The Nation, Lahore

17 Rabi-us-Sani, 1418 - Friday, August 22, 1997, Lahore



Road to Paradise

Dr Rana Jawad Asghar

I t was a weekly Muslim students meeting at the University of Washington, Seattle. In discussion one female student remarked that since Bosnians were not good Muslims, that's why Allah was punishing them. Though I thought it as absurd but I did not want to start a new discussion, so I kept quite. Few weeks later at the Friday prayers at the University, one of the fellow students who was delivering the sermon repeated the same thing and he also included Kashmir. Though I was furious but I kept quite again as I did not want to interrupt the prayers and make a scene. In the next Muslim students meeting, I made it clear that no one has right to tell any Muslim individual or a nation that they were lesser Muslims and the hardships they are suffering are due to their own misdeeds. Though some hard liners tried to justify their stand but I told them that it is the Allah who knows who is a better Muslim or not. When someone said that it was not a big thing to make a fuss on it, I told him that this is the first part of a vicious circle. First, some of us declare other brothers as lesser Muslims than us and then we think it is our duty to make them the 'real Muslim' and if they do not start thinking exactly like us, we think it as our sacred duty eliminate them as they are making divisions in Islam.

Every time there is some discussion in our Islamic circle, I always put forward views of other Fiqahs and different views of other distinguished Islamic scholars. I have told them that when I tell you about these different opinions, it necessarily does not mean that I agree with them, but my whole purpose is to tell you that there are many shades of Islam. And we have to be tolerant of others opinion even if it is against our beliefs.

In Pakistan, we have witnessed the very same situation. Many years ago, some scholars of both the main sects directed their energies to write small booklets in which the opposite side was labelled to be doing very un-Islamic acts... They found it very easy to make a career out of hate politics. Otherwise, you need a life long work on Islamic research to become a scholar, but now a whole new crop of new Allamas and Maulanas have grown up. They started telling their respective groups that the other sect is going to dominate the country and that you need to get up and fight to become the saviours of Islam. Foreign money started to pour in to spread or block someone's influence and the battle ground was our country - Pakistan.

In the beginning, moderate and academically true scholars did not intervene in this politics of hate. Every one thought of them as few, worthless group of people who can't do much other than writing a few small secret booklets. Slowly, these people became more bold and these booklets started to appear more openly. Big posters declaring each other as Kafirs started to appear on walls of mosques and imambarghas. No one dared to remove these posters although majority of us did not approve of it. Flames were spreading and now, the hate politics has become a big profit-making business. And with the foreign money in hand, it is too late and dangerous for anyone to stand against them. And with such high unemployment and extreme poverty and illiteracy, there is no shortage of followers. Even the law enforcing agencies are scared of them and do not dare to enter their strongholds. Pakistan is an open field for them to hunt and kill anyone who they think is not a good Muslim.

We the journalists are also to blame. None of us stood up clearly and firmly against this sectarian violence, we just played with words. We were also afraid of being on the hit list or losing a chunk of our readership. We tried not to get involved in this sensitive matter. Then there were other pressures. Two very famous journalists and column writers once told me about the pressure and temptation tactics of these groups. The safe-side was not to get involved. Newspapers and newsmagazines found it lucrative to print flashing headlines of these groups just to make some extra money.

And now flames have reached us. Now it is not just a news about some killing in a newspaper, everyone of us now knows personally at least one person who has been murdered in the name of Islam. Unfortunately, I know many, both Shias and Sunnis. I had known one very poor Islamiyat teacher for the last many years. He was my patient and we developed a friendly relationship. I was impressed that how he was surviving in his meagre salary and a few tuitions he had, and was also supporting his old mother and a divorced sister with her children. Always optimistic, this fellow never discussed any hardline religious matter with me. Last year, he was killed in a school in Model Town, Lahore, in front of his students. Reason - he was a Sunni Islamiyat teacher. I have known another high-level government officer, who was very honest and despite his very high-level post was still living in a small house. He had absolutely nothing to do with any extremist group or beliefs. Last year, he was also killed, reason - he was a Shia.

After some time, we will witness that people of same sect will start killing each other because from the very beginning, it was not a war of religion. It was a war of power. And in power struggle, there is no father, mother or brothers, there are only enemies to kill.

Now, we hear that the only solution are Special Courts who will sentence these terrorists quickly. With rampant corruption and high inefficiency in our law enforcing agencies, you don't need to be a fortune teller to guess the results. Judiciary, in my opinion, is rightly opposing this idea. I don't know why the vision of our rulers narrows down so drastically whenever there is a crisis. They all look for scapegoats and quick-fix solutions. I think, only the independence of judiciary will be compromised and this is going to be a loss for everyone including the present government.

What we need is that our religious scholars of repute and distinguished lifetime achievements on both sides come forward and fight this wave of terrorism in clear words and deeds. Their clear message to the masses with the firm action by clean and law abiding law enforcing agencies is going to provide the results. Otherwise by hanging some accused (very slim chance that we will apprehended them) on street corners is not going to solve the problem because people who are committing these crimes or even supporting them are doing it in the name of Islam. Cutting few leaves from a tree of sectarianism and leaving the whole tree with roots is not a solution. Besides, many people involved may not be afraid of death, at all, as they are being told by the scholars of both sides that they are on the road to paradise.

�The Nation Publications (pvt) Limited, 1997


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