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Friday sermons

Updated December 26, 2014

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.—AFP/File
.—AFP/File

Shocking though it is that it took savagery on the scale seen in Peshawar last week to shake Pakistani society out of its stupor regarding the spread of violent extremism, there does now seem to be some introspection under way.

At the level of the state, the government has made a renewed pledge to fight this hydra-headed monster, and while the wisdom of some of the moves announced is being challenged, there is no doubt that such political consensus and will is urgently needed. At the societal level, too, several hard, ugly realities that have gone largely ignored by the majority are being confronted, even if reluctantly.

Also read: Action likely against seminaries involved in militancy

Foremost is the one that is also perhaps the most ironic: that religion and the pulpit have been hijacked by groups and individuals intent on spreading mischief and sowing divisions; society itself has been infected by deep-rooted extremism that is exacerbating already dangerous divisions.

This may not necessarily lead individual citizens to resort to physical violence, but it certainly constitutes the bed from which the seeds of intolerance and bigotry take nourishment; the fact that extremist views are rife in society explains why it has taken Pakistanis so long to recognise the problem, despite suffering years of witnessing innocents being slaughtered.

Like all societal malaises, the path to redemption is fraught with challenges, but some measures are readily apparent. These should apply immediately to the misuse of mosques in general, and in particular to the Friday sermons in which views that are divisionary and that often amount to outright hate-speech or incitement to violence are disseminated.

These must be curtailed. One solution can lie in crowd-sourcing: citizens can be encouraged to report violations, with the state then stepping in to investigate and apply the law.

All mosques and their khateebs should be registered with the government, and the merits of requiring religious figures to apply for a licence to deliver the Friday sermon, which goes out over loudspeakers, can be considered.

It is already the case that the Friday congregations can only take place in some, and not all, places of worship; the oversight net can be tightened by the law requiring that all sermons be recorded and the records kept in order and be readily available.

To stem the tide of extremism in society, extraordinary measures are needed. Perhaps even more than the state, it is the people themselves that need to step up to the challenge.

Published in Dawn, December 26th, 2014