Pakistan’s main problem is too much religion

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Saeed Qureshi

SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association)

Pakistan’s most overriding problem is the over-brimming religion fervour and the emergence of the Islamic militant groups fomenting internal chaos aimed at making Pakistan an Islamic state as 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, 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 horse racing, drinking, gambling and declaring Friday as the weekly holiday. Although these were cosmetic measures, they certainly strengthened the hands of orthodox religious parties to firm up their hold and spread their myopic tentacles in the society. Bhutto undertook such measures in contrast to his cosmopolitan vision for Pakistan.

The military regime of Zia-ul-Haq was patently an ultra rightist regime that furthered the process of Islamisation initiated by Bhutto to no end, although they were sworn enemies politically and religiously. General Zia created Sharia faculty and Sharia courts, enforced Hudood 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 the floodgates for Islamic fundamental parties to have a field-day. These groups proliferated ubiquitously to fight in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. Thanks to American and western patronage they had unhindered access to the 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.

Ironically, a secular and liberal prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, made amendments in the constitution that pushed Pakistan into the lap of irreversible fundamentalism

Not only that but the country was dotted in a short span of time with mosques and religious seminaries everywhere. These mosques and seminaries also represented various sects and also became a breeding ground for sectarian animus. Since 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 Shi’a and Ahmadis. Outfits like Lashkar e Jhangvi, Lashkar e Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Muhammad and others had a free hand to torment and brutalise minorities. Vice versa, the Shi’a also retaliate. That switch of Pakistan from a culturally and socially liberal state to a religiously suppressed state further led to terrorism and violence that increased 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 Shi’a non Muslims as was done in case of Ahmadis. Supposedly even if all the Shi’a 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. Sectarian division has existed in 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 Shi’a seldom collided on the sectarian turf as they have been doing since the birth of Pakistan. Islam teaches tolerance and peace. It is a dogma, or precept which its followers practice more in breach than observance. In comparison, in India, despite being a secular state with majority of Hindu population, we have seldom seen sectarian hatred or physical collision between the two main sects of Islam. Rather India maintains religious harmony that is squarely lacking in Pakistan and most Islamic states.

Unfortunately, besides Pakistan Bahrain, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are the most unstable countries because of sectarian strife. But such Islamic states that are secular and profess tolerance instead of bigotry are relatively stable. In this category we can mention Turkey, Jordan, Tunis, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Malaysia, Indonesia, Qatar, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates.

The fundamental question staring in our face is that why Pakistan is 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 hell for Muslims professing divergent beliefs. Islam is a religion of peace but in Pakistan it has turned out to be a battleground for incessant religious feuds.

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 a political entity with a Muslim majority population. After all, Shi’a or other religious minorities were not born with the birth of Pakistan on August 14, 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 partition?

Successive political leaders in Pakistan fell prey to the street agitations from such parties as Jamaat-e-Islami with a view to stick to power and that led to the tarnishing the image and face of Pakistan with a religious-sectarian brush.

Unfortunately, besides Pakistan Bahrain, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are the most unstable countries because of sectarian strife

Religious laws enacted by Bhutto and later Zia-ul-Haq regimes drastically curtained the civil and religious liberties of the people of Pakistan. Pakistan should not be the monopoly of any religious group. It would be justified if groups that did not support the Pakistan movement are banned or exiled for their seditious and antagonistic role at a crucial juncture in the creation of Pakistan. But if they stay then they should not be allowed to fan sectarian or religious hatred and bigotry.

The separation of East Pakistan was, beside other factors, due to Jamaat-e-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.

Is reconciliation between Islamic clergy and democracy possible? In a country which since its inception has remained in the throes of extremism and communalism, the most pressing need is to bring about a consensus and truce between warring sects. The most crying urgency is to evolve a consensual code of Islamic faith between Sunnis and Shi’a so that the state and the society don’t suffer due to their mutual doctrinal rivalry and ensuing 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, rich and poor, to practice their own faith without trading accusations. Secularism doesn’t necessarily mean negation or elimination of religion. It simply means tolerance and coexistence between races and sects.

It is a foregone conclusion 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. 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.

Other forms of religious extremism and fanaticism also need to be forcefully curbed. Religion should be confined to the personal and at best group level. That is the only viable and practical solution to the religious blood feud that breeds violence and hinders smooth functioning of state and society.

The state has to be secular and truly democratic for prosperity and solidarity, enabling Pakistan to enter the fold of modern states. At the same time Pakistan, like Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia, should retain its Islamic identity. In a nutshell, Islam, secularism, and democracy should go hand in hand in Pakistan.

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