What has gone wrong - By M A Malik - Saturday, January 22, 2011

Source : www.thenews.com.pk

Compassion and tolerance are the virtues that are an essential ingredient of harmony, peace, tranquillity and peaceful co-existence between people of different faiths and creeds in any society.

All religions of the world invariably preach the inculcation of these human traits among their believers and none other than Islam lays unrivalled emphasis on them. The best example of tolerance and what it means was provided by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself. A woman used to throw garbage at our Prophet (PBUH) whenever he (PBUH) passed from the street and the Prophet (PBUH) never resorted to any protestation or admonition against this insulting behaviour of the woman. One day the Prophet (PBUH) passed in font of her house but the woman was not there to repeat the act. On being told that she was ill, the Prophet (PBUH) went in to inquire about her welfare. The woman was so impressed by this gesture of the Prophet (PBUH) that she embraced Islam. There could not have been a greater act of blasphemy than what the woman did to the Prophet (PBUH), but he (PBUH) exhibited the strength of his (PBUH) faith through his (PBUH) exemplary tolerance against the most obnoxious actions of the woman. That is what Islam preaches and stands for. The Muslims being the followers of that greatest benefactor of the humanity are obligated to follow his (PBUH) teachings and actions.

The question is can we as a society, in the present scenario claim that we are the true followers of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The answer regrettably is in the negative as is evident from the acts of extreme intolerance manifested through carnage of the Christians in Gojra, attacks on the worship place of Ahmedis in Lahore last year and the tide of religious extremism gripping the country. The murder of Governor Salman Taseer was the ugliest expression of the disease of intolerance spurred by the rise of religious fanaticism that has unfortunately gone unchecked by the society as well as the successive governments. Pakistan is an Islamic country inhabited by a predominant Muslim majority for whom respect of the Prophet (PBUH) and upholding his (PBUH) honour are an article of faith. There is no doubt about the fact that whether somebody is a practicing Muslim or not, nobody would condone any act of blasphemy against the Prophet (PBUH). It is precisely for this reason that we have a blasphemy law in the country. The existence of this law makes it abundantly clear that it is only the responsibility of the state and the government to punish the blasphemer after due process of justice and no individual or a group is supposed to inflict punishment on any person accused of blasphemy. Any act to the contrary not only militates against the Islamic teaching and its spirit, but also is tantamount to defiance of the state authority.

The assassination of Salman Taseer and the way some sections of the society including the religious groups leapt to the defence of the murderer saying that Salman deserved what he was subjected to, was indeed a very terrifying spectacle. What has gone wrong is that we are fast growing into a society that has made peace with the intolerant and bigoted. The rise of the phenomenon of intolerance and religious fanaticism are also a consequence of the acquiescence and apathy of the majority that has allowed themselves to be brutalised by the followers of a dogma rather than the religion of Islam. This can only be tackled through a movement by the silent majority to support and strengthen social tolerance and liberty, commitment and courage by all political parties to discourage religious intolerance and of course firm stand by the government to checkmate the burgeoning phenomenon of defiance of the state authority.

It is heartening to note that Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has not only categorically denied any attempt by the government to amend the blasphemy law while addressing a Conference of Mashaikh and Ulemas on ‘Religious Tolerance in Islam’, but has also made abundantly clear that the government would not tolerate the misuse of the law either.

That should be enough to mollify the religious circles, which are out to enforce their own brand of Islam and also making them realize that the government was determined to thwart their designs. The government has done well to seek assistance from the Ulema in preaching the true message and spirit of Islam among the masses with the view to counter religious extremism. The Ulema and Mashaikh certainly have a significant role in removing and exposing the falsehood and the disastrous consequences of the machinations of the religious extremists. Their efforts on the religious front, supported by the social movement against extremism and the determination of the government to establish the rule of law by showing zero tolerance against challenges to the writ of the state will go a long way in quelling the wave of extremism.

The indiscretions of the extremists are scuttling the prospects of social peace, harmony and progress besides bringing bad name to the great religion of Islam. The religious extremism and terrorism practiced in the name of Islam by the bigoted minority has also triggered the rise of ‘Islamophobia’ in the West and millions of Muslims dwelling in those countries - who went to live there to improve their own economic situations and also became a source of precious foreign exchange for the countries of their origin through their remittances - are now bearing the brunt of the angry reaction. Internationally, as well as at the bilateral level Pakistan is facing intense diplomatic pressure to effectively grapple with this dangerous and cancerous epidemic, which has the potential to endanger the world peace as well. It is also hurting Pakistan economically as the prospective foreign investors are reluctant to come to the country. Therefore we as a society, in our own interest, have to fight against this menace on the intellectual and religious level by promoting a thought process and debate designed to give enlightened interpretation to the Islamic injunctions and laws, and also strengthen the hands of the government in putting up a resolute effort to curb religious extremism and culture of intolerance. The media, particularly the electronic channels, will have to show their sense of social responsibility while enjoying their freedom of expression, by refraining from hyperventilating on the issue as it has done before and after the assassination of Salman Taseer and help the society and the government to get rid of the ailment of religious extremism and intolerance.

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