THE silent majority of Pakistan is silently sad. It is also scared. Even the chronic optimists are failing privately. What happened in Sialkot is a symptom of an underlying cancer which has metastasised to different parts of the body but most importantly, to the brain, and hence, more is expected. No remedy seems to be in sight.
Violent chaos in society has erupted in different forms and locations — Charsadda, Sialkot, Faisalabad, Sargodha — in just the last few weeks. Apathy prevails — bystanders make videos of a burning corpse, and even take selfies with it.
The prime minister has expressed national shame, some important gestures have been made at the diplomatic level, more than 130 lethal mobsters have been rounded up and the law is now taking its convoluted course. The Sialkot Chamber of Commerce has created a fund for the late Mr Priyantha Kumara and his salary has been continued to support his family. A special event was organised at the Prime Minister’s Office to express grief and also to recognise the heroic efforts of Malik Adnan to save his foreign colleague from a mad crowd. Reportedly, there were four others who also tried to stop the crowd from the heinous act.
These were the essential immediate actions which should have happened, more so because a foreigner was involved and bilateral relations and the national image was at stake. Well and good.
However, the moderate majority is very nervous. I believe we are still a moderate Muslim-majority country though we are sliding fast on a slippery slope. People want to see a wider, bolder and more serious approach and long-term, deeper actions to address the root causes which shape such mindsets and behaviour. The albatross around the neck needs to be disentangled. If we just take short-term action then we’d be asking for more and bigger disasters.
The most important voice of reason and courage on the incident has come from Javed Ahmad Ghamidi.
From a long-term perspective, what are we seeing after the Sialkot incident? To my knowledge, two important initiatives have been taken. One, the president of Pakistan has organised a well-prepared juma sermon from the mosque of the presidency which will be televised on the national network. The “spirit behind these sermons is to discuss burning social issues that require reform according to Islamic principles”. The topic of the first sermon was “social behaviour and Islam” (in the context of the Sialkot tragedy). If this medium catches on and continues, this may become a good source of learning and promoting good values in a non-controversial way.
Another important initiative has been announced by the Council of Islamic Ideology which has given a call for a wider national meeting to discuss the deteriorating situation. Its importance will be judged by its outcome, but indeed, such timely discourse by a pivotal body like the CII itself is an important step.
A lot is being written and said but more by way of catharsis. Senior journalist Zahid Hussain, however, wrote with candour on these very pages last week, “What happened in Sialkot last week demonstrates the radicalisation of a society that condones violence in the name of faith.” He concluded the article by saying: “There is an urgent need to build a national narrative on fighting this menace before it is too late.”
But the most important voice of reason and courage on the Sialkot incident has come from Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, a rare rational religious scholar who always argues in a logical manner. With his deep learning and understanding of Islam and his reliance on the main sources of guidance ie Quran, Sunnah and Islamic jurisprudence, he is a great commentator. He released a video after the Sialkot tragedy titled Sialkot Tragedy: Who Is Really Responsible in which he has spoken about the reasons which have brought us to this tragic situation. Obviously, he says, in so doing we have to analyse and understand who is really responsible. So from his perspective four parties should bear the primary responsibility for the situation we are in.
First and foremost, our religious leaders, who have encouraged and hailed such heinous acts and who make heroes out of those who are responsible for them such as Mumtaz Qadri. Who the courts of Pakistan considered a murderer deserving the death sentence is celebrated by religious leaders as a martyr. Religious leaders have created an environment through their fiery speeches in which ordinary Muslims feel that not only are such acts justifiable but that this is also a recipe for success in the afterlife.
Secondly, those lawmakers who made the blasphemy laws are responsible. According to Javed Ghamidi, the blasphemy laws on the statute books go against the Quran, hadith and Islamic jurisprudence. He says that the big religious leaders know this well, they have accepted in writing that the laws do not conform to Islamic tenets but nobody is ready to improve them. Laws like these convey to society that such acts are justifiable.
Third, he holds responsible the Constitution-breaking rifles who prop up and use such groups for political purposes. He reminds us how Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s well-known judgement has made him a target. He wishes people would read his judgement. He thinks that a major part of the responsibility lies with those who run the governments from behind the scenes and since they cannot do this through the consent of the people they do so by propping up such groups.
Fourthly, political leaders and intellectuals who do not condemn these incidents and remain silent.
This is a very frank and realistic analysis by a credible religious scholar of our times and it is hard to disagree with him. How we process this analysis and translate it into actions that make us a safer, rational, responsible and forward-looking society remains to be seen but for sure all of us have to play a role and speak on these issues directly than be mere spectators.
The writer is a former SAPM on health, professor of health systems at Shifa Tameer-i-Millat University and WHO adviser on UHC.
Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2021