KARACHI: Whenever a suicide bombing or a terrorist attack takes place anywhere in the world, it is quickly asserted that the perpetrators belong to a small group of people and do not represent a particular faith. If true, then what is stopping the majority from controlling such groups? Why is it that intolerance comes easier to us than standing against it? Journalist Wusatullah Khan posed these questions to participants during the second and final day of a workshop dedicated to understanding religious and cultural intolerance, its impact on minorities and the role of the media.
The answers, however, were not as forthcoming as the questions posed by Mr Khan, who also criticised the media for inviting “disco ulemas”, and sidelining genuine religious scholars in order to gain viewer ratings.
It was the second day of the workshop organised by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), which saw teachers, students and religious scholars from Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa attending sessions on topics ranging from acceptance of intolerance, to the role of the media, its portrayal of religion, and its drawbacks.
Divided into two sessions, the day began with a discussion on intolerance and extremism between chairperson of the Pakistan Centre for Democracy Dr Khalida Ghaus and former vice chancellor of Peshawar University Dr Qibla Ayaz.
The second session, which began at noon, was moderated by former professor of the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Dr Abdul Hameed Nayyar, with Wusatullah Khan and minority representative and social worker Romana Bashir.
Romana spoke about the discriminatory attitudes of teachers towards non-Muslim students in schools and how this impacted the overall environment in classrooms. She said that speakers on a panel a day earlier had spoken about the need to teach non-Muslim students from the book of Ethics rather than Islamiat. But what they don’t know is that most of these books are not available. She presented two solutions after her talk: “The state should either limit religious education to the personal space of the home. And if it can’t be done, then the amount of religious education should be the same for all students and not be discriminatory.”
Mr Khan, who spoke after Romana, began his speech with the existing environment of division along sectarian lines. He said conflict begins when one sect considered itself superior to the other. “Sectarianism is one business no one would want to let go of. Just like shopkeepers, those who preach sectarianism wouldn’t want to kick their own business as it yields a continuing return,” he said.
In the same vein he debunked a few myths about the role of the media and its portrayal of religion. “First of all, journalism is not noble; rather it is run like any other business. Gimmicks and sensationalism is what sells and this is what the media dishes out,” he said.
He added that the news is “sold keeping in mind the target audience and society which is deeply religious.” In that sense, the Ramazan transmission is a prominent example of how not to talk about religion.
With reference to the Ramazan transmission of various television channels, Mr Khan said that it showed that there existed two types of religious scholars. “Type one includes the genuine ulema who are concerned with preaching and teach at religious seminaries who never get invited to such programmes. And the second type can be referred to as disco ulema. My question is, why is the second type always invited and not the first one?”
Answering his own question, Mr Khan said that the second type came with an agenda which was modified enough to be accepted by a large audience. He concluded his speech by saying athat it should be decided once and for all whether Pakistan was for the Pakistanis or specifically for Muslims. “That way, we won’t need to hold conferences,” he added.
During the question and answer session, a teacher from a religious school in Balochistan said that he taught Quran to a few Zikri students. “I never asked them to leave considering their religious status. And I also agree with Khan sahib that the state should be for Pakistanis rather than people belonging to a specific faith,” he said.
Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2016