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Stowed away in a drawer beneath a pile of ties is my Pakistani passport. Green with fading gold ink, it’s a passport I take out once a year for reluctant pilgrimages back to Karachi. Yesterday, I ruffled through my drawer to confirm that my passport was still valid–that the Islamic Republic would indeed allow me back in. For now, I’m safe: it expires at the end of July. But its fast approaching expiration forces me to think about the next time I have to apply for a Pakistani passport, and the morally unconscionable statement I will be required to sign in order to get it.
Since the rule of Islamist-generalismo Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistanis have had to declare their religions on their passports. And for 95 percent of Pakistan’s Muslims that means signing the following statement:
1. I am a Muslim and believe in the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad the last of the Prophets.
2. I do not recognize any one who claims to be a prophet in any sense of the word or any description whatsoever, after Prophet Muhammad or recognize such a claimant as a prophet or a religious reformer as Muslim.
3. I consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani to be an impostor prophet and an infidel and also consider his followers whether belonging to the Lahori, Qadiani or Mirzai groups, to be non-Muslims.
Notwithstanding the absurd declaration itself–who gets to define what makes a Muslim anyway?–I have serious problems with the Government of Pakistan requiring me to declare my religion. As the country’s founder very clearly told the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, “I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal [of equal citizenship] and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.” That was an unambiguous plea for a secular Pakistan, where the equality of all citizens would be recognized. And if in the “political sense” we should “cease to be Hindus and Muslims,” then why the draconian passport rule?
Of course, those who hold dearly to Pakistan’s Islamic identity would argue that the declaration of religion is necessary because, in Pakistan, for the full functioning of Sharia law, one’s religion needs to be clearly stated. Well, let me pick apart that straw man with a simple fact: the country’s ID cards (the much-beloved shinakti cards) don’t state our religion. I’m not even going to delve into the multitudinous reasons why Sharia law–as it currently exists in Pakistan–is a wholly unjust enterprise. If the various provincial and federal bureaucracies have no use for our religion, then why does the passport authority require it?
The bearded Mullahs would now retort: our passports must declare our religions, because how else would our patrons, the Saudis, know who is a Muslim and who is not for Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage) visas? Ah yes, we have the silly rule in place for the convenience of the Saudi government. Lovely. Except, there are hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world whose passports don’t call them Muslims, and yet they still find their way to Mecca.
If the government doesn’t require our religion to be stated, and if foreign governments don’t require our religion to be declared either, then for what purpose does the infamous religion column exist? To make life easier for U.S. immigration officials at JFK? At present, U.S. authorities don’t need to think too hard about who goes in for a “secondary-screening.” The Government of Pakistan has already done most of the work by blatantly stating our religion. I’m in favour of screwing with them a bit and removing the religion column.