Malala, Salam and Zafrullah

As I looked at Dr Salam’s tombstone, I felt a pang of guilt and shame at what we have done to the Ahmadis in Pakistan. We have abolished their religious freedom and in the process our own

The disgusting manner in which Malala Yousafzai has been targeted by a section of our society recently is upsetting but unsurprising. It is a bit of a local tradition, it seems, to abuse those who do something for the hapless people in this country. The narrow-minded fanatics had a lot to be scared about. Malala’s speech to the United Nations was extraordinary in the sense that it was a grand unifying message at once cognizant of Malala’s Pakistani heritage, Pashtun ethnicity, Muslim faith and global citizenship. Not many people can pull it off. Hats off to the 16-year-old for having done this!

As a Pakistani I was particularly glad to hear her mention Jinnah, not just because he is our founding father but because Jinnah’s immense contribution as a legislator to women’s equality, education and empowerment in India and Pakistan has been forgotten like much else in our history. Of particular significance were his efforts in putting an end to underage marriages in the subcontinent through legislation. He had also famously said that no nation could rise to heights of glory unless its women were side by side its men and that women were mightier than both pen and the sword, something which this brilliant daughter of Pakistan, Malala, has proved in a substantial manner. Yet in Jinnah’s Pakistan, today these gangs of thugs, these Taliban and their apologists, are attacking women for educating themselves. Jinnah had been called Kafir-e-Azam by the same people and had survived assassination attempts by them. Indeed Malala should take heart from the fact that many of the iconic figures she listed — Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Prophet Jesus (PBUH), Lord Buddha, Dr King, Jinnah, Gandhi — were attacked by extremists of her own society.

As for the disgraceful manner in which some of her compatriots have attacked her, Malala will do well to remember two great Pakistanis, Muhammad Zafrullah Khan and Dr Abdus Salam, who have been wiped out of our national memory by extremists. Like her they were celebrated internationally but abused at home. Two days after Malala’s landmark address, this author had the opportunity of paying his respects at the graves of these two great men in Rabwa, which have been desecrated by the state authorities. Zafrullah’s contributions to the creation of Pakistan were second only to Jinnah. He had been instrumental as a Muslim Leaguer as early as the 1930s in fighting for the rights of the Muslim minority in India. The Lahore Resolution was based on his constitutional scheme. In 1946 he along with the Ahmadi leader, Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood, rallied Punjab’s Ahmadis to the League’s cause at a time when all the religious parties were busy denouncing Muslim Leaguers as kafirs (infidels). When partition became a certainty, it was Zafrullah who Jinnah chose for the task of putting Pakistan’s case before the boundary commission, which he did eloquently and brilliantly. As Pakistan’s first foreign minister, Zafrullah managed to outwit the Indians by getting UN resolutions on self-determination in Kashmir passed. His contributions to the Palestinian cause and to freedom movements in the Arab world and Africa are widely recognised in all places but his own country. The world honoured him by making him a judge at the International Court of Justice and then the president of the UN General Assembly. In Pakistan though, which owes its existence to him, there is not even a single road named after him. The sham and fraud called the ‘Nazaria-e-Pakistan Trust’ in Lahore honours all kinds of Maharajas and Nawabs whose contributions were zilch as founding fathers of Pakistan but has no mention or picture of Zafrullah. People who had called Pakistan ‘Kafiristan’ once have now ensured that no one remembers the real history of this country.

Then there is Dr Abdus Salam, that great son of Pakistan who refused to give up his association with Pakistan even after Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and General Ziaul Haq made life hell for his community in Pakistan. He has, to date, been the sole Nobel Prize winner in this country. His contributions to humanity in the field of Physics will be remembered long after all of his detractors and haters have died. This is why a road in CERN has been named after him, as a tribute to both him and his country. Unfortunately, like Zafrullah Khan there is not even a single road named after him in this country of ours. Even in the field of science we recognise fake scientists like Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan but ignore those who actually made a contribution.

As I looked at Dr Salam’s tombstone, I felt a pang of guilt and shame at what we have done to the Ahmadis in Pakistan. We have abolished their religious freedom and in the process our own. Uneducated bands of brigands, misusing the holy name of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), have made life hell not just for Ahmadis but for all Pakistanis. In doing so we have hurt ourselves grievously. The ongoing violence against the Shia community as well religious extremism is all rooted in the terrible decisions imposed on us by Bhutto and Zia.

Malala Yousafzai is more than just a 16-year-old girl who dared to light a flame in the pitch dark. She is our future, the future of our children and their children. This is a future where Pakistan will honour all its citizens and treat all its children with the respect and care that they deserve.

Malala Zindabad. Pakistan Paindabad.

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Jinnah: Myth and Reality. He can be contacted via twitter @therealylh and through his email address [email protected]