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January 09, 2013

-Photo by Suhail Yusuf /
-Photo by Suhail Yusuf /

Whereas mullahs and prayer leaders subject their followers to strict religious scrutiny in Pakistan, the religious leaders themselves are seldom ranked and judged for their religious knowledge and sound judgement. It is time to judge those who have been judging us.

Armed with a loud speaker and, at times, with weapons, religious men (mullahs and prayer leaders) issue decrees on matters dealing with the everyday life of their parish. From forbidding people from vaccinating their children against polio to asking fathers not to educate their daughters, many religious leaders (certainly not all) attempt to control the lives of those who attend mosques or listen to their sermons. Seldom do the followers get an opportunity to question those who control mosques in Pakistan.

In a place where religion trumps all else, one would expect religious leaders to meet certain basic standards of literacy and show some religious acumen. One would expect the parish to have control over who leads them in prayers and be able to appoint their own imams. This is hardly the case in Pakistan. Religious and prayer leaders have assumed authority over the populace. Even when the khateeb (religious scholar) is at odds with the beliefs of the majority of followers, seldom is he voted out of the privileged position of leading the faithful in prayers. This has to change. People should be able to rank their imams (prayer leaders) and be able to appoint only those in leadership positions who share the same values.

I am proposing web portals where individuals can rate religious and prayer leaders on religious knowledge and acumen, tolerance, relevance and significance of religion to modern-day life, and their ability to unite rather than divide. Such a system already exists to rank university professors where students rate their professors and offer anonymous comments and feedback. The web portal is the go to site for students who review the feedback provided by students who have already taken courses with the same professors. Often the anonymous student feedback is the deciding factor for many to take a class with a particular professor.

With a one could learn about what others think of religious and prayer leaders. For those imams who use the religious platform to spread hate or promote violence, the web portal would warn others who may follow the person out of ignorance. For those leaders who use religion to promote peace and tolerance, would help them attract more followers.

Our mosques, regretfully, no longer promote dialogue and debate. Most individuals run in and out of mosques while trying to offer prayers in the least amount of time. The conversations are entirely one-sided, where the khateeb has monopoly over what is being said. This has to change.

A more informed and considerate dialogue needs to take place in mosques in an environment where the parish feels empowered to express opinions. And in cases where special interests appear to have taken control of mosques and are using them to spread hate, one should be able to confront those who propagate hate and violence. The anonymous feedback through will make it possible for those to have a say who would rather avoid face-to-face confrontation.

Such rating systems are subject to misuse as well. Systematic evaluations of have shown that despite the possibility of misuse, such rating systems are indeed useful for students. Writing in the journal Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, James Otto and co-authors studied online ratings for 399 randomly selected professors. They concluded that “online ratings in their current form may be useful, even though possible abuses could limit validity in specific instances.”

It is therefore quite possible that followers of a particular school of thought may enter false entries about scholars of another school of thought on the online portal. Some may try to use the portal to hurl insults on a religious scholar of a different persuasion. The available technology, however, is capable of automatically purging impolite remarks. Furthermore, over time, and with large numbers of responses, such anomalous entries lose their influence.

Consider that books, movie, and restaurant rankings through crowd sourcing of public opinion have helped individuals make informed choices about rather trivial matters. Why not use the same technology to find the mosque and the prayer leader who shares your values?


Murtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. He can be reached by email at

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.