Pakistan's Main Problem Is Too Much Religion: Islam Goads Tolerance And Peace
29 July 2015
By Saeed Qureshi
Pakistan's most overriding problem is the over-brimming religious fervor and
the emergence of the Islamic militant groups fomenting internal chaos aimed
at making Pakistan an Islamic state as the ISIS wants to establish in the
Middle East. Islam is prevalent in Pakistan as an intolerant, fanatical,
rigid, ignorant and sectarian religion. Pakistan was renamed as the Islamic
Republic of Pakistan in 1973. That was the first roll coaster step to divest
Pakistan of its secular credentials and smear its image of a modern state.
Ironically a secular and liberal Prime Minister Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
made amendments in the constitution that pushed Pakistan into the lap of
irreversible fundamentalism. Regressive yet superficial measures were
announced inter- alia to ban race horse, drinking, gambling and declaring
Friday as the weekly holiday. Although these were cosmetic measures but these
certainly strengthened the hands of orthodox religious parties to firm up
their hold and spread their myopic tentacles in the society. Mr. Bhutto
undertook such measures in contrast to his cosmopolitan, secular and
progressive vision for Pakistan.
The military regime of Ziaul-Haq was patently an ultra rightist regime that
enormously furthered the process of Islamization initiated by Bhutto,
although both were mutually sworn enemies politically and religiously.
General Zia created Sharia faculty and Sharia courts, enforced Hadood
Ordinance and payment of Zakat and Ushr, and abolished interest. Thus
Pakistan's complexion underwent a radical change from a relatively liberal to
a conservative and orthodox state.
But the pernicious fallout of these regressive measures opened floodgate for
the Islamic fundamental parties to have a field-day in Pakistan. These groups
proliferated ubiquitously to fight in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union.
Thanks to American and western patronage they had unhindered access to all
kind of weapons to use wherever they wanted. The Taliban and their splinter
groups sprang in those tumultuous times when Pakistan was receding into the
fold of theocracy and Islamic radicalism.
Not only that but the country dotted, in a short span of time, with mosques
and religious seminaries everywhere, in each town and city and even
neighborhoods. These mosques and seminaries also represented various sects
and became breeding grounds for sectarian animus. The ear-splitting
loudspeakers are depriving the population of their hearing power.
Since the Sunnis are in majority they used that unique chance to not only
fight the heathen soviets but at home turf turned against the other
minorities most notably the Shias and Ahmadis. The Sunni denominations like
Lashkar e Jhangvi, Lashkar-Tayyaba, Jaish Muhammad and others religio-militant
outfits had a free hand to torment and brutalize not only Shias but the other
minorities. Vice-versa the Shias also retaliated. The switch of Pakistan from
a culturally and socially liberal state over to a religiously dominated state
further led to terrorism and violence increasing with the time passage. That
ruinous sectarian militarism and brutal terrorism continues to this day.
There have been calls from time to time to declare Shias as non-Muslims as
was done in the case of Ahmadis during the time of Bhutto. Supposedly even if
all the Shias or Ahmadis are expelled from Pakistan or physically eliminated,
the myriad Sunnis sects would start fighting between themselves. The Wahabis
cults are deadly opposed to Chishtia, Qadria or Naqshbandia branches of
When the Wahabis somehow expel all these rival religious groups then the
stage would be set for the sects within the Wahabis to sort out each other.
So there is no end to this madness, perpetrated in the name of pristine
Islam. This sectarian division has been there in the Islamic countries for 15
hundred years and cannot come to an end in the distant or near future.
Before partition of united India, the Sunnis and Shias seldom collided on the
sectarian turf as they have been doing after the birth of Pakistan. Islam
goads tolerance and peace. Ye its followers practice such golden precepts
more in breach than observance.
In comparison despite being a Hindu majority country, barring the Gujrat
riots and massacre of Muslims, India maintains the religious harmony,
squarely lacking in Pakistan and most of the Islamic states. In India we have
not seen the Shias and Sunnis attacking and killing each other. If they can
cohabitate peacefully in a Hindu majority population state, why can't they do
so in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan?
The practical solution of this mayhem and distortion of Islam is to divide
all the Muslim countries into two parts: one for the Shias and other other
for the Sunnis. We can see in Saudi Arabia that there are no Shias and it is
religiously a peaceful country. We can also witness that most of the Iranian
population professes Shia faith and there have seldom been encounters or
tension between Shias and Sunnis. But this recipe cannot be applied to other
Islamic states because a geographical division on the basis of faith is
impossible to be brought about.
Unfortunately besides Pakistan, the Islamic states of Bahrain, Iraq, Syria
and Lebanon are also bedeviled with the sectarian strife between the Shias
and Sunnis. But those Islamic states that are secular and profess tolerance
are relatively peaceful. In this category we can mention Turkey, Jordan,
Oman, Tunis, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei
Darussalam Qatar, Kuwait and United Arab Emirate.
The fundamental question staring in our face is that why is Pakistan being
interpreted to have been created in the name of Islam. And if it is supposed
to pedal and practice Islam then why has it become a hell for the Muslims
professing divergent beliefs. Islam is said to be a religion of peace but in
Pakistan it has turned out to be a battleground for incessant religious
feuds. Pakistan is one country besides Iran and Mauritania in the entire
Islamic world that has adopted a prefix of Islamic Republic. One fails to
understand what does this phrase Islamic Republic mean?
Instead of unsuccessfully trying to protect Islam for 68 years why don't we
focus on protecting the land and its people? Pakistan should be considered as
a political entity with Muslim majority population. The Shias or other
religious minorities after all were not born with the birth of Pakistan on 14
August 1947. These were already there. They were there during the British
rule in India. They were free and safe to follow their religious obligations
without any fear or oppression. They are equal citizens of Pakistan as they
were before the birth of Pakistan. Then why should they be divested of their
rights and liberties after the partition? Pakistan should not be the monopoly
of any religious group or sect.
Islam has always been surviving for a thousand years in India and would
survive for all time to come. Is the survival of Islam entirely dependent on
Pakistan? Is it not a convoluted logic? There are more Muslims in India than
Pakistan. Then why Pakistan should be tagged as a protector of Islam? Islam
has its own resilience to survive. Should we keep submitting to the dictates
and edicts of ignorant Mullas and keep the society stagnant and its people
backward? Ironically some of the religious parties did not want Pakistan to
come into being labeling it as an Unislamic state.
The successive political leaders in Pakistan had fallen prey to the street
agitations from such parties as Jamaat-i-Islami with a view to sticking to
power. That led to the tarnishing of the image and face of Pakistan with
religious brush, later degenerating into unrelenting sectarian feuds.
The religious laws enacted by Bhutto and later Ziaul Haq and even by the
previous regimes drastically curtained the civil and religious liberties of
the people of Pakistan. Incidentally the majority religious groups such as
Jamaat-i-Islami, Majlis-e-Ahrar, and Jamiat-i-Ulema-e-Hind (previously JUI
was part of this group) opposed the creation of Pakistan and when it came
into being, JI jumped into the fray to monopolize it. Such is the
hypocritical character of these religious outfits now crying hoarse to make
Pakistan a medieval Islamic caliphate.
It would rather be justified if those groups that did not support Pakistan
movement be banned or exiled for their seditious and antagonistic role at a
crucial juncture of the creation of Pakistan. But if they stay then they
should not be allowed to fan sectarian hatred and religious bigotry, caving
into the foundations of Pakistan.The separation of East Pakistan was, beside
other factors, due to Jamaat-i-Islami's support for the military action and
their religious brigands launching a religious crusade against the people of
East Pakistan whose leadership had the constitutional right to form the
Now the paramount question is: can there be a reconciliation and compromise
between the Islamic clergy and democracy? In a country, which since its
inception, has remained in the throes of despotism, bigotry, sectarianism and
communalism, the most pressing need is to bring about a truce and concord
between the warring sects. The paramount urgency is to evolve a consensus
framework of Islamic faith between Sunnis and Shias to save the state and the
society from perpetual doctrinal rivalry and bloodshed.
As such the only rational way-out is to adopt the twin panacea of secularism
and democracy that would allow every sect and denomination, to practice their
own faith without trading the accusations of heresy and killing each other.
Secularism doesn't necessarily mean negation or elimination of religion. It
simply means tolerance and coexistence between races and sects.
It is foregone that Pakistan as a theocracy or a country with a religious
label cannot move forward and would always be trapped in a self-destructive
ideological conflict. The devastation of Baghdad by Mongol hordes in 13th
century is a testifying tragedy to the Shia-Sunni animosity.
While acknowledging the distasteful fact that the ideological gulf between
two main Islamic sects cannot be bridged, these must be legally bound to
coexist and tolerate each other. As far political power is concerned,
Pakistan has to decide once and for all that the war of conflicting beliefs
should not be allowed to enter the political corridors.
The state and religion should be free to operate in their respective zones.
The relationship between state and religion has been ideally described by
Quaid-i-Azam in his address in the first session of the Constituent Assembly
of Pakistan on 11 August 1947, "You are free; you are free to go to your
temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship
in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed
that has nothing to do with the business of the State".
The religion should be confined to the personal and at best group contours.
That is the only viable, practical and rational solution to the religious bad
blood that is incessantly breeding violence and hindering smooth functioning
of state and society. The religious extremism and fanaticism also need to be
The State and society have got to be secular and truly democratic for
prosperity, advancement and solidarity of Pakistan and enabling it to enter
the fold of modern states. At the same time Pakistan like Turkey, Malaysia
and Indonesia, retain their Islamic identity. In a nutshell, Islam,
secularism, and democracy should go hand in hand in Pakistan.
The writer is a senior journalist, former editor of Diplomatic Times and a
former diplomat. This and other articles by the writer can also be read at
his blog www.uprightopinion.com