Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Pakistan’s Main Problem is too much Religion

By Saeed Qureshi
Pakistan’s most overriding problem is the over-brimming religion fervor and the emergence of the Islamic militant groups fomenting internal chaos aimed at making Pakistan an Islamic state as the ISIS wants to establish in the Middle East.  Islam is prevalent in Pakistan as an intolerant, fanatical, rigid, ignorant and sectarian religion. Pakistan was renamed as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 1973. That was the first roll coaster step to divest Pakistan of its secular credentials and smear its image of a modern state.
Ironically a secular and liberal Prime Minister Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made amendments in the constitution that pushed Pakistan into the lap of irreversible fundamentalism.  Regressive yet superficial measures were announced  inter- alia to ban race horse, drinking, gambling and declaring Friday as the weekly holiday. Although these were cosmetic measures but these certainly strengthened the hands of orthodox religious parties to firm up their hold and spread their myopic tentacles in the society. Mr. Bhutto undertook such measures in contrast to his cosmopolitan vision for Pakistan.
The military regime of Ziaul-Haq was patently an ultra rightist regime that enormously furthered the process of Islamization initiated by Bhutto, although both were mutually sworn enemies politically and religiously. General Zia created Sharia faculty and Sharia courts, enforced Hadood Ordinance and payment of Zakat and Ushr, and abolished interest. Thus Pakistan’s complexion underwent a radical change from a relatively liberal to a conservative and orthodox state.
But the pernicious fallout of these regressive measures opened floodgate for the Islamic fundamental parties to have a field-day in Pakistan. These groups proliferated ubiquitously to fight in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. Thanks to American and western patronage they had unhindered access to all kind of weapons to use wherever they wanted. The Taliban and their splinter groups sprang in those tumultuous times when Pakistan was receding into the fold of theocracy and Islamic radicalism.
Not only that but the country dotted, in a short span of time, with mosques and religious seminaries everywhere, in each town and city and even neighborhoods. These mosques and seminaries also represented various sects and became breeding grounds for sectarian animus. The ear-splitting loudspeakers are depriving the population of their hearing power.
Since the Sunnis are in majority they used that unique chance to not only fight the heathen soviets but at home turned against the other minorities most notably the Shias and Ahmadis. The Sunni denominations like Lashkar e Jhangvi, Lashkar-Tayyaba, Jaish Muhammad and others religio-militant outfits had a free hand to torment and brutalize not only Shias but the other minorities. Vice-versa the Shias also retaliated. The switch of Pakistan from a culturally and socially liberal state over to a religiously suppressed state further led to terrorism and violence increasing with the time passage. That ruinous sectarian militarism and brutal terrorism continues to this day.
There have been calls from time to time to declare Shias as non-Muslims as was done in case of Ahmadis during the time of Bhutto. Supposedly even if all the Shias or Ahmadis are expelled from Pakistan or physically eliminated, the myriad Sunnis sects would start fighting each other. The Wahabis cults are deadly opposed to Chishtia, Qadria or Naqshbandia branches of Islam.
When the Wahabis somehow expel all these rival religious groups then the stage would be set for the sects within the Wahabis to sort out each other. So there is no end to this madness, perpetrated in the name of pristine Islam. This sectarian division has been there in the Islamic countries for 14 hundred years and cannot come to an end in the distant or near future.
Before partition of united India, the Sunnis and Shias seldom collided on the sectarian turf as they have been doing after the birth of Pakistan. Islam goads tolerance and peace. Ye its followers practice such golden precepts more in breach than observance.
In comparison despite being a Hindu majority country, barring the Gujarat riots and massacre of Muslims, India maintains the religious harmony, squarely lacking in Pakistan and most of the Islamic states. In India we have not seen the Shias and Sunnis attacking and killing other. If they can cohabitate peacefully in a Hindu majority population state, why can’t they do so in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan?
The practical solution of this mayhem and distortion of Islam is to divide all the Muslim countries into two parts: one for the Shias and other other for the Sunnis. We can see that in Saudi Arabia there are no Shias and it is religiously a peaceful country. We can also witness that most of the Iranian population professes Shia faith and there have never been any encounters or tension between Shias and Sunnis. But this recipe cannot be applied to other Islamic states because a geographical division on the basis of faith is impossible to be brought about.
Unfortunately besides Pakistan, the Islamic states of Bahrain, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are also bedeviled with the sectarian strife between the Shias and Sunnis. But those Islamic states that are secular and profess tolerance are relatively peaceful. In this category we can mention Turkey, Jordan, Tunis, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam Qatar, Kuwait and United Arab Emirate.
The fundamental question staring in our face is that why is Pakistan being interpreted to have been created in the name of Islam. And if it is supposed to pedal and practice Islam then why has it become a hell for the Muslims professing divergent beliefs. Islam is said to be a religion of peace but in Pakistan it has turned out to be a battleground for incessant religious feuds. Pakistan is one country besides Iran and Mauritania in the entire Islamic world except that has adopted a prefix of Islamic Republic. One fails to understand what does this phrase Islamic Republic mean?
Instead of unsuccessfully trying to protect Islam for 67 years why don’t we focus on protecting the land and its people? Pakistan should be considered as a political entity with Muslim majority population. After all Shias or other religious minorities were not born with the birth of Pakistan on 14 August 1947. These were already there. They were there during the British rule in India. They were free and safe to follow their religious obligations without any fear or oppression. They are equal citizens of Pakistan as they were before the birth of Pakistan. Then why should they be divested of their rights and liberties after the partition. Pakistan should not be the monopoly of any religious group or sect.
Islam has always been surviving for a thousand years in India and would survive for all time to come. Is the survival of Islam entirely dependent on Pakistan? Is it not a convoluted logic? There are more Muslims in India than Pakistan. Then why Pakistan should be tagged as a protector of Islam? Islam has its own resilience to survive. Should we keep submitting to the dictates and edicts of ignorant Mullas and keep the society stagnant and its people backward? Ironically some of the religious parties did not want Pakistan to come into being labeling it as an Unislamic state.
The successive political leaders in Pakistan had fallen prey to the street agitations from such parties as Jamaat-i-Islami with a view to sticking to power. That led to the tarnishing the image and face of Pakistan with religious brush, later degenerating into unrelenting sectarian feuds.
The religious laws enacted by Bhutto and later Ziaul Haq and even by the previous regimes drastically curtained the civil and religious liberties of the people of Pakistan. Incidentally the majority religious groups such as Jamaat-i-Islami, Majlis-e-Ahrar, and Jamiat-i-Ulema-e-Hind (previously JUI was part of this group) opposed the creation of Pakistan and when it came into being, JI jumped into the fray to monopolize it. Such is the hypocritical character of these religious outfits now crying hoarse to make Pakistan a medieval Islamic caliphate.
It would be rather justified if these groups that did not support Pakistan movement should be banned or exiled for their seditious and antagonistic role at a crucial juncture of the creation of Pakistan. But if they stay then they should not be allowed to fan sectarian hatred and religious bigotry, caving into the foundations of Pakistan.
The separation of East Pakistan was, beside other factors, due to Jamaat-i-Islami’s support for the military action and their religious brigands launching a religious crusade against the people of East Pakistan whose leadership had the constitutional right to form the government.
Now the paramount question is: can there be a reconciliation and compromise between the Islamic clergy and democracy? In a country, which since its inception, has remained in the throes of extremism, bigotry, sectarian and communalism, the most pressing need is to bring about a truce and concord between the warring sects. The paramount urgency is to evolve a consensual code of Islamic faith between Sunnis and Shias to save the state and the society from doctrinal rivalry and bloodshed.
As such the only rational way-out is to adopt the twin panacea of secularism and democracy that would allow every sect and denomination, to practice their own faith without trading the accusations of heresy and killing each other. Secularism doesn't necessarily mean negation or elimination of religion. It simply means tolerance and coexistence between races and sects.
It is foregone that Pakistan as a theocracy or a country with a religious label cannot move forward and would always be trapped in a self-destructive ideological conflict. The devastation of Baghdad by Mongol hordes in 13th century is a testifying tragedy to the Shia-Sunni animosity.
While acknowledging the distasteful fact that the ideological gulf between two main Islamic sects cannot be bridged, these must be legally bound to coexist and tolerate each other. As far political power is concerned, Pakistan has to decide once and for all that the war of conflicting beliefs should not be allowed to enter the political corridors.
The state and religion should be free to operate in their respective zones. The relationship between state and religion has been ideally described by Quaid-i-Azam in his address in the first session of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on 11 August 1947, “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”.
The religion should be confined to the personal and at best group contours. That is the only viable, practical and rational solution to the religious bad blood that is incessantly breeding violence and hindering smooth functioning of state and society.  The religious extremism and fanaticism also need to be forcefully curbed.
The State and society have got to be secular and truly democratic for prosperity, advancement and solidarity of Pakistan and enabling it to enter the fold of modern states. At the same time Pakistan, like Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia, retain their Islamic identity. In a nutshell, Islam, secularism, and democracy should go hand in hand in Pakistan.

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