Starting from the beginning

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It has now become a routine, every year we express shock and horror at the ‘intolerance’ and ‘sectarian strife’, and with longing and nostalgia remember the peaceful times of the past. The common refrain is the ‘how did we end up here’ lament. Every time, it seems that it is due to some curse, or a conspiracy, that we today have sectarian violence in the country.

Sectarian conflict is just a way to refer to the conflict between Shia and Sunni. For the longest time, no mention was made of the ‘sect’ of those killed in ‘sectarian’ violence (an overwhelming number of them being Shia). It is sobering to remember that there was a time when ‘sectarian differences’ would have included another sect as well, namely, Ahmadis. The violence against the Ahmadis has seen no decline (it has actually increased), yet, they are no longer a sect. Any serious inquiry into the ongoing violence and sectarian persecution has to, at least, begin by tracing the trajectory of the Ahmadis being forced to make the transition from the green part of the flag to the white.

“Keeping in view the several definitions given by the ulema, need we make any comment except that no two learned divines are agreed on this fundamental? If we attempt our own definition, as each learned divine has done, and that definition differs from that given by all others, we unanimously go out of the fold of Islam. And if we adopt the definition given by any one of the ulema, we remain Muslims according to the view of that alim, but kafirs according to the definition of everyone else.” This how the Munir Report of 1954 concluded the discussion of defining who is a ‘Muslim’ after examining all the major religious scholars of that time. The small passage quoted above exquisitely captures the fundamental problem of the state taking upon itself the burden of salvation. The Munir Report lies dusty, instead of being translated into Urdu and taught in school, as it should. The possibility of that happening anytime soon is now very distant, and becomes more distant with each passing day.

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