Extremism. The Challenge of Pakistan.
When one mentions the word ‘extremism’, the thought of a middle-eastern male donned with an Arab scarf and a bomb vest may come to mind due to the perception built up through propaganda over recent years but extremism, it can be argued, has existed since the existence of man. This article aims to review two opposing forms of extremism which exist in Pakistan. It is also proposed that both fuel each other providing it’s opponent the platform required to further expand resulting in a vicious circle that requires a paradigm shift to leave the said circle.
Pakistan, existing only just over half a century is a nation founded on religious beliefs which remain entrenched in its daily governance and public practice. As with a majority of nations though, the argument of religious and secular governance will remain as religious leaders push the religious agenda whilst secular politicians approach things differently. A review of the current laws and implementation of Islamic practice can clearly show which side the scale tilts on. The focus and scope of this piece though, remains on the day-to-day struggle of the two sides in the lower strata of society.
Keeping the focus on the majority religion in Pakistan, Islam, it is apparent that the religion is instilled in a majority of the society and most like only to keep in touch with it in contrast to overtly practicing it e.g. Five daily prayers etc. It is at this point where the debate usually starts, with groups enforcing prayer and the other basic pillars of Islam upon the non-practicing. Varying levels of practice and non-practice can be found, but the basic gist remains the same. It is easy to apply the ‘holier than thou’ attitude and often pushes many away from the core message due to the way the messenger has portrayed the information. What is evident though, is the fact that both parties know the reality and yet one is consumed by its righteousness whilst the other by its ‘dignity’. On a fundamental level, all who have been brought up in an Islamic household are well aware of the basic pillars and the right & wrong, in fact many moral standards in Pakistan are derived from the religion itself. So where does the argument emanate? Reviewing the matter holistically, one must revert back to the tier above the layman which is the scholars, commonly known as ‘Ulema’. Though unfair to put the whole blame on the Ulema, it is requested that the reader indulge this argument for a few minutes.
The Council of Islamic Ideology draws its powers from Article 230 of the Constitution of Pakistan, and acts in an advisory role to the legislature affording advice on the religious aspect of laws that are passed. Recently the ‘Protection of Women Against Violence Bill’ faced huge backlash from the aforementioned council and from the largest Islamic party Jamat-i-Ulema Islam (JUI) because it was argued, men would feel insecure amongst other similar rationale. Discussing the validity of the bill is beyond the scope of this article but it is easily identifiable why the layman may lose trust in the scholars due the arguments put forward. On one side we have women, who for decades have been calling for equality laws and on the other, clerics refusing to give them the equality they desire. There are many such occurrences which push the people to choose between religion and their rights, when Islam is supposed to promote humanity and rights of every individual.
In contrast though, we have an ever-growing population that is educated and feels it is qualified to dispense Islamic ruling. Recently one had come across a social network posting where the author insisted that consuming alcohol was not explicitly mentioned in any Hadith or Quranic verse which expectedly led to a social debate. We all have our view points which is our right, but the question which arises is, would one assert their personal viewpoint so conclusively about heart surgery, engineering or quantum physics? The purpose is not to argue with what may be a valid argument, in essence one must focus on what right the author of the statement has to assert such a strong statement without due qualification? Similar debates will arise on any Islamic viewpoint and instantly many become scholars. Asides from the obvious divide in opinion, a stronger divide in society becomes apparent.
What we see is the loss of trust in scholars, and a strong desire to replace them with our personal whims or limited knowledge has created this divide. In its existence a growing tussle to tame the other results in each pushing the other further apart. Though one isn’t qualified to judge one party right or wrong, it is with confidence that one can say that pushing the layman away from the religion is not the essence of the religion and on the other side, it isn’t wise to conclude on matters which one isn’t qualified to do so. Both parties need each other for their prosperity and it is only wise if they seek to resolve the divide lest it draws them too far to come back.
Though to a non-partisan these issues seem trivial, the outcome of such debates carry the success and failure of a nation such as Pakistan. Such Extreme beliefs in one’s correctness almost always lead to a negative outcome. Maybe, somewhat ironically a Hadith comes to mind, which may benefit both parties.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) pronounced a firm warning, “Never be extreme regarding religion. Many nations have been destroyed before you only because of extremism in religion.” (Nisaai; Ibn Majah)