WHILE ulema are supposed to lead by example, what transpired at the Council of Islamic Ideology’s 201st meeting in Islamabad on Tuesday can only be described as disgraceful. Two of the CII’s members — its chairman Maulana Sherani and Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi — had a physical altercation after disagreement over agenda items. As reported, while the meeting was in progress Tahir Ashrafi entered and, according to one eyewitness, started making a fuss. While it is difficult to conclude who cast the first stone, what ensued was an ugly exchange of street language, expletives and, eventually, physical violence. This sort of distasteful behaviour is thoroughly unacceptable from ‘men of learning’, especially those serving an officially sanctioned body. Instead of discussing matters in a cool and collected manner, the individuals involved have put on display antics that have no place in a civilised society.

However, if it were only this single incident involving the CII, perhaps it could be overlooked. Unfortunately, many of the issues the body has chosen to put on its agenda over the past few years are deeply troubling. Apparently, one of the factors behind the brawl was the presence on the agenda of the issue of the status of Ahmadis in relation to Islam, and whether the current members of the community are to be termed murtad (apostates) or not. As it is, Ahmadis in Pakistan live in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation and for the CII to even discuss this is akin to playing with fire. Also on the recent meeting’s agenda were items related to defining which sects fall within the ambit of Islam, as well as the imposition of jizya (poll tax). In the past, the council has taken a stance endorsing child marriage. Clearly, the CII has a penchant for indulging in explosive debate rather than giving progressive solutions to the country’s many faith-related problems. These examples of retrogressive thinking justify calls for its disbandment. There is much the council can discuss, including burning issues such as sectarianism, terrorism and rising extremism — problems that have torn the country apart, yet that have not been discussed in a critical and constructive manner by the clergy. The CII has chosen to raise divisive issues and weigh in with regressive views at a time when moderation and a pluralistic ethos are required in society. Moreover, if its members cannot behave in a civilised manner, it is all the more reason to wrap up the CII.

Published in Dawn, December 31st, 2015

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