Remember the Article 62/63 controversy just before this year’s general election? These articles were a part of the 1973 Constitution, but in 1985 during the Ziaul Haq dictatorship, they were made stricter (and even more ambiguous).
Article 62 deals with the qualifications for becoming a member of parliament and Article 63 deals with causes for disqualification from the membership.
The Articles proscribe that only those of good character, good moral reputation, who are free from moral turpitude, practising obligatory duties prescribed by Islam and abstaining from major sins can become members of the Parliament and Senate.
However they do not mention as to who would decide what a good Muslim was, or who was qualified to make this decision. This did not come into play at all after democracy returned to Pakistan following Zia’s demise in 1988.
But in 2013, apart from checking the contestants’ tax papers, the ROs also began to ask some unprecedented questions.
Ordered to also scrutinise the contestants’ moral character according to Articles 62 and 63, the whole exercise eventually erupted into a scandal of sorts when the media began to report about the nature of the questions that were being asked by the ROs.
Many contestants were asked to recite verses from the Quran, about the prayer timings, the sixth kalma and even the correct way to perform the wazu.
Those being asked these questions were outraged. And rightly so. Because it was back to the original inquiry: Who is qualified to judge a man’s moral character and Islamic credentials?
The media duly ridiculed the ROs and for the first time Articles 62 and 63 were openly debated in the country.
But I’m sure those who had attended state-owned colleges in this country in the 1980s would agree with me when I say that what seemed so unprecedented in 2013, had first reared its odd head in educational institutions decades ago.
For example, when I passed my O level in 1983, I applied for admission in one of Karachi’s finest state-owned colleges.
I was to be interviewed by the college’s Dean of Commerce, who had already received a copy of my O level results.
Upon reaching the college, I was guided towards the Dean’s office and asked to wait outside. With me were three other students, two of whom I noticed were staring at the floor and repeatedly mumbling something.
I sat outside on a bench and waited to be called in by the Dean’s assistant. The guys who were tensely mumbling suddenly stopped and moved swiftly towards the Dean’s office.
They had spotted a student coming out from the room. He too looked tense and the three of them began whispering among themselves. Just as I was trying to figure out what they were mumbling about, I heard my name being called.
It was the Dean’s assistant. He wanted me to follow him into the office.
The Dean, an intense looking middle-aged man, sat behind his desk going through my O level result.
‘Asalamualaikum’, I politely announced my arrival.
‘Walaikumassalam’, he responded, still staring at the result. ‘Sit down’. I sat. The Dean was considered to be one of the best Accounting teachers in the city. So I wasn’t surprised when he finally (but ever so slowly) lifted his head, looked straight into my eyes and said: ‘Your accounting scores are pretty dismal.’
‘Yes, sir … but I hope to improve my accounting with a teacher like you,’ I declared.
‘Your best scores are in literature and history. Why do you want to waste time studying commerce and accounting?’ he asked, glancing across the result card again.
‘My mother wants me to be a banker,’ I smiled.
He slowly nodded his head: ‘Hmm … this is a government college. Nothing like your school. Why didn’t you go to the UK or the US?’
‘Sir, my father can’t afford it,’ I replied.
‘Farooq Paracha, right?’ He asked.
‘He used to write for Jang (Urdu daily) … Bhutto’s man …’ he said, lifting his head again to look at me.
I half-smiled and softly shrugged my shoulders.
‘Hmmm …’ he went again. And then out of nowhere … ‘Do you know the second kalma?’
Taken aback, I struggled to respond: ‘I … errm …’
‘The second kalma. Do you know it?’ he asked again.
‘You don’t. Do you know the first?’
‘Yes, of course, sir.’
‘Go back home, and learn the second kalma. Come to me at the same time tomorrow and recite it in front of me. Go.’
And off I went. Outside I was immediately approached by the two mumbling guys: ‘Did he ask about the words to Zohar prayers?’ One of them asked.
‘Errm … no … he didn’t.’
So that’s what the poor sods were mumbling: words to the Zohar prayers. But didn’t all five prayers basically have the same words? More so, what on earth were we doing reciting kalmas and prayers in the office of the Dean of Commerce?
Nevertheless, after relearning the second kalma from my grandmother, I returned to the Dean’s office.
This time he had a bunch of answer sheets in front of him that he was marking: ‘So, Mr Paracha. Did you learn the kalmas?’
‘Yes, sir. I already knew the first, and now I know the second one as well. Should I recite it?’
‘What about the other four?’
‘The other four?’
‘Do you know the sixth kalma?’ He asked, lifting his head.
Now sure that he was doing everything possible to fail me in the interview, I slowly began to peel off my defensive veneer.
‘Sir, exactly what has all this to do with accounting and commerce?’
‘Everything,’ he said, matter-of-factly. ‘Don’t you want to be an honest banker?’
‘Sir, there are a number of Christians in this college as well. Are you suggesting they can never be honest bankers?’ I remarked, my heart now pounding.
Going back to marking the answer sheets he replied: ‘Paracha Sahib, please learn the sixth kalma. We’ll meet tomorrow.’
I got up, but just as I was about to open the door, I turned my head and asked him: ‘Sir, do you know the sixth kalma?’
He slowly got up and headed towards the bathroom door: ‘Mr Paracha, on your way out, visit the accounts department down the hall. Fill up the admission form and pay the fee. I expect to see you in my class on Tuesday morning.’
Saying this he was gone. And I was in.
Till today I am not quite sure what transpired in that room. But I like to believe the Dean’s behaviour was his way of subtly satirising the mind-set and the mood that had begun to proliferate across society during the Zia regime.
And I say this because four years later when I was finishing my tenure at the college, I went to the Dean to say goodbye.
His last words to me: ‘… And Mr Paracha, in case you’ve wondered all these years, no, I don’t know the sixth kalma.’