human rights atrocities.

Alarmingly, Mr. Sharif’s provincial cabinet has members who openly incite violence against Ahmadis. Sharif, who serves as Chief Minister of the Punjab province, forcibly changed the name of Rabwah – the national headquarters of the Ahmadiyya Community – over a decade ago, on grounds that Rabwah was a Quranic word.

Notable stars and sports celebrities in the United States also added their voice to the Muslim civl rights cause. I therefore imagined a Shahid Afridi who would use his stardom to stand up for fellow ostracized Pakistanis.

I also imagined other notable artists doing the same.


I then imagined a Maulana Siraj-ul Haq who, instead of promoting sectarianism, would call for brotherhood amongst all Pakistani citizens and would stand up for the human rights of all countrymen. Remember, notable Christian and Jewish American leaders have come forward in their public support of American Muslims just in the last one week.

The way we Muslim felt about the Americans who stood up so passionately for us is exactly how we must make our own minorities feel about us in Pakistan.

The reaction of fellow Americans standing up to Islamophobia and protesting on behalf of the Muslim American community is testament to the good spirit of the American people. What a blessing to live in a society that is so cognizant of citizen rights. How heart-warming to see fellow countrymen so eagerly run to your defense when your rights and freedoms are the slightest bit threatened.  My prayer for Pakistan is for Pakistanis to learn from these examples and embrace this integrity in their lives.

I know I am in fantasy-land today. But I hope this turns to reality tomorrow. In pluralism and tolerance lies a strong and prosperous Pakistan.

This article initially appeared in Pakistan’s The Nation Newspaper