A character that would probably never cease to amuse or confuse us, Hamza Ali Abbasi, sometimes seems to be the human embodiment of the ideological divergences of the party that he supports, the PTI. He is often obscure, sometimes even self-contradicting and often plain annoying for people like me, but no matter how one may perceive his opinion, he definitely is genuine. But the matter at hand is not another bothersome Facebook post where he stands with one foot on the left and the other foot on the far right side of the political spectrum, the controversy for the ‘Pyary Afzal’ star is much more alarming this time, as he raised the question of the legitimacy of the state’s power to decide the religious status of Ahmadi’s in Pakistan on-air in his Ramazan transmission.
Hamza, in presence of his learned guests, boldly began the conversation with the revelation that he plans to talk about two highly sensitive topics, the Ahmadi community and the Blasphemy law, but he claims that the channel’s authorities have asked him to postpone that show till the final Ramazan transmission. He continues to share his “sad story” about how he is accused of being an Ahmadi himself, if he merely asks people to stop their slaughter. Finally, he poses the real question to all three of the people before him:
“Whether or not the state has the right to categorize someone as Muslim or Non-Muslim?”
As anyone could have expected, the defiant question from the TV star garnered hugely mixed response on his social media accounts, specifically on Facebook, where he was praised from Popular Activist Jibran Nasir and other activists along with a large segment of like-minded people. On the other hand, he has already started receiving threats online, with various fundamentalists and conservative groups posting material specifically to threaten and target Hamza, and instigating others to attack him.
Some of the mixed responses:
And then there were posts like these:
Though he pushed a perilous debate, he took on a pattern which was almost expected of him. In his most recent video on his Facebook page, he explains “regarding the noise being raised about me questioning the state’s power in declaring a group of people Muslim or Non-Muslim, in my show.”
He continues, “This is not the actual debate. The debate is, if they are Non-Muslims living in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, do they have any rights?”
“If they are Non-Muslims like Hindus and Christians”, he goes on to ask, “I can appear on media and talk about the Hindu community or the Pakistani Christian community, but why can’t I talk about the Pakistani Ahmadi community?”
Though Hamza is still maneuvering through a mine field, he seems to have deviated from the original debate that he had initiated on the legitimacy of the state’s authority in determining the religious identity of a group or individual. Whether, deliberately, under pressure or by habit, he is letting go the original string of the debate but taking another and important stand point, asking for the rights and protection of the Ahmadis, irrespective of their constitutional-religious status.
Although this course of action was not unprecedented, nor was it unexpected from Hamza’s characteristic and often contradictory style, his retraction of his initial question entirely, resulted in the usual confusion. Jibran Nasir responded, summing it up on his Facebook: