VIEW: The turf war —Gulmina Bilal Ahmad - Friday, February 11, 2011

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The madness seems endless. The religious right is determined to take over the country and that is certainly not for the glory of Islam, but for their personal gains. Religious sects and groups that seemed moderate and tolerant are now using violence and oppression to get into politics

Pakistan is going through one of the toughest times in its history. There are problems of every possible nature. But as I see it, the most troubling problem is the intellectual degradation of our society. A society’s intellect represents its willingness to grow and expand on solid grounds. But unfortunately, our society has been hijacked intellectually by the extremist forces, who want to spread intolerance and rage in the name of religion.

Religion provides a code of life to its followers. Islam serves as the code of life for the majority of people in Pakistan. When we observe the growing intolerance in the country and that too in the name of religion, then it is beyond comprehension how come Islam, the perfect code of life for humans, is spreading intolerance. The answer is confusing and not easy to understand. Perhaps it is hidden in the chapters of Pakistan’s history, which explains how, since the country’s independence, different forces have been trying to mould the mood of our society.

About a month ago, a father and a son were accused of blasphemy in Muzaffargarh. The father was a mosque imam (prayer leader), who recently returned after performing hajj. A person, who organised an event on the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), registered the case. The poster of this event was pasted outside the shop owned by the imam. When he removed the poster, it apparently enraged the person who organised the event, and so he conveniently accused the imam and his son of blasphemy.

A recent example from Lodhran district further highlights the extent to which the extremist forces are trying to establish themselves in society, by exploiting religion. A young couple invested all their money into education. They started a school that became popular and they decided to open up another school. However, the local clerics along with other people went to the police station and said that the schools are owned by Ahmedis. The police simply advised the couple to leave the place, because their security could not be ensured.

Both the cases described here were not registered to guard the sanctity of the name of the Prophet (PBUH). The reasons that shaped these actions were certainly different. In the prior case, the person who registered the case against the father and son was the organiser of the event and belonged to a different sect than the two accused. The real impetus was provided by the hatred between the two sects that finally led to this incident.

A very interesting yet condemnable case came to light when an examiner registered a blasphemy case against one of the candidates. Apparently, the candidate had given derogatory remarks against the Prophet (PBUH). Later, it was ascertained that the candidate did so out of frustration of not performing well in the exam and due to instigation by his cousins, who came from Norway. The boy is 17 years old, but this age is not considered young enough to spare him of the charge of this crime.

Religion is central to everyday workings for every Muslim, because his/her actions are shaped by the teachings of Islam. But, unfortunately, we Muslims have only been successful in picking up those subjects from religion that can be used against others. Blasphemy is one of the most convenient accusations that a Muslim can use against non-Muslims and Muslims equally. The division and differences among different sects further complicates the matter and perhaps that is why we are observing a rise in the registration of blasphemy-related cases.

The madness seems endless. The religious right is determined to take over the country and that is certainly not for the glory of Islam, but for their personal gains. Religious sects and groups that seemed moderate and tolerant are now using violence and oppression to get into politics. That is why we have witnessed the recent formation of a religious-political conglomerate taking up the issue of Qadri, the assassin of Salmaan Taseer. They are trying to present Qadri as the hero of Muslims, who killed the person who wanted to bring a change in the blasphemy laws of the country.

Recently, as the Raymond Davis case came into the limelight, the same religious-political group took up the case and of course others joined in as well. They are now determined not to let the American leave Pakistani soil. They want him punished for the crime he committed. This, too, is not because they love this country and its people, but because they want to gain the sympathies of the people, to increase their power.

The so-called guardians of Islam have hijacked our religion. They do not want to listen to moderate voices, voices that believe Islam is a religion that inspires its followers to find a reason for every action. For me and other liberals, religion is a personal matter and not the duty of the state. Islam certainly has the ability to act as the state religion, because its institutions are well developed and promote the functioning of a welfare state. But, unfortunately, no one ever tried to establish these institutions but only did their part in the cosmetic surgery. We took the name of an Islamic republic, but never tried to become one.

Quaid-e-Azam never approved of theocracy as a system of politics, but always preferred democracy. He believed in the equality of men, with no difference based on religion, sect or beliefs. Quaid’s Pakistan is deeply buried in the chapters of our history. The level of intolerance can only be brought down by the people of this country. We still can bring the much needed change, but only if we strive towards this national cause.

The writer is an Islamabad-based development consultant. She can be reached at

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