Shahid M Amin
ON Friday, November 24, 2017, in Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, Islamic extremists detonated a bomb and sprayed gunfire on panicked worshippers, killing at least 305 people and wounding 128 others. This was the deadliest terror attack in Egypt’s modern history. The mosque was frequented by Sufi Muslims, considered as heretical by Sunni extremist groups. For us in Pakistan, this atrocity was nothing new, as mosques and places of pilgrimage here have seen similar terrorist incidents. Muslims are killing Muslims, all in the name of religion.
But what kind of Islamic beliefs motivate such savagery? Surely, not the Islam preached by the Quran and Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). The word Islam means peace. The opening line of Quran is “In the name of Allah, the most gracious and most merciful.” Compassion and mercy were some of the most endearing qualities of our Holyt Prophet (PBUH). Those who abused him and tortured many of his companions included Abu Sufyan, the leading foe of Muslims, and his vicious wife Hind, who had mutilated the body of Hamza, beloved uncle of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). But when Makkah was conquered, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) forgave Abu Sufyan and Hind. It was this compassion and forgiveness that made Islam so attractive and helped it spread all over the world.
Similarly, Salahuddin spared lives of Christians when he re-conquered Jerusalem in 1187, though the Crusaders had massacred Muslims when Jerusalem fell in their hands. Today, extremism is spreading like a disease amongst Muslims. Many religious leaders spew hatred and intolerance. Their followers are brainwashed to the extent that they are ready to kill, and lay down their own lives as suicide-bombers. We have had such terrorism for at least two decades in which over 70,000 people are dead. The whole country has suffered due to breakdown of security and financial losses. Pakistan’s international image and that of Islam has also been tarnished.
The latest case of religious extremism was the dharna under which Islamabad had been under siege by extremists which caused great hardship to citizens of the two cities. In effect, it was meant to blackmail the present government to yield to their demands. Since the PML(N) government was scared of political repercussions, it had shown weakness and did not take precautionary steps. Firstly, the extremists were allowed to assemble at a key thoroughfare in Islamabad and build up their strength. Secondly, even without using weapons, their supplies could have been cut off to force them off the streets, but this was not done. Thirdly, the role of mediation was given to some who held views similar to those involved in the dharna. Fourthly, prominent media coverage gave a boost to the dharna and its leaders.
What exactly motivated these religious extremists? A minor mistake had crept up in the relevant law regarding Ahmadi sect. It was immediately corrected and the old language was restored. But this initial lapse was sufficient for ‘upholders of Islam’ to lay siege to two cities. The hapless government kept holding high-level talks, not realizing that appeasement merely encourages blackmailers to raise their demands. When prodded by judiciary, the government belatedly took action to forcibly end the dharna. But its operation was ill-planned and hesitant and, therefore, ineffective, which led the violence to spread to other parts of the country in support of the dharna. The Law Minister’s resignation, as demanded by dharna leaders will further encourage religious extremists and we could have a spate of such dharnas. All of this makes a mockery of writ of state and will have long-term deleterious effects, both internally and externally.
Over a period of time, we have allowed the country to fall in the pit of religious obscurantism. Pakistan was a tolerant country in its early phase. The pre-partition Muslim League leadership, including Iqbal, Jinnah and Liaquat, consisted of Western-educated, clean-shaven politicians. They had sought to keep India united, provided the minimal Muslim political, economic and cultural rights were protected. When the Hindu leadership spurned every chance for compromise, only then did the Muslim League make the partition demand in Lahore Resolution. It pledged that the minorities in Pakistan will be fully protected. This was more categorically assured by the Quaid-i-Azam in his speech of 11 August 1947 when he said: “You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed: that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
The Pakistan demand was the outcome of Muslim nationalism. Neither the Lahore Resolution nor any other Resolution passed by the Muslim League made any demand to establish a religious state based on Shariah. For this reason, religious parties like Jamaat Islami and Jamiat Ulema-al-Hind (now JUP) had opposed the demand for Pakistan. It is so ironic that now these very parties have become the upholders of the “Pakistan ideology.” Surely, the way we have treated our minorities, including the Ahmadis, is not what the Quaid-i-Azam had visualized. Increasing religiosity has made us an intolerant society. The result is there for everyone to see. Not only the minorities, Muslims in Pakistan are suffering as they have been split in mutually antagonistic sects, contrary to the Islamic teaching that Muslims are one Ummah. And the result is factionalism, sectarianism, intolerance and violence. This is not the Pakistan we had fought for.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.
Shahid M Amin