ISLAMABAD - The federal law ministry and a parliamentary panel on Monday opposed a bill moved by the chief of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) MNA Maulana Muhammad Khan Shirani regarding the ban on alcohol for non-Muslims, according to media reports.
Law ministry in its draft, a media report claimed, termed the bill unjustifiable, unreasonable and misconceived. “…the bill moved by Shirani will not serve any purpose and must be vehemently opposed.”
The bill seeks to amend clause (h) of Article 37 of the Constitution which reads, “prevent the consumption of alcoholic liquor otherwise than for medicinal and, in the case of non-Muslims, religious purposes.”
Commenting on the bill, the law ministry stated that in all the constitutions of the country alcohol was allowed for non-Muslims and it is against the principal of policy to modify this clause.
As per the existing legislation, non-Muslims can drink alcohol, but they must get a permit from the government and pay a fee. Per the permit, they get a fixed quota of alcohol every month. The permit holder must renew the permit every year. The government fixes the quota based on a person´s income. The permit is not issued without a religious certificate.
Shirani, who is a leader of the government’s ally Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) in the lower house of the parliament, had earlier faced criticism for his decrees particularly on child marriage. The media report quoted Shirani as saying he does not know why his proposed bill was being opposed in the parliament as well as in media for what he claimed were interpretations of Islamic teachings.
An advisor of the law ministry was quoted as saying that the bill seeks to omit the expression “and, in the case of non-Muslim, religious purposes.” This will make the current legislation a copy of clause (f) of Article 28 of the 1956 Constitution and Article 8 of the 1962 Constitution and Article 48 of the interim Constitution of 1972.
Furnishing a written reply to the proposed bill, the law ministry argued that the claim religious minorities were facing criminal cases due to this clause (clause (h) of Article 37 of Constitution) is not based on any logic and reason as this provision seeks to discourage alcoholic drinks. Instead, the law dealing with alcohol is called the Prohibition (Enforcement of Hadd) Order, 1979 and not clause (h) of the Article 37 of the Constitution.
In addition to the Law Ministry’s reply, the National Assembly’s standing committee on law and justice also suggested Shriani retract the proposed bill since it was against the freedom of citizens and it can damage the country’s image.
Shirani argued that a number of non-Muslim MPs were supporting his bill and that they should also be consulted on the issue.
The standing committee on law and justice is expected to hear minority MPs who had backed Shirani’s bill at its next hearing, but, members of the committee convinced Shirani that he will not stress the bill any further.
MNA Muhammad Bashir Virk, chairman of the committee, said that it would not suitable to cancel permits for alcohol because there are some traditions where wine is served even in the Churches. The followers of the Sikh religion too do not ban usage of alcohol, he added.
Pakistan Peoples Party MNAs Syed Naveed Qamar, Ayaz Somroo and Senator Saaeda Iqbal also opposed Shirani’s bill and termed it against the spirit of the unanimously passed constitution of 1973. Even MNAs of the ruling party pulled their support for the bill.
After being grilled by his colleagues, Shirani angrily said, we should allow alcohol for society because of trends and need but not in the name of religion. He added that main purpose of his bill was to save the sanctity of minorities because we are earning bad name for their religions.