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Our religion problem

Updated February 23, 2015
The writer is a lawyer.
The writer is a lawyer.

POST-Peshawar the need to rethink our national security policy and terminate the state’s patronage of jihadists has been under focus. Also under spotlight has been the state’s capacity deficit that partly explains the gap between law and its implementation (obsession with military courts being a misconceived response to this issue). But what is not being acknowledged or debated candidly is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan’s religion problem: terror is being preached, justified or tolerated in the name of religion and we are doing little about it.

President Obama was both right and being smart when he argued during the anti-terrorism summit convened at the White House last week that, “we are not at war with Islam, we are at war with those who have perverted Islam.” Imagine the outrage across the Muslim world had the American president insinuated that there is something intrinsic about Islam that encourages violence and extremism or even that our religion lends itself more readily to abuse by terrorists.

The surest way to rile up Muslim societies and sabotage the prospect of introspection within the Muslim world is for the West to allege that the fault is not just in the terrorists but also in the faith they profess to abide by. It is thus in the West’s own interest as well to resist Islamophobia and not define the threat of terror emanating from self-proclaimed Islamists in terms of clash of civilisations. Such description of the problem could very well become prophetic.

It is essential for moderate Muslims to define who they are and their religious identity in a manner that excommunicates terrorists: the Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi et al. So long as we see terrorists in our midst as part of us, but only misguided, we can’t fight them effectively. However, in doing so we must not feign ignorance to the fact that we would be doing nothing different from what terrorists have done: declare those not abiding by their interpretation of religion to be the ‘other’ and thus fair game.

Thus while reclaiming our religion and the values it propagates we can’t be oblivious to the fact that terrorists also claim to speak in the name of the same religion and seek to implement the values they believe it espouses. Graeme Wood has written an insightful and much-debated essay in The Atlantic, wherein he claims that, “the Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse.”

Does Al Qaeda not claim to speak in the name of Islam? Does TTP not profess to fight our army with the object of capturing our territory and establishing what it believes an Islamic state must look like? Do LJ, Jamaatul Ahrar or Jundallah not claim to follow Islam’s edicts, as they understand them, when they kill schoolchildren or Shias? Why does Pakistan still seem confused and irresolute in combating terror after losing over 50,000 citizens to it? Aren’t many of us sympathetic to the goals of our terrorist ‘brethren’ even if we disagree with their means?

Go down the list of banned terror outfits in Pakistan and excluding a few their names alone establish their professed allegiance to Islam. Jamaat-i-Islami is a serious democratic party. Yet wasn’t Khalid Sheikh Mohammad recovered from the house of a local JI leader, Farzana Qudoos, in Rawalpindi? Were doctors Arshad Waheed and Akmal Waheed and engineer Ahsan Aziz not reportedly linked to JI and also to Al Qaeda? Didn’t Munawar Hasan declare Hakeemullah to be a martyr?

The point here is not to demonise the JI. Look at JUI-F too. Fazlur Rehman has survived multiple terror attacks. And yet after each attack he points a finger at ‘foreign powers’. Post-Peshawar he is gathering Islamists under one banner to resist the National Action Plan against terror to whatever extent it scrutinises and squeezes the constituency of Islamic parties. Wafaqul Madaris and other organisations running seminaries are up in arms against regulation of any sort.

We know that in 2004 Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid had issued a fatwa declaring haram the namaz-i-janaza of Pakistani soldiers killed while fighting in Waziristan. We also know that his disciples have professed allegiance to IS. We now know that terrorists who attacked APS were provided board and lodging facilities by a masjid imam. We know that mosques and their bully pulpits are abused to preach hate. We know that seminaries and mosques around Islamabad parade ground have had to be vacated to ensure safety for Pakistan Day.

Yet, post-Peshawar, we cashed out our national resolve against terror to amend the Constitution and establish military courts but not to cleanse mosques and seminaries of weapons and preachers of hate. Can Pakistan fight terror if its understanding of the problem is still wayward? If we were to hold a referendum in Pakistan on causes of terror, would a majority blame Islamic extremists or foreign conspirators? Is the worldview of our Islamic parties publicly opposed to terror closer to that of terrorists or those leading the fight against terror?

There is need to debate and define Pakistan’s worldview and its ambition in today’s world. (It is the transitionist-transformationst debate all over again, that friend Ejaz Haider started during the lawyers’ movement). Do we seek to be a transitionist-reformist state, aiming to promote our peoples’ welfare and enhance state power and influence within the existing nation-state system? Or do we wish to be a transformationist-expansionist polity, dreaming of a caliphate, conquering territories and redrawing the world map?

Will our state be a facilitator of religion, to help each citizen practise his beliefs freely without impinging on those of others, or an enforcer of religion endorsing and imposing a certain belief system? Will religion help the individual seek personal guidance and salvation or be an instrument of collective control? Without acknowledging our religion problem and determining whether we sympathise with Muslim terrorists and their worldview or not, we will stay as confused and ineffective in fighting terror as we presently are.

The writer is a lawyer.

sattar@post.harvard.edu

Twitter: @babar_sattar

Published in Dawn February 23rd , 2015

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