By Saeed Qureshi
Was a country that came into being in the name of religion destined to be a theocracy in the longer run? And that is what exactly happened with Pakistan. Pakistan is awash with religious militancy and radicalism. The religious militants have taken Pakistan hostage. The sectarianism is assuming monstrous proportions and running amok with the social peace and stability of the country. The founders would have never imagined that in the state they are striving hard to create, the religious sects would slaughter in public view their opponents and still get away from justice.
The civil liberties in the Islamic state of Pakistan are fast disappearing. The national institutions like police, courts, municipalities, post offices, banks, schools, hospitals, water and power, transportation, taxation and revenue collection are in a state of continuous decay and dysfunction. All these state building departments are infested with unremitting maladies of corruption, malfunctioning, red tape, disorder, and lawlessness. The visible progress that one can witness is the number of mosques growing; the religious traditional events celebrated every year with renewed passion and fanfare and sectarian vendettas escalating.
If this nascent country was supposed to be rampaged and taken over by bigots and religious reactionaries with no vision of civility and the need of a civil society, then better it was not created. The cut throats fundamentalists force the people to remain stuck up in the past, follow the rituals and then feel free to indulge in any conceivable villainy, wickedness, lawlessness and rioting.
A good citizen, a good human being and a good Muslim are the benchmarks to be set in a civilized society specifically in a country like Pakistan with an official religion. Perhaps in Islam and in other religions, all these three facets merge in varying degrees. In Pakistan, unfortunately, we are neither of these. The religious robots are being manufactured by the preachers, clerics and theocrats that are mentally barren about the imperatives of a modern society and its fundamentals.
The conflict between state and religion has started after the state of Pakistan came into being. Prior to that, under the British rule, the sectarian bad blood and mutual annihilation, the sway of religious factions and the ensuing massacres were almost nonexistent. This is one of the great tragedies of the modern times that a state that came up in the name of religion, is now hostage to the religious lords and fanatics who brook no mercy and no humanism. They forcibly drive the people to adopt a way of life that is out of sync with the imperatives of a modern civil society.
The Islam that they project, profess and force down the throats is not the real Islam. It is a distortion and deformed version of Islam depending upon the sect one belongs to. In Pakistan the religious fundamentalist are serving Islam in getting it a bad name. A liberal and progressive Islam could be the answer to integrate the tradition with the modern. But the emphasis of the religious clergy is on a kind regimented theocracy that did not exist even in Medina during the time of first four caliphs.
Now an orgy of bloodletting is sweeping across the whole country. The barbarous religious militants equipped and armed with all kinds of deadly weapons have managed to strike terror in the hearts of the citizens with loathsome and bestial acts. They kill at will; kidnap for ransom, slaughter kidnapped captives if the ransom is not paid or if they belong to a different sect. They target mosques, shrines and funeral processions, destroy schools, publicly flog outgoing women and behead the religious rivals.
The Islamic radicals pick up the youth from the religious seminaries and train them into suicide bombers. They do not feel any qualms of moral or religious conscience in marrying underage girls with old bearded Jihadists and militants.
This is how they spread the Islam: by intimidation, by fear and hair-raising punishments and by bombing and brutal vendettas. They do so because they earnestly feel that what they were doing was religiously justified as for them killing of infidels and modernists was a religious obligation. Now if the saner and educated Islamic scholars bear with these distortions and defacing of Islam, how a true Islamic polity could emerge that could be the envy of the non-Islamic world.
But the tussle between a progressive (Ijtehadi) Islam and the orthodox with improvisations by the opportunistic, ignorant, illiterate clerics fixated on rigid rituals and traditions has been there for centuries. There has never been a consensus on a unified code of Islamic creed or set of beliefs. The cult of Taliban and within Pakistan the Jihadist groups profess and follow another kind Islam that looks more barbarians and savage than what the prophet of Islam preached and passed on to humanity under the divine command.
Just picture if you can, every male having a long beard, with a heavy turban over the head, every female confined within the four walls of the house. She can come out only if covered from top to bottom in a baggy veil with holes in front of the eyes. The modern gadgets as cell phones, computers, and televisions are all banned as instruments of Satan, and impiety. The children permitted to attend solely the religious schools for cramming the Quran or Suras or learning the etiquette for praying, fasting and performing rituals.
The other branches of knowledge from Sociology to Physics are banned for being Unislamic. The human and fundamental rights such as freedom of speech, expression and pursuit of religion, the choice of job and entertainment would be effaced from the society. The pagan justice of beheading even for the minor to major crime would be imposed.
If you are ready for this kind of life in Pakistan, I am ready too. If this is the antithesis and negation of the pristine Islam and creation of an island of ignorance, oppression, medieval-ism, and robots to stereo-type certain dictated rules then let us accept it or challenge it. Can we, born in an enlightened age, wage a war against such antiquated and pitilessly rigid way of life?
There is a dire need to reinterpret Islam by fusing its fundamental obligations and beliefs, with the ingredients and imperatives of the modern society. We should not opt and resign to a frog’s life living in a well. The lethal sectarianism within Islam has undermined its conceptual and doctrinal unity and sublimity since the beginning.
Now Islam is divided into various sects. Can we make it possible that all the sects coexist and follow their tenets without fear and hindrance? Can we make a broad-based and tolerant civil society where there is freedom of practicing any religion? Why Pakistan should be singled out to be the citadel of Islam. Before partition in 1947, no parts of the undivided India or Indian Muslims were ever looked upon as the only defenders of Islam. Islam does not need custodian in particular areas. It is universal religion and would remain so on its own strength and merit.
Why can’t Pakistan be a progressive modern state with an Islam that is permissive and goes hand in hand with the basic imperatives of a modern state? Should we become another Saudi Arabia or another Iran for implementing strict and orthodox versions of Islam at the cost of a free society and by sacrificing sectarian harmony? Shall Muslim societies remain backward intellectually, scientifically, technologically and socially under the misconceptions that such dimensions were against Islam?
The indispensable need of the present times is to cast away conservatism and embrace also what was beneficial for the Muslims as human beings and citizens of a modern state. Pakistan has got to be liberal, enlightened, and secular state with the framework of Islam. Islam was there when Pakistan was not born and would be practiced if God forbids Pakistan disappears.
The religious right wingers want political power and then forget the remarkable aspects of Islam and humanitarianism. Their narrow agenda is to freeze or turn Pakistan into a medieval state.
The newly elected Egyptian president Morsi of Muslim brotherhood is caught up in the same dilemma. The majority of Egyptians do not want a rigid and reactionary Islam. We in Pakistan need an enlightened and forward looking Islam, not the one that looks like an island of ignorance and primitiveness catapulting brutal sectarian feuds, bigotry and ruthless cults like Taliban.
The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat