No Place for Extremism & Religios Intolerance in Islam

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By
Sultan M. Hali*

Abstract:

(In Pakistan extremism has taken various forms. Sometimes it strikes in the form of attacks by terror mongers, who are prepared to hit a target of their choice at will. Schools, hospitals, markets and places of worship have become their favourite targets. Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies (LEAs) have taken the brunt of the terror attacks. The LEAs are always prepared to thwart any nefarious designs of terrorists, but they foil one attack or capture miscreants, only to find that many more have taken their place. The terrorists have demonstrated the highest degree of barbarism and brutality by targeting innocent civilians. At other instances, these harbingers of hate take the shield of the controversial blasphemy law prevalent in Pakistan to target personalities and misuse the law to seek personal vendetta.

The latest casualty in this feud is Pakistan’s Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian and vocal opponent of the controversial blasphemy law. The honourable Minister was singled out for elimination and gunned down by Taliban militants as he drove out of his mother’s house in Islamabad, nearly 2 months after the Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer was killed for demanding reform of the harsh statute.

Even a cursory glance of Islam shows it to be a religion of mercy to all people, both Muslims and non-Muslims.  There is no place for religious intolerance in Islam, but unfortunately it has pervaded the Pakistani society to such an extent that bigoted pseudo religious leaders have distorted the tenets of Islam and are preaching violence against perceived offenders of the religion. In this article, religious intolerance and extremism in Pakistan have been examined and refuted in line with the Quŕānic teachings and Hadith from the Holy Prophet Mohammad (pbuh). Measures have been recommended to curb extremism and religious intolerance, which are gnawing at the roots of Pakistani society. Author).

Introduction

In Pakistan extremism has taken various forms. Sometimes it strikes in the form of attacks by terror mongers, who are prepared to hit a target of their choice at will. Schools, hospitals, markets and places of worship have become their favourite targets. Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies (LEAs) have taken the brunt of the terror attacks. The LEAs are always prepared to thwart any nefarious designs of terrorists, but they foil one attack or capture miscreants, only to find that many more have taken their place. The terrorists have demonstrated the highest degree of barbarism and brutality by targeting innocent civilians. At other instances, these harbingers of hate take the shield of the controversial blasphemy law prevalent in Pakistan to target personalities and misuse the law to seek personal vendetta.

The latest casualty in this never ending feud is Pakistan’s Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian and vocal opponent of the controversial blasphemy law.1 The honourable Minister was singled out for elimination and gunned down by Taliban militants as he drove out of his mother’s house in Islamabad, nearly 2 months after the Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer was killed for demanding reform of the harsh statute. According to the police three to four gunmen ambushed the car of 42-year-old Bhatti, at around 11.20 am local time and indiscriminately fired at him while sparing his driver.   According to BBC, Tehrik-e- Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack on Bhatti, the only Christian member of the Pakistan Cabinet who had been receiving threats to his life for seeking changes in the blasphemy law which imposes the death penalty for insulting Islam. “This man was a known blasphemer of the Prophet (Mohammad),” the group’s deputy spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan told BBC Urdu service. “We will continue to target all those who speak against the law which punishes those who insult the prophet. Their fate will be the same.”2 Bhatti is the second senior leader of the ruling PPP to be assassinated in nearly two months for opposing the blasphemy law. On January 4, Punjab Governor Taseer was gunned down by a police guard who was angered by his opposition to the controversial statute. The gunmen who killed Bhatti threw several pamphlets in Urdu at the site of the attack that linked Bhatti’s assassination to his opposition to the controversial blasphemy law. The pamphlets, issued by ‘‘Tanzim Al Qaida Tehrik Taliban Punjab’’, said any one who insulted Prophet Mohammed would be given the death sentence. They also said any sort of blasphemy or change in the blasphemy law would not be tolerated.3

Religious intolerance and bigotry has permeated Pakistani society to such an extent that disagreement of views is construed as a terrible crime and dissent leads to murder and elimination. This heinous practice is in direct contravention to the tenets of Islam, which preaches tolerance. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) himself forgave his opponents and was kind and magnanimous towards those who chose to differ with him. How can those who bear the torch of love for the Holy Prophet (pbuh), kill and maim their fellow beings for mere difference of opinion. The masses being devoid of in-depth knowledge of Islam; get carried away by the emotional appeal to their reverence of Islam and The Holy Prophet (pbuh). It is imperative that the record is set straight in the light of teachings of the Holy Quŕān, the practice (Sunnah) and Hadith attributed to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and related research.

Even a cursory glance of Islam shows it to be a religion of mercy to all people, both Muslims and non-Muslims. There is no place for religious intolerance in Islam, but unfortunately it has pervaded Pakistani society to such an extent that bigoted pseudo religious leaders have distorted the tenets of Islam and are preaching violence against perceived offenders. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) was described as being a mercy in the Quŕān due to the message he brought for humanity:

“We sent thee not, but as a mercy for all creatures.” (Quŕān 21:107)4

When a person analyzes the legislations of Islam with an open mind, the Mercy mentioned in the above quoted verse becomes apparent. One of the aspects of this Mercy can be seen by the way the legislations of Islam deal with people of other faiths.  The tolerant attitude of Islam towards non-Muslims, whether they bethose residing in their own countries or within the Muslim lands, can be clearly seen through a study of history. This fact is not only purported by Muslims, but many non-Muslim historians also accept it. Marmaduke Pickthall (7 April 1875 – 19 May 1936) was a Western Islamic scholar, an Englishman who converted from Christianity to Islam and is noted for his translation of the Quŕān into English. He states:

In the eyes of history, religious toleration is the highest evidence of culture in a people. It was not until the Western nations broke away from their religious law that they became more tolerant, and it was only when the Muslims fell away from their religious law that they declined in tolerance and other evidences of the highest culture. Before the coming of Islam, tolerance had never been preached as an essential part of religion.

If  Europe  had  known  as  much  of  Islam,  as  Muslims knew of Christendom, in those days, those mad, adventurous, occasionally chivalrous and heroic, but utterly fanatical outbreak known as the Crusades could not have taken place, for they were based on a complete misapprehension.

Innumerable monasteries, with a wealth of treasure of which the worth has been calculated at not less than a hundred million sterling, enjoyed the benefit of the Holy Prophet’s (Muhammad’s) Charter to the monks of Sinai and were religiously respected by the Muslims. The various sects of Christians were represented in the Council of the Empire by their patriarchs, on the provincial and district council by their bishops, in the village council by their priests, whose word was always taken without question on things which were the sole concern of their community.

The tolerance within the body of Islam was, and is, something without parallel in history; class and race and color ceasing altogether to be barriers.5

The benevolence of Allah and Islam is not limited to Muslims alone. Pickthall further elaborates:

For the Muslims, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are but three forms of one religion, which, in its original purity, was the religion of Abraham: Al-Islam, that perfect Self-Surrender to the Will of God, which is the basis of Theocracy. The Jews, in their religion, after Moses, limited God’s mercy to their chosen nation and thought of His kingdom as the dominion of their race.

Even Christ himself, as several of his sayings show, declared that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel and seemed to regard his mission as to the Hebrews only; and it was only after a special vision vouchsafed to St. Peter that his followers in after days considered themselves authorized to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. The Christians limited God’s mercy to those who believed certain dogmas. Everyone who failed to hold the dogmas was an outcast or a miscreant, to be persecuted for his or her soul’s good. In Islam only is manifest the real nature of the Kingdom of God.

The two verses (2:255-256) of the Quŕān are supplementary. Where there is that realization of the majesty and dominion of Allah (SWT), there is no compulsion in religion. Men choose their path – allegiance or opposition – and it is sufficient punishment for those who oppose that they draw further and further away from the light of truth.

What Muslims do not generally consider is that this law applies to our own community just as much as to the folk outside, the laws of Allah being universal; and that intolerance of Muslims for other men’s opinions and beliefs is evidence that they themselves have, at the moment, forgotten the vision of the majesty and mercy of Allah (SWT) which the Quŕān presents to them.

In the Quŕān I find two meanings (of a Kafir), which become one the moment that we try to realize the divine standpoint. The Kafir in the first place, is not the follower of any religion. He is the opponent of Allah’s benevolent will and purpose for mankind – therefore the disbeliever in the truth of all religions, the disbeliever in all Scriptures as of divine revelation, the disbeliever to the point of active opposition in all the Prophets (pbuh) whom the Muslims are bidden to regard, without distinction, as messengers of Allah.

The Quŕān repeatedly claims to be the confirmation of the truth of all religions. The former Scriptures had become obscure, the former Prophets appeared mythical, so extravagant were the legends which were told concerning them, so that people doubted whether there was any truth in the old Scriptures, whether such people as the Prophets had ever really existed. Here – says the Quŕān – is a Scripture whereof there is no doubt: here is a Prophet actually living among you and preaching to you. If it were not for this book and this Prophet, men might be excused for saying that Allah’s guidance to mankind was all a fable. This book and this Prophet, therefore, confirm the truth of all that was revealed before them, and those who disbelieve in them to the point of opposing the existence of a Prophet and a revelation are really opposed to the idea of Allah’s guidance – which is the truth of all revealed religions. Our Holy Prophet (pbuh) himself said that the term Kafir was not to be applied to anyone who said “Salam” (peace) to the Muslims. The Kafirs, in the terms of the Qur’an, are the conscious evil-doers of any race of creed or community.6

In addition to the elaborate commentary above, Patriarch Ghaytho wrote:

‘The Arabs, to whom the Lord has given control over the world, treat us as you know; they are not the enemies of Christians. Indeed, they praise our community, and treat our priests and saints with dignity, and offer aid to churches and monasteries.”7

Rabbi Allen S. Maller a former Liberal/Reform Rabbi, who retired a few years ago after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, California, comments:

I first studied Islam when I was a student at UCLA almost 50 years ago, Then again while I was in Rabbinical school. Over the years I continued to read the Quŕān and other Islamic books. I read these books as the Prophet taught his followers in a Hadith “not as a believer, and not as a disbeliever”. What does that mean? The Quŕān, of course, is sacred scripture for Muslims. A disciple of Muhammad named Abu Huraira relates, “The people of the Book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and then explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. Allah’s Apostle said (to the Muslims). “Do not believe the people of the Book, nor disbelieve them, but say, ‘We believe in Allah, and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever is revealed to you.’ “Following Muhammad’s teaching I too neither believe nor disbelieve in the Quŕān. If I believed in the Quŕān I would be a member of the Muslim Ummah (community). But I cannot disbelieve in the Quŕān because I believe that Muhammad is a prophet and I respect the Qur’an as a kindred revelation, to a kindred people, in a kindred language. In fact, the people, the language and the theology are closer to my own people, language and theology than that of any other on earth.8

Will Durant (November 5, 1885 – November 7, 1981) a prolific American writer, historian, and philosopher, in his renowned work, The Story of Civilization, comments:

‘At the time of the Umayyad caliphate, the people of the covenant, Christians, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Sabians, all enjoyed degree of tolerance that we do not find even today in Christian countries.  They were free to practice the rituals of their religion and their churches and temples were preserved. They enjoyed autonomy in that they were subject to the religious laws of the scholars and judges.’9

These relations between Muslims and people of other faiths were not due to mere politics played by Muslim rulers, but rather they were a direct result of the teachings of Islam, which preaches that people of other religions be free to practice their own faith, only accepting the guidance offered by Islam by their own choice.  Allah ordains in the Quŕān:

“Let there be no compulsion in religion…” (Quŕān 2:256)

Not only does Islam demand their freedom to practice religion, but also that they be treated justly as any other fellow human.  Warning against any abuse of non-Muslims in an Islamic society, the Prophet (pbuh) stated:

“Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, curtails their rights, burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.” (Abu Dawud)10

In a time when Muslims were being tortured to death in then pagan Makah, Jews were being persecuted in Christian Europe and various peoples were being subjugated due to their particular race or caste, Islam called to the just treatment of all peoples and religions, due to its merciful tenets which gave humanity the right to their humanness:

“The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter;” [Quŕān 5:33]

In Islam, a person who has committed blasphemy can either be killed or crucified, or his opposite hands and feet can be cut off, or he can be exiled from that land. On the other hand, in other religions there is no other option except capital punishment. Islam at least has four options of punishment for an act of blasphemy.

The menace of extremism

Extremism is a term used to describe the actions or ideologies of individuals or groups outside the perceived political center of a society; or otherwise claimed to violate common standards of ethics and reciprocity. It is usually considered by those to whom it is applied to be a pejorative term. It is typically used in reference to political and social ideologies seen as irrational, counterproductive, unjustifiable, or otherwise unacceptable to a civil society. The term connotes the illegitimacy of certain ideas or methods.

In Pakistan, extremism takes many forms:

•             Religious Extremism (Intolerance of other religions)

•             Sectarian Extremism (Intolerance of other sects)

•             Ethnic Extremism (Intolerance of other ethnic communities)

•             Fanaticism           (Intolerance       of            people  less        religious               than themselves)

•             Vigilantism (Taking the law into their own hands)

Religious Extremism had shown its ugly head at the time of partition, when both Hindus and Sikhs were being massacred by Muslims, while they were trying to flee to India because the Sikhs and Hindus were massacring Muslims in their plight to cross over to independent Pakistan. Since then, sporadic cases have occurred of targeting either Hindu or Christian minorities but not at a large scale till the advent of the controversial blasphemy law, which will be discussed in greater detail later.

Sectarian violence is once again raising its ugly head in various parts of Pakistan. It is a misfortune for Muslims that this demon is use by enemies of Islam to destabilize them by creating rifts between the Shias and Sunnis in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other parts of the Islamic world. The feuding reaches such a bloody frenzy that it is nothing short of carnage resembling communal violence. The hatred stoked by vested interests, forces brothers to turn on brothers only on the basis of their sect. At times the enemies of Islam perpetrate the crime against one sect and lay the blame on the other, fanning retaliation and hatred.

Ethnic Extremism is intolerance of people of other castes or origin; for example, Sindhis and Mohajirs fighting in Sindh or the Hazaras and Balochis targeting each other in Balochistan and so on. Fanaticism arises from religious groups, who may be orthodox and devout in their beliefs and prayers but are intolerant of those who are relatively liberal or lax in their prayers or followings the tenets of Islam.

Vigilantism is taking the law into ones own hands. A current example is the students of Jamia Hafsa, who in 2007 had decided to raid brothels and punish its inmates and destroy CD and Video shops.11

Emboldened by the government’s initial lack of action, their spate of vigilantism erupted in the carnage of Lal Masjid.

Religious and sectarian intolerance is the cancer that gnaws at the very roots of any society and requires careful but firm steps on the part of government and religious groups to prevent outbreaks of sectarian violence. Pakistan has been a victim of intermittent surges of sectarian violence in the past, however, there were renewed efforts by the enemies of Pakistan to fan hatred and foment trouble to destabilize the country ever since it became a frontline state in the war against terrorism—a stance, for which we have made innumerable sacrifices and been ourselves the victim of terrorism.

The assassination of Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, purportedly at the hands of his own security guard because of the formers comments against the blasphemy laws is a sad state of affairs. The irony is that the blasphemy law is not divinely ordained; it was manmade and gave human beings the right to consider amending it or repealing it. If anyone had a difference of opinion, both the religion and the Constitution of Pakistan provide a methodology to resolve the issue. The kind of vigilante action resorted to by the Elite Force guard is totally unconstitutional. It is very unfortunate that on the Friday, preceding Salman Taseer’s murder, many of the mosques in Pakistan during the Friday prayers’ sermon, were openly condemning Governor Salman Taseer for expressing solidarity with Ms. Asiya, the alleged blasphemous Christian, sentenced to death; a day before the murder, SMS were being texted to cell phones all over the country by unknown persons, urging action against people considering the repeal or amendment of the blasphemy law. Some individuals had gone to the extent of announcing head money for anyone who would eliminate the Punjab Governor. This should have been taken cognizance of by both the judiciary and the religious leadership. Unfortunately, a number of religious leaders who appeared on various TV Channels after the assassination refused to condemn the heinous act and thought that the vigilante elite guard, who killed Salman Taseer, was justified in his act and should be set free. What is even more shocking is the fact that when Mr. Qadri, the Governor’s security guard, who had gunned him down, was showered with rose petals12, when he was brought to Islamabad Court for a remand.

Revisiting the Blasphemy Law

Islam is a religion of peace and does not justify slaying people unless they have taken up arms against Islam or the state. The religion professes armed action only as a last resort; first they should be asked to stop their aggression, next they should be told categorically that if they do not lay down arms, their aggression will be met with force, and if they persist, then the use of force is authorized, only by the state. Difference of opinion should be resolved with dialogue and not the use of brute force. In this case, it was being professed that Salman Taseer’s comments of calling the Blasphemy Law as a “Black Law” hurt the feelings of devout Muslims and thus he was eliminated. The Blasphemy Law is unfortunately one-sided; it prescribes punishment for the blasphemer but the accuser, especially if he misuses the law, goes scot free even if he levies charges which are false or guided by personal grudges against the accused. It was this aspect that Salman Taseer wanted revisited.

It must be remembered that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was himself the most tolerant of humans. The case of the infidel old woman, in the days of early Islam should be recounted as an example. She would throw garbage upon the person of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), whenever he would pass her street on his way to prayers, forcing him to go back home and change his clothes. When she did not appear one day to conduct her abhorrent deed, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) went to her home to inquire upon her welfare. He discovered that she was lying sick with no one to attend her. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) looked after her, and when she regained health, she was so impressed by the Holy Prophet’s (pbuh) conduct that she converted to Islam. We may also recall the occasion, when during a battle, Hazrat Ali (RAU) floored an infidel warrior and was about to behead him when he spat on the face of Hazrat Ali (RAU), who spared his life stating that “I was going to kill you since you were an enemy of Allah, but when you spat on my face, you became my personal enemy and I would not like to take a life on personal enmity”.

A dissenting view but whiff of fresh air

It is sad to note that not a single religious leader in Pakistan condemned the assassination of Salman Taseer. It would not be out of place here to quote a statement from New Delhi-based Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s response to the assassination of Salman Taseer in an article published in the Times of India, insisting that the punishment of death for blasphemy, as prescribed in Pakistan’s blasphemy law, had no sanction in Islam at all.

The Maulana’s notation is like a whiff of fresh air since his views on the appropriate Islamic punishment for blasphemy, particularly for defaming the Holy Prophet (pbuh), are diametrically opposed to those of the mullahs and doctrinaire Islamists, who detest him. The Maulana does not condone blasphemy, even in the name of free speech, of course, but nor does he agree with those Muslims who insist that Islam prescribes the death penalty for those guilty of it. He first articulated his position on the subject in a book titled Shatim-e-Rasul Ka Masla: Quran wa Hadith aur Fiqh wa Tarikh ki Raushni Mai (Defaming the Prophet (pbuh): In the light of the Quŕān, Hadith, Fiqh and History). The book, comprising a number of articles penned in the wake of the massive controversy that shook the world over the publication of Salman Rushdie’s infamous Satanic Verses, was published in 1997. It is a powerful critique, using Islamic arguments, of the strident anti-Rushdie agitation and of the argument that the Islamic punishment for blasphemy is death. Although Khan condemned the Satanic Verses as blasphemous, he argued that stirring up Muslim passions and paying for Rushdie’s blood was neither the rational nor the properly Islamic way of countering the book and its author. Death for blasphemy, he contended, using references from the Quŕān and the Hadith to back his stance, was not prescribed in Islam, in contrast to what Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, and, echoing him, millions of Muslims worldwide, ardently believed.

Khan was possibly one of the only Islamic scholars to forcefully condemn the death sentence on Rushdie that Khomeini had announced and that vast numbers of Muslims, Shias and Sunnis, imagined was their religious duty to fulfill. Although his book deals specifically with the issue of blaspheming the Holy Prophet (pbuh) in the context of the anti- Rushdie agitation, it is of immediate relevance to the ongoing debate about the blasphemy laws and the violence it engenders in Pakistan today. What is particularly fascinating about the book is that it uses Islamic arguments to counter the widespread belief among Muslims that death is the punishment laid down in Islam for blasphemy as well as for those who, like the late Salman Taseer, oppose such punishment. Addressing the issue from within an Islamic paradigm, with the help of copious quotes from the Quŕān and Hadith, Khan’s case against death for blasphemers would, one supposes, appear more convincing to Muslims than secular human rights arguments against Pakistan’s deadly blasphemy law that has unleashed such havoc in the country.13

Electronic Media adds fuel to fire

Equally alarming is the role of the electronic media, which in its bid to release breaking news, presents graphic images of the blood, gore and mortal remains of the victims. The mere depiction of the sight of the bloodbath is spine chilling and blood curdling. Add to it the venom expressed by religious and political leaders and you have a walking time bomb, which erupts with even more lethality and damage than the original incident. A case in point is the 2004 riots in Karachi after the mosque attack on 30 May, in which six bodies were recovered from a fast food outlet, which was set ablaze by an angry mob after an attack on a Shia mosque. According to the Karachi fire brigade Chief Kazim Ali, “They were apparently trapped in the burning building.” Five people were killed and about 20 others wounded in the suicide attack on the Shia mosque in central Karachi. A local private TV Channel was broadcasting the live comments of a religious leader immediately after the mosque massacre, in which he vowed vengeance. Soon after the blast, angry protesters set fire to a branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken in which six innocent victims were burnt alive. Firefighters entered the building to discover four charred bodies. Shortly afterwards, two more bodies were recovered from the freezer in the basement. They had apparently frozen to death. The dead were identified as KFC workers.

Two petrol stations and several cars were also attacked as news of the mosque attack spread. Mosque administrators across Karachi have been instructed to keep their doors closed during prayers. No vehicles are allowed to be parked around mosques at prayer times, the police said. Despite the new security measures, there was another attack the next day, this time on a Sunni mosque in the Malir town area of the city. According to eye-witnesses several armed men appeared around the mosque and opened fire, leaving one person dead and several injured. The area around Malir where the mosque is located has a mixed Shia- Sunni population.14

Misplaced loyalties

On 27 May, 2005, a suicide bomber in the capital, Islamabad, killed 19 people and wounded nearly 100 in an attack on a shrine where hundreds of Shias had gathered. That same day, religious parties had organized a rally after the Friday prayers to protest the desecration of the Holy Quŕān in Guantanamo Bay prison camp. The casualties of the Barri Imam shrine were being rushed to various hospitals of Islamabad. A state of emergency had been declared in the hospitals to meet the crisis situation. The wounded and the injured required immediate medical attention and blood. Students of various institutions and other volunteers rushed to do their civic duty. Islamic parties missed a grand opportunity to divert its protest rally to help the casualties and ease the suffering of the blast victims and aid the hapless relatives who were going from pillar to post to locate their loved and dear ones. The street power that the religious parties had rallied, could have been immediately mobilized, firstly to aid the victims, secondly task forces could have been organized to assist the transportation of the casualties, the evacuation of the affectees and help the relatives have access to the casualty lists and soothe their grief and mental agony. Edhi ambulances could be seen rushing to and fro plying between the blast site and various hospitals and emergency set ups.

The religious parties considered the protest rally to be of paramount importance. I am reminded of the year 570 of the Christian era that blissfully happened to be the year of the birth Mohammed (May peace of the Allah and Blessing be upon him and his progeny) and when Abraha, the Abyssinian potentate of the Yemen invaded Makah. The invading horde plundered the herd of camels belonging to ‘Àbd’ l-Muttalib the Makkan Chief, who confronted Abraha for their return. The pompous Abyssinian invader Abraha showed surprise at ‘Àbd’ l-Muttalib’s demand and remarked that I thought you would ask for your Kaaba to be spared but instead you demand the return of your camels only. The astute, ‘Àbd’ l-Muttalib replied that the protector of Kaaba would take care of it; I am responsible for my camels and demand them back.  He indeed got them back from Abraha; while Allah verily dealt with the invaders of Makah; in such a manner that it has become a lesson for would be plunderers of the holy Kaaba.

The Quŕān would have been in no immediate danger if the religious parties had deferred their protest rally to serve humanity in its moment of grief and pain. The political mileage they would have received from their gesture of serving mankind in its moment of distress would have transcended them to a much higher level of public respect. They missed a great opportunity.15

Islam protects humanity

Islam abhors needless killing and exhorts the protection of the lives of entire humanity. The Quŕān is emphatic:

“If you kill an innocent human, it is as though you have killed the entire humanity.” (Quŕān 5:32)

The beauty of this verse is that Allah pointedly decries the slaying of all humanity and not Muslims alone. Many mistakenly believe that Islam does not tolerate the existence of other religions present in the world. The lives of the practitioners of other religions in the Muslim society are also given protective status. In addition to the Quranic teachings, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) exhorted:

“Whoever kills a person who has a truce with the Muslims will never smell the fragrance of Paradise.”

(Hadith: Saheeh Muslim)

In the Madinan society since the upper hand was with the Muslims, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) strictly warned against any maltreatment of people of other faiths:

“Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.” (Hadith: Abu Dawud)

The Arabian Peninsula during the time of the Prophet (pbuh) was a region in which various faiths were present.  There were Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, polytheists, and others not affiliated with any religion.  When one looks into the life of the Prophet (pbuh), one may draw on many examples to portray the high level of tolerance shown to people of other faiths.

In order to understand and judge this tolerance, one must look into the period in which Islam was a formal state, with the specific laws laid down by the Prophet (pbuh) in accordance with the tenets of religion. Even though one can observe many examples of tolerance shown by the Prophet (pbuh) in the thirteen years of his stay in Mecca, one may incorrectly think that it was only due to seeking to raise the profile of the Muslims and the social status of Islam and in general.  For this reason, the discussion will be limited to the period which commenced with the migration of the Prophet (pbuh) to Medina, and specifically once the constitution was set.

The Saheefah

The best example of the tolerance shown by the Prophet (pbuh) to other religions may be the constitution itself, called the ‘Saheefah’ by early historians.16    When the Prophet (pbuh) migrated to Madina, his role as a mere religious leader ended; he was now the political leader of a state, governed by the precepts of Islam, which demanded that clear laws of governance be laid out to ensure harmony and stability in a society which once had been distraught by decades of war, one which must ensure the peaceful coexistence of Muslims, Jews, Christians and polytheists.  Due to this, the Prophet (pbuh) laid down a ‘constitution’ which detailed the responsibilities of all parties which resided in Medina, their obligations towards each other, and certain restrictions which were placed on each.  All parties were to obey what was mentioned therein, and any breach of its articles was regarded as an act of treachery.

One Nation

The first article of the constitution was that all the inhabitants of Medina, the Muslims as well as those who had entered the pact from the Jews, Christian, and idolaters, were “one nation to the exclusion of all others.”  All were considered members and citizens of Medina society regardless of religion, race, or ancestry.  People of other faiths were protected from harm as much as the Muslims, as is stated in another article, “To the Jews who follow us belong help and equity.  He shall not be harmed nor his enemies be aided.” Previously, each tribe had their alliances and enemies within and without Medina. The Prophet (pbuh) gathered these different tribes under one system of governance which upheld pacts of alliances previously in existence between those individual tribes. All tribes had to act as a whole with disregard to individual alliances. Any attack on other religion or tribe was considered an attack on the state and upon the Muslims as well.

The tolerance of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) towards other religions

The Holy Prophet (pbuh) was conscious of the responsibility Muslim leadership had towards respecting and tolerating other religions. He made it clear that anything other than tolerance would not be tolerated, and that, although all were members of a society, each had their separate religion which could not be violated. Each was allowed to practice their beliefs freely without any hindrances, and no acts of provocation would be tolerated.

There are many other articles of this constitution which may be discussed, but emphasis will be placed on an article which states, “If any dispute or controversy likely to cause trouble should arise, it must be referred to God and His Messenger.” This clause maintained that all inhabitants of the state must recognize a higher level of authority, and in those matters which involved various tribes and religions, justice could not be meted out by individual leaders; rather it must be adjudicated by the leader of the state himself or his designated representatives. It was allowed, however, for individual tribes who were not Muslims, to refer to their own religious scriptures and their learned men in regards to their own personal affairs. They could though, if they opted, ask the Prophet to judge between them in their matters. God says in the Quŕān:

“…If they do come to thee, either judge between them or decline to interfere…” (Quŕān 5:42)

Here we see that the Prophet (pbuh) allowed each religion to judge in their own matters according to their own scriptures, as long as it did not stand in opposition to articles of the constitution, a pact which took into account the greater benefit of the peaceful co-existence of society.17

Inculcating religious tolerance

The assassination of Minister Shahbaz Bhatti and Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab reportedly owing to their views on the Blasphemy Law, has sparked a debate on how religious tolerance can be inculcated. The intolerance of views diverse to one’s own is not specific to Pakistan. Duluth Times in its Op-Ed ‘Religious intolerance of Pakistan is a global threat’ comments that over the past few years, it has seemed that almost every terrorist act anywhere on the globe somehow has involved Pakistan. It states that finding a clear answer may be a complex exercise, but the unyielding and state-sanctioned religious intolerance in Pakistan is the major contributing factor for this phenomenon. The daily opines that soon after its founding, Pakistan succumbed to the demands of religious extremists who started a concerted campaign to establish a puritanical fundamentalist state. The successive governments allowed this religious bigotry to flourish and distract the people from real issues of governance. Intolerance gradually crept into the fabric of Pakistani society. In 1974, the Pakistani government committed an unprecedented act of religious intolerance when it constitutionally defined who is a Muslim. In 1984, Ordinance xx and the subsequent anti-blasphemy laws institutionalized the persecution of minorities and religious dissidents with severe punishment and even death for those non-Muslims “impersonating” Muslims. It adds that the unfounded but patronized religious intolerance of the Pakistani government has encouraged extremist clerics to define their own obscurantist version of Islam. Their version allows no tolerance for divergent views; killing any non-Muslim or heretic is their favorite slogan. This kind of religious intolerance is bound to outgrow the geographical boundaries of Pakistan and a few such waves already have occurred with the outpour exponentially increasing. Whether it be the World Trade Center bombing in New York, the shoe bomber’s foiled attempt to blow a U.S.-bound plane, the 7/7 subway attacks in London, the massive hotel and synagogue killings in Mumbai or the botched Times Square bombing attempt, each incident has its roots submerged in the philosophy of hatred and the religious intolerance of Pakistan. It concludes that if not reverted, this monster can perpetrate unparalleled damage to humanity and civilized culture throughout the world.

Two wrongs do not make a right. However religious intolerance in USA touched new heights after 9/11. Last year, Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Church in Gainesville, Florida threatened to burn the Koran on the anniversary of September 11 as a message of warning to the Islamic world, clearly depicting hatred and propagating religious intolerance for Muslims. One is also reminded of the vitriolic commentaries from around USA about the building of a community mosque in NYC near Ground Zero.

Saudi Justice Minister Abdullah bin Mohammad al-Sheikh’s comment on the subject merits attention: “We all know that those who instigate those doubts are the enemies of God, the enemies of religion, and the enemies of all humanity. Their hearts are full of hatred. They have misled so many people with the fallacies and lies that they spread through the media … that even some Muslims have believed them.”18

Islamist militants?

The coining of the term “Islamist militant” by the Occident is a wrong practice.

The term “Islamist militant” is a misnomer. It was coined in the West and portrays Islam to be linked to terrorism and violence, aimed at tarnishing the image and presenting Islam as a barbaric religion. On the other hand, the terms “Christian, Jewish” or “Hindu militants” have never been used. This duplicity leads Islam to be portrayed negatively even in the minds of neutral observers. Let’s briefly examine the causes of this linkage.

Wikipedia defines Islamic terrorism as the common term for violence rooted on Islamic fundamentalism, and aimed at defending, or even promoting, Islamic culture, society, and values in opposition to the political, allegedly imperialistic, and cultural influences of non-Muslims, and the Western world in particular (“Dar al-Harb”). It elaborates that political dimensions to the ideology, specifically the history of Western influence and control after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, is the common stated reason used within the ideology to justify and explain its use of violence as resistive and retributive against Western, non- Muslim imperialism and political influence. Wikipedia quotes examples of Islamic terrorist acts as hijacking airliners, kidnapping, assassination, suicide bombing, and mass murder. The most prominent act attributed to Islamic terrorism is the hijacking of commercial passenger airliners and their use in the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, in the United States, which claimed 2,998 lives leading the United States to declare a “war on terrorism”.19

This explanation squarely blames Islam as a religion and needs to be refuted logically. Ordinary Muslims who have nothing to do with militancy or  terrorism find it  reprehensible because it  forces upon them a label simply because they, too, are believers of Islam. In fact, the common Muslim believes that he is being turned into a racial hate target by using the word “Islam” with “militancy”. Islam as a religion neither encourages militancy nor condones terrorism. The perpetrators of militancy and extremism may be committing their acts of terror in the name of Islam, but are misusing the garb of Islam to justify their deeds. Modern Muslim scholars Jamal R. Nassar, (Globalization and Terrorism: The Migration of Dreams and Nightmares), and Karim H. Karim, (Islamic Peril: Media and Global Violence) contend that because there are over a billion adherents of Islam, the phenomenon describes political ideologies rooted in interpretations of Islam. In this vein, describing terrorism as “Islamic” may confirm “a prejudicial perspective of all things Islamic”. Karen Armstrong, author of Muhammad: A Prophet for our Time, in her article ‘The label of Catholic terror was never used about the IRA’ (The Guardian-July 2005), infers that “fundamentalism is often a form of nationalism in religious disguise”, and that using the phrase “terrorism” is dangerously counterproductive, as it suggests those in the West believe that such atrocities are caused by Islam, and hence reinforces the viewpoint of some in the Muslim world that the West is an implacable enemy. Armstrong also believes that the terrorists in no way represent mainstream Islam.20

Islam itself does not preach militancy but some Muslims may be militants. Indeed Islam has nothing to do with terrorism and it is only certain misguided souls, who spread violence and terrorism in the name of Islam. However, some western commentators claim that Islamist militancy is inspired by numerous Quŕānic verses which preach Jihad against Non-Muslims. They quote Quŕānic verses out of context to further their argument. An oft quoted verse is:

“Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies, of Allah and your enemies”. (Quŕān 8:60)

This must be read in the total milieu. The Holy Quŕān ordains Muslims to exhort disbelievers to enter the fold of Islam. This exhortation is not to be implemented through coercion or use of force but by reasoning, and personal examples of good conduct. In case the non-Muslims opt for practicing their own faith, their wishes must be respected and they should be facilitated in following their religion, faith or creed without hindrances. In fact Islam provides rights to the Zhimmis (disbelievers) residing in an Islamic state.21  It is only if they make mischief and plot or machinate against Islam, Jihad is permissible. It must also be clear that any individual or group does not carry the authority to declare Jihad against non-Muslims. Only the Government has the final word in declaring Jihad and that too if all implications for peace have been exhausted.

Criticism of terrorism on Islamic grounds has also been made by Muslim scholars such as Abdal-Hakim Murad, in his publication: ‘Bin Laden’s violence is heresy against Islam’. He declares, “Certainly, neither bin Laden nor his principal associate, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are graduates of Islamic universities. And so their proclamations ignore 14 centuries of Muslim scholarship, and instead take the form of lists of anti-American grievances and of Quŕānic quotations referring to early Muslim wars against Arab idolaters. These are followed by the conclusion that all Americans, civilian and military, are to be wiped off the face of the Earth. All this amounts to an odd and extreme violation of the normal methods of Islamic scholarship. Had the authors of such fatwās followed the norms of their religion, they would have had to acknowledge that no school of mainstream Islam allows the targeting of civilians. An insurrectionist who kills non-combatants is guilty of baghy, ‘armed aggression,’ a capital offense in Islamic law.22

The phenomenon of suicide bombers though in constant use now, did not originate in the Islamic world. It was first practiced by Sri Lankan rebels, the Tamil Tigers, in the style of Japanese Kamikaze pilots during the Second World War. It has not been preached or permitted by any Islamic scholar of repute except in the state of war, which is not an individual’s prerogative. “Islamic militancy” is a malicious term and its usage by the media or governments must be discontinued while such terms must be disassociated from Islam.23

How to stem the rot?

To create religious tolerance among Pakistanis, opinion builders of all shades of life must come forward to play a positive role. Community leaders, intellectuals, politicians, the media, school, college and university teachers all can contribute. Unfortunately, in our society, the religious teacher and the Imam of the mosque are very powerful as they can mould opinions from their pulpit. They need to realize that the people should be led with the teachings of Islam which propagates tolerance and not intolerance. So far some of them have used their power to mould public opinion in the style of demagoguery and instigating their followers on the hate trail. We have our work cut out to bring the people back to the credibility of tolerance if we want to secure the future of our successive generations otherwise they will be doomed to repeat the same mistakes and perish.

Short-term measures to check extremism included ban on militant organizations, action against publications spreading hate and check on the misuse of loudspeakers at worship places, while long-term measures include Madrassa reforms and improvement in religious syllabi.

Whereas some of the efforts of the government have borne fruit in reducing the vice of sectarianism and religious violence to some extent, however, it requires the wholehearted efforts of every law abiding and peace loving citizen of Pakistan to join hands to completely eradicate this malice.

A major step necessitates creation of the spirit of tolerance of each other’s views, however diverse they may be from one’s own; simultaneously, impressing upon the consideration of curbing the urge of expressing opinions critical of other religions, sects, and creed or insulting sanctities, beliefs and faith in the name of freedom of speech.

Violence only begets more violence; difference of opinion can be best resolved through dialogue and discussion. If we have to progress as a nation and evolve as a harmonious and peace loving society, we have to accept each other’s point of view and not play in the hands of the enemy within and without, which would jump at the opportunity to exploit any weakness to implant seditious thoughts, create friction and discord to subvert Pakistan.

Extremism is repugnant to the spirit of Islam, which is the religion of peace. There is no place for radicalism, bigotry and prejudice in our religious conviction. Whereas the government is primarily responsible for the maintenance of law and order, it is the conscientiousness of the religious leaders, academics and opinion builders including the media to instill the message of hope, trust and building harmonious relations among the diverse citizens and help to mould them into a unified society.

It needs to be infused in the minds of the common folk that those who attack shrines of saints, mosques, schools and Madrassas, are no friends of Islam. Attacking Tombs of Khushal Khan Khattak in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Hazrat Data Ganj Bakhsh Rahmatullah Ilaih situated in the heart of Lahore are an abominable deed and amount to desecration of the holy places. Take the case of the Data Durbar, which has become not only an attraction for the devout from all over the country but culturally people living close to the shrine have become emotionally and economically dependent on the shrine. Food stalls, flower sellers and numerous beggars are dependent on Shrine visitors. On special occasions, the shrine is lit up with lights; dinner is prepared for hundreds of people and Fakirs dance around and musicians play music for hours. In the boundary of the shrine, the faithful recite the Quŕān incessantly and pay tribute to the Holy Prophet (pbuh).  The heinous attack took place, deliberately on a Thursday, when a maximum number of visitors congregate to pay homage to the Saint, taking a deadly toll of 40 lives and hundreds of wounded.

Religious intolerance takes various shapes. Friday May 28, 2010, while being observed as Youm-e-Takbeer to commemorate the twelfth anniversary of Pakistan’s nuclear tests elsewhere, will go down in the history of Lahore as the deadliest in recent times. Religious intolerance struck two places of worship of Ahmadis in Lahore with full fury, taking a massive toll of more than 80 dead and more than 100 injured. Armed militants, some of them wearing explosives, stormed the twin places of worship in Model Town and Garhi Shahu areas, hurling hand grenades and firing at hundreds of people gathered for Friday prayers. A militant group associated with the Taliban and al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks in a message sent to media outlets after the incident. The message brings a macabre twist to the erstwhile reign of terror by the fear mongers. The twin attacks in Lahore on the minority group is a chilling reminder that the grim reapers of death and destruction, targeted them with the perverse aim of garnering support by preaching hate for the targeted group. ‘We accept the responsibility of today’s sacred attacks at the Ahmadis, who do not accept Prophet Mohammad as the last prophet, indulge in conspiracies against Mujahedeen (holy warriors), and also cooperated with the Jews for the sacrilegious sketches of the Prophet on YouTube and Face book,’ the militants said. ‘We give the Ahmadis a last warning through the attacks to either quit Pakistan or get ready to die at the hands of the lovers of the prophet.’ Lahore has witnessed a number of bloody militant attacks in recent months, including on the military officials and cultural sites. But it was the first major Taliban attack on Ahmadis, who were declared non-Muslims in Pakistan in 1974. Roughly four million Ahmadies hold the belief that the founder of their sect, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, is also a prophet, a claim that stands in conflict with the faith of the majority Muslims who believe that Mohammad (pbuh) was the last among all the prophets. Irrespective of their views, they do not merit maltreatment or worse, death for their beliefs.

The shocking aspect is that the custodians of Islam, who allegedly gunned down Bhatti for asking the Blasphemy Law to be revisited, after murdering the Minorities Minister, had strewn the street with pamphlets condemning those who want changes in the Blasphemy Law. Their heartlessness and total disregard for the sanctity of Islam and respect for the Holy Prophet (pbuh) is evident from the fact that they desecrated the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and Islam by throwing the pamphlets containing the name of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and Quŕānic verses on the streets. Under the same blasphemy law these assassins have blasphemed and are liable to be put to death for their dastardly act. Bhatti was a devout Christian and would have asked Christians to follow the teachings of Christ and forgive these people. Christ has spoken of persecution so he would have recommended that let God deal with these people and remember He is a JUST God. Love should be your message of strength not revenge. Pray for those who are against you and pray for those who don’t stand by you. The Holy Bible says that God is LOVE. Jesus Christ said in Matt 5:44 to LOVE your enemies24. This is why Jesus willingly went to the cross and shed His perfect blood that paid for the sins of the world (and He rose from the dead) and thus, He reconciled us back to God so those that believe in Him will have eternal life in heaven. This salvation is available for every person in every nation. All countries should have freedom of religion. This persecution has got to stop. John 14:6, John 3:16

Sowing seeds of hatred and intolerance is contrary to the mission statement of Pakistan as well as the tenets of Islam

The esprit de corps of our founding fathers and the Quaid’s first address to the nation, in which he assured that Pakistan, was a sanctuary not only to Muslims but to the followers of every faith and creed who were free to go their place of worship and live in peace25, has been flouted with impunity. Islam on the other hand preaches not only tolerance for all faiths but also entrusts the duty of the security and sanctity of the places of worship of minorities upon all Muslims and especially the rulers. Religious intolerance and the total disregard for human lives is such a dangerous trend that if left unchecked will permeate into our society gnawing at the very roots of existence. Whereas, the government can be faulted for not providing adequate protection to the minority group, when they had been receiving threats, it becomes imperative for every Pakistani to share the responsibility of reporting suspicious activities, which if checked in time, can help avert a major crisis. Simultaneously, it is the duty of every opinion builder in society, the teacher, the religious leader, the politician and above all the media to disseminate the message of tolerance and peaceful coexistence. Unless we root out the dangerous elements of intolerance, the twin headed monster of extremism and terrorism will devour us completely as well as enable the enemies of Pakistan to achieve their machinations against Pakistan easily.

Islam itself teaches moderation, to the extent that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is depicted as one of the world’s “leading law givers” in the US Supreme Court main hall in recognition of the use of the “Charter of Madina” in the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Muslim scientists, littérateurs and scholars like Avicenna, Omar Khayyam, Ibn-alHaitham, Ibn-alRushd, Razi, Jabir Al-Hayan, Al-Bairuni and numerous others who lit the torch of knowledge and laid the foundations of   modern science, were also acknowledged not only as enlightened humans but also moderate personalities. Now the same Islam and its followers are being labeled as harbingers of terrorism and extremism?

Now let us examine the economic aspect of religious tolerance. Let the government itself display magnanimity and tolerance in its own conduct. Tolerance can be inculcated through moderation, which must come in the standard of living of the ruling class so that the gap between the haves and have-nots is bridged. Moderation implies equal distribution of the scarce resources. Overexposure of the armed forces in civilian institutions has brought them disrepute. The underprivileged perceive the armed forces as being nourished through their taxes and when they see them enjoying perks and privileges they themselves are deprived of, it leads to resentment. Moderation must also prevail in the distribution of wealth among the provinces. One province must not become opulent at the cost of the others. Let us learn from European history. Medieval Church lost its undue hold on the people with the advent of the industrial revolution as they turned towards moderation with  the  availability  of  opportunities. Terrorism  and  extremism  is being exported by the deprived and downtrodden provinces. Industrial development and providing them equal opportunities will definitely turn them towards moderation. Herein lies the solution.

All  citizens  of  Pakistan  must  propagate  a  moderate  vibrant culture of Pakistan to promote good will of the world community and shun misconstrued beliefs, which lead to religious intolerance and extremism.

The Government of Pakistan can lend a helping hand by mitigating the suffering of the people by cutting down the extravagant expenditure incurred on running the government. The opinion builders of Pakistani society, the politicians, the media and the academia can play their role by guiding the people to shun extremism, get rid of religious intolerance and be wary of the evil designs of the harbingers of hate and revulsion. A united stand will defeat the scourge of extremism.

Extremism and religious intolerance are the evil that imperil the existence of society. They strengthen chauvinism and weaken the rational approach to life. Pakistani society has been facing the problem of extremism and religious intolerance, ever since it was forced to serve as a front line state to check the invasion of Afghanistan by erstwhile Soviet Union in the early eighties. Although the Soviets were ultimately forced to withdraw from Afghanistan, yet Pakistan bore the brunt of terrorist acts, in retaliation to its support to the Afghan Mujahedin. 9/11 changed the international scenario and brought the war against terrorism on Pakistan’s doorstep. For its own survival, Pakistan was constrained to join the International War against Terrorism and once again assumed the indomitable role of a front line state. Pakistan’s relentless efforts and supreme sacrifices have definitely borne dividends as over 600 terrorists have been apprehended and handed over to international authorities.

Whereas Pakistan’s endeavours have been lauded, on the other hand the Pakistani milieu has been yet again exposed to the machinations of extremists and terrorists. The unfortunate events of Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa and the numerous terrorist attacks in its aftermath indicate the incursion of extremist elements in Pakistani society.

The country is at crossroads and decisive action against militant Madrassas and religious leaders calling for ‘jihad’ within Pakistan can only be ignored at our peril. The need to expedite the implementation of ‘Madrassa strategy’ in consultation with all stakeholders particularly Wifaqul Madaris is of paramount importance.

If the administration of seminaries can stockpile weapons, conduct vigilante operations through self styled vice squads, kidnap people including foreigners, challenge the writ of the government in the capital and engage security forces in all out operations,  resulting in casualties of innocent persons, then the matter is indeed serious. The need of the hour is to enforce the Madrassas Reforms already in place to regulate each and every Madrassa in Pakistan. No Madrassas should be allowed to function if it refuses to register with the authorities. Registration has to be mandatory irrespective of whether or not a Madrassa receives monetary support from the government. The thorny issue of revealing sources of funding must also be enforced, with every seminary obliged to submit itemized accounts of cash inflows, including the names of donors, as well as expenditure.

A monitoring system needs to be put in place to ensure that no texts are taught that promote militancy, sectarianism and religious hatred. To widen the scope of job opportunities available to seminary graduates, curriculum reform must also include the teaching of mainstream subjects such as Science, Mathematics and English. On the other hand, religious subjects included in the curricula of regular schools must move beyond paying lip sympathy to religious studies and bridge the gap between Madrassas and regular schools.

The Pakistani social order, having been exposed to the vagaries of terrorism and extremism, has become prejudiced and intolerant. The government is expected to play its role in eliminating extremism and terrorism from society, however to eradicate the twin menaces of extremism and terrorism from Pakistani environment, every member of the society must join hands.

Terrorism and extremism can only be defeated through a concerted effort, in which we shun radical views, because Islam itself teaches us the path of moderation, tolerance and broadmindedness. Restraint, forbearance and patience are virtues, which can be inculcated through enlightenment, acquisition of information and gaining knowledge about social issues.

The religious leaders, media and opinion builders have a major role to play in inculcating the spirit of tolerance and accepting each other’s views, however diverse they may be from their own. Changing the mindset of the misguided elements to defeat the scourge of extremism and religious intolerance cannot be achieved through forcing one’s viewpoint on others but through dialogue, debate and reason.

It is painful to see the dichotomy in what we practice and what we preach. Prior to the Lal Masjid showdown, Ulema and religious leaders of national and International standing including the Imam-i-Kaaba tried to show them the path of reason to give up their vigilante stance and reach a conciliatory settlement. None of them supported their vice squads or the enforcement of Sharia on their own through threats of terror attacks. However, during the negotiations, some religious leaders on the one hand encouraged them to remain steadfast, yet were unable to convince them to spare their own women and children’s lives, besieged inside. After the government took the ultimate step of using force, not only have the armed forces and the government been criticized from every mosque pulpit, law enforcing agencies been targeted through suicidal attacks but innocent lives are have also been lost in the carnage and mayhem unleashed by the so called custodians of the Sharia.

The gory end to the crisis is regrettable because of loss of lives, but it has taught an important lesson that there is no place for extremism and no safe haven for terrorists in Pakistan. The situation calls for a concerted effort to tackle the root causes of extremism and terrorism at an urgent basis. There should be no shame for the government to invite  the broad spectrum of political and religious leaders from all sides of the divide to put their collective wisdom together and come up with a workable solution. Dividing the society into moderates and conservatives and targeting each other is not the answer. The government’s unwavering resolve to tackle the problem can only be displayed by tackling the issue head on and taking the senate, parliament, the opposition and the religious leaders on board. The Army or the government alone cannot stem the rot or avoid Pakistan from turning into another Iraq. It is for every law abiding citizen of Pakistan to help preserve the peace and tranquility and defeat extremism and terrorism.

Timely Fatwa

The Muttahida Ulema Board Punjab, in a meeting held in Lahore at Auqaf Secretariat on 16 October 2008 and the Muttahida Ulema Council, which met also at Lahore a day earlier, issued a unanimous decree (fatwa) declaring suicide attacks in Pakistan as haram (unlawful) and najaez (unjustified). The Muttahida Ulema Council statement has asserted that “only the state has the authority to call for jihad (holy war), and individuals or groups are not authorized to do that”.26

It is a timely and undivided decree, which comes in the backdrop of a spate of unprecedented suicide attacks, which have struck Pakistan in the wake of Pakistan’s wholehearted participation in the war against terror. Earlier, a few broadminded ulema had declared suicide attacks to be haram, but they were not supported by other ulemas, rather targeted through criticism by their radical counterparts, leading to divisive opinion. The complete harmony and accord in declaring the heinous crime of suicide attacks, killing innocent persons, indicates the depth of the problem and the grim threat facing Pakistan.

Some firebrand terrorist leaders have been misleading their followers through decrees authorizing suicide bombing. They have even gone to the extent of preaching a permanent abode in Paradise for the suicide bomber and his family. They have gone to the extent of issuing certificates, guaranteeing the status of Shaheed (martyr) for the suicide bomber. Simple minded people have been blinded by the pitch of hatred created in their minds to take their own lives along with those perceived as the enemy, be they law enforcing personnel, political leaders and even ordinary people including women and children. The perpetrators of these dastardly deeds have stooped to the lowest ebb to achieve their monstrous end and thus destroying humanity.

Unfortunately, these fatwās say little regarding extremism or religious intolerance. The religious scholars need to put their collective wisdom together and ponder over the problem facing Pakistan and device a means for eradicating extremism and religious intolerance. Unless they give up abetting the extremists and issue a decree based on the Quranic verses and Hadith, shunning extremism and religious intolerance, there is no light at the end of the tunnel of despair.

The unified decree by the religious leaders and the detailed briefing to the parliamentarians should provide the makers of national policy the right impetus to take immediate steps to meet the threat of terrorism as well as formulate a long term strategy to ensure that this peril is rooted out for ever from Pakistan. The next step should be to take the opinion builders of society, the intellectuals, the educationists and the media into confidence, so that they may play their role in engaging the clear and present danger of suicide attacks and the bane of terror.

Our religious leaders need to revisit the teachings of Islam and the personal example set by the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and the Caliphs regarding tolerance. Religious intolerance is a disease which has made us demons, who are willing to become vigilantes in the name of honour and religion. Such behaviour is in direct contravention of the tenets of Islam and opinion builders including the media must take it upon themselves to educate the ignorant rather than flare up emotions, which have horrible results.

References

1 Iftikhar, Murshed, S., ‘When we weren’t a land of bigots’, The News, 7 March, 2011.

2              ‘Pakistan Minorities Minister shot dead’, BBC News 2 March, 2011.

3              News Report, http://ibnlive.in.com/generalnewsfeed/news/pak-minority-affairs- minister-assassinated-by-taliban/595057.html

4              Ali, Yusuf, Abdullah, The Meaning of The Holy Quŕān, published by Amana Corporation,  4411  41st    Street,  Brentwood,  Maryland  20722,  USA,  ISBN 0-915957-11-6  Note: (All Quŕānic translations quoted from same source).

5              Pickthall, Marmaduke, “The Cultural Side of Islam” based on 1927 lectures, published in 1961 by Sh. Muhammad Ashraf Publishers, Lahore.

6             Ibid.

7              Tritton, Arthur Stanley: ‘The People Of The Covenant In Islam.’ p. 158.

8              Maller, Allen S., Rabbi on web site is rabbimaller.com

9              Durant, Will: ‘The Story Of Civilization.’ vol. 13. p. 131-132.

10  Riyadh-us-Saleheen,  compiled  by  Imam  Abu  Zakariya  Yahya  bin  Sharaf A-Nawawi, translated by S. M. Madni Abbasi, International Islamic Publishing House,  Riyadh,  Saudi Arabia.    Note:  (All Ahadith  quoted  from  the  same source).

11  Hali, S. M., ‘The rise of vigilantism’, The Nation, April 25, 2007.

12  Iftikhar, Murshed, S., ‘When we weren’t a land of bigots’, The News, 7 March, 2011.

13  Sikand, Yogindar, ‘A Dissenting Voice on Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law’ The Times of India, 22 January 2011

14  Hali, S. M., ‘Sectarian violence vis-à-vis role of electronic media/politicians’, The Nation, 1 June, 2005.

15  Ibid.

16  Madinan Society at the Time of the Prophet, Akram Diya al-Umari, International Islamic Publishing House, 1995.

17  Abdulsalam, M., ‘The tolerance of the Prophet towards other religions (part 1 of

2): To each their own religion’

18  ‘Saudi Arabia Says Human Rights Critics are God’s Enemies’, Justice Minister Abdullah bin Mohammad al-Sheikh, quoted by AP, published in Al-Bawaba News, 10 May, 2010.

19  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_terrorism

20  Armstrong, Karen, ‘The label of Catholic terror was never used about the IRA’, The Guardian, 11 July 2005.

21  ‘DHIMMI – Non-Muslims living in the Khilafah’, http://www.khilafah.com

22  Murad, Abdal-Hakim, ‘Bin Laden’s violence is heresy against Islam’, at www.islamfortoday.com/terrorism.htm

23  Hali, S. M., ‘Islamic militants’, The Nation, 28 October, 2009.

24  King James Bible, published by Robert Barker, the King’s Printer, in 1611

25 Jinnah, Quaid-e-Azam, Muhammad Ali, Presidential address to the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, Karachi, 11 August 1947, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Speeches as Governor General of Pakistan, 1947-

1948 p. 18.

26  ‘Timely fatwa issued”, Daily Times, 26 October 2008