Originally published in Pakistan Daily Times
I was living in New Jersey in the summer of 2011 when Governor Chris Christie appointed Sohail Muhammed to the bench of the Superior Court of New Jersey. Almost immediately, the governor faced a serious backlash from the conservative right, which attacked his move to appoint a US Muslim judge to high office. Governor Christie was unmoved. With the pressure mounting, he decided to clarify his stance on national media in these words: “It is ridiculous and insulting, that because I nominated Sohail Mohammed, that people somehow think that means I am for sharia law. It is crap. And I will not ever apologise for making him a judge; in fact, I am proud of it.” He added, “Sohail is an extraordinary American who is an outstanding lawyer. Ignorance is behind his criticism.”
The governor silenced his critics with his principled stance. He made it clear that all US citizens were equal and appointments to office were made on merit alone. As a US Muslim, I watched this moment with pride and joy. Governor Christie’s moral integrity reminded me of Pakistan’s own founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. On numerous occasions, he faced similar pressures from the right wing, yet he stood true to his principles. When he was pressed by Kashmiri clerics to close the doors of the Muslim League to Ahmedi Muslims, for instance, he did not give in to their divisiveness. Instead, he admonished: “I appeal to the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir not to raise sectarian questions, but instead to unite on one platform under one banner. In this lies the welfare of the Muslims. In this way, not only can Muslims make political and social progress effectively, but so can other communities.”
He believed in providing equal opportunities to all people and refused to discriminate based on faith or religious sect. When clerics insisted he ex-communicate the Ahmedis from the larger Muslim community, he responded with conviction: “What right have I to declare a person non-Muslim, when he claims to be a Muslim?” Jinnah envisioned a nation where all citizens were equal before the state and freedom of conscience reigned supreme. When taking his oath of office, Jinnah reiterated, “No subject in Pakistan shall, on grounds only of religion, place of birth, descent, colour or any of them be ineligible for office.” To assert this point, he appointed a non-Muslim as his first law minister. The Muslims in his cabinet consisted of Sunni, Shia and Ahmedis alike.
He preached against theocracy in explicit terms and warned against the state interfering in the religious matters of its citizens. “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 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,” he said. So, while I was celebrating Governor Christie’s Jinnah-esque moral integrity, I had my keen eyes on Pakistan’s evolving political landscape.
Imran Khan claims to be the new Jinnah in our current times. He is the self-proclaimed messiah the nation seeks to re-establish Jinnah’s vision. However, he continues to demonstrate that he does not share our founder’s moral courage and incorruptibility.
Recently, when asked by right wing clerics why he casually named a world-renowned Ahmedi economist as his future finance minister, he did not use this opportunity to preach equal rights for all citizens and condemn faith-based bigotry. He did not express any pride in the excellence of this talented individual. Instead, he apologised: “Let me clarify that I did not know he was an Ahmedi when I initially mentioned his name. I consider Ahmedis non-Muslim and I will make sure the current status quo regarding anti-Ahmedi legislation is maintained,” he said. Unlike Christie, who made US Muslims proud, all Khan could give Pakistan’s five million Ahmedis and the much more widespread diaspora is mere disappointment and hurt.
Khan did not stand by his Ahmedi citizens. He chose to disown them. He made it clear that Zia’s anti-Ahmedi laws that are the basis for one of the worst apartheids in this age will remain fully functional under his ‘naya’ (new) Pakistan. The state will continue to judge and define the faith of its citizens and punish them for not conforming to the ideals of its majority religious clerics. Appointments to office will continue to be faith-based, instead of merit.
But all hope is not lost his supporters say. I therefore urge Khan to reconsider his stance, stand up to bigotry and embrace all Pakistanis with open arms. I urge him to set himself apart from the status quo that endorses religious bigotry and set a precedent for positive change. Till then, sadly for Pakistan, Khan is no Jinnah. His naya Pakistan is not Jinnah’s Pakistan.