OVER the past several weeks, the situation vis-à-vis sectarian peace in Pakistan has been extremely fragile. Reportedly, due to some controversial remarks made from the pulpit during Muharram, and the resulting reaction from clerics, significant polarisation has been witnessed in society.
Perhaps the most worrying manifestation of this was witnessed last week in Karachi, when three rallies were taken out by religious groups in honour of the companions of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Particularly massive was Friday’s rally — organised by followers of the Deobandi school — and Saturday’s event, sponsored by Barelvi clerics. A relatively smaller event was held on Sunday by the Ahle Hadith school of thought.
While it is everyone’s democratic right to protest peacefully, the presence of banned hate groups in the rallies, as well as the raising of takfiri slogans in at least one rally, does not bode well for communal peace.
This newspaper has long argued that there can be no justification for hate speech from the pulpit targeting any sect, religion or their revered personalities. From the 1980s onwards, Pakistan has seen horrific bouts of sectarian violence, and the misuse of the microphone by clerics has played a central role in stirring up sectarian zeal.
In the current age, with news and rumours reaching countries within minutes thanks to social media, the situation is even more delicate. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the state and ulema to play their roles to prevent sectarian hatred from spreading. The government must ensure that pulpits are not misused to demonise any community and propagate sectarian views, and that action is taken against violators as per the law.
Clerics, on the other hand, have an equally important job; instead of working up their flock into a frenzy, ulema of all sects must cooperate to create an atmosphere of harmony. If controversial remarks are reported on social media or elsewhere, ulema and community leaders must work to defuse the situation. Pakistan cannot afford to be caught in the maelstrom of communal hatred.
Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2020