Islamabad, March 10 (Dawn/newsin.asia): The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday announced its verdict in a case concerning controversial amendments too the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath in the Elections Act 2017, ordering, among other things, that all citizens be easily identifiable by their faith and that applicants for public offices declare their beliefs before being considered eligible.
Justifying the seemingly innocuous order, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, who penned the order,said that non-declaration of religion or faith can lead non-Muslims “gain access to dignified and sensitive posts, along with benefits.”
Though this is primarily meant to keep the Ahmadias out, it applies to all non-Muslims. The implication of the order for the minorities is clear. They are barred from top “sensitive” jobs in the armed forces and civil services.
The Ahmadias are a sect which claims to be Islamic but is not considered Islamic by the mainstream Sunni Muslims of Pakistan. Prominent Pakistani Ahmadias are the Nobel Laureate in Physics Abdus Salam and former Foreign Minister Mohammad Zafarullah Khan. Justice Alvin Robert Cornelius, who like Zafarullah Khan was a major campaigner for Pakistani in pre-partimes times, was a Catholic Anglo Indian.
However, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, emphasized on the outset that the Constitution grants “complete religious freedom, including all the basic rights of the minorities (Non-Muslims)” and that the state was bound to “protect their life, wealth, property, dignity and protect their assets as citizens of Pakistan”.
He then referred to Article 5 of the Constitution, saying it demands that citizens remain “faithful” to the state and “abide by the rules of law and Constitution.”
- Mandatory to declare “true faith”; failure to do could make one guilty of “betraying the State” and “exploiting the Constitution”.
- Citizens’ faith should be mentioned on birth certificates, ID cards, voters’ lists and passports.
- Compulsory to take oath regarding faith when joining civil service, armed forces or judiciary.
- Islamiyat and religious studies teachers should be Muslims.
However, he then interpreted Article 5 as the Constitution making it “mandatory” for every citizen, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, to declare their “true faith”, failing which they could be guilty of “betraying the State” and “exploiting the Constitution”.
Justice Siddiqui further said that though Article 260 (3)(a) and (b) of the Constitution define “the distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims,” it was “alarming” and a “major setback” that this matter had not been properly legislated on yet.
Justice Siddiqui further said that it was “alarming” that “one of the minorities” was “often mistaken for being Muslims” due to their names and general attire.
He said this “can lead them to gain access to dignified and sensitive posts, along with benefits.”
He then reiterated that citizens’ failure to declare their “true faith” was “against the spirit and requirements of the Constitution”.
“The Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath is the foundation of our religion and it is the duty of every Muslim to protect this core belief,” Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui wrote. He subsequently ordered parliament to “take steps” for the “protection of the belief in the finality of the Prophethood”.
Warning citizens against specifying an ‘incorrect’ religion on their identification documents — which Justice Siddiqui said would be considered ‘fraudulent’ — he ordered the National Database and Registration Authority to set a deadline by which citizens can ‘correct’ the religion specified on their identification documents.
Justice Siddiqui also ordered Nadra to review and fix its database “since there is an alarming difference” in Nadra records and the provisional results of the recent population census regarding the population of one minority group in the country.
Justice Siddiqui further ordered that educational institutions must ensure that teachers appointed to teach Islamiyat and religious studies “should belong to the Muslim faith.”
He also ruled it was compulsory for all Pakistani citizens to take an oath regarding their faith if they seek to join the civil service, the armed forces or the judiciary.
“Citizens applying for jobs in state institutions must take an oath which ensures compliance with the definition of Muslim and non-Muslim provided in the Constitution,” the order read.
Justice Siddiqui further ruled that the faith of all citizens should be mentioned on their birth certificates, their national identity cards, on voters’ lists and on passports.
A detailed judgement will be issued at a later date.
(The featured image at the top is that of Islamabad High Court judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui)