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Purifying The Land Of The Pure: Pakistan’s Religious Minorities

‘Purifying The Land Of The Pure. Pakistan’s Religious Minorities’ is an excellent, well researched, new book authored by Farahnaz Ispahani.

Farahnaz Ispahani has been a prominent voice for women and religious minorities in Pakistan for many years. The journalist and former member of Pakistan’s National Assembly is now a United States based scholar. During her time in Parliament from 2008-12 she was a member of the Foreign Affairs and Human Rights Committees.

The book starts at the birth of Pakistan on the 14th August 1947, when it was home to Sunnis, Shias, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews and Parsis. At that point a quarter of the population of Pakistan was non Muslim, now this has dwindled to less than 3%.

The founding father of Pakistan, Quaid-e- Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had a secular vision for his new nation. His first cabinet included Shias, a Hindu and an Ahmadi.

He said ‘You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed- that has nothing to do with the business of the State’.

The book charts the terribly traumatic history of ‘partition’ in 1947 and the huge loss of lives and homes as people of different religions went their different ways. However each side were left with religious minorities.

Many millions of the religious minorities have been forced to move away from Pakistan, as their ‘freedom of religion’ was denied, they faced persecution for their beliefs and the State failed to protect them.

Pakistan’s former Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar in an interview with Mehdi Hasan in the ‘Head to Head’ programme on Al Jazeera channel in December 2015 said she was ‘embarrassed’ by how religious minorities have been treated in Pakistan.

In her book Farahnaz Ispahani charts the history of marginalisation and victimisation of the religious minorities in detail through the decades.

She ends her book by stating that we need to start working towards dismantling Constitutional, legal and institutional mechanisms which have excluded minorities from the mainstream of Pakistani life.

I congratulate Farahnaz Ispahani for her courage in writing a much needed text highlighting that the State’s intense pursuit of religious purity enforced by clerics, doesn’t lead to peace.

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