Monday, July 4, 2016


Why should the religious brigade be above the law?

All those catchphrases: ‘Quit India,’ ‘Bremain or Brexit?’ ‘Make America great again,’ And here in Pakistan our home grown ‘Roti, kapra aur makan,’ and Asif Ali Zardari’s ‘Pakistan khapay’ in Sindhi, which funnily enough in Urdu and Punjabi means exactly the opposite of ‘Long Live Pakistan!’ That’s politicians for you. Their careers hinge on catchphrases and slogans by means of which they advertise themselves. But they’re not the only ones who thrive on slogans.
There’s another segment of society that uses slogans as labels with far more dire consequences, and that’s the religious brigade. ‘Haram!’ they label however innocuous a matter, making people draw back and pull their clothes around themselves because you have to show you’re purer than thou. They call people ‘kafir’ or cry ‘blasphemy’ and then you can do with the person or people what you wish, even burn them in a kiln such as that wretched couple burnt to death for alleged blasphemy, in their case for allegedly desecrating the Quran. Why anyone would commit such desecration particularly in a country like Pakistan with rabid mobs breathing down their necks is beyond me. But haram this, halal that, fahash (risqué) uryani (obscenity), kafir (non-believer), Jahanum ka azab (hell fire), and so on until the public in its confusion puts Al-Bakistan number plates on cars and feels it has done its bit.
Often someone somewhere gets something out of the situation even if it’s just a kick although at times the reward is more substantial. In the blasphemy case at Joseph Colony in Lahore in 2013, a whole colony of Christians living in makeshift homes conveniently fled vacating their homes when one of them was accused of blasphemy and the colony was torched. On that occasion the reward was the chance of claiming valuable industrial land on which the colony was located. None of the looters and vandals were convicted. A land dispute was also the reason behind the conviction of Ayub Masih in 1996, although he was mercifully exonerated by the Supreme Court after all other courts convicted him.
Religion, meant to be a mercy, has a brutal flipside when used as a weapon.
If the process works one way it ought to be able to work the other way too in the interests of even handedness. So what do you when some of these label makers, the so called custodians of public spirituality themselves behave in ways that could earn them some penalties? When for example a representative of Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam Senator Hafiz Hamdullah verbally abuses a woman and tries to physically assault her and the entire incident takes place on public television, although such behavior is despicable whether it takes place in public or in private. Fahashi? Blasphemy? Blasphemy is after all defined as irreverent behavior towards something sacred and such behavior shows an irreverence towards the injunctions Islam which does not sanction it, and we hold Islam and its injunctions sacred. Instead the Senator has been granted bail in the case.
And then there’s Maulana Samiul Haq, and what do you know, he’s also from the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam, from another faction. This gentleman ‘warned’ the co-chairperson of the PPP Asif Ali Zardari against using improper language against the Madressah Darul Aloom Haqqania, saying that he, the Maulana would reveal some less than salubrious details about Mr Zardari if he persisted in using such language.
Why, Maulana sahib, if it is in the national interest to relate such details, you should be doing so in any case, madressahs and improper language notwithstanding. But if those details are irrelevant to national interest perhaps you should hold your peace, once again anything else notwithstanding. Blackmail, because that’s what this smacks of…or perhaps one should call it aibtizaz (see, you have to say it in Arabic because it carries a clout and sticking power that English doesn’t seem to possess in such cases) does not sit well with anyone but particularly with someone with your supposed credentials, don’t you think?
As in the case of Hafiz Hamdullah, this open threat, since that is what it was, went unheeded and has resulted in no consequences for Mr Samiul Haq.
It is a mark of democracy and good governance and of religion itself that everyone should be equally accountable under the law, but clearly, in this country so called religious leaders are above the law, a sign of far right wing non-egalitarian extremism. I know a few labels too.
One does not often quote any of Pakistan’s Presidents in a serious vein, it is generally not worth the effort, but the term ‘enlightened moderation’ coined by the former President Pervez Musharraf at the OIC Summit Conference in Malaysia in 2002 is worth recalling. It means the practice of following an enlightened ‘moderate’ version of Islam as opposed to the extremist, irrational version.
Pakistan, if it is to stamp out extremism and violence must strive for an element of reason in its religious views, and also treat its citizens equally under the law. As mentioned in my previous column, experiences of injustice and discrimination are among the major forces that lead to militancy. Deal with that, and Pakistan khuppay (the Sindhi version)!

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