On the proclamation of Pakistan, Jinnah said “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the State.” When Jinnah advocated for Partition, he envisioned a sanctuary for India’s marginalised religious minorities. However, 70 years later the tolerant society that Jinnah had hoped for has still not been realized. Cases like that of Asia Bibi show that Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis, the largest minority communities in Pakistan, remain isolated and marginalised from Pakistani society. Since the 1970s Pakistan has quickly shifted from a secular, tolerant society to an Islamic republic with no space for communities that differ from the mainstream. Even speaking out in favour of religious minorities can be lead to death. Minority groups remain stuck in the same bonded labourer contracts that their ancestors had been, isolated on the brink of society, unprotected by the government and the law. This year Soch, presents our panel: Azadi: the fight for religious freedom in South Asia’ to explore whether freedom of religion in Pakistan really exists or is simply nominal and what Pakistan can do to finally accomplish Jinnah’s tolerant, secular vision.
Ameena Mohyuddin Zia
Adjunct Professor, Representative, Board Member
Ameena is a Pakistani-American raised in North Carolina. She is a PhD Candidate of Political Science at the University of Missouri St. Louis with a focus on political economy and gender politics. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Master’s degrees in Criminal Justice at East Carolina University.
She serves as a Civil Society Consultative United Nations Representative at the Economic and Social Affairs Committee (ECOSOC) and is responsible for making policy recommendations on #Agenda2030, collaborating with influential stakeholders both inside and beyond the core of development community, and participating at the high-level political forum and commissions. As an Adjunct Professor at City University of New York (York College) her teaching areas included sustainable development, feminist theory, social change, social stratification and criminal justice. She also served as a political appointee in the Executive Cabinet of St. Louis County Government and worked on inclusive economic and social policy initiatives including the immigration and innovation policy analysis sub-committee; the Executive Development Initiative of St. Louis County centered on strategic policy development issues of aging in place; concentration of poverty and the emerging millennial population.
In addition, she serves on the Board of Directors of Developments in Literacy, is a UN Consultant at the American Pakistan Foundation and authors an op-ed column at The Daily Times.
Advocate for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
Qasim Rashid is a best-selling and critically acclaimed author, practicing attorney, former visiting fellow at Harvard University's Prince AlWaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies program, and Executive Director of AMI APS, a human rights NGO dedicated to advancing international peace and security.
Qasim’s latest book #TalkToMe: Changing the Narrative on Race, Religion, & Education launched in 2016. #TalkToMe is a non-fiction memoir on how the power of dialogue can overcome racism, xenophobia, intolerance, and violence. Previously, Qasim published EXTREMIST: A Response to Geert Wilders & Terrorists Everywhere (2014), which became an Amazon #1 Best Seller on Islam. Qasim’s first solo-authored work is the critically acclaimed book, The Wrong Kind of Muslim: An Untold Story of Persecution & Perseverance (2013). In addition, Qasim has contributed to Towards a Greater Jihad: Using the Pen in Islam’s Defense (2008) and By the Dawn’s Early Light: Short Stories by American Converts to Islam (2009). Qasim regularly publishes in multiple platform including on TIME, The Independent, and Washington Post. His work has additionally appeared in USA Today, The Daily Beast, National Public Radio, Virginia Pilot, among various other national and international outlets. Qasim regularly speaks at a variety of universities and houses of worship, and interviews in a variety of media including the New York Times, FOX News, CNN, Muslim Television Ahmadiyya International, Huff Post Live, Al Jazeera, NBC, CBS, Voice of America, among several other national and international outlets.
Qasim is the former Chairman of the Muslim Writers Guild of America, served as a Volunteer Chaplain for the Virginia State Prison system, and offered pro bono legal assistance to victims of domestic and sexual violence through the Virginia Poverty Law Center.
Yasser Latif Hamdani
Lawyer, Journalist, Visiting Fellow at Harvard Law School
Yasser Latif Hamdani is an advocate of the High Courts of Pakistan at HQM Chambers in Islamabad and a member of the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn in London. Hamdani is currently a visiting fellow in the Human Rights Programme at Harvard Law School working on the issue of religious freedom as a fundamental right under the Constitution of Pakistan, blasphemy laws and the marginalisation of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan. In his work as a lawyer, Mr Hamdani has worked on notable cases such as the YouTube unbanning case in the Lahore High Court in 2013-2014. He is also an author and columnist for the Daily Times. His first book was ‘Jinnah: Myth and Reality’, an analysis of the politics of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and his second book is called ‘Between Worlds: A Pakistani’s Quest to Forge Meaning’.