It is apparent to every keen eye that the greatest issue faced by Pakistan in current times is religious extremism. It is our misfortune that today this is not merely limited to an ideology and its communication through the written and the spoken word. It has now crossed these confines and entered the realm of carnage and terrorism. The political, economic and social – in short every sphere of the country is now bearing its brunt. Hundreds of children, adults and old people have fallen prey to it. History bears witness that in such situations a state generally ends up forcibly exterminating religious extremism and it is quite probable that Pakistan too will finally have to take this step. We will also have to seriously repent from using religion for achieving our political ends. If this situation does arise, then the following points may further be kept in consideration to eliminate religious extremism from its roots:
Firstly, the monster of extremism did not descend on us from the heavens; it is in fact the vile product of the religious thought that is taught in our religious seminaries under the topics of implementation of the shari'ah and armed jihad and for the eradication of disbelief, polytheism and apostasy. It is from this ideology that extremist individuals and organizations receive inspiration and after making some changes mould it into a practical strategy to achieve their objectives. The flaw in the interpretation of this religious thought from the Qur'an and the Hadith has been pointed out by many illustrious Islamic scholars of these times. If hooliganism, protests and expressions of power and might are desisted from, then the writings of these scholars can change minds. Their writings constitute a counter narrative to the current religious thought. However, it is tragic that in Pakistan these are the ways to protect and preserve religion that are in vogue. Differing with one another in a cultured and polite manner has unfortunately never been established as a tradition here. This situation demands that our intelligentsia and those in authority should show sensitivity in the freedom of expression of religious views as well the way they are sensitive in political views, and they should openly tell those who try to pressurize them regarding this freedom of expression in religious views that this coercion is not acceptable to them. If these people wish to correct the views of those who differ with them, then the sole way to do this is to use the force of reason and argument; there is no room for commotion and protest, coercion and violence in the world of knowledge. Moreover, our intelligentsia and those at the helm of our country's affairs should themselves also try to understand the counter narrative referred to above. In a Muslim society, the promotion of secularism is not the solution to this problem; the solution is to present a counter narrative to the existing narrative on religious thought. It is to this solution that Allama Iqbal had tried to direct our attention in his Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam.
Secondly, we do not allow any person to set up institutions that produce doctors or engineers or any other professional unless these students have gone through a twelve year general education. However, there is no such restriction for becoming a religious scholar. For this purpose, students are admitted from the very beginning in religious seminaries where their future is pre-decided. It may well be that providence wanted to make them doctors, engineers, scientists, poets, artists or professionals belonging to the literary field; yet these seminaries without taking into view the ability and aptitude of their students turn them into religious scholars and close the doors on them to select any other professional field once they reach mental maturity. Moreover, these seminaries mould the personalities of their students in such a way that they become alien to their own society because of being deprived of the twelve year general education. The whole nation is now bearing the consequences of this mistake. Hence, it is necessary that it be made mandatory for religious seminaries to not give admission to any student unless he has passed through a twelve year period of general education as is the case with all other disciplines in which students intend to specialize.
This writer can state with full confidence that this step alone will rectify the situation that has been created by our religious seminaries in current times. However, for this it is essential that our general system of education which caters for specialization in various fields and professions should also cater for the specialization in religious studies to produce competent scholars of Islam. The suggestion in this regard is that in a few selected institutions of general education a diniyat (religious studies) group should be introduced the way science and arts groups are introduced in them so that students who want to become religious scholars can select this group in the ninth year of their studies and are able to cultivate in themselves the competence needed to take admission in institutions which provide specialization in religious studies.
Thirdly, in order to curb religious extremism, it is essential that the mini-state which is available to religious scholars in our country in the form of the Friday sermon and running the affairs of mosques be dismembered. Men of learning know that the established practice instituted by the Prophet (sws) regarding the Friday prayer is that it shall be led and addressed by the head of state and his representatives only. If any other person is to take their place, it can only be when because of some compelling need he does so with their permission and as their authorized substitute.
This established practice continued with its full majesty after the Prophet (sws). However, in later times when Muslim rulers because of their misdeeds no longer remained worthy of observing it, they themselves handed the Friday pulpit to religious scholars. It was this singular step that gave real power to anarchy and disorder in the name of religion. This state of affairs needs to be changed and our rulers should decide with full determination and resolve that the Friday prayer shall be organized by the government and shall only be allowed at places that have been prescribed by it for this purpose. Its pulpit will be reserved for the rulers; they themselves will deliver the Friday sermon and lead the prayer or some authorized representative of theirs will fulfil this obligation on their behalf. No one will have the independent authority to organize this prayer at any place that falls under the jurisdiction of the state.
A similar decision that should be undertaken by the government is that mosques in which prayers other than the Friday prayer are offered should be built by the permission of the government. They will not be classified as mosques of a particular sect or school of thought; on the contrary, they will be mosques of God where only He shall be worshipped. Mosques are collective institutions of the Muslims, and as such cannot be given in the control of people and organizations. Hence it is essential that wherever Muslims form a government, mosques should be under its jurisdiction and control. The government should not allow any person to use the mosque for the promotion of an organization, a movement or a particular point of view, and in this manner convert them into places which create dissensions among Muslims instead of remaining places where God is worshipped.
This step is essential. The benefits it gives can be seen in countries where this method of organizing and administering mosques is employed.
(Translated by Dr Shehzad Saleem)