Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pakistan: State and Religion

By Saeed Qureshi

Islam is the state religion in Pakistan but of which sect? If the answer is pure Islam then what could be the interpretation of this pure Islam keeping in view the various sects that dot Islam. The Sunnis and Shia interpretation of Islamic Shariah is divergently different from each other.
During the last fourteen centuries, there has never been any convergence or consensus on an agreed, unanimous or unified code of Islam that should be acceptable to both the mainstream Islamic sects as well as the fringe denominations. Instead, these sects have been exterminating each others in horrendous massacres and bloody bids for conquering each other’s lands.
This cleavage is glaringly manifest even in the present ages when Islamic fraternity is distinctly divided into two blocs: one headed by the radical Sunni Saudi Arabia and the other by Iran as the main citadel for the Shia branch of Islam. There is no way these two blocs can hammer out a format of faith that can eliminate their ideological rivalry and bring them on one common agreed platform of Islamic Shariah. The division of the Islam into two contrasting and confronting ideological blocs, has given birth to the regional conflicts and a frantic race for political or leadership ascendency in Middle East and elsewhere in the world.
In the ongoing upheavals in the Middle East, in states like Bahrain and Syria, the popular uprising is being interpreted in terms of Shia and Sunni majority areas and demographic proportions. Alongside with the popular wish for liberalization of these societies with civil rights and democratic forms of governments, the underlying tussle boils down to the question as to the which sect is going to wield political power within the respective countries now steaming with the urge for a change.
The same ideological conflict is rampant in Pakistan that is attributed to be an Islamic state. The animosity and hatred between divergent sects is manifest in the unremitting terrorist attacks and bombing of each others’ holy places and during religious festivals.
The Muslim societies where the religion is the driving force behind their nationalism or is the raison d’être of their existence such as Pakistan, have remained vulnerable to the sectarian bad blood and ideological pulls and pressures. It would be an ideal situation if Pakistan turns a liberal state where all shades of religious faith are free to practice and worship in accordance with their religious traditions and teachings.
In Pakistan with an Islamic nomenclature, while the majority sect is free to prevail, the minority sects and denominations feel themselves fettered and under pressure in regard to the unhindered performance of their religious customs and traditions.
The cardinal cause of the religious discord in Pakistan is the lack of tolerance between sects and because of treating each other as infidels, heretic and out of the pale of Islam. The sects such as Deobandi, Wahabi, Ahle-Hadith, Qadria, Chishtia Naqshbandia and a whole lot of mystical bands, in fact, blur the fair and original face of Islam that was in vogue during the period of first four heads of Islamic states; called caliphs.
The conflict and tussle for power that started between the governor of Syria Amir Muawiyah and the fourth Caliph Hazrat Ali (656-661 A. D.) laid down the foundation of fissures in Islam that has never been bridged nor can it be removed ever in the future. The accession to power after the demise of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) divided the Muslims into Shias and Sunnis.
This ideological division is so hard and trenchant that both these sects do not pray in one mosque, say the same Azan (call for prayer). They observe different timings for payers, fasting and use different words in prayers. The Shias do not pay the Islamic tax (Zakat). Above all they consider that the first three caliphs usurped the rights of blood relations of the Prophet to succeed him in caliphate or Imamate.
As such both these sects are poles part and can never agree on one Islamic code. They kill each other and deem it as a religious obligation to be sacrificing their lives for the sake of upholding their religious ascendencny.
The other myriad sects that abound in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan simply help in shredding the monolithic ideological fabric of Islam with their diverse concepts and explanations of Islamic Sharia and by their violent feuding.
For instance three conservative sects Qadria, Chishtia and Naqshbandia believe and promote the culture of shrines, the worshipping of tombs and graves. They sing hymns for eulogizing the saints and holy figures for their supernatural powers to heal and remove problems. Their opponents, the Wahabi discard all these practices as un-Islamic and sacrilegious.
The Christians, the Hindus, the Ahmadis and other similar non muslim sects cannot feel themselves at par or equal citizens of Pakistan because the majority sects would not treat them as such. The orthodox and radicals from the Sunni faith attack and harass and kill, at will, the faithful of other sects within Islam and the non-Muslims alike as a sacred duty. The rival sects when get chance pay back in the same coin.
Therefore, to declare Pakistan as an Islamic state with so much sectarian animosity looks like a mockery because the tolerance and justice, the two pain pillars of Islam, are seldom practiced in any Islamic State all the more in Pakistan. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is now clandestinely ruled and governed by the Islamic militants who brook no mercy nor tolerance for the dissenters or followers of diverse and divergent faiths.
Wherever, the state and religions have mingled or blended by the writ of the state or under the force of the mighty and dominant religious sects, the state affairs and the good and peaceful governance have remained in a limbo.
First of all, in the absence of a unanimous or agreed format of Islam, the faith based dissention or strife would always remain a lurking hindrance for the unity and peace of a society. The attacks on shrines in Pakistan have gained momentum. The destruction of Sunni and Shia places of worships are testament to the gory fact that it was impossible to eradicate the discords of creed between these colliding sects.
It is, therefore, necessary that state affairs should be detached and made free from the religious domain as far as possible. The interference of religions in state affairs is detrimental to the overall advancement of a society and for the unhindered soci-economic progress, political stability and democratic culture to flower.
There should be freedom of religion for all sects within the confines of the law and the constitution. Europe went through the turmoil between Catholicism and Protestantism and finally confined religions to the individuals to follow. The European societies have ever since been in peace.
Pakistan is a geographical entity. Islam was here in these lands when Pakistan has not been carved out. Pakistan as a country is meant to serve and cater its citizens irrespective of their cast, color, creed, gender, religious inclinations, or being low or high, rich or poor.
A country cannot be called an egalitarian state or a free society, if it remains hostage to the overbearing dictates of particular cults or sects. It would be a theocracy as Pakistan is. Absolute theocracies have never prospered as evidenced by history.
For a theocracy, the citizens of a country have to be in vast majority with the same faith in order to maintain their hold on power as we can see in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Otherwise only brute power can keep the opposing sects or ethnic segments together as seen in Iraq during Saddam Hussain or presently in Bahrain.
In the modern times when the nation states have emerged, the theocracy is unthinkable and to impose it would be sure recipe for sectarian war and social disharmony and dysfunctional political governments.
During the British colonial occupation of 200 years and even during the 1000 years of Muslim rule in the united India, the society, by and large, presented a harmonious blend of religious pursuits for all sects and their peaceful cohabitation. The Shia-Sunni and Wahabi-Naqshbandia discord that in Pakistan has reached frightening dimensions was seldom on display during the British rule in India. The mushrooming of sectarian civil war began after the creation of Pakistan which is getting more violent and deadly with the time passage.
It is indispensable to curb and rein in the religious extremism that may now be called religious militancy as it is becoming a constant threat to the writ of state and does not allow the society to be transformed into a civil pattern. The strident religious extremism hinders judiciary, press, executive and legislature to be free and independently play their respective roles for the benefit of the people.
The religious extremism poses a constant challenge to the people and state so much so that the false cases of blasphemy cannot be adjudicated that merit release of the accused person. If someone is released by the court he or she is later killed.
Moreover, these violent, hate-filled, rancorous and bigoted religious entities are exploited by the political forces and special interest groups to promote their respective agendas. The religiously motivated individuals are always ready to kill and create panic. General Ziaul-Haq cleverly and adequately manipulated the religious right in Pakistan to douse the spirit of social freedom and keep his opponents under control.
His lurid legacy remains vibrant with every successive regime following the same tactic that is creating perpetual disorder and turmoil in Pakistan. The creation of Taliban for occupation of Afghanistan is now back lashing as this Frankenstein is now swallowing Pakistan with atrocious and disastrous ramifications happening every day by suicide bombing and sectarian clashes.
The Islamabad religious seminary’s deadly episode with state troops demolishing that place with brutal force is a testimony as to how strong and defiant the religious outfits have become to create a srate wthin a state.
If some can come up with a practicable model of an Islamic state in clear terms, which can fulfill the demands of the modern civil society, a nation state and with complete sectarian ethnic and communal peace in Pakistan, then he should hasten to unfurl it so that Pakistan can move forward as a stable and strong nation. The models of Saudi Arabia or Iran will not work in Pakistan as they have complete majority of their respestvie branches of Islam in their lands. Otherwise let Pakistan be a secular Islamic state.

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